The Mask

You only see what I choose to show you.

My face is a mask to hide the pain inside.

If you see a smile, you have no way of knowing if it’s genuine or not.

Know that it isn’t a facade.

Know that it’s a means of protection.

My flawless public appearance hides my private despair.

You don’t care to know.

You don’t care to understand.

You see what you want to see.

You only see what I choose to show you.

 

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Education or Torture

Yesterday marked the annual Secondary Education Assessment (SEA)… that revered examination from which a child’s future success is determined. The test that almost always decides the advancement of children in today’s society. Yes, there are those who did not achieve their desired results and went on to incredible success later in life. But the reality is that for many, this examination is the beginning of achievement or struggle.

SEA came about in 2001 as a supposed improvement over the colonial Common Entrance exam. Call it what you want but it’s not improvement. In Trinidad, up to 1968, secondary school education wasn’t free to the general population. However, a select number of students who achieved success through the College Exhibition, were granted the opportunity to free secondary education. The College Exhibition was later replaced by the Common Entrance Examination, but even with the introduction of free secondary education, there was a prestige established by the exam. The previously existing schools catered to the higher classes of society, who had the financial resources to pay for their children’s education and it was of paramount importance to maintain that standard of separation. Additional secondary schools were established, but they were not on an even footing. They didn’t have the finances to be properly run, inexperienced teachers and a system still being fine-tuned.

50 years later and we still can’t figure this out. The prestige schools in the 1970s are still the prestige schools of today. Parents are known to bestow huge rewards on their children for success and to severely punish if their placement is not to the desired standard of excellence. Primary schools focus only on language and mathematics, to the detriment of art, music and sports, because those activities will supposedly have no bearing on success at SEA. At home, children are subjected to hours of homework and revision, with no time for play or relaxation. Children from the age of 9 are suffering from anxiety, nightmares, headaches, depression and countless other behaviors, stemming from this examination. Children have committed suicide due to the pressures arising from this day. And as much as some parents may try to hide their own emotions, they are also contributing their negative energies to an already volatile child.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not blaming parents. I believe that the vast majority are doing their best with the skills that they have. They believe that a “prestige” secondary school is going to provide a doorway to better. They know that their kids are under pressure but in many instances, don’t know what to do about it. My question is… why aren’t we pressuring the government and ministry of education to make changes? Why isn’t this a more prevalent issue at election time? Strength is in numbers and if 18000 children are sitting this exam annually, that’s a lot of parents whose voices can be heard if they unite.

 

“Mummy, I Don’t Want To Be Alive”

In April of 2015, Joaquin had the worst meltdown of his life: the meltdown that devastated me for weeks and made me question every ability in me as his mother. A series of events led up to the breakdown and throughout each one, I kept thinking that he was doing so well. In retrospect, I should’ve known this was a recipe for disaster in progress.

#1 – He had no school the day before… schedule out of whack.

#2 – We couldn’t find his iPad that morning… but he’s still good.

#3 – We couldn’t find his dark blue track pants that he always wears on Saturday mornings.

#4 – The big one, eye doctor visit… invasion of personal space and being poked and prodded.

All of these are not things that my boy takes very well without ample preparation and even then, I can usually only hope for the best. So what was the trigger? In order to keep him calm, I promised him at the ophthalmologist that he could use my phone after to play games. We got into the car and while we are driving, he asked for my phone. I then decided to change the arrangement and told him that we should do spelling first. All hell broke loose… screaming, shouting, he tried punching me while I was driving.

To a parent, who is unaccustomed by this behavior, the first thought is that this is a lack of discipline. But for a child who has extremely established routines, who needs forewarning before the plans change, who needs to go through all possible outcomes, so he can determine how he will address every possibility… this is not unexpected. If I had given him the phone and said “you have it for 1 minute and then we do spelling”, he would have been fine.

But instead, I changed the agreement completely and his brain isn’t always able to process that in the best way. So aside from attempting to physically hurt me, he will also hurt himself because he cannot verbally communicate his heightened emotions. On this occasion, he tried to open the car door while we were moving. I was able to pull over and after about 30 minutes, of him screaming and crying and me doing nothing more than bear hugging him, while trying to calm him, he said “mummy, I don’t want to be alive”.

My heart broke completely. I had no words. All I could do at that moment was hug him and allow the tears to flow from us both. I felt emotionally and physically ill for weeks after. I questioned the need for spelling, my need for discipline. Why didn’t I just give him the phone? I believed at that time that I was the worst mummy ever… that a good mummy would’ve been able to fix his hurt instantly. Or better yet, would not have caused his hurt in the first place.

