HPV: There’s a Vaccine For That

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the U.S. It is linked to cervical cancer and cancers of the vagina, penis, anus (anal), throat, tongue, and tonsils. These cancers can take years develop but begin when someone becomes infected with the virus. There is only a routine screening for cervical cancer.

The Science Behind HPV

HPV has a genome made of double stranded DNA. Like other DNA viruses it has the ability to incorporate itself into the genes of its host, in this case humans. Once it is incorporated into the hosts DNA, its genes get replicated whenever the cell replicates. Depending on where the virus incorporates itself into the hosts DNA, it can turn cell growth genes permanently. This results in abnormal cell growth that leads to cancer. When you go to the gynecologist for Pap smear (Pap for Papilloma), this is what the doctors are looking for: abnormal cervical cells.

HPV

Every year, an estimated 17,600 women and 9,300 men are diagnosed with cancer resulting from HPV infection. When broken down into communities, statistics show Hispanic women have the highest rates of cervical cancer, but African American women have the highest rate of death as a result of HPV infection since 1975 due to decreased likelihood of early disease detection. AA women also have the highest rates of vaginal cancer as a result of HPV infection. AA men have higher rates of anal cancer when compared to white men and Hispanic men have higher rates of penile cancer than non-Hispanic men.

The good news is that the HPV strains that are most likely to cause cancer are preventable and have been since the advent of the HPV vaccine in 2006. The bad news is that women of color, particularly Black women, are less likely to have their children (or themselves) vaccinated. The advisory committee on immunization practices recommends males age 13-21 and females age 13-26 be vaccinated. The vaccines are administered in 3 doses at timed intervals: 0, 1-2, and 6 months.

Vaccination rates from 2015 indicated that coverage for females age 13-17 was at 60% for the first dose of the vaccines and 39.7% for the third dose as of 2014. African Americans have the lowest series completion rate at 61.6%. Studies have shown that 48% of AA have never heard of the vaccination and those who were aware were female, employed, had some years of college education an annual income of $40,000, a regular doctor, had fewer children and were younger than 41 years of age. Awareness of HPV and the vaccine was also associated with cervical cancer diagnosis (i.e. they or someone they knew had a diagnosis).

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Lets Talk About Vaccination

Among AA parents, the most common vaccination barriers were concerns about safety, concerns that the vaccination would encourage promiscuity or pre-marital sex, lack of information, and lack of recommendation by doctor or perceived hesitance of a recommendation by a doctor. Additional barriers included perceived low risk of children acquiring HPV, mistrust in pharmaceutical companies, mistrust of medical providers, religious denomination and frequency of religious service attendance, concern about daughters being too young, and creating a false sense of protection against all HPV strains.

After wading through all of the facts, what it boils down to is that Black women have the highest rate of cervical cancer deaths, yet we are least likely to have our daughters vaccinated. The reasons why people are vaccinating their daughter boils down to either distrust in doctors and pharmaceutical companies or the fear that having our children vaccinated against an STD will somehow encourage them to start having sex or have more sex. Does anyone see the faulty logic in this? This falls into the same line of reasoning that talking to your kids about sex promotes sexual activity.

MERCK - Merck's HPV Vaccine, GARDASIL®9, now available in Canada

As a mother, a Black Christian women, and a scientist, I do not understand this logic. Even if your child does wait to have sex until they are married, chances are that their spouse did not. If protecting your child is the goal, denying them a vaccination in the name of purity culture does not serve them well. Perhaps reframing the discussion as that of your preparing a child to be a successful adult might encourage parents and caretakers to reconsider how helpful a vaccination can be in helping the current child avoid contracting a preventable virus from a future sexual partner. This vaccine can prevents cervical cancer. That is nothing short of a miracle that I embraced with all of my identities and encourage others to do the same.

Black communities in the United States have legitimate reasons for not trusting the scientific and medical industries (Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, the origins of US gynecology, etc). As a member of both the science and Black communities, I encourage us to consider that we can be both healthily skeptical of practices and intentions within the science industry/community AND recognize the ways that scientific and medical advances can support our health and well-being. How can Black communities build trust with medical and scientific communities? I genuinely want to know because as a Black scientist, I chose this field because I wanted to help my community through my research. I want to break down the walls of communication so that we can be free to live long and healthy/healthier lives.

