Saturday, June 29, 2013

You Will Heal


I feel that healing is inevitable, even when we don't want it to be.

I can't speak for great loss, because I have not yet suffered the death of the closest of my relatives, but I feel like that healing is inevitable, too.

Certain states can delay that healing, just like certain states of the body can delay tissue healing, like diabetes.

And everyone heals differently and in different ways. And some wounds run deeper than others or are of a different nature, or are more disfiguring.

But healing happens. Tears evaporate, bruises are resorbed and cuts reapproximate, sometimes scar.

I can't speak for great loss but I can speak for love loss.

I can speak for times when I never thought I'd be the same, that I thought I'd never love again, and what would life be worth? Nothing would be like this love.

And in some ways, I was right. I was never the same, and nothing was like that love. And I don't want it to be. I want it to be mutual, reciprocated, lasting. I want it to be requited. I want it to be real and not illusional. I want it to be consummated, by God's grace.

I want my love to be all of the things that the past love was not. So I will love again, and it will be better and it will not be the same, and nothing ever will.

And this doesn't mean there won't be precious things that you'll not have in another. There will be, and you will cherish them with a fond memory. Someday.

And healing does not mean forgetting. There are various scars, big and small, from big things and small things, that I'll never forget. I remember the pain of some of them and only the events of the other. But I healed. And the pain is different, and depending on how I carry myself, it may not be that painful at all.

But sometimes I hold myself a certain way and it stings and I nurse the scar and I remember.

But I have healed.

We heal. We remember. We live to see another day, love another love as so many before us have. We hurt, we smart with shame, with regret, in memory. But I'd live it again if I had the chance.

Healing happens, especially for those of us who are young. As long as we're alive, we do.

I lost a love that was the sweetest and most innocent and most replete I'll ever know. I see his wife as one of the luckiest women I'll ever know. But I cherish that love, through remembrances of tears and pain, because of the sweetness and innocence of it that I would not live if we had, in fact, been together, and that I'll never live again with another man. It existed in the time that it should, and was beautiful because of it, and nestled in the warm summer breezes in an apartment without air conditioning, I'll close my eyes and think of those times when we were kids and I was so in love with him and he smiled at me and it will feel almost like it did the first time he told me he'd miss me.

And I'll go to sleep in remembrance of wistful musings and in anticipation of new loves and new sensations to come.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Depression is not Satan


Don't have much to say about this besides the title. There are certain things that religious people say these days that make me cringe, and this is one of them. And all of its variations. Depression is the work of Satan, depression is Satan trying to distract you, etc.

Not that one should underestimate the power of the various poorly understood evil forces in the world, but I'd rather spend time trying to rectify my underestimation of the mercy of God than the wrath of Satan.

As someone who suffered for depression for years and prayed about it and worked my way out of it for years, I'd say that thinking of depression as Satan, satanic forces, or Satan's work helped me nil. As a spiritual person, it made me feel worse. I felt helpless. I felt like my emotional state was the product of forces allowed to roam free in God's world to act as a temptation to lead me astray. The deeper I fell into depression, the deeper I felt that this was proof that I was not good enough for God. Other people did not fall victim to these depressive whispers of Iblis, but I did.

Taking Satan out of the picture for a second, two unhelpful things about this setup for a person with depression is placing the locus of control outside of oneself and giving one a reason to feel they are failing. Falling victim to Satan for a religious person feels like a failure.

So I ask, regardless of your beliefs on the subject, that you not tell a depressed, religious person that depression is "(just) Satan." It's your prerogative to believe that Satan or its forces are every and anything that could lead one off the straight path, if that works for you. For me, emotional states and life circumstances are not as easy as good and evil. Depression was to me what colic is like to newborn babies and their parents. Depression reflected a state of immaturity and incompleteness. As the theory goes, newborn babies are neurologically immature and some are so overwhelmed by their new environs that they keep up a constant fuss until their brain matures enough to deal with the world outside the womb. Depression came for me at a time of rapid growth and its respective pains, rapid understanding of the ways of the world, quiet disillusionment in the face of the disproving of the unspoken truths that I'd never asked about, all of the above.

