I used to give my whole check in the offering plate at church. I was a teenager and had little financial responsibilities except myself and my car. I was taught that if you gave money, God would give you more money, and if you gave more money, God would give you even MORE money. So many times, I gave it all. I hated it, but if that’s how God worked, who was I to question it?
Around the same time, I volunteered in my church’s youth department. I think I had the same mentality about my time that I had about my money. I gave away all my free time to help others. Don’t get me wrong. In some ways, it was a beautiful time. I met some of my best friends there. I learned a ton, and I think that was where I really figured out what I was good at. The main problem was that I just felt off emotionally. At one point, I “served” so much I couldn’t remember when was the last time I sat down and listened to a sermon for myself. I felt drained, but in some ways, I felt proud of myself, thinking, “I’m a real Christian. I’m doing this to help my church.” I was unhappy, but I was proud. If I wasn’t suffering a little bit, I wasn’t doing it right.
This is how I grew up. When my mom was alive, she was the most loving person I knew, but she was also the most exhausted person I knew. My fondest memory of her was after her cancer diagnosis. She had to quit her job to work on her health, so she was forced to rest. She picked up complex puzzles at the dollar store and spent hours putting them together at home. She’d listen to sermons, eat snacks and just do something she enjoyed. Sometimes I joined her. Sometimes I didn’t. It was boring to me, but to her it was relaxing. It made her smile. In the years after her passing, I’ve gotten better about taking care of myself, in part because of her story, but it’s been a slow process overall . . . until last year.
Last year I made a decision that changed everything. I stopped saying “yes” when I really wanted to say “no.” I don’t know what made me make the switch. I probably read something that inspired me, or heard something on a podcast. Who knows, but the point is that I tried it. At first, I felt SUPER guilty when I could do something but said no because I didn’t want to do it. I felt selfish, but I said “no” anyway. Over time, it’s gotten easier.
About a week ago, I looked up and realized I was doing a ton for myself. I've been emotionally and physically recovering from the last acting job. I've been prioritizing self-care. I even went to a small beach town for a couple days to celebrate my hard work. I’ve come a long way. In my new normal, I feel full. And for the first time in a while, I’ve had the urge to do something for someone else, just because.
The other day, I took my husband to the grocery store and told him to pick out magazines about stuff that inspired him.
The husband: "How many do I get?"
Me: "It's not a matter of quantity. It's a matter of quality. What do you really want? What speaks to you?"
The husband loves surprises, so this experience was particularly fun for him.
The son: “"I meed (need) to get the cars!"
My son was asking us to buy him more toys, but he doesn't need more toys. He has plenty.
Me: “Today’s activity is about daddy. We aren’t getting any toys right now. You can play with your toys when you get home.”
Even at three, I want him to be comfortable with the idea of supporting someone else’s moment.
We bought magazines, glue and snacks, and when we got home, we had a vision board party just for my husband. It was all about his thing. We ate snacks, freestyle rapped to some low-key beats, cut and pasted images of his dream. I didn’t do it out of duty. I didn’t do it hoping he would do something spontaneously fun for me in return. I did it because I wanted to, and it was a blast!
In this next season of life, I hope to be more like this person: the woman who does loving stuff for others because she wants to, not because she has to. I want to be generous but not depleted. I want to be both energized and giving. I believe it’s possible if I keep checking my motives, following those generous instincts and saying “no” when I need to say yes to something else.
“Babe, what’s wrong?” My husband asked me this question off and on all day. My answer was that I was just quiet, trying to relax or some other variation of, “nothing.” As I was getting ready for bed, he asked again. This time demanding that I take a second to check in with myself. I paused, seeing the concern in his eyes. I tried to think. A teardrop trickled down my face. My response? “I don’t know.”
The whole week after closing night, my emotions were a hot ball of confusion, and I didn’t know what to make of them. I felt mentally and physically exhausted, and I tried to knock out my responsibilities early in the week. The game plan was to get the icky stuff done, so I could take a few days off. Then . . . adulting. Doctors’ appointments, business obligations, parenting emergencies . . . Stuff just kept happening. It wasn’t a hectic week by any means. It just wasn’t the completely restful one I’d planned.
