Archive for June, 2014

We’re a family; we’re a team.

June 30, 2014 3 comments

Tomorrow, I start my new job as a medical social worker. I realize some people switch jobs frequently, but this is a big deal to me. I thought I was going to be at my previous position for at least another year, but abrupt agency changes made me see that I needed to rethink what I was doing. When I graduated from my MSW program, I had a rough five year-plan of my career path. I would get my LCSW and then apply to doctorate programs. During a transitional period in administration at my last job, I realized my agency did not have the capacity to support me in my career goals. When I was offered my new position, I saw that this change would put me on track with my goals. This new job is an opportunity. And that’s scary to me. Sometimes, when things are really, actually happening the way you want them to, it’s exciting, but it also means that you have to hold yourself accountable to all that talk you’ve been doing and make things happen. Now I have to make things happen.

So I am scared. At the same time, I don’t care about being scared. I feel invincible these days. Throughout my family’s history, we’ve been through some desolate times. I remember being a freshman in college, lying in my bunk bed in Massachusetts, staring at the white cement wall. I’d think of my dead brother and miss him so badly, I’d wish I could dissolve into little particles and float away.  Things became manageable, but I got sucker-punched time and time again over the years by other life stuff. I know that horrible things are still to come. That’s certain. I know I will fall apart here and there. That’s also certain. Yet I don’t feel hopeless. I think I feel strong, and I think I know why.

In these last 10 days, I’ve spent a lot of time with family.  My family is not limited to biology–I also have my family by marriage, my friend family, and my judo family. In each facet, even biological, the relationships that impact me the most have been constructed over time. I’ve always loved my dad and I’ve always loved my cousin, Noah, but it’s taken effort between all of us to reach out, listen, empathize, and support each other– to really know each other as the individuals who we are. When Noah started to build his own family, it was up to me to get to know his wife and be a part of his children’s life. It was up to them to let me in.  Before my dad and his wife, Jeannie, got married, I spent a lot of time with Jeannie and her family. Now that my dad and Jeannie are married, I feel a new sense of commitment, loyalty, and protection towards Jeannie and my new brothers and sister.

Over the weekend, I experienced two instances where I felt both content and secure. The first was on Friday night. I spent only a few hours with my first judo coach, his daughter, Kristin, and her husband at a judo clinic and dinner afterwards. There were a handful of other people there who I’ve know for over 25 years. There’s such comfort being around those guys. They’ve seen me at my most emotional and miserable, but also at my best. I always feel like I can be myself around them. It’s been pretty cool to see that our relationships are still evolving. Kristin and I have become closer though we live hundreds of miles apart. It’s fun for me to get to know her husband little by little and see how good that relationship is for Kristin. Her dad is no longer my tough, scary coach, but more like a goofy uncle (but a goofy uncle I whom I still fear and respect on the mat). After so many years together, I know that no matter where we are in the world, we can rely on each other. The bond you form on the the mat is unique. If you trust someone on the mat, you end up trusting them with anything. The second instance was on Saturday, when I spent about an hour messaging back and forth with a little brother from my friend family, Mike. Mike’s older brother, Dennis, and my older brother, Scott, were inseparable from seventh grade until my brother died when they were 19. Since I lost my brother, I adopted Dennis and Scott’s closest friends as my big brothers. I never knew Mike well growing up because he’s about six or seven years younger than I am. Recently, Mike and I have engaged in a few brief conversations about writing and the creative process. On Saturday, we talked more about art and writing, but also about our growing comfort with one another, which we know is due to some of the horrible things our families have gone through and the subsequent love and support we’ve extended.

After talking with Mike, I spent a lot of time thinking about how the people you endure the hard stuff with are the people who become your family.  You hold each other up when it seems like everything is crumbling, and then when the dust settles, you figure out how to laugh together and find joy in each small moment. You bring out the best in one another. You’re a team. And that’s why even though I’m scared to start my new job tomorrow and take a big step, I’m not that worried. I’m on a big team.


Categories: Life Tags: , , , , , , ,

Get out there.

On Sunday, June 15th, I competed in the DC Judo Capital Grapple tournament in Washington, DC.  Capital Grapple is an all women’s judo and jiu jitsu tournament. When my spirit sister, Joy, and I competed at Capital Grapple last year, we had a blast. It was my first judo tournament in over a year and my first BJJ competition ever. Fortunately, the vibe was less “Death or Glory!” and more, “Get out there, fight hard, and make some friends.” I had some great matches that day, and even a couple of wins. Joy and I went to Denny’s with our coach, Lee, afterwards and wore our medals the whole time. So when Joy and I got notice of this year’s Capital Grapple, we were pumped. I couldn’t wait. Since I could compete in both judo and jiu jitsu, I would fight my first tournament as nikyu and as a blue belt in one day. I found some relief in that. Just rip off the bandage and go.