It sounds benign but it wasn't. It was painful and it was scary. I feared that I wasn't enough for God and that I was chosen to be of those to go to hell, because I began thinking about the idea of predestination and it disturbed me.

Depression could also be chemical imbalance, but if it is chemical imbalance it is chemical imbalance in the midst of the incompleteness and void-making-and-filling of coming-to-age, which is even more turbulent.

I don't know what depression is, but for me it's a transient state that is not really Satanic. It was painful precariousness at the precipice of great growth. Precariousness to the point that I did contemplate leaving this world because the future seemed so greatly daunting and uncertain...

...if only I knew that moment to moment is so often dauntingly uncertain, I would have enjoyed the moment more than fearing the next.

No, it was not Satan. It was the amalgamation of several precipices of life that I had to scale to get me here, with valuable lessons learned, life valued more at the end, but I had to take it apart and handle it piece by piece. There was no easy fix, no single prayer or combination of prayers that got me to the other side.

And for the religious, inasmuch as we believe that God provides us with trials, this is one.

Depression is regrettable, not always avoidable and desolate. It is not a sign of religious or spiritual deficiency. It is life marching forward faster than I can process it. It's my trying to understand and feeling like the class dunce.

But oversimplifying it does no one any good. Life is not simple, as much as we would love it to be.

I wish hard things in life were evil things that I could rebuke and wash away, but so much good in life is hard, too. And it's all mixed up in there and trying to sort out the good from the bad and the ambiguous in-between is not unlike subjecting life to a centrifuge. It's jarring with unnatural products at the end.

Friday, June 14, 2013

I Will Not be a Good Wife


I will not be a good wife.

This is an admission that would have brought me to tears little over a year ago. It would be shame-invoking and I'd try to counter it with all sorts of penance, most likely starting during Ramadan. All sorts of things.

Except, this is not a hopeless, depressive declaration. More like a declaration of independence. More like an emancipation. More imperative, decisicive.

I will not be a good wife because I don't want to be.

Rather, I will not be a "good wife." I will not be this invisible apparition that I struggled to understand in my adolescence and aspired to emulate earlier in my young adulthood. I wasn't sure all that it entailed, but I picked up clues from my surroundings, primarily from my mother's example and from mainstream Muslim teachings. I had a pretty good idea of what it meant to be a good wife and I was eager to be it.

And graciously, I was not married during this time.

I was eternally frustrated because more and more of the men my age seemed to reject the idea of settling down with a good girl who would become a good wife. They wanted to play the field as long as they could. I mean, that was the biggest part of it, along with fear of commitment. Marriage was not a sex-positive institution for these men, by far. If I had a dime for every time I heard men recite comedy skits about what it's like to be with one woman for the rest of their life, specifically, to have access to only one vagina for the rest of their lives...

...well, I'd have a few dollars, anyway.

Meanwhile, I was relegated to "you'll make a good wife" status. Which would be a complement, if these men respected the institution of marriage. A wife was a potentially sexually docile woman, a fact that secured her fidelity to her husband, who was nonthreatening, dutiful, provider of children once a man is ready to settle down and lose part of himself to the old ball and chain.

That was presumptuous as well as an insult.

I was hurt for a while that men did not realize the value of a good wife. That's what I wanted to be, a real good wife. One who dedicated herself to her husband's sexual satisfaction, cared fiercely for her family, supported her husband in his endeavors, made his home.

And then I continued to grow and I was no longer hurt. I had nothing to prove. And I wasn't going to be a good wife anymore.

Not that good wife, anyway.

Maybe relating to an actual man who cared for me helped me to sort things out, move away from apparitions and be real with myself. I'm no longer aiming to be a generic wife that I think every man should want if he knew what was good for him. I will be the wife that makes sense for my relationship, for the man I'm with.

I will exchange dutifulness with loving spontaneity. I will exchange deference for only what is deserved respect. I will exchange self-sacrifice with shared compromise. I will exchange selflessness with shared self-reflection in those times when we feel that we are losing ourselves. I am lucky to be with a man who ultimately does not want me to be a good wife. He wants me to love him.

He also wants me to take care of my emotional and physical health. He wants me to be not as messy. He wants me to be myself.