But as with all challenges, there comes a time when we have no choice but to dust ourselves off, pick up the pieces and continue to fight. I know that I’m not perfect. I also know that I’m the best mummy my son has and I will do any and everything to help and support him. This is simply one more challenge to overcome.

If you’ve ever experienced anything like this, know that you are not alone. Know that there is at least one mummy who feels all the emotions you’re going through. Know that this will get better.

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Finding my passion

In 2012, I was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety. Truthfully, this was something I had always battled with, but getting it on paper meant confronting the demons. I finally understood that this wasn’t a bad day or week. This was something that I needed to accept was going to be present, probably for the rest of my life. I fought the perceived stigma of taking anti-depressants for years until I realized that if I didn’t, my suicidal ideation would eventually become a reality and my son would wake up one morning without a mother. I took 3 different tablets before I found the one that worked for me.

In the following months, I was forced into a great deal of introspection and slowly, the realization hit that I was not getting as much joy from my work, as I had in the past. I started wondering if my state of mind was boredom and stagnancy… maybe 12 years with one company had made me lose my drive for more. The undeniable fact sank in that I didn’t want to be in the corporate world anymore. But what do you do when all of your education has prepared you for the path that you no longer want to follow?

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Some people may think that maybe I chose the wrong path. But I always loved sciences and still do. I pursued my Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry and then followed with my Master of Science degree in Food Science and Technology. Those choices always felt right and allowed me a very comfortable career. Why then did I suddenly feel as though I had made the wrong decision? And was it possible to fix at this stage of my life?

I restarted practising yoga with no other intention than relaxation and after a few months, my yoga teacher offered her first training program… a 500 hour Yoga Alliance certified program. Some aspects were opened to the public as individual sessions and I signed up for all. Those sessions dealt a lot with yoga philosophy and really understanding the roots of where yoga came from. As soon as I attended, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to do this training.

I started planning for 2014. Being a single mother with a recently diagnosed autistic son didn’t make matters easy. However, planning a year in advance was a huge advantage. Godparents were called on for babysitting duties and support as I embarked on yoga teacher training in 2014.

On the 2nd day of training, I told my yoga teacher that I wanted to do this full time. As much as she wanted to, I’m not sure she believed me. But all of the ambiguity in my life suddenly made sense. Turning my back on 14 years of building my career to become a yoga teacher, with an unreliable income, having to hunt for work made sense. And if you don’t know me… I’m a Type A personality, very OCD, Virgo, who plans my life to a T. Yet casting everything to the wind somehow made me feel more confident and secure than I had in years.

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I spent the next two years fine-tuning my skills and building my financial safety net. On February 12th 2016, I officially left the corporate world and adopted the new job title of yoga instructor.

Fast forward two years… no regrets but sometimes worrying moments. Finances are tighter than when I had the luxury of a consistent, unvarying pay cheque, but so far I’ve been comfortable and blessed. The one lesson I’ve learnt is that you cannot put a price on peace of mind. I’ve now made peace with myself that my depression and anxiety are not something I can snap out of. They are as a result of a chemical imbalance and I will likely be on medication for the rest of my life. But I’m ok with that. And being in a profession that allows my mental strength to develop is always a benefit. Having a profession that allows me to be connected with a passion that I never imagined possible brings me a greater level of positivity and joy which never previously existed in my life.

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Yoga is an experience that will transform your thinking, your views on life and the world. Working hard for something that you love is called passion and I have found my passion in yoga.

The Battle of Tight Hips and Locked Emotions

As a child I always sat in lotus, not just crossed legs… full lotus. There wasn’t anything yogic about it at the time… I just liked to sit like that. As I entered my teens, it started becoming uncomfortable and by my early 20s was no longer possible. Every few months, I would revisit but it was completely inaccessible to me and eventually I gave up trying and considered it lost to my childhood. In 2012, when I started on my journey of rebirth, I was forced to face demons that I had buried within me and that was when I discovered the connection between my physical body and the manifestation of my locked emotions. The realisation that the tightening of my hips started at the same time as my eating disorders, the continuation of tightening corresponding to other physical and emotional traumas that I experienced in my life. About 3 years ago, I attempted lotus again and even though, I felt that I had made significant progress towards facing my demons and my physical body felt more open, I was still dealing with an incredible level of daily stress and the pose continued to elude me.

I started teaching yoga full time almost 2 years ago and the benefits to my well-being, my peace of mind and my emotional state have been mind-blowing. So imagine my shock when I attempt lotus and it happened… I wasn’t expecting it, had let go of the attachment to achieving it, and it happened. I literally sat there thinking “this can’t be lotus… how did this happen??” I may not be able to do a handstand, my poses may sometimes be awkward and wobbly, I may often prefer child’s pose… but my emotional state has made a breakthrough and from that, only beauty and inspiration can emerge đź’ž

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