However, I soon found myself wanting the bandage to stay on. As June 15th barreled towards me, I started to freak out. I was stressed out at work, which at times is normal since I’m a social worker. Stress is implied in social work. But this was different. Although I look forward to starting my new position in July, the transition period was overwhelming for me. I internalize stress. I know this. I also know that stress manifests physically for me. I have an autoimmune condition and I’ve been told time and time again to be careful since stress and anxiety trigger my symptoms and will make me very sick. Two weeks before the tournament, I spent most of the day in pain, barely eating, barely sleeping. The Tuesday of tournament week, I could only sit on the side and watch during practice.

I continued to freak out. I felt weak. I felt distracted. My anxiety rose and I pictured myself falling apart on the mat on Sunday, too sick to compete.  I wouldn’t be able to get through my matches. I was angry and frustrated with myself. If I could just calm down, I might feel better. At the same time, I thought I was just kidding myself if I said everything would be fine. Friday before the competition at our Open Mat, I rolled four BJJ sets before my body shut down and gave me the finger. Then on Saturday, Joy and I went to our friends’ promotion day at their club. After 45 minutes, I was done. I was scared. When I got home late Saturday afternoon, I locked myself out of my apartment as I went to the laundromat to wash my gi for the tournament. That was it. That clinched it for me. As I sat on the floor in front of my apartment door, waiting for emergency maintenance, I drowned myself in self-pity: “I shouldn’t fight. I’m stupid for fighting. This is the worst idea. I don’t want to do this.”

And then I told myself to shut up. Shut up and fight. I thought about how tournament day was the same day of Father’s Day. I thought about my own fighting dad. Then I thought about my childhood friends, Dennis and Mike, whose dad died last year on Father’s Day. Their dad was a hardworking, loving, generous, and hilarious man.  I decided to dedicated my matches to my friends and their father. In the spirit of their family, I was going to fight my ass off and have a great time. Just get out there and do it.

Joy, me, Juliann, and Ann, Capital Grapple, June 15, 2104. Washington, DC

Joy, me, Juliann, and Ann, Capital Grapple, June 15, 2104. Washington, DC

So that’s what I did. This year, Joy and I were joined by a BJJ teammate from another club, Ann, and Lee was along to coach again. On the drive down, we had both serious and silly conversation to distract us from the tournament nerves. Ann hadn’t competed since 2000. Stepping back into competition after 14 years is no small thing. I was both anxious and excited for Ann. Even before she fought, I was in awe of her will. It’s so hard to start something once you stop, but she was going to jump right in that day. We actually ended up fighting each other. While fighting against your teammates in tournaments can be pretty horrible, I know we each did our best and out of respect for each other, really tried to win. Of course, Ann trounced me, as she should have since she has miles of skill and experience on me. But I had fun kidding myself that I could actually beat her. One of our judo club’s black belts brought his daughter to compete in judo, and she was such a warrior. At only twelve years old, she fought injured and took first and second in her divisions. At last year’s Capital Grapple, I competed in both judo and jiu jitsu, but I got confused going back and forth between mats. I pulled guard in a judo match and basically threw myself. I competed in both categories again this year, and while I’m not sure that I’m mentally strong enough to fight in both judo and jiu jitsu at the same tournament, I am happy to say that I did not pull guard in a judo match this year. While my losses of the day stung, I realized one good thing I can take away is that my conditioning is solid. I had three judo matches and two jiu jitsu matches and I did not run out of gas. I lost my matches because of mistakes that I made, and I can fix those mistakes. I know I’ll never lose a match because I just gave up.

At the end of the tournament, I was ecstatic. We all won at least one match. We made new buddies. We enjoyed a perfect summer day and went to a waffle house for our post-tournament feast. On the ride back home, we continued our serious and silly conversation, this time relaxed and content. I talked with my fighting father, and he instructed me to pat Joy on the head for doing a good job. I let Dennis and Mike know how the day went. When I got back to my apartment, I slung an ice pack on my shoulder and ate an ice cream sandwich for dinner, knowing that Dennis and Mike’s dad would approve. I couldn’t believe I almost chickened out. I’m glad I got out there. 945041_10151930119107782_1540772273_n


Haikuesday 06.24.14

For these few moments,

I’ll just breathe and look around,

and let my mind float.

Love letter to life.

There are times in my life

when nothing is clear

and nothing is obvious,

but each moment has meaning.

Every held glance,

every touch on the shoulder,

every laugh with head thrown back

is leading to something.

Something big.

Though nothing is clear

and nothing is obvious,

each moment has meaning

as my heart remains open to all that awaits me.