And really, as much as I've been down on men in the past and the fear of commitment, I must recognize that beneath this is that basic desire to be loved and fear that the women in their lives, for one reason or another, will not. From the fear of the gold digger out for money and status, the lover out for body more than soul, and the good wife who gives more out of duty than love.

So I will love him in each moment more than I will be concerned with being a good wife.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Reaction to "Is Marriage for White People?"


I'm super late, I know, but I finally picked up a (Kindle) copy of Is Marriage for White People? by Ralph Richard Banks and read essentially over a couple of OB shifts on my latest rotation. It was an enthralling read that enraged me at once and consoled me in other moments. I felt vulnerable as every single insecurity I've had about having a European SO came to the forefront in other women's narratives. For all of the scholarly research that went into the making of the book, I felt that the solution (wish it had been plural) proposed by Banks were incomplete, but I appreciated someone actually spending time with black women and telling the very unique stories of our struggles finding a mate.

I could talk on and on about the things that made me angry. I think the thing that made me angriest is that essentially the high rates of STIs and HIV among black women more than any other group in the US is secondary to something Banks calls "man sharing," which to me sounded like man whoredom. Essentially, black men are more likely than any other race of men to engage in "long-term concurrent relationships." Infidelity is the term I'm comfortable with, but I understand the diplomacy of vocabulary of a liberal discourse. Black women do not have more sexual partners than the general population, but black men, the men they almost exclusively relate to, do.

Also, the fact that abortion rates are highest amongst black women not because they have higher rates of unplanned pregnancies when they are single, it's just that that many black women in a population are single...was also telling.

I could also talk about what was consoling. That those various Okcupid and other online dating site studies that show that black women are the least sought after of any race or gender, even amongst black men, are not the whole story, was consoling. I don't have to be considered among the most beautiful group of women in the world...but it does do something to your spirit when you have studies showing you are the least desired.

What I felt was incomplete about Banks' book is that his solution to the critical shortage of marriageable men for black women was for more black women to "marry out." I don't actually take issue to that and I feel like if everyone were more comfortable marrying outside of the bounds of race, we would be a happier people. But it's not that easy. In fact, it's hard as hell.

And Banks does acknowledge this by doing lip service to the years of trauma of slavery and the sometimes comparable institutionalized racism that infected our country thereafter and what impact that had on black women and the implications of dating and marrying, specifically, white men, and not ending up with black men. Lip service because someone could write their doctoral thesis on black women and the way we relate to men based on slavery and institutionalized racism, not just a few paragraphs. And I don't really take issue to that, either. He acknowledges it while illustrating with a few vignettes happy interracial couples that are happy not because they don't struggle sometimes with issues of race, but happy because they've found a way to relate to each other in spite of it.

My problem, then, and what I find incomplete is that he says that in order to strengthen black relationships and bring black marriage back, some black women are just going to have to "marry out" so the rest can pursue their passion for black men.

And then the book ended, and I was left like, what?

Really, Richard Banks, really?

I mean, I appreciated the pages and pages of data, the relation of all of these vignettes of real women and their experience as black women in the dating and marriage market. The fact that so much resonated with me rang true. I guess that in the book was really more a gathering of data than a proposition of multiple solutions.

His thought was...the more (specifically middle class) black women open themselves up to non-black men and pursue these relationships, the less black women there will be in the pool for (middle-class, high achieving) black men to mess over (essentially). Reducing the pool of black women for these men to choose from would mean that there would be more competition for the black women left in the pool that did not seek interracial relationships, and then black men would treat the women better in this relationships because they were competing more for their affections. More black women seeking interracial relationships would therefore even the marriage gap in the middle-class, meaning more middle-class, high achieving black men would seek to marry comparable black women, less of these women would "marry down" and less would seek working-class black men as they are now (in statistically unsuccessful marriages and relationships), and more of those men would be available for their lower class black women, and...

I'm not sure how this is really benefiting lower class black women. Most of his focus and all of his interviews are focused on middle class black women, and lower class black women are left to victim status. I feel like he represents them as past the point of rescue, showing statistically that marriage has ceased to exist for poor blacks.