Moving Forward

The biggest take home message for me with these data is that we need to get the word out to the parts of the community that are older, less likely to be college educated and more likely to be skeptical of the medical and scientific community. I think the best way for us to get vaccination rates up is by reaching out to the people in our communities who fit this description. I know that I do my fair share of communicating these things to my friends and family and I can only hope that they are passing these things along. This may also require leading by example. If you are reading this and you aren’t vaccinated and you are 45* and under, GET VACCINATED! If you have a child (of any sex and/or gender) within the recommended vaccination age, GET THEM VACCINATED!

I am challenging the #CiteASista community to share this post among friends and family and begin/continue a conversation about sexual health. Do your own research and share that too. We have to be able to uplift our community so that we can be more informed and healthier. If you have any ideas on how to improve communication between doctors and scientists to our communities, please leave them in the comments.

*Point of emphasis: The vaccine has been recently been cleared for people up to age 45!!!! This is GREAT NEWS.*

8 Useful Graduation Gifts for the (Almost) Ph.D. in Your Life

celebrate- hoorayIt’s spring semester ya’ll, and for me, that means graduation season is almost upon us. If you’re like me, “Omg,” “fml,” “I’m so behind,” etc. will be screams heard ’round the world (and certainly from me) as we draw closer and closer to defense dates and final submission deadlines for the graduate school.

As I think back on my life, I honestly cannot believe I’ve made it this far. I’m a Black woman who spent all of my Black girlhood with working-class parents, at public schools where 100% of students received free and reduced lunch lunches, and in neighborhoods where gang violence and murder were the norms. And yet, somehow (we know how but for the sake of dramatics rock with me), here I am, several years and a slightly safer neighborhood later, writing my dissertation.

I’m currently analyzing, recoding, and collapsing codes so I also want to stab my eyeballs out. But every few minutes, I pause and begin to think about graduation because the idea that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel alone is what is sustaining me. Tonight, one of my former grads and friend, Nacho, agreed to look over some of my writing. Nacho, like so many other people, has been instrumental in my continuing forward on this dissertation. And as Nacho agreed to help, I started to think about ways that others could use their talent and gifts as a graduation gift– things that would be useful and helpful for the Ph.D. candidate in your life like they’d be useful in mine. This led me to compile a list of eight things I’d love–with the number eight as my go to because eight years is the average time to degree completion for a Ph.D. student.

SO, here goes– 8 useful gifts for the Ph.D. (or Ed.D. or M.A. etc.) in your life:

  1. Professional editing: If you are great at writing (hey Nacho), consider gifting your time and talent. If not, pay for X amount of hours or pages for editing for a friend who is pressing toward graduation. Gift it early, prior to final deadlines,  so that students can use it before graduation. Trust me, it would help a lot.
  2. Gift Cards: Every Ph.D. student finishing up is going to want to sit and do NOTHING for a few weeks after they’re done. You can help them with this by sending them grocery store, restaurant, airline, etc. gift cards that they can redeem to help them relax a little more.
  3. Spa Certificates: Grad school is sckressful. The amount of tension we carry in our bodies from the stress of the process is always noticeable. A trip to the spa to help recalibrate could make a world of difference.
  4. Dissertation Binding/ Booking: When I finish, I’ll be taking a well earned break from looking at my dissertation. However, it’d be cool to be able to hold a well-bound physical copy of this thing called hell dissertation I survived. Gifting services for binding a copy (or two) could be extra special for the grad in your life. Note: Some institutions have printing services available. Check with the institution your friend attends for more information.
  5. giphy- you look mighty fine and dapperRegalia: Okay, so I pulled out the big gun here. UGA’s regalia is so darn expensive that I’m going to have to take on a fourth job to purchase it. Grab some friends and go in together to gift the grad in your life the NICE, top of the line, regalia (which, at my school, is almost $1,000, but still not as much as the most expensive regalia available). This would def take a load off and make graduation prep less stressful. Also– everytime they wear it, they’ll think of you. (If everyone from #CiteASista gave me 1.00 I could afford mine, just saying.)
  6. Diploma Frame: Despite how much schools get you on the way in with fees (GRE/ Applications/ etc.) and throughout your time enrolled with all sorts of miscellaneous fees (special $400/semester institution fee at UGA, I see you!), it doesn’t let up on the way out. Not only is the regalia ridiculous, but so are the diploma frames. Degree frames allow your gift to be on display, surrounding the paper that represents an achievement (…and the blood, sweat, tears, and sleep deprived days and nights) that your friend worked super hard for.
  7. giphy- martin workout sceneGym/ Fitness/ Personal Trainer Memberships: Okay folks– this is NOT the time to tell someone “you’re getting fat.” *Staring at you Black family members.* However, the average graduate student gains much more than the Freshman 15  we’ve all come to associate with college. In my case? I’m staring at a 45-pound weight gain since I started my degree. The good news? The weight can come off. The bad news? It’s probably going to cost me more financially than the degree itself (eugh!). So, a gym or fitness membership, to a grad you know well enough not to offend, would make an amazing gift. Or maybe I’m speaking for myself– buy ME some personal training. Added bonus? Meal prep to get them through the end of the semester. #GiftGoals.
  8. Graduation Outfit Shopping: Okay, so some of these are way too practical. Perhaps you’re the fun friend/ aunt/ uncle/ etc. Then the number eight is for you. Take your grad shopping. For most of us, defense and graduation are big days. For me–my Ph.D. graduation day matters more than any potential wedding day I might have. This is it– the moment I’ve worked so tremendously hard for. So like most Black folks, an exorbitant amount of thought will go into getting this outfit ready. If you want to get the fun gift, go with your grad shopping and purchase part of the graduation outfit. Perhaps you could even volunteer (with a limit) to purchase an outfit for their graduation pictures. Either way, Black folks love to get dressed up and there’s no better moment to help your grad strut their stuff than this.Edi