Every night I felt some type of frustration or sadness. Frustration that my house was a mess after two months of focusing on my work and not caring about how my place looked. Sadness that my body felt funny, and I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on. Frustration that I had a crap ton of business ideas that I didn’t have the energy at the moment to structure or pursue. Sadness that had nowhere to go now that I didn’t have somewhere to ball my eyes out every night. Frustration that I didn’t really celebrate my accomplishments my way, and I didn’t know why. Sadness just because. Every night some version of the emotional rollercoaster would happen until the night my husband asked me what was wrong and actually expected an answer.
After I told him I didn’t know, I went into the bathroom and had a mini meltdown. I silently prayed, “God help me. I don’t know what’s going on, but I need your help.” Then it hit me. This was depression.
I’d been spending so much time trying to push past my emotions that I didn’t even recognize I was being pulled back into depression. It’s been almost a year, and I’d honestly forgotten how that downward spiral feels at the beginning of it. This time, I didn’t catch it at the beginning. I recognized it once I was fully in it. I’m thankful for my husband for not letting up. I’m thankful for God for whispering the answer when I needed it. I’m thankful for my willingness to get help months ago, so that I knew what to do.
I was still sad when I walked out of the bathroom, but at least I was clear. I told my husband the truth. I was dealing with depression, and I wasn’t sure what triggered it. It could have been that I’ve been working on an emotionally taxing show, and my body was responding in anger about the trauma I put it through over the last couple months. It could have been that I was just emotionally depleted and needed to fill back up again. It could have been that I expected to feel amazing after the whole thing was over, and I was disappointed that I didn’t. It could have been a combination of all of the above. But what I needed more than anything was patience, kindness, rest and a partner that wouldn’t freak out on me.
Over the next two days I focused on all of those things. I stayed off social media. I organized some of my house while listening to sermons. I went to a comedy club with my best friend and laughed until my face hurt. A took naps when I needed them. I spent time with my guys (hubby and the toddler). I acted and got some of those negative feelings out, and I didn’t pressure myself to be perfect. I went to church for the first time in weeks and heard exactly what I needed to hear from God. I am loved.
I’ve had a few good days following my bathroom revelation, and I hope to stay on this path for weeks to come. I’m not pressuring myself to be anything in particular. I am caring for myself and slowly reintroducing my routine. The whole thing may have just been post-event blues. In which case, that sudden bout of depression was completely normal. Either way, it’s okay that for almost a week I was emotionally down. I’m thankful that I had faith to lean on and tools to help me pick myself up. I’m not sure that I’m 100% back to normal. But as of today, I’m feeling more joy than sadness, and that it is progress.
Photo credit: Casey Gardner Photography
As we approach the closing weekend of JUMP, I’ve been thinking about ways to say goodbye to Fay (my character in the play) and this experience. The last two months have been both slow and fast, a whirlwind of emotions and an absolute dream.
To start the process of saying goodbye, I want to take a look at what I’ve learned.
I am worthy. I spent most of the rehearsal process worrying about whether or not they got the right person for the job. The script is NOT easy, and it didn’t come to me automatically. It took work, and it took a team to bring it all together. I didn’t find my confidence until opening night. Once the show opened, I found that confidence, my voice, and I took wings! I’m doing just fine. Thanks to this project, I refuse to second-guess myself on the next. If I do the work, take direction, stay open to new ideas and depend on my God, I will always be fine. I was worthy before the job, and I will still be worthy when it’s over.
Protect my soul and my body. I took vitamins daily, got plenty of rest, drank lots of water and said ‘no’ often. I knew going into the rehearsal process that this show would take a lot out of me, and I’m proud to say that I took care of myself the whole process. One week I even turned down auditions, so I could finish memorizing my lines. I didn’t allow stress or negativity into my personal space. If something popped up, I handled it quickly and got refocused. JUMP can be emotionally draining, but thankfully, I’ve had plenty to give every night. Having the stamina to pull this off gives me hope for my future in this business.
Anger is a healthy. There is a moment in the show when Fay gets angry. Every time I approached this moment in rehearsal, I would feel hurt, confused, even sad, but never angry. Our director eventually talked to me about it. We realized that anger is almost foreign for me. After years of training myself to work around my anger and control my emotions, I almost forgot what it felt like to express it.
When I first started working on it, it scared me. That feeling of being out of control scared me. But once I got through it, I felt a great sense of relief. Holy crap! It felt good to let it out. I could think more clearly once it was out. I didn’t have to suppress it or control it. I just needed to express it, and everything was okay. I’ve been angry about quite a few things in my life and suppressed it. I can see now why it took me so long to work through it.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself it’s okay to find a safe space to scream, curse, stomp, and throw stuff. On the other side, I breathe better and think clearer. Just let it out! It’s healthy.
