Then remains the battlefield. The arena where the old Ashley and the new Ashley battle it out. This is the arena where the fear of mediocrity battles the fear of change. This is the arena where the battle will either make or break me. This battlefield awaits in yet another installment of Diary of a Queer Kid.
Indeed it is Ashley vs Ashley.
There l was, face to face with someone whom l had to trust to peel away my vulnerability. This was my first day of therapy. To a typical onlooker, everything must have seemed normal and in place. To my far left was a beverage bar with a coffee maker by its side. Our hour was timed by an hourglass that sat at the edge of the table we were using, and it removed some of my edginess. The view of palm trees swaying outside the window made the environment look even more calm. That was the total opposite of how l felt. I felt like screaming. In my mind, the calm scenario painted by the palm trees was a storm. I felt like l was in the middle of a tornado and those palm trees were uprooted, swirling violently, their only aim to hit me. l wanted to dash out of the office and never look back. Maybe l was not as ready as l had thought l was to get into the battlefield and fight. Ashley? Ashley, are you there? That was my therapist calling me back to reality.
Why are you here?
A laugh nearly escaped my shaky lips. Was it a rhetorical question? Was she mocking me? l paused as l took in her appearance. Zerah looked like a warm person. She wore the widest of smiles and her flared peach dress made her look welcoming. At first glance, she had a perfect, plump nature that suggested gentleness. As l looked closer, l could see the wittiness in her eyes. She looked like the type of person who could be cunning when necessary. Maybe l picked that up so well because Zerah was a reflection of my own character. It didn’t take Zerah much time to realize that l had not understood her question. So she said, “Ashley, l cannot help you without understanding exactly what it is you want to achieve through therapy. What is the reason behind you sitting in this chair at this very moment?” Unconsciously l answered, “l am here for battle.” It was only after the words were out of my mouth that l realized that already, Zerah probably thought l was psychotic. She looked at me intently, silently encouraging me to continue. I was at a loss for words, but l knew that if there would ever be a moment l would get to redefine myself, this was it.
My hands were shaking and my heart was beating fast. l thought my voice was going to crack but l was surprised to hear myself speak with an undoubted punch. My voice was pregnant with an undying hope and zeal to change for the better. My memory tells me it sounded something like this: “Zerah, l am Ashley and as you can clearly see, I am a plus-sized girl and that for me has been tormenting.” We were both were from Zimbabwe, and Zerah understood what it meant to grow up here, a place where mental health meant nothing to the population. A place where body shaming and ridicule were nothing out of the ordinary. I said, “Zerah, l grew up with parents who were taught that to feel emotion is to be weak. Parents who could not understand the emotional toil of being Ashley, the plus-sized girl. I grew up in a community that forced me to shrink back and stay in the shadows. I grew up with stunted self-esteem and a heavy heart, but l still dared to dream. Zerah, l want to get back my power. I want to take back my confidence, l want to take back all that this ruthless world has taken from me and l am relentless about it. This is why l am seated across you with fidgety hands and teary eyes, Zerah. l want to heal.” My body shook with a mixture of adrenaline and relief. l could not steady my hands. My heart was beating so fast and although l still felt like l was in the storm, l now had enough power to ward off any palm tree that would have flown my way.
In no time at all, my face was tear-stained in Zerah’s warm embrace. Zerah for me was an embodiment of comfort. l knew she resonated with my pain and that made me drop my defenses. She made me feel like this was one place in which l could allow myself to feel all the emotions that l had been hiding from. I cried my heart out and even after that, l continued. “l am here because l want to be who my six-year-old self needed. I want to be the voice for anyone else who falls outside of society’s expectations. Iam scared of reliving all my traumas, lam scared of discovering even more traumas l didn’t know l had. Iam so scared. Everything that lam now is centered on an identity built on pain. But l want to change that and lam relentless.”
Zerah let me have my moment. She let me sit in my silence and she let me wallow in my pain. For once, l felt l belonged. For once in my life, l felt l had a purpose. l knew something was brewing inside me but l always struggled to find a name for it. Now l had words for what was inside me and maybe the emotion that burned in my heart was determination. These were my first tiny steps in my battlefield. It felt like gathering my armor and having a preview of the arena. I had not figured out how to put the armor on, but l had it in hand and that had to count for something. l regained my composure and finished what was left of my therapy session. I felt like l had been carrying a boulder on my shoulders and the boulder had crumbled. I scheduled the rest of my sessions with Zerah and she commented on how l had already gotten through what seemed to be the hardest part about therapy, being vulnerable.
I stood up and made my way out of the office. l got in the elevator that would get me to the ground floor of this huge building. This company used different forms of therapy and it was always crawling with people. There was a rage room, acupuncture services and primal therapy. A laugh escaped my lips as l thought about how cunning depression and anxiety was. A depressive state of mind had a way of convincing you that everyone else was happy, you were the only outcast in the world. Anxiety would scream at you when you tried to get help. But here l was, face to face with a multitude of people just like me, getting the help they needed. Everyone caught a glimpse of my puffy eyes as l made my way down the corridor and that did not matter, those puffy eyes were my scars from the battlefield. I stepped foot on the pavement, inhaled the fresh air and smiled. Even as the sun hit my skin, l wasn’t as worried as l should have been that l hadn’t worn any sunscreen. l was oblivious to what anyone had to say about me or what the world could do to me. For the first time, l was walking without a care After all, we were all preaching one message just with different voices.
13 October, 2023