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*Bonus*: Sanity. If you can find a way to gift it back, we’ll take it. H/T Chelsea Doub for the suggestion.

So that’s that. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments with your suggestions.


Editors note: Edited to add a bonus message.

On #NappilyEverAfter and embracing #NaturalHair: A Review-ish & Personal Reflection

My hometown’s public school system committed to having 3rd and 4th-grade students learn how to swim. I’m an ‘80s baby and the ‘90s raised me, so “protective styling” options and swimwear accessories during the school year were very limited. I’ve never chemically treated my hair, so water and I had a unique relationship. So unique that I never let the shower water directly touch my face. I cupped the water with my hands and washed my face to avoid the fate of possible first- and second- degree burns induced by my mom using the hot comb.

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So, when swimming lessons came in 3rd grade, I was unprepared for a few reasons. I reported to the pool with a stocking cap and shower cap and thankfully, one of the Black teachers intervened, as she knew the tragedy that was about to happen. She then braided my hair in the pool locker room. I am grateful to her.

Growing up with natural hair has come with its shares of pride and struggle, so when I saw that “Nappily Ever After” (NEP) was premiering this past Friday, I had to see what it was all about. Because, you know – representation matters. And I’m also a fan of Sanaa Lathan. I enjoyed watching the movie so I wanted to share some quick thoughts with you all. If you have not seen the movie, stop here because *spoilers ahead*.

NEP tells the story of Violet Jones, a thirty-something who has a built a reputable marketing career advertising mainstream beauty standards. Violet has been dating Clint for two years and presumes that he will be proposing to her at her birthday party. To Violet’s dismay, her elegant engagement ring is presented as a cute Chihuahua, named Lola. When Violet confronts Clint, he shares that their two years has felt like “two years of first dates” and expresses that he doesn’t know much about her, nevermind marrying her. If Clint honestly felt that way, I’d like to know how he felt confident getting her such a large commitment, like a dog, for a birthday gift, but I digress.

I appreciated that that NEP scratched the surface of the complexity of beauty being tied to hair through the lens of a brown-skinned Black woman — and one with at least 4A hair at that. Society has conditioned us to believe that natural hair is beautiful if it is long, perfectly curly when wet, and styled effortlessly. And we typically see these women presented in the media, leaving a host of other beautiful queens out of the picture. Natural hair is also kinky and coily, can betray you with shrinkage when wet, and take multiple attempts to achieve a perfect style. This shouldn’t make these types of hair desirable or publicly represented. We are overdue for more women that show the full and beautiful spectrum of natural tresses on the big screen.

