Riding the Waves

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Suggest Title for Girl Surfing Wave Tube painting

We cover up injuries with tape and gauze to protect the injury, to prevent infection, to save the patient from further suffering. The hard part comes when you have to rip the bandage off, because that can hurt like hell. It hurts to tear that bandage off. We don’t wanna see what’s underneath. But maybe it’s not the fear of the pain that holds us back. Maybe, we’re really afraid to see if the wound underneath is still open, or if it might actually be healing.

– Meredith Grey

When you’re an only child, your mind tends to devise creative explanations of how the world works. You have no siblings to contextualize the small day to day things. I used to think everything had feelings and didn’t want to be alone so I did everything I could to avoid that by pairing – I ate my cheerios in pairs, I put my toys together in pairs, I picked the grass in pairs. I thought there were red, yellow, and green little people in traffic lights. That whenever the lights would change color, it meant the people were starting their day. I thought earth was a giant snow globe and whenever I fell, the angels shook the globe a little too hard. I usually kept my opinions to myself unless I thought I was in danger, to my mamaiay’s dismay. I recall becoming frantic when we were viewing a home in a cul-de-sac because there was a dead-end sign and I wasn’t ready to die yet. I also recall crying hysterically as a child when I got a papercut, because I was convinced, I would bleed to death.

According to science, I wasn’t too far off with the papercut scenario. I recently read an article that said although papercuts are relatively small in the spectrum of injuries, we’re disproportionately sensitive to them. Biologically, since fingertips are how we explore the world, they have a lot of nerve endings as a safety mechanism. The nerve endings are called nocicpetors and they send alerts to the brain when they sense danger, that’s why we feel pain. In addition, even though paper might be seemingly harmless, it actually doesn’t have a smooth surface so when it breaks the skin it does so in a jagged manner rather than a clean nick. The damage a paper cut does to the finger is similar to that of a taking a dull knife to cut through a block of meat. Interestingly enough, paper cuts aren’t deep enough to trigger our body’s natural defense mechanism (e.g. clotting/scabbing), so the damaged nerve endings are left exposed in our fingers. The open wound experiences additional pain because it’s flexed and strained whenever we use our hands, until the skin is fully repaired. It’s funny how conceptually, when something so small causes us pain – we dismiss it and underestimate its impact. We almost invalidate it, and keep pushing as if it never existed.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, sometimes we don’t ignore pain because it’s too small… we ignore it because it’s too big. When it’s too much to handle – we flee the scene, or we bury it. It’s a natural reaction for our body to respond this way when we think we’re in harm’s way, whether it’s physical, emotional, or mental. Yet, sometimes when we’re trying to dodge this experience, we’re unknowingly running towards it. A common analogy used to describe this scenario is that of the Chinese Finger Puzzle. The Chinese Finger Puzzle is a gag toy used to play a practical joke on unsuspecting persons. An individual sticks both index fingers on the opposite ends of small cylinder woven from bamboo. The natural reaction of an individual is to pull their fingers apart, but it only tightens the trap. The way to free one’s fingers is to push the ends toward the middle. This puzzle is often used as a metaphor that a problem is overcome by giving in, not struggling against it. The first stage in overcoming pain or that which makes us feel uncomfortable, is acknowledgement, being present, and letting go of control. Only then, do the ties break.