This can be my life’s work. During this run I’ve handled my business. I managed my personal and professional life well. I didn’t miss a day of work. I was on time every day. I did a play and an episode of television, and neither conflicted with the other. I was able to do both! My home didn’t fall apart, and I am happy! I decided about six months ago to make acting my professional focus. Now I know I can do it.
I’ve gained so much from this experience, and I’m confident I’ve given something of value as well. This show has been an absolute dream, and I’m honored to be a part of it. After we close, I’m going to take a few days off to celebrate my hard work and a successful run. If you’ve seen the show, thank you so much for going on the crazy ride with us. If you live in Atlanta and haven’t seen it, catch JUMP before we close! You won’t be disappointed.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Prov. 27:6
This week I hurt someone really close to me, and the next morning I felt like trash. The night before, I confronted a dear family member about something that I wanted. We disagreed about how to make that happen. We both spoke our truth. We handled each other with gentle words, but my final decision hurt someone I care about. I can’t fix it. It sucks.
At the beginning of my soul-care (self-care) journey, I didn’t know this would be a part of it. When I sat across from my therapist for the first time, we talked through my personal issues and patterns that I needed to grow past. We knew that I was dealing with depression and anxiety, but I didn’t know what was triggering either of them. By the end of the session, we came up with two goals for my growth: learning to trust my instincts and learning to enjoy my life.
My instincts and I have had a very interesting relationship over the years. I’ve always been hyper aware of what I believe the Spirit of God and my intuition are telling me. I KNOW what my spirit is telling me to do. I’ve been like that at least since I was twelve years old. The problem is that many times my spirit will tell me to do something that is in direct opposition to what someone I love wants me to do. When it comes to my inner circle, I’m a people pleaser. I want to have my family’s support at all times and at all costs. As a result, I’ve often violated or completely ignored my spirit, my gut instinct. And that’s costly.
For years, I’ve chosen to honor the people in my life over that gut instinct. Hence the depression. I was constantly suppressing my own voice for the voice of others out of care. The problem with that is that my spirit has never steered me wrong. I don’t really understand it, but it’s true. When I listen to it, I’m amazed at how spot on it can be.
So, for the last eight months I’ve been practicing slowing down, listening to that inner voice and then honoring it. I do what it’s telling me to do, even if it feels scary. The results: the circumstances of my life have blossomed in the most beautiful way. My marriage is the best it’s ever been. I’m enjoying motherhood after years of frustration. I’m finally working consistently as an actor on projects that I’m passionate about. Overall, I have more peace and joy, and it isn’t because I’m grinding harder. It’s because I’m finally honoring that inner voice.
I started with small decisions like whether or not I should attend an event. Now, I’m working on the bigger questions about my relationships and life’s work. This past week, I had to make one of those decisions. I prayed about the decision before having the conversation with my loved one. I took time to sift through my emotions. I sought out a ton of counsel, so I wasn’t out just making a decision without perspective.
I made the decision based on my truth, had the conversation, learned that my loved one was hurt, felt like trash, got quiet, then took care of myself. By the end of this cycle, I was better. I was even proud of myself, not for hurting someone I loved. That’s never the goal. I was proud of myself for honoring my needs, telling the truth and speaking with gentle words. I was proud of myself for having empathy for someone else’s pain. I was proud of myself for taking care of myself. And that night, I went to the theatre and played the lead of a great show.
Self-care sounds cute. It looks sexy on paper. But there are some days when self-care means being a grown up and confronting things you would much rather avoid. I’m learning that now. Only time will tell if I made the right decision.
I may have made a mistake, but strangely enough, I’m okay with that. I’d hate if that mistake was made at the expense of someone’s feelings. But mistakes can be fixed in time. I’d rather fail forward than go back to being a person who lies to herself, ignores her spirit and pretends with others to avoid pissing someone off.
There is also a chance that I made the right decision, and we’ll both be better for it in the end. I pray that it works out that way.
But for now, my reality looks like this:
This week I hurt someone I love. I pray that we both heal in time. This week I also grew up a little by speaking my truth. For that I’m proud.
Photo Credit: Casey Gardner Photography
“I’m freaking out.”