Haikuesday 06.17.14


It’s a strange concept for me,

but I’d like to learn.

Haikuesday 06.10.14

I’ve shredded so much

as I’ve prepared to move on.

What will I build next?

That was May, This is June.

June 7, 2014 3 comments
Me and Mr. Latimer of his big day.

Me and Mr. Latimer of his big day.

May. I couldn’t wait for May. March and April had been hard and weird, but May, that’s when all the good things would happen. As April ended, all I cared about was that on May 3rd, my dad and his girlfriend were getting married. My dad’s marriage seemed like the biggest event to happen in our family since my mom’s death in 2006. Before 2006, the biggest thing to happen in our family was my brother’s death in 1998. Finally. Something good. Something new. Something hopeful.

May 3rd. I couldn’t wait for May 3rd. Although my dad and his girlfriend, Jeannie, had been together for several years ago and shared a home, I felt excited for it to be official. I know both my dad and Jeannie have struggled in their lives. Now in their 60s, they have the chance to build something meaningful with each other. I felt relief knowing that my dad could finally settle into a good life. A calm life. The life he deserves. There’s something about us humans where we don’t say how we really feel until something big happens. Usually we need something horrible to push us to that state of vulnerability. With a wedding, I could tell my dad and Jeannie my love and hope for them during something joyous. So I think I wanted May 3rd to happen so badly because it was an opportunity for me to tell my dad how much I admire him and how much I love him. I never took a moment to tell him and Jeannie how glad I am that they have each other, but May 3rd could be that day. Since I asked my dad if I could be his best man and he said yes, I gave the speech for the wedding toast and was able to say all the things we don’t say in day-to-day conversation.

In my own selfish perspective, I was pumped to officially inherit a new family. Jeannie has two sons and a daughter-in-law. Over the last few years, we’ve spent holiday, birthdays, and just days together. After losing my brother and being raised by a mom who was pretty unstable, I couldn’t get over how relaxing and natural it felt to sit together as a family. I also missed having a brother. While I will always miss my big brother, I like knowing that I now have two brothers and a sister.


Our new crew.

Our new crew.

My dad’s wedding was just the start of May. Two weeks later on May 15th, my cousin, Noah, graduated from his Master’s program. In 2012, my cousin moved his family from Miami back up to Philadelphia to earn a degree to push his career in a better direction. It was a big risk, but a necessary one. Noah was nervous since he had done no academic writing in over 10 years and his highest degree was an Associate’s. He was worried he wouldn’t have the skills to succeed, forgetting his valuable his years of professional experience would be. So he worked. Man, did he work. And it paid off, since he was offered an exclusive fellowship for the summer after his first year. At the beginning of his second year of school, Noah and his wife, Shawnette, had their second child. Noah struggled to be a dedicated, reliable husband and father while trying to balance the demands of a Master’s program. Noah’s family had his back though, and wanted him to achieve. When Noah graduated in May, his program selected him to be the student commencement speaker. When his program director talked about Noah during his hooding ceremony, she fought back tears of pride. It was clear. Noah didn’t just succeed, he flourished.

Me and NoNo on his big day.

Me and NoNo on his big day.

As for me, I didn’t think anything great would happen for me specifically. I was thrilled for my family, but in my own life, I felt frozen. I was fighting to decide if I should take a risk like Noah. Since my supervisor left in Mid-March, I felt compelled to evaluate my own place in the agency and what my next steps as a social worker could be. It was hard for me to accept that my growth at the agency had pretty much come to the end. While I still loved my clients, remaining in my current position would mean stagnation. I started exploring my options and in less than two weeks, I found a new job. I never thought it would happen that fast. I mentally prepared to stay at my agency for another three to six months. But life decide to rocket blast me to my next step. I submitted my resignation letter on May 27th.

Now it’s June. I’ve had an official new family for a month. It does feel different when I talk with my dad, Jeannie, and my new brothers and sister. I can’t quite describe it, but maybe it feels more comfortable, more certain than it did before. Noah can finally get some sleep and be present with his family like he wants. He has options now, real options to pursue his passion and build a life with his family. I look at myself and sometimes I get scared. I have two weeks left with my clients. I started to say goodbye last week and it’s been ripping my heart out. It hurts just as much to hear a client tell me they are mad at me for leaving as it does when someone says they are happy for me, wishing me the best. I know they are smart, resilient individuals, which is part of what makes it hard for me to let them go. It’s strange, but as I move forward to meet a new set of standards, expectations, and challenges, I want to make my clients proud. My new opportunity would not have been possible without my last two years with my clients. They taught me and pushed me to be the kind of social worker I strive to be. I feel like I owe them to do well. June. I must be patient with June, since once July arrives, so does the start of my new life.