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Prior to Violet shaving her hair off, she believed that hair held her attractiveness. And thankfully, she learned that her confidence made her attractiveness despite whatever style she chose to wear on her head. Violet and her mom have forged a strong relationship over hair care. Violet depended on her mother to press her hair and in turn, her mother imposed her rigid standards of beauty, which Violet later projects onto Zoe. Violet followed “all of the rules,” but was disappointed that this formula didn’t equal a marriage proposal. I found it freeing that when Violet shaved her head, she also cut her mother’s expectations. I was happy that she was able to meet Will, a Black man who validated her appearance and was able to make natural hair products that benefitted her. I appreciated the exploration of a heterosexual Black man with an “unusual” profession, such as a hairdresser. I hope that this creates more conversations about gender roles in the Black community. Often, we talk about Black women assuming the roles of “a man,” but there is little analysis of Black men assuming the roles of “a woman.” There seems to be many assumptions about Will’s class and sexuality. But, we also see a single-parent business owner who wants to make a woman happy. However, I’m still processing that sensual head massage in the park…

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I liked that the film shed light on people making career changes later on in life. Richard Jones, played by Ernie Hudson, took a chance on a dream of and pursued being a male model. I found it hilarious that he was featured in a boxer brief advertisement which generated a lot of attention. Although Richard wasn’t initially supported by his wife, we’re reminded it’s never too late to go after you want. After all, you’ll never know until you try and someone may very well be impressed by your “junk.” ; ) *bah duhn tisk*

I like the diversity in the Black male characters presented in the movie, even though I didn’t agree with some of the perspectives presented. George Wallace played a small role as a rideshare driver and meets Violet after her bloody honey fiasco with the guy she meets in the club. Violet shares that Clint hurt her feelings and Wallace essentially shared with her that she shouldn’t have an issue if she wasn’t cheated on or (physically) abused. This scene irked me but showed an existing perspective. Women are seen as sacrificial beings. Society and sometimes family will tell us we have to get a man, “keep a man,” and raise our family while our dreams, mental health, and happiness be damned. We are supposed to always put our full selves out for everyone else and be satisfied with the empty glass left behind. A woman’s role on this earth is not merely to exist and be perfect while doing so. I appreciated that Clint was able to boomerang back to Violet with a ring, only for her to realize that it was a ring from a man she didn’t want.

I believe sometimes our shoes begin to hurt to help us realize that we’re walking in the wrong direction.

Overall, I enjoyed watching the movie. I found joy in its opening and closing with a pool scene. There is a lot of contention around Black people and swimming in general, beginning with slavery, stifled with segregation, and topped with Black swimming parties not actually being “swimming” parties. I liked that it didn’t end with a marriage proposal disrupting the idea that “Happily Ever After” has to begin with a wedding. It does start, however, when you realize you are living your life and controlling your temple on your terms and yours alone. I believe that there is more to Violet’s story before or if she chooses to walk down the aisle. I wish it was the first of a miniseries because I’d like to see her journey explored further.

I also wish her mama would have celebrated Juneteenth over the 4th of July, but that’s just me.

-Tia M. Howard


What are your thoughts on Nappily Ever After? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think!

3* Reasons I Decreased My Social Media Usage

I love social media. 

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Okay, maybe not love; but, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and even Facebook have been, for as long as I can remember, ways for me to keep in touch with people from various stages of my life. Or, so I thought. Yet this summer when I completed an internship with a mentor and began to think about the things I wanted to accomplish before graduate school ends in May, something changed. My friend Qua’Aisa often colloquially refers to pre-graduation accomplishments as a “graduate school bucket list” and it has stuck with me ever since. I began to realize that I was spending a lot more time sharing and scrolling through my life and the lives of others than I was living intentionally amongst people with whom I wanted to create memories.

I often joke that I go to bed so late and wake up so early that I nearly pass myself in the hallway.

And while that’s true and I’ve been very productive for the last few years, I realize that productivity came at the expense of sleep and taking care of myself because I was using bedtime for aimless scrolling. Since summer began, I’ve been sleeping more, eating better, and working out exponentially more consistently. So what does that have to do with social media? My uptick in self-care is directly tied to my downtrend in social media scrollage (I’m a Ph.D. student, I can make up words if I want). I used to wake up at 5 or 6am to theoretically be productive and center myself only to realize an hour had passed and all I’d accomplished was failing to sleep and mindless scrolling. But the change in social media algorithms has gone on to make this increasingly visible because when I was mindlessly scrolling things started to look familiar. And then I realized: I was seeing the same. five-ish. posts. all. the. time.