I was just sitting next to our director inside the theatre. I was taking notes like a good actor should, and almost out of nowhere it happened. A dam of emotion broke inside me. I externally froze while my insides went crazy. I thought, “What is wrong with me?” She (our director) could tell something was happening and asked if I wanted to step outside to chat. I did. That’s when I whispered those words . . . out loud . . . for the first time . . . “I’m freaking out.”
We just had our first run of the show after a long weekend of technical rehearsals. I gave it everything I had but there were still a few things about the show and the character I was trying to figure out. For whatever reason, in that moment, I just couldn’t figure anything out.
We only had one more day of rehearsal without an audience, and I was struggling with self-doubt.
To be honest, my process this show was peppered with self-doubt from the beginning. When I auditioned for the role, I knew I was right for it and even felt like it was mine in my gut. I felt like God whispered that to me while I was in the waiting area at my second audition. But even then, I just didn’t get it. “Why me?”
Don’t get me wrong, I believe I’m good at my job. I’m a solid actor. There are certain things about the art form that I just get, and I’ve worked very hard to feel like I do it well. But I don’t feel entitled to any particular opportunity.
This show is special. The script is special. The people I’m working with are amazing, and the character is a dream. I guess I just didn’t feel like (as good as I think I am), I deserved it. In this show, my goal was just to keep my head down, do the job and get out of dodge without causing too much of a ruckus.
True story: I really figured out I was the lead of the show when I showed up for the promotional photo shoot and noticed I was alone. That’s when I thought, “Holy crap Cyrah. You’d better know your stuff because you aren’t going to be able to hide in this one.” That sounds naïve, but it’s the truth. I started quietly freaking out then.
I quietly freaked out when I started learning my lines. I looked at 120 pages and realized the only break my character had in the script was the title page.
There were many more small freak out moments that I felt, pushed down and tried to ignore . . . for three weeks.
There were also many moments I’ve enjoyed. I get a nice thrill out of being challenged. I love that I don’t have much time to get in my head in this show. I’m constantly on my feet working, and that helps me figure things out. I LOVE that I’m not doing something that’s easy for me. I get bored easily, and this play is never boring. Something is constantly happening, and that feels nice. The cast and crew are fun and generous, and I have a great time being around them.
But . . . on the final day of tech, I stood outside of the theatre and admitted to the director and to myself, for the first time, that I was freaking out.
We had a beautiful conversation. She offered me incredibly supportive, gracious and wise words to help me move forward. I received them with a grateful heart and left the theatre, fully ready for my day off.
The show opens this weekend, and I’m finally excited. Not because I feel like I have it all figured out. I’m excited because I left the actor that was “freaking out” outside of the theatre. I acknowledged how I felt, processed it and am ready to move on. I’ve prayed, taken walks, thought and decided who my character is to me. So as of today, I’m happy with myself. My beautiful, creative, imperfect self.
One other thing I didn’t realize that “freak out” night was that I was physically and mentally tired. I just performed an emotionally draining show. It was the end of a week of intense rehearsals, and it was almost midnight. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I couldn’t figure anything out. My brain and body needed some rest!
I took care of myself and came back the next day refreshed and ready to work. I now feel good about my work. I know what changes I want to make to it, and I’m confident that I will be proud of what I create by opening night.
Here’s what I now know for sure:
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. I am leading a show, which means I am responsible for a lot. It's fine to feel like it's a lot. It actually IS a lot. I should acknowledge how I feel, so I can process it.
I also now know that I am good at what I do. If I couldn’t do this, the creative team would not have hired me. There are many other people they could have hired, but they chose me, which means I must be bringing something to the table.
Another take away is that taking care of myself and being kind to myself is mandatory. I can't tell this story affectively if I'm drained.
My new goal is own my space and tell this story with everything I have in me. "Freaking out" had it's moment. Now it's time for it to sit down, so I can stand up.
Saturday morning at six a.m., my husband woke me with the birthday song. While he sang, I cracked open one eye to notice the full breakfast tray in his hand and a lit candle sticking up out of a short stack of pancakes. He got up early on a Saturday morning to make those pancakes, and I smiled wildly at the gesture.
He looked in my eyes and then sheepishly asked, “Do you want to go back to bed?” I nodded and laughed. He only got up that early because he knows how rare it is for me to sleep past six. This week was different for us. All week I came home late from rehearsals, and I was perfectly fine with sleeping in a bit. My man kissed my forehead and took the food back to the kitchen.