His treatment of this lower class is at times other in a way that his defense sometimes feels patronizing. In this narrative, I feel like they are, again, the invisible victims that the likes of Bill Cosby, a now disconnected, old-school middle class black, and Barack Obama (where do you begin?) cannot understand when they call on black fathers to take more responsibility for the children they begot.

Even though he expresses shock that black women bear so much of the burden internally on trying to keep the race together, essentially--they are concerned with preserving blackness in their children, both culturally and phenotypically (a thought process I can identify with), preserving the community by supporting "our" men, all sentiments that are not shared so readily by our male counterparts--the best solution he has after all that data, so it seems, is that some black women take it for the team and marry out.

I say this all the while being the type of black woman that, in spite of feeling a strong sense of duty towards the black community, has never limited herself conceptually to black men. The first man I ever loved, the man I loved the hardest, was South Asian. Nor have I completely tuned out black men. I am not only attracted to black men. But there are ways in which it is easier and more automatic for me to be attracted to people of color, I must admit.

So I can understand how a black woman would be uniquely attracted to black men, as many of the women in the book expressed.

In the face of how many black women prefer black men, suggesting (middle class) black women to marry out does feel like taking one for the team.

It's all back in the hands of black women. Black men, with their propensity for "man sharing" and all other foolishness, their lack of sense of duty of racial preservation (not all, but enough that the surplus of interracial relationships with black men ending up with non-black women contributes to the partner shortage for black women), are no active player in the solution at all. They are just passive actors, persuaded to actually commit to intelligent, accomplished black women only after they see that non-black men are sweeping them up and there's less of them to come by.

I certainly thing that more people should consider interracial relationships. That will help break down barriers and gradually make it easier, as it already is easier for those of us than it was just decades ago. But placing the fate of relationships and marriage in women's hands is irresponsible. There are certainly other solutions that involve men being better people.

The name of the book, in fact, comes from a group of young black boys asking how to be better fathers, and presented with the idea of meeting with married couples to explore that. The boy who asked the question said he wasn't interested in hearing about marriage, and his friend said, "Marriage is for white people." Telling, that this is the origin of the book, young black boys not feeling a connection to marriage, and yet, the solution lies in mature black women.

How about addressing those concerns of those young black boys, getting to the bottom of why they think marriage is for white people, and helping them to find a paradigm where marriage, or if not marriage, long-term committed relationships, could be for them, too? Little black boys, some of them who will grow up to be working class, some middle class, who will inherit attitudes about women and relationships from the very men who are leaving so many black women single.

I don't think it lies only in the boys, but I think we need to pay more attention to our boys. That's where my focus lies. I don't see our men as past the point of rescue but, for my own mental health, I don't see myself as the one who will be doing the rescuing. I see for myself, now more than ever, the greatest likelihood of happiness in a long-term relationship with a non-black man. I don't exclude the possibility of such a relationship with a black man, but it has not been my experience that black men are interested in that kind of relationship with me.

On the eve of possibly ending up with a white man at that, I have not given up on the cause. I still feel duty to my community. I am the only black physician in a clinic that serves a large black population. My patients remind me of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They remind me of the girls and boys I went to school with who are now men and women. These are my people, regardless of who I marry, if God so wills that I marry. My focus is on the children, making sure they have the tools to be, if they so choose, responsible and loving adults.

And I believe that is the more apt solution to bolstering the black community and preventing our ruin. I'm not concerned about the phenotype of my potential children or how much they'll identify as black, per se, as I am the plight of the black children that exist now and will continue to exist in a world where they are marginalized.

I wish, for all of those statistics and his mention of his own sons, that Banks had thought more about mentorship.

Because what if those little black boys that thought that marriage was for white people and their cohort resoundingly grow up to graduate high school and not enter prison, unlike the current fate of so many of our boys?

Even after this very specific, pointed criticism, I must say that I overall appreciated the experience of reading this book. While I am critical of the only proposed solution to the very complicated issue of the black marriage decline (and the marriage decline in general), I would not go as far as this Jezebel blogger who does not appear to be black who defends black women's right to love whoever they want in an incomplete assessment of Bank's argument.

