The Shadow
Published in

The Shadow

Climbing Up To Meet Myself

Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash

Various shades of charcoal gray shadows surrounded me in the room’s morning darkness. My heart thudded in the center of my chest as I pinched the bridge of my nose, an attempt to stave off the hot tears threatening to spill down the sides of my face. Rolling left into the fetal position, my oversized gray t-shirt bunched up behind me. Spooning my iPhone, as it lay beside me on the bed, I touched the smooth screen and swiped up. Squinting into the light, I saw it was 8:27 a.m. on Friday, November 20, 2020.

This was me, last fall as I lay alone in the small apartment in the Älvsjö section of Stockholm, Sweden. Determined to rise above a blue mood swirling within the quiet of my center for several days, I attempted reverse psychology to hop over a funk pulling me down by the ankles. The waves of undulating emotions crashed in the night before, capsizing my resolve when I glimpsed two emails that began with, “Unfortunately, we will not be moving forward with your application…” I didn’t need to read more to know I’d been removed from their lists of candidates for the graphic design positions.

Earlier in the week, I also discovered that a potentially amorous interlude had run its course. Although it ended amicably, I was downcast. Inviting the possibility of intimacy back into my life reminded me of my needs.

“…you’re living a life of wondering why you didn’t try it.”

In early March 2020, I had a mini-meltdown connected to starting my new life in another country. I didn’t regret being in Stockholm for over five months. My Swedish network of friends was growing, sprouting from connections made after my first visit to the Scandinavian capital in August 2015. I wasn’t remorseful over leaving a company I‘d worked at for over twenty years.

What consumed me like a brush fire was my fear of what friends and family were saying about my decision to leave the U.S. I agonized that across state lines, they were conspiring to have me airlifted out of Sweden. People-pleasing bounded back into my psyche with a vengeance.

“I think that boy has snapped,” I imagined my aunt in Maryland proselytizing to family over the phone.

“I think it’s a severe form of a midlife crisis,” I was sure my high school friend lamented as he lounged in his living room armchair in Phoenix, Arizona.

And I was positive another relative had forwarded the text she sent me that said, “Only young white people do what you’re doing. And you’re neither young nor white.”

What helped to douse the flames licking at the heels of my determination was a Swedish friend who calmly said. “Erick, picture it. You gave up on this dream that materialized when you first visited Sweden. You never gave it a chance. And you’re living a life of wondering why you didn’t try it.”

The wind rushed out of me. “Thank you,” I said to him. “That’s what I needed to hear.”

From that moment, until the morning of November 20, I was good. I got back on track. I once more permitted myself to believe in my plans. Something I’ve come to realize requires daily upkeep to maintain. I allowed myself to absorb the words of encouragement from those close to me. I returned to my life outline, which included writing more. Each day I coached myself by saying, “Erick, you’ve got this. Go after what you believe in. It’s not wrong.”

I made it through four seasons in Stockholm when summer arrived. Like the rest of the world, Sweden adjusted to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I did get to attend a scaled-down version of the Swedish midsummer, one of the country’s celebrated holidays. And I experienced the joy of sloughing off coats and sweaters to radiate in the season’s warmth.

In early September 2020, a friend invited me to stay with his family in a small village in southern England. For the first time, I learned the importance of slowing down to enjoy the sites, sounds, and fragrances of nature. Through my friend’s 93-year-old mother, I learned too that every day is an opportunity to live my best life. If I’m open to it.

With my return to Sweden in early November, something familiar followed me back. My inane desire for absolute approval from others. Unsurprisingly, I focused on what I didn’t have, permitting the voices of doubt to frolic through my brain and cloud my personal and professional progress over the past year in Europe.

Lying in bed on November 20 compelled me to do something I didn’t want to do. To admit to myself that my feelings weren’t as sunny as I projected them to be. I was frustrated I wasn’t landing jobs I believed I was qualified for. I also professed some of the challenges of being an expatriate, navigating the norms of another land.

When a friend asked me to describe things I said, “You know, I want to take that glass that is half full, hurl it across the room, and watch it smash against the wall into a million tiny pieces.” His laughter reminded me I wasn’t alone. That it’s okay, to be honest about how I’m feeling.

“…I’m more grounded in my purpose. And I’m better able to process a wider range of emotions.”

Progressing through my mid-life, I’m climbing up to meet myself. For the first time, I’m able to see that I’m alright. This period of my life has been beautifully scary. I’m living through experiences I’ve always wanted to have, which include treating myself before the pandemic to a birthday trip to Berlin, Germany. I’ve enjoyed coffee in historic neighborhoods in England, Germany, and Sweden.

Since embarking on this journey twenty-two months ago, I realize I need to do more than just see the weapons of negativity in my life. I need to loosen the grip I have on them and let them go. Because internal chatter like, “Erick, no one wants to deal with a black gay man,” is damaging. It’s possible I need to return to the sources of these beliefs. And how their familiarity creates the illusion they’re helping me.

I don’t ignore the realities of cynicism that may traverse through my life. But I want to return to the nuggets of wisdom my mother shared with me during my childhood. Like when I discovered I was outside of the circle of popularity at school she said, “Erick, regardless of who you are and what you do, people are going to talk about you. So do what feels right for you and makes you happy.” I need to unfold and pull that one out of my suitcase of our memories together.

I recognize that my distress over others’ opinions of me is linked to my codependency, which manifests itself in believing that my “…desires and needs are unimportant… (Medical News Today, 2017).” Maybe I’ll return to therapy, something that gave me clarity after my mother’s passing in 2004.

I don’t fully know where this path I’m on here in Europe is leading me. But I know that in deciding to do it, I’m more grounded in my purpose. And I’m better able to process a wider range of emotions. It’s strengthened my connection to my spirituality and my intuition. Which has increased my belief in myself.

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Erick Taylor Woodby

Erick Taylor Woodby

Writer and host of “Our Black Gay Diaspora Podcast,” for black LGBTQ+ citizens to inspire and educate on who they are in their countries and professions.