I woke back up to sounds of laughter coming from the kitchen. Hubby and my three-year-old were up and eating. I checked the time and immediately started working my electronic chores like the budget. My husband popped his head into the room, noticed what I was doing and scolded me with his eyes. I wanted to knock out the sucky responsibilities, so I didn’t have to focus on it the rest of the weekend, but my timing sucked. I could feel it. I tapped away at the computer for ten minutes, got very little done and put it away.
When I walked out of my room, I realized part of my living room was covered with gifts. I sat down, and my son, almost magically, put a tiara on my head. I was officially in heaven.
In this moment, I took a picture in my mind. I felt blessed. My favorite gift I received that day was a sign my husband made for me. It said, “Pursue purpose, everything else is bs.” He heard me say that once, he captured it and created a sign with those words. It’s on my dresser, smiling at me every morning.
The rest of my day was amazing. I spent the afternoon in rehearsal, working on a project I am super passionate about. The director asked me what I wanted out of the rehearsal room that day. I said that I wanted to trust myself. I have a tendency to rush when I’m in my head, so I asked that everyone in the room be patient with me in the moments when I needed to slow down and figure it out. She said “done.” And we did some awesome work that day. The crew somehow figured out how to get me a cookie cake when I wasn’t paying attention, and everyone sang the birthday song to me on our break.
Right after rehearsal, I met up with some friends and family at the arcade. We ate and played video games like a bunch of kids. I lost my phone, found my phone, wondered around, yelled at screens and laughed until my sides hurt. I had a glorious time.
My birthday was beautiful, in every sense of the word, and I can honestly say that this beautiful birthday simply flowed out of a beautiful year.
This past year I learned that . . .
My heart knows more than my head. I must trust my instincts.
Supporting other black female actors feels good. I should do more of it.
Telling my partner what I need instead of assuming that he should know is a win for everyone involved.
Take care of myself. This has to be a priority. When I don’t, I get a funky attitude. None of us needs that. My soul has limits. When I am tired mentally or emotionally, it’s okay to pause and refresh.
My hair and skin are beautiful.
God is real to me in a very specific way. Don’t let anyone undermine that.
I can mother my way, and it is possible to really like my kid.
Taking risks makes for a scarier life, but I enjoy the thrill!
Cooking can be fun. Thank you, meal prep services!
At this moment in time, I can say that I am truly happy. A year ago, I don’t think I could say that, not consistently anyway. I don’t even know that my external circumstances are that much different from a year ago. But I’ve worked hard on my inner life for months, and I am starting to feel the results. This new year, I look forward to more health, love and inner growth. Cheers!
A couple weeks ago, I told a story about how my emotions were sending all kinds of signals that I needed to slow down and take care of myself (see Enemies). When I first started practicing soul-care (self-care), I didn’t know what to do when I felt emotionally drained because I really hadn’t seen it modeled. So, I took to Instagram and learned that some people take very pretty bubble baths with candles and glasses of wine. Thanks to IG, this was my very first soul-care ritual.
I emulated what I saw online, and the experience was just okay. I mean . . . I enjoyed having some down time. The hot water was relaxing. But it was a little boring. I turned on some Frank Sinatra, drank wine and sat in the bubble bath feeling like an impostor. When I realized how I felt, I turned off Frank (no offense) and played some funk, hip-hop, jazz & r&b. Before long, I was having my own little party in the bathroom and LOVING it. Over time I started added podcasts to my bath time. No news. No business. I listened to the funny cultural podcasts that make me crack up all by myself. Over time I figured out that there isn’t a specific way to do soul-care. Taking care of myself doesn’t always mean a spa day. It just means doing the things that fill me with joy and doing them on purpose.
This brings me to my favorite things. The following is a list of my clutch soul-care rituals I do when I need to take care of myself. These automatically help me find my sense of play and remind me just how blessed I am to be alive.
So, here we go:
Here’s that list:
As a parent, I learned that my toddler needs times of play and rest. I intentionally build these times into his schedule because he becomes a different person without them. As a grown woman, the same rules apply. When I become the grumpy or stressed out version of myself, somewhere I violated my own need to play and/or rest. That’s my soul just sending me signals, and I’m learning to stop and handle it.
When I prioritize taking care of myself, my relationships are richer and my work is more fulfilling. I am present, and I am able to give the best of myself to the world. I pray that I will continue to do this work, and I hope my journey inspires you to do the same.
