I Am Not a Photographer

I Am Not a Photographer

I am not a photographer

I am a girl

who takes pictures

sometimes 

when the inconvenience

of taking out my phone

doesn’t outweigh

the aesthetics of my view

 

I am not a photographer

but I play one on Instagram

 

I am not a photographer

but when I see homegirl

on the A train

in the corner

with swelling eyes

and tears forming

I think about the intensity in her gaze

and the perfect shadow formed by her profile

like a photographer would

but I’m not one

 

I am not a photographer 

but my commute

my reflection

my experience

is made better

because I pretend to be

a photographer

sometimes

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Me & Mine

Me & Mine

In the summer of 2016, I was preparing to go on a shopping trip at BJ’s with a coworker for our Fourth of July BBQ.

Let’s call her L.

As we exited the company vehicle in the parking lot, she shared with me that she was sensing a female presence from the afterlife. It wasn’t until this moment that I knew my coworker was a Medium.

I’m skeptical of all things mystical. I believe that too often fraudulent people claim false abilities and prey on others who are in vulnerable or emotional positions.

But I didn’t ask for this contact. It was being presented to me.

We began discussing some of her other experiences in communicating with those who have passed on. She told me countless stories of their interactions while she was in museums, or near grave sites, where the dead often linger. We discussed high profile unsolved cases of which she was sure she knew the answers due to her abilities. L told me of how she never charges anyone to enlist her help. This put my mind at ease a bit and helped me to trust her more.

After telling L of those nearest to me who have died, she assumed the woman who was joining our shopping trip was either my mother or my grandmother. I clung to the idea of my mother trying to communicate with me and I needed to know more. I hadn’t after all, seen her since I was 8 when breast cancer put an end to her life.

BJ’s was too loud, L said. We should reconnect another time and do this in a setting where she could concentrate better and work at her full capacity. L was also moving across the country the following month. The clock was working against us.

The day before moving, in between her last minute errands, my fiance and I met with L in a park in the Bronx. We sat down at a bench amidst all the sounds of passing trains and traffic and the normal distractions of the boogie down. The setting was still not ideal but it would have to do.

We sat and I was asked to lead….. What questions did I have?

Shit. I wasn’t prepared.

I didn’t have any questions to ask, so L took over sharing with me things that my mother was sharing with her: Paint Jayda’s room pink and keep her into music- Jayda hates pink but loves to sing and plays the violin. My father was the love of her life- good to know. Name my next child Josephine- we’re hoping for a boy, but OK.Put her photograph back up on the wall- I had recently painted the walls in the room where my mother’s photo was hanging and hadn’t put her picture back up yet. This particular detail of our meeting intrigued me the most.

Before we parted ways, L told me that, my mother was hugging me and to expect a dream with her soon. I felt nothing and I so desperately want to feel my mother’s embrace. I was somewhat disappointed and confused by what was revealed to me as some of it had significance but not all of it.

When I returned home that evening, while looking through old pictures I saw and then remembered that the living room I grew up in with my mother, was pink. Was L really on to something here?

That day, I didn’t have any questions, but since that day I have many. Meeting with L prompted a drive in me to learn more about mother. Whether or not the encounter was truly authentic, I’ll never know but the consequent events have changed my life and that’s for sure. I decided to begin a research project by interviewing people who knew and loved my mother.

I first interviewed my mother’s childhood friend who is also my God Mother. Then I interviewed my dad, who was my mother’s ex-husband. Thirdly, I interviewed a close friend from my mother’s adulthood. I’m learning so much that I never knew I never knew!

I’m no longer afraid to confront my emotions while hearing the stories of a woman I barely got to know.  I’m excited to continue this project and I still have several more interviews to conduct. I don’t know what all will come of this. Blog posts? A book? We’ll see what I’m inspired to do once the research phase ends.

My mother lived in Italy for many years, pursuing her passion for acting and this August I will be visiting Italy for the first time so as you may imagine this trip holds great significance for me.