I knew I wouldn't like the article from the picture. The woman in the picture harkens back to the time that the black women represented in media were all fair and mixed-looking. And the picture looks like that of a woman who regrets having fallen into the hands of leering generic white man.

Then the article simplifies the argument in implying that Banks is saying white men will be black women's savior.

Umm...yes, only if white men are the only non-black men that black women could marry.

And when we are talking about heterosexual women who desire marriage and children, yes, actually, a man is necessarily part of the solution.

In the end, I can relate to what many of the women said. When I imagined myself marrying and starting a family, I imagined myself doing it younger. I imagined it being with someone my parents approved of and who fit into my extended family easily, like many of my cousins' husbands, to the point that I would call them cousin. Grossly, a man of African descent would best fit this. But I am more complicated than my blackness, as all of us are.

Such a man who would fit into my nuclear and extended family would have to be Christian to appease my father, understanding if not a big-brother figure to my brother, attractive enough for my mother to approve of him entering the family, and able to brush off the bull slung around by my uncles and cousins.

So actually, I was never going to have that. If just by the assumption that a Christian man would not be content with my being Muslim.

In the course of this year I discovered that I have to be somewhat of a pioneer in my family in order to not end up alone, or else I will continue to watch my non-black friends marry and I will be, year after year, single.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

If You Want to Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life


Never make a pretty woman your wife
So from a personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you.

Thank you, Jimmy Soul, thank you.

I didn't know very much more of the song than the the chorus, and of course the spoken line, "I saw your wife the other day" "Yeah?" "Yeah, and she was uuuuuuggggllllyyy!" "Yeah, she's ugly but she sho' can cook, baby!"

Of course, a joke song from back in the day...1963, based an an even older calypso song by Roaring Lion in 1934 (muah wikipedia!), but I was thinking about how this song wouldn't exist today in pop culture...because marriage is not standard in pop music anymore.

People still get married but it's not trendy. I feel really old talking about what's trendy and what's not. I feel like that word was last contemporary in the mid-90s.

Now, talking about what's trending is another thing...


I'd never looked at the lyrics to this masterpiece, but I decided to tonight, and I found a little pearl that was interesting to me:

"A pretty woman makes her husband look small." Interesting.

A while back I wrote an entry called "What is Man, if Woman." This line, along with this article about women breadwinners leading to increased unhappiness in marriage and divorce, made me revisit that.

I felt it incomplete. Because my question was really unanswered. What is man if woman is also professional, leader, breadwinner and a whole host of other things? Emasculated? One of the children?

Is it impossible for a Heathcliff Huxtable to exist in real life?

I find it interesting, on a side note, that most black people were still back with it being unrealistic for a married black couple to be a doctor and a lawyer. Some black people maintain that was the most unrealistic thing, whereas I feel like the more unrealistic thing was the seamless work-life balance that both of the couple exhibited while working full-time as an obstetrician and a lawyer with five children. But if we're stuck at the race of the individuals, we're not even getting to that conversation.


The article presents evidence that men are turned off by women who make more money than they do. If that were always the case, that wouldn't bode well for many of us professional women.

But I think that's another reason why a song like "If You Want to Be Happy" will never exist again. Marriage as an automatic, eventual institution is no longer as customary as when men openly considered what type of woman to marry in bubble gum banter and ballads, and apparently now the song would go a little something like this:

If you want to be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a working woman your wife
So from a personal point of view
Marry one that will depend on you

I have the non-talent of taking pre-existing songs and writing alternate lyrics for them that I wish was sufficient for songwriting, but it's not.

My mother, a woman who worked as a clinical social worker for 10 years, for part of that time happily married and another part of the time happily a young mother, seems to agree that the shift of women into the professional sphere is ruining marriage and ruining men. I'm like, really? Did your working as a social worker ruin Daddy? Am I ruining men by going into medicine? Did I seal my fate to be single this long because I decided to go into medicine?

If she were so adept, she would answer that it's not true on an individual basis but is true at the level of population. Perfect epidemiological answer from the public health degree I hope to use someday.

But I'm not mad! Definitely getting use of the more-expensive medical degree...