In my early twenties, I met a beautiful female actor who doesn’t share her age with anyone. Based on her experiences, I can do the math and know that she is playing roles that are easily ten years younger than her actual age. She was and still is KILLING the game. Her choice to hide her age appeared to be intentional, and I didn’t get it until I ran into another actress (that I highly respect) who does the same thing.
I figured out by observation that there are more opportunities for younger women in the entertainment business. The older you are, the harder it can be to get started and ultimately succeed (depending on the market you’re auditioning in). Men, on the other hand, are sometimes encouraged to age up for better roles. Thankfully for women, this business is based on appearances, not facts. So, if you look younger than you are, you can hack the system by not sharing your age. I signed up for that strategy early in the game.
The only issue is that the longer I did this, the worse I felt about my real age. When I got pregnant at twenty-seven, I freaked out because I was losing valuable acting years trying to have and take care of my baby. When I turned thirty, I was super careful not to post any pictures with the big 3-0 balloons from my birthday party. I ran away from aging because I observed some negativity around it in the industry. I’m already black and a woman. I didn’t want yet another thing to “overcome” in my professional life.
I’m honestly still working out my feelings about this. I’ll be 31 in two weeks. Happy Birthday to me! But I cringe as I type this. I’ve been hiding my age since the beginning of my professional acting career. To see it typed out, ready to be posted in a public space, is a little scary. Tis the season for vulnerability, so I’m owning my age in this season of life.
Here’s why . . .
My mom didn’t make it to fifty. This is the primarily reason I’m looking at my age differently. I watched the end of my mom’s life and became acutely aware of our limited time on this earth. She died young, and I know people who died younger. Every year God gives me on this planet is a blessing that I want to cherish.
Also, I’ve had some unrealistic career expectations connected to my age. I used to feel like not “making it” before thirty meant I didn’t do anything. This is another sneaky little idea I subconsciously got from society that turned out to be a lie. Am I a working actor? Yeah, but I’m not famous, and I’m not swimming in a pool of cash. I haven’t “made it.” Maybe it’s because I’m not ready for a big opportunity yet. Maybe a big opportunity isn’t ready for me. Who knows? But I don’t think this means I haven’t done anything.
Truthfully, I did not squander my teen years or my twenties. When I look closely at those years, I remember that spent most of my life being focused, as a student, leader, employee, family member, etc. Most of the time this focus and hard work wasn’t balanced properly with fun and joy. I thought that was the price you pay for big wins, but that’s not how the game works. I’m not owed a successful career because I’ve worked hard at the expense of my happiness. No one owes me anything. My opportunities come when they come, and the best I can do is be prepared. Stay skilled. Create what I can. Keep a good attitude. Enjoy my life!
When I look back over the last couple decades, I can honestly say I am proud of myself. I didn’t squander my time. I tried things. I took classes. I asked questions. I fell in love. I created a company. I grew a spine. I become a mother. I read. I experienced. I learned. I created. I grew.
I am living. Some things I figured out later than others, so I am a late bloomer by some standards. But I can reflect on my choices and honestly say that I’m fine with that. I dig how my journey is unfolding, and I’m just getting started.
I now embrace my age because I’m done with rejecting parts of myself based on society’s warped standards. I choose to express the truth of who I am without shame. There it is. That’s the new strategy.
As a kid, I used to ask my father this question all the time, and he didn’t quite know how to answer it. As a grown up, I can now say that life experience answered it for me.
Q: “What do you do if you have more than one interest in life? I feel like I could be good at more than one thing, and there’s no way to know for sure. How do I know which path to take?”
A: “Figure out what you must heal in this world. By the grace of God pursue that purpose using everything you have. You will end up exactly where you need to be.”
In this I take great comfort.
Last Friday was in an interesting day. I took acting class. I wasn’t good. I typically bounce back in a matter of minutes. This time it took me hours to shake the feeling of defeat. I went home, did some work, realized I was tired and figured I’d get take out for dinner.
This is probably when the tape of negativity started playing, “What I’m not about to do is cook tonight. I’m tired. Why do I have to be the one that cooks all the time? Why do I have to pick up the kid?” By the time I picked up my toddler, I knew I was in a funk. I smiled at him on the outside, but I harbored an attitude on the inside. I was annoyed with him for the inconvenience of having to pick him up.
