Recently, I watched the episode of This Is Us, titled “The Little Island Girl,” and I found it to be such a mirror into the lives of Black women, into my life as an Afro-Caribbean woman. This episode depicted the Black woman’s journey when facing life transitions. While all paths aren’t the same, there are some common treading among Black women when longing for liberation in our lives. Liberation from utter realism that has kept our survival mode in gear but impedes on our dreams; liberation from the sense of unwavering “obligation” we feel to others when we are given an “opportunity” that capitalizes on our productivity. And liberation from the perceptions of ourselves and the roles that we juggle.
We’ve previously watched Beth be terminated from a workplace where she invested 12 years of her life. It’s at this juncture that she encounters a cracked door of mystery. Previously, she had been so consumed by being a “strong” pillar for her family, analyzing the needs of her workplace to remain a “top boss” employee, while simultaneously trying to catch her breath through life. She had not given herself permission to slow down or whole-heartedly reflect on her trajectory over the past years — if it was truly aligned with the depths of her dreams.
Our natural instincts are flashes of light, guiding us to dream big. When we deny ourselves permission to turn those dreams into fruition, our natural instincts will continue to follow us like a shadow. In Beth’s case, dance was her shadow and it had been following her for years. It was waiting for the moment where she would “see” what had happened to her.
“When the time comes, I hope you’ll choose yourself.” The advice given to her by the late William foreshadowed her job loss and the stripping of old perceptions, along with the many roles she felt she had to juggle. It’s safe to say that Beth felt like a wanderer, but we later see that she wasn’t lost.
Beth’s trip to visit her mother further signifies the treaded path Black women experience with life transitions. She returns to her childhood home, while the stripping of old perceptions and roles continue to occur. Similar to Beth, this can cause us to feel at our most vulnerable. Especially, when needing to confront aspects of our past that create present barriers. Beth does this through a truthfully unveiling and mutually vulnerable conversation with her mother. The scales come falling down, and Beth is walking into the shadow that leads to the mystery door.
Treading the shadow path to arrive at the door of mystery, we’re shown the value of facing who we thought we were and how we resigned ourselves to live. Here, we’re also challenged to confront the barrier between our current selves and what we would unknowingly become when entering the door of mystery. It’s hard work, but it’s fresh air to our souls. As Black women, the path of liberation in our personal lives might feel uncomfortable, but we’ve been through difficult and uncomfortable circumstances before and have survived. Beth does the work and so can we.
In the end, we see Beth look at her partner in the eyes. She shares her dreams without ambivalence and she walks into the cracked door of mystery that had been waiting for her all along. Beth dances from depths of her being. When she falls, she smiles. There’s an extended exhale because she’s breathing in fresh air and getting back in the groove of her natural instincts. There we know that she has met liberation and will get back up. And I can’t wait to see how this newly founded liberation of her personhood continues to unfold.
As once the “little island girl” who immigrated to this country at the age of two, and a therapist who has been helping clients face and tread their own life transitions for years, I now find myself at a new juncture in life. I’m in transition personally and professionally. Here’s what I’m learning, as I’m hoping it can help you along life transitions of your own.
1.) Give yourself permission to slow down. I know juggling the balls of life has become an art form for you, but allow yourself to place the balls down one by one. With each ball that you place down (whether it be a carried role or self-imposed expectation), ask yourself if this ball is giving you energy or taking it away. I was asked to reflect on these several weeks ago by a wealth strategist and it’s been helping me channel my focus toward what gives me energy. And guess what? What gives me energy is very much aligned with my natural instincts. What takes away energy is usually self-imposed expectations or responding from a sense of unwavering obligation where it may not be warranted.
2.) Choose yourself. I can hear the resistance all the way from here, and I can also hear the imposed guilt chattering away, “but that’s selfish!” To which, I can happily respond, a world where we personally experience liberation and fulfillment is a safer world than when we are treading around, resigned to being unfulfilled or constricted for fear of being “selfish.” The latter, I call neglect and soul deprivation of fresh air.
3.) Your transition may go contrary to who you thought you were for years. In the midst of treading unknown territories, don’t worry about being “right”. Give more attention to being wholehearted. Get out of your head, and start to experience life from your body. Decisions can be made much simpler. Just notice, “how is [my]
4.) Transitions are a vulnerable time for anyone (therapists included). How we respond to certain challenges can sometimes fall out of our normal range of response. When you notice this, don’t kick yourself. It doesn’t help you get closer to where you want to be. Instead, reflect on the kind of challenges faced, and be more intentional on responding oppositely. My favorite poem often reminds me that at the face of life challenges, there’s value in being kind, sincere, intentional, and of goodwill. Do it anyway.
5.) Our path to personal liberation may go contrary to the vision that others held for us and for themselves. If you are met by a challenge from others, understand that it’s normal to care for them and want their support. Yet, even if you don’t receive it, you can’t abandon your dreams. You see, in the final analysis, it’s about you caring for your Soul, not about you and them.
6.) Surrender to the process of transition with your heart, and not your head. It will save you so much time. If you don’t understand what I mean by that now, give it some time. I’m confident you will at a later time. Now, go thrive, because you are so capable.
Carmelle Ellison is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Berkeley, CA who specializes in working with Millennials and the Gen-X population who suffer from complex trauma; those who are high achieving but have difficulty separating their self-worth from productivity; along with helping individuals manage anxiety, depression, life transitions, and relationship challenges. You can connect with Carmelle at https://carmelleellisonpsychotherapy.com .