I still can't believe this. Like, really? Women have to assume a deferent role, if not dependent, in a marriage for it to have more success?

My mother stopped working for various reasons not limited to the demands of having a child with autism, and the absolute joy of a childhood where my mother was stay-at-home is something I will never overlook. I was fine with day care, but once I started school, I didn't like that my baby sitter dropped me off and I loved when my mother picked me up. And I remember loving it more when my mother both dropped me off and picked me up from school.

As I matured, I realized my mother took a deferent role in our household, and still does. And their marriage works and is balanced and happy.

But is deference required for a man to feel like a man?

And then I have some male friends complain about marriage because the thought of having sex with only one woman, especially the type of woman that would make "a good wife" bores them. That complaint bores me.

But the idea of these men about wanting women that did not make them look small...makes patriarchy seem like a grand charade to keep men somewhat behaved and domesticated by maintaining illusions of grandeur.

Or are they illusions? Is there really grandeur.

I think there is.

Men can have unprotected sex without potentially committing themselves to a vulnerable, 9-month symbiotic relationship.

I still don't have any answers. All I know is, because I was raised that way, deference will probably play some role in my relationship with my future spouse, whoever he may be. I've seen it work. But I've also seen where agency, personality and independence are valued...

And initiative!

Monday, June 3, 2013

No Compulsion


I never quite recovered from my period of dissociation.

Quite the contrary. It was a long time in coming. It was about time that I put myself so much into patient care and residency that I felt as if I'd lost myself. I felt that way plenty of times as a student and through much of residency kept myself just outside of that space while dancing dangerously close. Every day, I was simply grateful to be a part of these patients' lives, even if they wouldn't take my advice, maintained their distrust of doctors or suffered from the health sequelae of their own choices. It was fine, because I was honored to be a doctor.

Until I had the painful, 45 minute meeting with a family telling them their grandfather was going to die, them rapidly cycling through denial and grief. And went up to speak to them about an hour later to clarify the conversation, lying myself bare before them, as I said before, at 3am, like I've rarely done for anyone else. I stopped existing for myself in those moments. I was not Chinyere. I was a doctor, I was only their grandfather's doctor, I was the young black doctor to tell this black family what I knew, laying it down. I had no where else to be but with them. I had no other identity. I put away thoughts of my own grandparents, my own extended family, what they'd do in a similar situation, if I'd have say, as the only physician in the family.

And it was hard to get myself back from that. It's hard to do something like that, over and over, because it's part of the job, we do it over and over, and feel invisible. No one else is there to really see you.

But it was a long time in coming not just because I had to hit that sweet spot in my patient care. It was because I made choices this past year that rapidly changed who I am and a lot of what I stand for. In that patient encounter, I was away from myself for long enough to take a good look at myself from the outside. I look exactly the same, but I'm so different inside.

Part of it is becoming a physician. Another part is giving up on marrying a Muslim man.

I gave up a year ago and I haven't looked back. It was not an easy decision. And it was one that I perhaps could have made with more prayer, but I'm tired. In every interaction, I realize that I was trying to hard to be what I thought such men would want, instead of being myself and being what I want for myself.

And this is not just me saying this. My SO was raised Muslim but does not practice. He believes in God but practices nothing. And I do not seek to convert him.

And with that went so many other things that were depressing to me. And with that went the feeling of hopelessness, that I'd always be alone, that no one would love me, that so many men were missing out on who would be an awesome wife.

I broke free of that, and I don't look at myself the same way. I don't look at love and relationships the same way. And yet, I carry myself the same, my face looks the's just the way that I interact with the world is different. It's easier. I feel like I can relate to my surroundings. I'm not in it but not of it, to paraphrase Stevie. I'm not painfully separate.

Is it perfect? No. But nothing on this earth is.

Are my plans for myself perfect? No. But none are that we come up with.

And I'm sick of my parents suddenly trying to tell me about God like I didn't just go through a long, hard, lonely spiritual journey of my own, learning to connect with God with little help from them and their own religious bickering over the years. Could have used that when I was younger and searching. I do not want to hear your novel discovering now like I haven't thought of them before, meditated on them, took them to prayer, wrote essays in my journal about them.

I think I've also become more cynical.