In that moment, I really wanted to be alone. I wanted to go to a coffee shop or read a book or go to the movies or get lost in a museum: all the things that were easier to do impulsively before starting a small family.
“What you got in the car mommy?” He was asking for a snack. The tape kept playing, “Oh, so that’s all I’m good for? Giving you snacks?” I handed him a fruit pouch and buckled him in. That’s when I got a mild whiff of urine smell. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. His pants didn’t look went. I assumed it was coming from some dirty clothes in his school bag, so I kept it pushing. Get food. Get home. Throw clothes in wash. Get rest. I needed it. I could feel it.
After buckling myself in, I put on a kids’ podcast that was sure to keep him occupied, so I didn’t have to deal with a bunch of questions. I just wanted to zone out and finish my quest. When we arrived at the restaurant, it took me twenty minutes to find a parking spot. I ordered the food by phone and we waited until it was ready. Over time, I heard a still small voice in my spirit telling me that I needed to take little man to the potty, so I snapped out of my trance to get things going.
I got him out of his car seat, and I was hit with that slight urine smell again. The tape, “I have got to clean out that bag.” I kept it moving. On the walk into the restaurant, he kept asking, “Mommy, what are those?” He was looking at spray-painted marks on the sidewalk, the marks utility companies make whenever someone wants to dig into the ground. I said, “It’s spray paint baby.” Then he pointed out every single spray-paint marking. “That’s one spray paint. There’s another spray paint! And there’s another spray paint.” It is possible for something that cute to be annoying. The tape: “Focus Cyrah. Just get the food and go home.”
The moment I stepped into the restaurant, I was overwhelmed by the music, laughter and smiles of all the kidless patrons. I used to BE them. I could just grab a drink in a restaurant because I felt like it, without having to drag a miniature person around with me.
I started walking directly to the bar but then remembered the kid needed to go to the bathroom, so that’s where we went. We stood at the toilet for a while. Then he told me he didn’t need to go. I got him together to leave the stall, slung his bookbag and my purse over my shoulder and picked him up at the sink, so he could wash his hands. Why restaurants don’t put stools near the sinks to make handwashing easier for kids is beyond me.
After all of that, we weaved our way through an army of servers to get to the bar. A guy on my left saw me wearing a PJ Masks bookbag and asked if it was mine. I chuckled and said, “You know better.” He asked where my kid was and I indicated that he was to my right. The man saw him and tried to say something friendly, but my son just buried his head into my leg, his typical response to strangers.
I gave the bartender my name and waited for him to bring out my order. As we waited, the restaurant got louder and more obnoxious. Then I felt a small tug at my pant leg, “Mommy, I wet.” I rolled my eyes with everything in me. The tape: “I JUST TOOK YOU TO THE BATHROOM.”
I looked down at his pants and noticed the wet spot. Before I could do anything, a woman (not the original bartender) came out with my food. She told me that the veggie quesadilla I ordered for my kid now had chicken in it because quesadillas need meat to make everything stick together. I didn’t have time to address that lie because I now had a toddler with a pee-pee stain on his pants. I said, “Fine.” I paid for the food, and I took care of my son.
Once everything settled down, I realized what was happening. Friday’s series of unfortunate events was more about me than my kid. Every couple of weeks, I start feeling annoyed with my life. It’s almost a ritual now. I go to therapy every other week, and the Thursday before my regularly scheduled session, I get frustrated with the status quo. My beautiful family gets annoying. My work doesn’t feel like it’s enough. I get internally hostile. You would only know it if you were really close to me. My sentences get short. I’m quieter than normal. I laugh less often. It’s almost like I see my world through contacts medicated with negativity. I get in a funk, and the people closest to me become my enemies.
The last time this happened, I couldn’t understand why I was in such a funky mood out of nowhere. My therapist asked me, “How have you been doing with your self-care?” I thought about it. Not well. What’s been happening is that I’ll do all of the things that help me stay emotionally healthy, and I forget to do those things after I’m feeling good. Neglecting myself over time makes me feel emotionally deprived, and I get an attitude when I have to do something for someone else. The tape: “It’s YOUR fault I’m unhappy.” But the simple truth is that I’m unhappy when I neglect myself.
This trip to the Mexican restaurant was a fantastic example. I was internally hostile toward my kid because I hadn’t taken care of myself for a few days. I didn’t yell at him. I didn’t hit him. But on the inside, I was a little angry that he was there in the first place. He was inconveniencing me.
