As issue 14: Healing continues on into a second month (especially necessary amidst the state of emergency many of our communities are currently and continuously in), we thought the regular contributors of Sula Collective could come together and respond to the question: ‘What does healing look like for you?’
Healing is personal and unique to everyone, these responses are suggestions and examples of how you can continue the healing process from the systems and pain we navigate daily. Enjoy part one of our collective Sula Journals column as we reflect on ideas of healing, create work where the documentation or the making itself was healing, and share things that have helped heal us.
About the masa
Of your abdomen
What could we possibly change
To make you feel happier
The strength you had then
it’s still inside of you now
find it waiting there
For an inordinately long time I didn’t know how to be kind to myself, how to practice good mental hygiene. I tried to suppress past traumas, and to function without acknowledging them. I was convinced that normalcy was key: don’t let on that you’re in pain, don’t cry in public, hide it, push it further and further down. This worked for a few years, until, after burying the hurt caused to me by others and by myself, I had no choice to exhume it, to examine it in the way of a coroner. So, I went back to a mental health counselling service that I’d been referred to in secondary school.
It was hard. It was the first of many steps on the path towards being well. Initially I felt a bit pathetic, asking for help – my parents are tough-as-nails Nigerians who expect their kids to be the same. But I eased into it and I’m now getting longer term support. Really, I’d been denying myself the opportunity to be healed my whole life. It felt like I was undeserving of help, that my problems weren’t necessarily bad, that this was my lot in life and I should suck it up. I read different perspectives: maybe I was being punished for wrongdoings in a previous life. Or my own negativity was manifesting in reality, and all I needed to do was ‘get out there’ and ‘be myself’. Soon enough I got sick of condescending self-help gurus, empty platitudes and googling for answers way beyond the scope of a search engine. I was reaching my limit, content to watch myself lose my mind for the sake of keeping up appearances. I existed in this state for four or five years before seeing someone.
Healing, to me, means silence. I love libraries, the reserved quiet of a gallery. Waiting rooms, gardens, night time in a rural area. There is so much noise, internal and external, so much noise that people cannot always control. But whenever I’m trying for some semblance of silence, I turn off the laptop, delete social media apps, immerse myself in nature; that which is so powerful and yet so still. The books on the bedroom shelf are unmoving. They are not judgemental and they’re a refuge of sorts. My chalk pastels yield to my fingers and my camera is a willing visual therapist. These are the things I return to when I feel overwhelmed, which is so often now. The onslaught of information can be good – I learn rapidly of events happening on the other side of the world, I watch brilliantly made content – but more likely it is drowning and I feel like I can’t keep up with every thinkpiece, every op-ed, every essay. To shut this all out is very relieving, and it’s healthy (at least, for me) to do it regularly.
Right now, I’m trying to improve my creative output and health. I took a month-long break from working on personal projects because they didn’t feel enough. One time I was making progress I thought was good on a short story of mine, then I checked Instagram for a few minutes and saw that someone who was the exact same age as me had just won some art or fashion prize, or was now playing with their band in a picturesque country. Cue the negation of my efforts and profound feelings of failure. This, coupled with self-doubts rooted in my childhood, put a total halt to my writing. I started questioning why I didn’t have that kind of success, whether being a writer was the right path for me, whether it was a financially viable career, whether I should pack it all in and switch my degree to that of medicine rather than of English. It was scary to be asking myself questions like those because, after such deep emotional work, the answers could very well be ones I didn’t want to hear. What else could I be, if not a writer? What would I do, if I wasn’t making up stories and giving them life? Why was I even entertaining the idea of quitting? Writers, I thought, have conviction. They are devoted to their work. Their faith in their ability to write well all the time is like a worshipper’s belief in their deity. All of this overthinking from a few innocuous posts online.
Speaking to my counsellor, I learned that these were automatic thoughts. It takes a lot of effort to undo them because they’re ingrained so deeply in your mind. These thoughts appear instantly and most of the time you don’t even notice. We set to replacing them with a more positive set of thoughts. But back then I had my doubts – when you’ve made certain assumptions about yourself and the world around you for so long, any attempt at change seems laughably impossible. Now, though, I find that managing my thinking is a little easier, even if there are a few hurdles occasionally. I’m getting better at self-care, an important part of healing. Contrary to a lot of opinions, there’s nothing indulgent about looking after yourself. The shame I felt at first is waning gradually, and I hope that other young PoC can overcome that first difficulty, of existing outside the cultural narratives that have built up around them, of asking for help.
Sula Journals is a weekly column where, usually, a staff member/regular contributor of Sula Collective posts a reflective blog post or diary entry in any form they want. To find out more about our regular contributors, check out our Staff page.