So I said no more. 

No more aimless scrolling.

No more spending time in spaces that drained me emotionally.

No more being entangled on websites that would often lead to drama (ask any graduate student about groupme drama and they’ll tell you stories for days).

So what did I do? And how did I do it? I took the liberty of deciding to–

  • Remove myself from every GroupMe I was a part of and deleting* my GroupMe account.
  • Remove Facebook from my phone (I only posted there sparingly, anyway, after the Russia scandal).
  • Deleted the twitter app (but scheduled posts that align with my research agenda and identities).
  • Deleted the Instagram app.
  • Deleted the Snapchat app.

Typing that out somehow feels harder than actually doing it or having done it.

Northern Lights Simple Typographic Travel Postcard

My plan isn’t to completely run away from or stop using social media altogether. But it is to be more intentional about how much time I spend aimlessly scrolling and the messages I’m digesting and internalizing as a result of my social media usage. It’s also to allow myself a bit more room to enjoy sifting through my dissertation data and write up–no matter how messy and to finally complete some manuscripts I’ve been working on for over two yearsOkay, so maybe this isn’t simply three reasons I decreased my social media usage in a neat little bow. But I share my story to say it’s okay to decompress. And when people go on social media sabbaticals or decide to engage these platforms at arms lengths, we need not continuously question them about what’s wrong or what happened. In my case? I realized I spent much more time LIVING and enjoying my internship when I wasn’t worried about documenting every piece of it or seeing what everyone else was doing.

I’ll be back online for things that matter to me like #CiteASista chats, sharing my travels, amplifying important writings and research by Black women, and even acknowledging some of my dissertation milestones. But I won’t be online to engage spaces that drain me. I won’t be online to debate or argue points with people who are not interested in the actual exchange of information. And no, I won’t be online to see what else is going on in this government of mine and discussing it in an echo chamber.

Instead, I’ll be spending that time hosting Sunday brunches with friends and making Sunday dinner with my parents and sister. I’ll be writing up the stories of women who’ve entrusted me to shed light on the sometimes volatile field I seem to have committed myself to. I’ll be watching TV shows and movies that bring me joy like Mamma Mia, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Legends of Tomorrow.  I’ll be hiking the Seven Wonders of Georgia. I’ll be moving through multiple European countries to enjoy people, sites, sights, and foods I thought I’d never experience when I was younger (I’m not that old).

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I’ll be living my life on my own terms without the pressures I’d previously placed on myself to do social media. And I’ll do so without feeling like I am traipsing through life on an auto scroll. I write this because I find it amusing that the very things that have saved me and propelled me thus far (#CiteASista, #SisterPhD, #FirstGenDocs, etc.) are the very things I’m still engaging but have also led me to move back and take rests from for my own health and sanity. This is not a plea for people to self-reflect, a critique of others who share nearly every piece of their day online, nor is it a call to action… It’s simply a post by a woman who has helped create online communities explaining in those same places a why I decided to step back from the performativity social media requires. It’s my way of doing something not because something is wrong, but because I needed to care for me before something became wrong.

Cheers to personal growth and self-reflection after unplugging.

I like you… I think

I am embracing a culture of transparency, which, to me, is different than honesty. I will delve into this in a later post, but a part of this culture of transparency is not hiding my feelings. This is especially true when it comes to people I am interested in. Most recently in a text thread, I told someone that I liked them and I am aware that they do not have the same feelings I have.

Ahh well

Oh well

Time will pass and I will be over it lol. But until then I feel how I feel. And I am still going to be me and do things not to get any points for doing them.

This experience did get me to reflect on what I mean when I say I like this person. Like, do I even like them for real? LOL I suspect that there is more I need to learn about this person and won’t have an opportunity to learn, at least not in the way I want. But in the meantime, I like this person right?

So this poem is trying to talk through it. Enjoy.

I like you

Well, at least I think I do.

I do like you

I think

How about this

I like what I know about you thus far

From the moment I met you. There was something. A connection. A vibe. An energy. Anytime I am around you, it’s a yearning. I like how I want to be around you. Observe you. Learn you. I want to know you cuz I like you…

I think.