If I’d taken care of myself earlier, I would have been mentally present to enjoy our little journey. I would have noticed the extra parking in the lot across the street sooner. I would have realized how amazing it is that my kid notices little abnormalities, like spray-paint marks on a side walk. I would have enjoyed how he gets a kick out of the automatic paper-towel dispenser in the bathroom. I would have made that server remake my kid’s quesadilla because adding chicken to a vegetarian dish is stupid. And I would have noticed that his pants were wet when I got him. He probably had a small accident right before I picked him up, and I couldn’t see it inside of the shaded car.
Sunday was a different day. I’d taken some time for myself. I was well-rested and excited to spend time with my family. We went to a festival in the park, and I genuinely enjoyed my kid’s company. I’d like to have less days like last Friday. No, I’m not expecting everything to go my way, but I’d like to still have a positive outlook on the day regardless of what’s happening. I’d like to still see my family members as allies instead of enemies when everything else is going wrong. So . . . I am reprioritizing my self-care rituals, even when I don’t think I need it. All self-deprivation does is take me down a funky attitude rabbit hole surrounded by my enemies.
Photo Credit: Jason Vail Photography
In my junior year of high school, I was depressed and didn’t know why. Looking back, it’s not that difficult to understand.
My family moved that year to a small, upper-middle class community in Georgia. My parents were excited about the opportunity. The public high school in our neighborhood had rigorous academics, high-test scores and a 90% white student body. That year, my family was struggling financially. I’m black. I felt very other. And I suppressed it.
Fast forward to college. I went to an HBCU, and the experience was the complete opposite. I surrounded myself with myself and could finally breathe. What’s interesting about that period of my life is that the school was a perfect environment for me to ask the difficult questions about race that I probably needed to ask. Why was my high school experience so painful? Why is white acceptance a standard of success in this country? But I didn’t ask those questions. I ignored those questions altogether. I just kept it pushing and used the comfort of my black cocoon to focus on other personal issues I was dealing with like caring for sick parents and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.
Fast forward to my acting career. My mentor taught me to choose what type of black actress I wanted to be. I could be the black girl next door or the black hood girl, and my appearance needed to reflect what I wanted. I chose the girl next door. I leaned into that and avoided braids, twists, curls and locks. You know, all the “ethnic” looks.
All of that changed a couple months ago when I stopped wearing wigs and started wearing my natural hair (see My Hair and I). Since then, I’ve become super aware of my blackness . . . by accident. From the conversations about the types of photos I need for my acting career, to the men in my life throwing their opinions around about natural hair, to the looks I get from the average white citizen in public places . . . I am reminded once again that I am other.
My whole life I’ve been navigating what it means to be other by dancing around it. Oh, being too loud means I’m ghetto? Got it. I’ll keep my voice down. Black hair is nappy. Kinks are unattractive. Got it. Relaxers and weaves. People won’t take me seriously unless I’m dressed up? That’s okay. If I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt in the grocery store, I’ll get good customer service once I open my mouth and the clerk figures out that I’m articulate.
You know what I learned about myself over the past couple months? I have avoided my blackness by figuring out how to be “respectably” black by white standards.
And that makes me ANGRY. For the first time in my black life, I’m angry about how I was taught to navigate the world as a black woman. Why am I not allowed to get excited in a conversation? If I was loud and white, would people make those assumptions? Natural hair is in now, but why in the world was my natural hair texture EVER considered ugly? I see how other people see me now. I walk into a store and see the assumptions on people’s faces. Then I open my mouth and I see the sudden wash of relief when I speak. I see it. “Whew, I’m safe. She’s educated. She’s respectable. She won’t hurt me.” Why do I have to be articulate to be respectable? Why can’t I be respectable simply because I’m human? One day I’m throwing in some Ebonics to throw off my white friends and piss off my elitist black folks.
It would be nice to make choices about style without having to consider what brand of black others will think I am. I would love to just make art without worrying that I’m not making my people look bad. It would be great if I could make mistakes without it being considered a racial defect. Oh, and it would be awesome to be able to get angry without being perceived as threatening.
I was taught that nobody wants to deal with an angry black girl. Now I understand why I was depressed in my junior year of high school. I was angry but wasn’t allowed to be.
About me . . .
I'm Cyrah Hill. I'm a woman of faith, an actor and an everyday black girl.