When my mother passed away, many including myself thought that I handled it well because I didn’t speak about it much but there are simply no words to match the pain in a little girl who loses her mother. This pain is now transforming into intrigue and appreciation…. stay tuned.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mommies and mother-figures, here and beyond

And I would like to wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to my own…

Yvonne Southerland

Yvonne Holder

Baci

Vonny

Mommy

(Baci is an Italian word which means Kisses and is pronounced “Bah-chee”)

God Talk

God Talk

The most arrogant thought I’ve ever had is that there is no God. See, I’m a cynic by nature and at times painfully sarcastic. I used to get kicks out of telling my elderly, Mississippi born and raised, God-fearing grandmother, that there is no God. Not only was there no God, I would show up to her house for the weekend without any clothes for church, a fact I would conveniently not reveal until Sunday morning. Boy, did her blood boil. Between that and my other comments about never wanting to learn how to cook because my future husband will cook for me, she disapproved of my ideology, to say the least.

When I was 8 years old, my mother died of breast cancer. After her passing, I moved in with my father and step-mother. We loved each other, but somehow the love got lost in translation. Strict rules for a defiant pre-teen, mixed with hurtful words such as “You’re not my mother!”, led to pain for all. I was already a quiet girl, and the loss of my mom led me to talk even less. I was taken to therapy but I just didn’t want to discuss the elephant in the room. I buried feelings of sadness for years and years to come.

I became pregnant with my daughter at the age of 21, which lead to more turbulence on the home front. I was politely asked to go reside where the baby was conceived. The relationship with my daughter’s father, as well as with subsequent men, was nothing short of something very appropriate for a young girl, stumbling around, without having learned how to handle her trauma, and thus causing more.

In my mid-20s I dated a guy and I could have guessed that he wasn’t “The One” if I was being honest with myself, but I wasn’t too invested in authenticity those days. At first, things were different, which meant that things were great. Wow, I thought, I can talk to this guy for hours! We laughed and taught and learned from one another. He was the first man I dated, who I also considered a friend.

The relationship, albeit refreshingly unique compared to those before it, was still riddled with deceit and disappointment. We first met and connected at work but after he started a new job, we began to only see each other monthly, despite living less than an hour away from one another. He would flake on plans, not call back, and not show up. A few years into our relationship, it became clear to him that I was taking things more seriously than he was and it became clear to me that his disruptive behavior was a reflection of his own dissatisfaction in life and that it had very little to do with me. As I began to Google “How to be Happy”, “Tricks for Happiness”, “Helping Loved Ones Through Depression”, he began to end things with me. I was learning these secrets for happiness in order to teach him, not even knowing that I was really teaching myself nor how valuable these lessons would soon be.

The break up was tough. The collapse of ideas I had so longed for, brought me into the darkest days I’ll ever know. Suicide ideation, prescription drug abuse and self-neglect took over for far too long.

Until July 16th, 2014, when I saw the snail. Walking past a Brooklyn bush, there slugged a snail. Small and almost unnoticeable, yet it caught my eye. I snapped a pic and posted it on Instagram with a caption that came to me as my fingers swiped along, “A snail! I declare this a sign of excellent health, prosperity and good fortune because that’s the typa stuff one declares when choosing happiness! Happy Wednesday y’all” I didn’t know I had chosen happiness until the decision was made. And as sneakily as depression cloaked my life, it had been lifted up by this arbitrary symbol of everything I needed. A symbol sent from God, fortified by all I had learned while trying to help my ex.

I do not believe in coincidences. Each person in my life is here for a reason, even when I can’t see what that reason is. Every heartache has taught me as much as I was willing to learn. Meeting a man, who I loved and thought I could save from depression, in turn, saved me from my own hidden depression. I began practicing the things I was intending to teach him. I wrote my Happy Lists. I asked myself what did I enjoy about my day, every day and then I made sure to do those things more often. I complained less and showed gratitude for every. little. thing. Forcefully at first, but then it came as a new way of being.

Afterward, I began proudly calling God by name because I was truly beginning to feel his grace and it was hard to keep in. When I say “Praise God!”, please believe that I am on my knees giving thanks. When I say “Look at God!”, I am truly marveling at his miracles. With God’s help, I can now see blessings that have always been there. With God’s help, I can now see beauty in things and in people where I once saw none. With God’s help, I see that there is God in me, and that I have a purpose and a calling and gifts to share with the world. With God’s help, my eyes, ears and heart stay open to the testimonies of all God’s children, because you never know who will share a word that will change your life.