I’m trying to get better at mastering my emotions. My internal pendulum swings between being numb and feeling everything. I steer my emotions the exact way I drive a car. (I can admit I’m not the best driver – I’m really impatient and I’m more interested in picking a song off my playlist than paying attention to the road.) When I drive I like to get to point A to point B as fast as possible, and I don’t gradually accelerate or deaccelerate. When the coast is clear I stomp on the gas and when I’m ridin’ someone’s ass or the light turns red I slam on my breaks. I’m an all or nothing type of person, and it makes people on the road, and people in my life distrust me. They can’t predict when I’ll slam the breaks, and they can’t trust that I’ll know when to cool off the gas. Over the course of the past few years I’ve tried to figure out how to find that sweet spot. I used to be really warm and expressive, and I’d implode when faced with conflict. Fast forward a couple years later and I became cold, and aggressive tackling conflict head on. I’m realizing now that anything “lukewarm” or in the “middle” makes me feel really uncomfortable. Whether it’s feeling smothered when I’m caught driving in the middle lane, or reading recipes that instruct me to put the stove top on medium heat. I am such an alpha female that not cranking up action in any direction makes me feel that I’m giving up control. I’m still learning how to just be. What lies in the space between retreating and attacking? Between doing too much and doing too little? How do I get there?

Most of my emotional moments stem from disappointment, they’re rooted in poorly set expectations, of myself, and others. It’s when my fantasies get rudely interpreted by the realities of the world. Like damn, that’s not how shit was supposed to happen. But how much is it okay to feel? When is it better to just thug it out? If you feel too much it’ll slow you down from getting shit done, because you get trapped in an inward facing world – you lose touch with what’s going on around you. However, if you opt to thug it out forever the shit you’re struggling with will resurface when you least want it to – it’ll pop up in your relationships, or after you had a few rounds of drinks. I disliked myself the most when I went through my numbing spells. I anticipated the worst from everyone, and due to confirmation bias – I saw only that which I believed. The thing about burying your tribulations, is that it takes 2x as long to dig it back up and properly deal with it. Yet, if you always carry the load with you it’ll become too heavy and eventually, you’ll be the one that’s buried under your woes. A lot of times people want to get better at controlling their emotions to improve their relationships, and although that is a nice benefit, more than anything I want to get better at mastering myself.

I’m fascinated by how people around me deal with their emotions, observing if and how they carry it. Some carry it around their neck, some try to roll it off with their shoulders, some try to massage the kinks in their back, some put words to paper, some put it into bullets, some put it into making love, some put it into drugs or liquor, some put it into material possessions, some put it on the treadmill, some work extra-long hours, etc. I am so passionate about using methods whether it’s therapy, meditation, church, community or crafts to avoid developing psychosomatic symptoms. The definition of a psychosomatic illness is “a physical disease that is thought to be caused, or made worse, by a mental factor.” Examples of this would be migraines, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, heart disease etc. Healthy outlets are so important to maintain wellness and quality of life.

I’ve realized that up to this point whenever I get hurt, I just put a quick band aid on and keep it pushing. I don’t implement checkpoints to see the progress of my healing, and whether I should explore alternative roads to recovery. I just associated healing with the bleeding stopping, it’s whenever I could resume my usual activities. But that’s just the beginning. Healing technically doesn’t happen until the scabs fall off, and new skin grows over. I can admit sometimes I’m too scared to rip off the band aid to check. Some shit I’m not ready to reflect on because I’m worried that I’ll find I’m not healing as well as I thought. Whenever I feel vulnerable, I think back to my mamaiay and my ancestors. I feel both guilty and empowered in that I literally am living the culmination of their dreams. I find myself thinking maybe they asked God to skip their servings of blessings so that I could be given more. I always felt that being swallowed by despair was the ultimate disgrace to everyone who came before me, and those who’d come after me. So you keep it pushing, and make the most out of it. You try to plant something positive that’ll grow when it rains. I can’t tell if that means I’m really strong, or if I’m just weak.

Sometimes I wonder maybe I’m the first in my bloodline that had the privilege to hold on tighter to my emotions, to feel more. Maybe what I feel is a sum of what everyone before me couldn’t, a melting pot of generational dreams and heartache. The irony of the name “Rahwa” meaning the calm after the storm, and yet, feeling that I’ve swallowed it. In an episode one of my favorite Sci-Fi shows, “The Magicians,” the character, Margot, made a statement that lingered in my memory:

“I can’t cry this sadness out ever. Cuz if I start, I’ll never stop. Do you understand?”

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