Growing up in PG County Maryland we used to watch late night scary movies on channel 20 on a show called Creature Feature. From Dracula to the invisible man, there was always some kind of shapeshifting involved. The moon would rise, a potion would be consumed and then it would happen. Bones break, sinew torn and skin stretched. The monster appears.
In my 20s, I was introduced to afrofuturism and Octavia Butler. That was first time I considered what shapeshifting looks like that could facilitate healing. The ability to ingest poison, tease out the healing properties as it rolled around in your mouth, burning your tongue…power. Anyanwu, whose name is Igbo for sun, could take many forms and she was ancient. She also knew the toll it took on her body to maintain certain forms that were not her on. It was taxing and depleted her and yet and still, she pressed forward offering healing and protection for her people. As a mother, I know the physical and emotional truth of shapeshifting. I can run my fingertips across the thin flat estuaries that mark my belly, hips and breast. My heart shifted, became bigger, more open and stronger. Sometimes, often times, I feel as if my heart will explode because of how much I love my boys. Like it’s not possible to keep it from shattering when I feel it so much.
I have a slight limp. Not the physical kind. I have a slight limp left from the shapeshifting of my spirit on my journey with depression and anxiety. It has been an energy that bloats, siphons and stretches into shapes that often feel unnatural. It hurts. Bones break, sinew tears, skin stretches, my mind swirls with a restlessness that gives me emotional vertigo. I feel like I was bitten by the spider, cursed by the gypsy, or that I created my own poisonous elixir years ago to make myself stronger only to realize later that I didn’t need the potion and now I am transformed. Did I create a monster?
There are many of us. Those who be differently shaped because of emotional health and mental health realities. Sometimes that shape is visible, but illegible. It reads like fatigue, social isolation, terseness or being ill-tempered, inconsistency, flat affect, short-fused or hyper sensitivity. More often than not, the shape is invisible to naked eye and hides behind masks. Masks of our own creation, medicinal masks (sometimes prescribed, often not), mask that self- mutilate, toxic relationship masks, and masks placed in our hands by our families, churches, cultures, etc. Put this on….don’t let them/us see who you really are. You will be judged and cast out. Put it on.
Last year I began the reveal. I shared my story with people close to me and strangers alike. I outed myself, my struggle and triumphs along this journey with depression. There are people, in hearing my tale, shared their story with me too and we leaned into each other as kindred, providing support from near and far. There were also those who relished in my pain and whispered…I wonder what really happened…maybe she brought this on herself…. maybe she is getting what she deserves, karma is a bitch…ain’t she supposed to be a priestess or healer or something….maybe she’s making a bigger deal about being sad to get attention. Maybe.
Last October, I marked myself with a semicolon to remind myself that though my shape has indeed shifted, my story is not over. I am giving myself permission to speak my truth because holding it in my mouth and throat reopens old scars and allows new poisons to seep in. I am giving myself permission to stop, rest, cry, re-evaluate and reanimate. Today is World Mental Health Day and my name is Omi. I am a person in progress… journeying with depression and anxiety and I am still here.