How about this

I like how you present yourself. From your swag in your walk, your sense of style, your talents and abilities. Your faith. Your compassion. Your drive and commitment to the things you set your mind on. It ignites a fire in me to do better, to find my passions, to explore my heart.

Cuz you are

You are who I want.

I think

How about this

I want the opportunity to explore if this desire is valid.

To see if all the things I’ve listed this far makes sense.

To strengthen what could be

To nurture what could be

To be all that you need and deserve in a partner

To see if the connection, vibe, and energy can be more than fleeting moments of time.

More than fantasies. More than wishes. More than coulds, shoulds, woulds.

I’ll be honest.. I’m not all that special. What I can offer, some other woman probably can. What I’m saying, you may have heard. I’m not oblivious to the fact that you can get these things from someone else.

But I am saying this…

At this moment in time

I want to offer these things to you.

I’m willing to be open with you

My focus is on you.

I desire you. All of you. The things I know and even the things I don’t know.

This feeling is not superficial.

I like you.

How about this… you got a poem.

If that ain’t real, then I don’t know what is.

BCB 8/5/18

 

Is “No” a Dirty Word: On our Culture of “Ghosting”

This morning on Facebook, I’d written a status asking about ghosting and the word no. The status said–

I have a question for Gen X/ Millennials… why is it so hard for people to say “no” in lieu of ghosting? Saying no is responsible. It shows you considered something but for whatever reason, it won’t work out at this moment. How is it that people will allow your email, questions, etc. about something they can tell is significant to you (and significant more broadly) to go unanswered and unreplied to on a consistent basis? Now, I’m emphasizing the consistent piece because I found an unanswered text last night, I simply did not see, to which I apologized for, answered, and moved on with yesterday’s business. But why have we as a culture normalized ignoring people when saying “no” is a simple answer? Has no become a dirty word?

I was prompted to write the status after sending several emails and texts to people about employment, educational support, fitness support groups, and even in hopes of getting together a team of people to visit the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.

I could not understand why the people I’d reached out to had failed to reply either saying no or acknowledging receipt of my message and suggesting they’d been away or needed more time.

As an overachiever and sometimes people pleaser, I know first hand the desire to do everything. I overextended myself so much the last few years and this past spring semester to the point that my body had finally had enough and I had to rest for 2.5 weeks due to illness and general exhaustion over the summer. I learned from that mistake. I said no to writing opportunities shared with me;  I said no to taking a course on data sets that, while not required, would be great for developing my skill set; I said no to additional conferences on top of the few that I have committed to at an earlier date. I. Said. No. 

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I realize that saying no is hard, but I genuinely believe it to be better than ghosting. What is ghosting you ask? When people agree or have the option to (dis) agree to something and rather than getting it done or saying no because they can’t  (or don’t want to) they fail to reply or acknowledge it at all. Ghosting is at an all-time high in both the dating and working worlds and I can’t believe I’m saying this– but it’s downright unprofessional to do to your colleagues and peers.

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I know professionalism is laced with specific connotations. I know that there are gender and racial disparities in who gets asked for what and how often. I know that some people feel like they HAVE to say yes because of their positionality. But hear me when I say this: ghosting might remove the temporary burden of having to say no or do something else, but it changes the way people view you.

Perhaps some of us don’t care. Perhaps a few people considering us unreliable is a cost we’re willing to pay. But for me? I refuse to do it to others and I refuse to accept its continuation to me. I’m at the point where ghosting is considered an answer and where I’m keeping track of how often people are unreliable to protect my peace of mind.

I am convinced that saying no is an alternative to non-response or ghosting… Are you? 

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#B29: Birthday Reflections

Yesterday I turned 29.

It is a birthday that can often be discarded. It is the last of your 20s, but it is not 30.

I, however, was not going to let this be just a blah birthday. I planned a full weekend of activities that kicked off with a cooking class with my mom, sister and a friend. Then, I had a good old fashion sleepover where I asked friends to wear all black, and I wore a pop of color. I ended the weekend with a game night at my cousin’s apartment.

I am so so so thankful for my friends and family. Birthdays are the time where I reflect on the past year, consider things that went well, make sense of the things that went all the way left, and take note of the things I accomplished and things still left to do.

As I was preparing for this birthday, I researched the significance of the number 29. What I found really stood out to me: “The number 29 is highly relationships oriented. Its very existence is intertwined with the dynamics of relationships.”