I will not say that God has completely taken depression from my life. Some days are easier to see light than on others, but through God I don’t miss a single lesson, which gives my pain a purpose. I’m grateful for the storms I’ve endured because they make the sunlight that much more divine and through the grace of God, I am walking on sunshine.

(First posted @ www.link2usmag.com)

Gems

Gems

I’m sitting here at my dining table, looking out the window. It’s snowing. It’s 10:00 am. I have a cup of tea, with almond milk and I’ve just finished eating a piece of artisan bread with butter and a bit of honey. The heat is on and I’m toasty even though my arms are bare in this nude colored maxi dress turned housecoat. I feel good. I’m surrounded by an atmosphere that I’ve created to specifically please myself. Let’s take a look around….

The Flowers

The Fruit Basket

The Tree

The Easel

The Books

The Couch

The Chairs

The Tables

And the Art

All hand picked for me, by me. Life is grand and I’m able to see the great in things much better these days; much quicker. This, of course, didn’t come to me for free. Many struggles, frustrations and difficult times were pushed through to get here and I have a much more intentional and happy life because of those hurdles.

I haven’t always been sure what about what I have to share with the world, but today I am confident beyond measure that what I have to say could save a life, change a life or turn a life around because these gems are exactly what did all those things for me.

I, by no means, claim to be an expert in mental health but I am a living testament to the practices I subscribe to and have been blessed with the gift of word to spread a message of hope, love, and healing.

How did I find these gems? I googled them, of course! I set out looking to find the keys to happiness, so that is exactly what I found.

Here are some of the gems that have helped me along my path….

Make a list of all the small things that make you happy
Do more of what you love, love more of what you do 
Fall in love with as many things as possible
Even mixed signals are clear signals
Accept the apology you never received
Apologize, often
Leave the world better than you found it
Breath deeply and with intention
Appreciate the space between “Not Anymore” and “Not Yet”
Enjoy the process

Struggles with mental health are real, and not readily understood by all. There are as many paths to healing as there are paths that brought you into seeking healing in the first place.

I also found it helpful to read and reread books that focus on reshaping the mind and reprogramming old habits into transformative new ones. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and A Return To Love by Marianne Williamson are among my favorites and can be purchased by using the links below.

                                                         .                         

Do you have any gems that have influenced your personal journey? Please share them below. Let’s keep the dialogue going because depression works best when hidden. Uncover and heal!

Blessings.

 

Working Together To Improve Birth Outcomes

Working Together To Improve Birth Outcomes

I find that in many cases, people tend to be of the opinion that life is either black or it is white. You are a man or a woman. You are a liberal or a conservative. You either believe in God or in Science. You are gay or you are straight. As time goes on, people who live in shades of gray are helping others to see the true broadness of life by being vocal about where they stand on all these spectrums that make up individuality.

There are people who were born with male genitalia, but identify as women and are sexually attracted to both. There are people who are conservative on issues of women’s reproductive rights and liberal when talking about the legalization of marijuana. I am of the opinion that the best way to improve birth outcomes is through the joining of modern medicine and tradition midwifery ideals because it has been my experience that seemingly opposing views, tend to work well when combined.

Imagine a world, where doulas and midwives work with clients to provide safe, comfortable and supportive birthing environments, right next to traditional medical personnel who are providing medical oversight, as necessary. These two notions need not be in contradiction to one another. The best possible outcome is when all supports can work together to give a pregnant person what they need in all areas, emotionally, physically and medically.

I have a friend who shares many things in common with me. When I go through something difficult, I know that I can go to her for complete understanding and camaraderie. We can talk for hours about all of our shared experiences and feelings. I find this type of support to be necessary for my growth as a human being. I need to feel like I’m not the only one going through certain challenges and I gain strength from knowing this, but growth cannot stop there. I know that without our awareness, we can sometimes get caught in a cycle of venting, which can be dangerous. I’m lucky though. While I have this friend, I also have my fiance. My fiance pushes me to take action. It is because of the type of support that he offers, that I’ve made many of the lifestyle changes that are leading me to be a better, stronger and wiser human. But when he pushes me, I sometimes feel rushed, unprepared and unsupported. It is the combination of ideals that lead me to feel fully backed, in a very wholesome way. Supported to cry, whine and complain, and equally as important, I feel supported to act on the areas where I feel dissatisfied.