It seemed very timely for the experiences I have had in the last year. I have really tried to cultivate community in my life and work space. In practice, that has looked like more calls, more FaceTime connections, and more reaching out. It hasn’t just been me doing it either. I’ve had friends and family show reciprocity in making connections by reaching out to me as well.

I want to close this reflection by share a few reflections of what I have learned this past year, as well as my intentions for the new year of life.

  1. I have and will continue to pour into relationships with intentionality and grace.
  2. Walk away from selfish people.
  3. Be honest about your intentions.
  4. Don’t assume.
  5. It is ok to not respond to that text or email or to not answer the phone.
  6. Let your phone die.
  7. Don’t make excuses as to why you can’t do your passions.
  8. Stop making excuses for your bullshit.
  9. Look people in the eye when you take shots.
  10. Apologize when you are wrong.
  11. Read that email before you send it.
  12. Shoot your shot in his DMs.
  13. Worship can happen anywhere. Let the Spirit move how it needs to.
  14. Praying with someone is an intimacy that can’t be beat.
  15. Ask for help. Like seriously, don’t suffer in silence.
  16. Talk with God about your desires and fears.
  17. Check yourself on your problematic ways.
  18. Groupme is fascinating and ridiculous at the same time. I love how it creates such a great community, but also, folks really try and separate their real lives from it. So weird, yet again fascinating lol.
  19. Advocate for yourself in the workplace.
  20. Black women are everything and then some.
  21. #CiteaSista has taught me so much, and I am thankful for this space and the knowledge and community it offers.
  22. If you can’t tell your friend, tell your therapist.
  23. Tell him what you like in bed. Don’t assume he knows.
  24. Being a better steward of money is a forever thing. Don’t be ashamed, just keep working at it.
  25. Practice gratitude. It definitely makes a difference.
  26. Stop bullshitting about your health.
  27. Drink water.
  28. Minding your business gives you peace.
  29. Be patient with yourself. Some days you will get it right and some days you won’t. On the days you don’t get it right, put on some music, say a prayer, and go to bed. You will have tomorrow to try again.

 

YAY!!! Celebration!

It’s true: When I’m at my best, I celebrate every possible occasion that I can. People who know me know that I LOVE (all caps) a celebration. I often find ways to do it, even if an occasion doesn’t traditionally call for a celebration. Half birthday? Celebration. Took out the trash, washed dishes, laundered, folded, AND put away my clothes? MAJOR celebration lol. When folks have asked where this habit comes from, I tell them honestly: #IGetItFromMyMama Celebrate- Clapping Roxanne GayMom made (and still makes) a point to make celebration a practice in the lives of people she loves. Returning from summer vacation at Grandma’s? Celebration. Appropriate grades on an exam or report card? Celebration. I think yall get the point.

As an adult, I’ve taken up celebration as a function of my own well being, as a way to express love for others, and as an expression of joy. This world is a lot of things and kind, gentle, and loving aren’t some of those things nearly enough. Celebration is one way I counter/create light in the darkness or unpleasantness of this world. Celebration, for me, is also a spiritual discipline. I adopted this philosophy after reading a book during a previous lenten season.

Celebrate- smiling Viola DavisThere are plenty of reasons why people choose not to celebrate: money, time, energy levels, feeling of no reason to celebrate, etc. I’ve been there over the past year to some extent. In fact, I’m writing this, in part, to remind myself why making/taking time to celebrate is an act of joy and care for myself and those I love.

You may be wondering what celebration might look like in your life. Know that there are lots of ways to celebrate yourself and others. You can make it look/feel/be experienced in a lot of different ways. Here are some ways I’ve employed celebration in my life over time:

  • Celebrated the completion of my first 100 days of my doctoral program with homemade ice cream sandwiches with a couple of close friends.
  • Celebrated my most recent half birthday with a small gathering of friends at the house for dinner, girl talk, and ice cream cake.
  • Celebrated the completion of my doctoral program with a party that my framily planned and paid for.
  • Celebrated a good friend’s birthday by driving 5 hours with another good friend to make sure they didn’t celebrate alone in a new place.

Celebrate- Viola DavisI’m an extrovert, and my celebration my look differently than other folks’. That’s okay. That’s actually great. Everyone shouldn’t be extra like me lol. What I am saying is that regardless of how large or small, the victory or accomplishment, make/take a moment or some amount of time to relish in and celebrate it. You’re worth it. Like, for real for real. If you don’t believe that to be true, get some folks who treat you like you’re worth it until you’re able to believe it for yourself.

Celebrate- appreciate loveProphetess Janelle Monáe says, “To be victorious, you must find glory in the little things.”

#SheAintNevaLied Go ahead: Find glory in the little things. Example: I experienced depression when I literally moved 1000 miles from my family after my most recent graduation. The first day that I didn’t cry after leaving, I celebrated the idea of being able to *consider* being happy here by sharing my good news with my closest friends and treating myself to a favorite meal.

Celebrate- HoorayBe they little, big, small, unrecognizable to other people, our victories are just that: victories. Let that light shine sis. Celebrate yourself and the victories of those you love. Victory and joy look good on you.

 

Therapy for *This* Black Girl

Content warning: “Profane” language, and mentions of disordered eating.

It’s true: I love the podcast Therapy for Black Girls created and curated by Dr. Joy. Her work is a ministry in my life. I’ve known her since my time as a master’s student at the University of Georgia where she and another Black woman mental health professional co-hosted a sista circle in what was the African American Cultural Center (now Multicultural Services and Programs).  To say that I was excited when she dropped the podcast series is an understatement. I knew it would be good. I didn’t realize that it would be the encouragement I needed to take action in my own life.

Molly- Therapy

On my last #TravelingScholar road trip, I played episode after episode of #TherapyForBlackGirls. I found learning, affirmation, or loving conviction in each episode. Dr. Joy reminds us in each episode to enjoy the conversation but to seek our own personal services as needed or desired. I had known for a while that I needed to return to counseling. Life had been doing what life does *shrug*, and I knew I needed to work through some things. Some folks might call my issues self-actualizing/higher order Maslow issues, but I know myself well enough to know when a sista needs help. I’m a helping professional by training (Go Student Affairs!): I can see the signs.

Issa Rae- You Cant Have My Joy.gif

The issue was that I, Dr. Joan, needed to get out of my own head and go sit on a therapist’s couch. As qualified/credentialed, loving, compassionate, knowledgeable, and equipped as my friends are for supporting me, I needed to do some mental and emotional labor that would work best when aided by licensed, professional help. Between my disordered eating habits, major life transitions, ongoing grief, and relative uncertainty about major life decisions, your girl needed some help. I found someone who met my criteria, made my first appointment, and haven’t looked back since.

couch sitting- tracee ellis ross

The process has been appropriately challenging and supportive. My therapist is a direct and loving communicator, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve already done some liberating work. Apparently, I’ve got some guilt and shame hiding in my life and said shame and guilt undergird my perfectionism #WhoKnew. My therapist sends written prompts between sessions to continue the work until we meet next. I share passages from my personal journals (plural) with them. I don’t hide with them. They can’t help me if I’m what my friend’s five-year-old son calls “a liar lying a lie”. They call me on my bullshit because they don’t know Dr. Joan. They know Joan: a person who sought them out to make progress with/deconstruct/understand/redefine/build anew some of the things that needed more attention. I don’t have to put on with them. I can (and do) speak hard truths that are in direct conflict with each other, and there is room for the tension. They remind me that I am the expert on my life and that they are simply a trained guide for the journey. I am (re)minded of my own truths. I simply get to be.

No uh uh- Black woman

This post is my attempt to share my experiences with and understanding(s) in why I chose to return to counseling as a means of encouraging folks to seek assistance who are able and willing to do that. What we not gone do is use this post to guilt folks into therapy or shame folks for not (continuing to) seek(ing) professional mental health services. There are a host of reasons why a person might be unable or unwilling to seek therapy. I recognize the immense privilege in having health insurance to cover most of the associated costs of professional help, having access to a culturally compatible professional, and not having a history of poor counseling experiences. I shared all of this here to add to the words of people who labor to end stigma related to mental health and mental health services.

So, Basically… Therapy is working for this Black girl *insert praise dance*. I am working through shame, guilt, and perfection and returning to the fullness of love that I am. I’m a Black girl, and I go to therapy. There’s no shame in my game [see what I did there ;)].

Ava- Of Course