I believe the same applies to improving birth outcomes. We need a balance of the knowledge of modern medicine, which can save lives, in combination with the knowledge of traditional midwifery, which can prevent birth trauma and improve overall experiences. We need both and we need to work together.

Review: Tapping The Power Within

Review: Tapping The Power Within

One of the books I read towards my Doula certification is “Tapping The Power Within” by Iyanla Vanzant. I  chose this book because I am a fan of Iyanla, and based off the title, I knew this book would add to my new career as a Doula, but more importantly to my life as a whole.

The most personally influential concept addressed in this book, was that of alignment. Iyanla writes, “When we are in alignment, we can recognize and accept the lessons that will lead us to a fuller, more peace-filled, and more purposeful sense of living.” The idea of alignment has been increasing present in my life over the past few months. In December, I attended a three week yoga workshop and that is where I first heard the word, in this context. The workshop discussed how being aligned with our higher purpose increases the flow of our lives. When we aren’t aligned, we find ourselves feeling unsatisfied and displeased.

In January I  read “A Return To Love” by Marianne Williamson and I saw her speak later that month. The part of her seminar that resonated with me the most was when she said “When you are aligned, you cannot separate your spiritual self from your personal or professional self.” This truly spoke to me, as it also did while reading “Tapping The Power Within”.

For the past 10 years, I have been employed by an agency that serves the developmentally disabled population. It is a frustrating job for someone like me, because I feel like administration, overseeing agencies and bureaucracy in general, held me back from implementing change in the lives of the people I  served. My initial disalignment was the catalyst for finding my higher purpose.

Through many conversations with myself, family and God I  came to find that I am truly served by serving other women and their babies. This realization led me to people who were and/or knew Doulas. I was overwhelmed with the thought that I  could be fully aligned in my life’s purpose and create a career out of it, at the same time! “Although thoughts govern how we respond throughout life, they may not be in alignment with the spiritual purpose or meaning of the experience,” Iyanla writes. As a doula, I  feel like my spirit is at ease, because every aspect of my being is working together to serve the world and to equally serve myself.

Image result for tapping the power within iyanla vanzant

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Books

63 through 66

63 through 66

7/17/14

3:42 AM. I lay motionless. Hearing only the steady breathing of my sleeping child. She represented everything right with the world. At six years old she was inquisitive and curious; kind and gentle; energetic yet thoughtful. I never understood how she managed to be balanced in a world so reckless and unreliable. She must have been born with a predisposed tolerance to chaos and madness. I offered her little relief. She is wonderful in spite of her mother, what a resilient little thing.

She inhaled deeply and let out a quiet sigh as she exhaled. Another trickle of sweat rolled down my temple.  63. That’s how many sweat beads had found it’s way from my pores to my now soaked bed sheets by route of my body. Like small well-mannered track stars, who let their opponents finish before they began the same course.

I thought of getting out of bed, taking an ice cold shower, changing the sheets and giving sleep another chance. I thought of how I would need to call out from work again as I certainly was in no condition to rise and shine in three hours and tackle another day in the office. I thought about how I had already called out from work one time each week in the past month and how supervisors were beginning to watch me suspiciously.  I thought about how it was now too late for an Ambien. I thought about how it maybe wasn’t too late to roll and enjoy a blunt. At least then my daughter and I could both enjoy inhalation, although in very different ways.

Food. I should eat. It had been maybe four days since I felt motivated to open my mouth. Chew. Swallow. Repeat. What daunting tasks. This grumbling stomach didn’t make sleep anymore of an achievable goal than explaining to my daughter why bad things happen to good people, why I happened to her.

64. I closed my eyes again, trying to remember a time unlike now. Live in the present, often advice for those seeking happiness but my present was where I wished to be furthest from. The future is unknown and frightening, but the past was a place of certainty, security. Less favorable memories were easy to forget or alter to my liking, which sometimes made life confusing. Confusing yes, but bearable.

65. 66. These two were neck and neck. Hope stretched her arms around my torso, seeking a comforting embrace. All she received was a cold, near lifeless shell where her mother should have been.