I have trust in something greater than myself. Something I can only hear when I get quiet and tune inward. It asks of me to slow down, to notice all the loud and anxious voices (usually all of the ‘what if’s’), and listen for something soft but steady. This is a practice that I do not always remember to do or that I am capable of. When I do, it offers such a relief of suffering and a focus where my energy can flow.
In the process of making my recent decision to move across the country with my partner as he continues along the next leg of his journey, I attempted many decision-making tactics with really no success. Riddled with ‘What if’s’ – What if I make the wrong decision or hate the choice I make? What if I disappoint someone or miss out on something? What if I can’t find the comforts that I have now in a new place? – I wanted to have answers to their questions. Maybe I needed a secondary plan? Maybe I needed to do more research? Maybe my decision should be to stay where I am comfortable with my life and have friends and a job I love (this is not a plug of some kind, I really love it!)? At first, I listened to that thought. I decided to stay in Chicago, do long-distance with my partner, and just see how that went. After all, I thought, I do finally have a job I love where I feel I belong, and I haven’t been there very long, I love my apartment, and I know where things are (all within walking distance, too!), I would have to tell people I was leaving like friends, coworkers, and clients…and what if they were mad/sad/scared? I have worked hard to build this life, and I have others who count on me to be here. I should stay.
Did you catch that? I should stay. This was my signal to slow down, notice the anxious voices for what they are, and listen for that soft and steady voice. I was guided to inquire:
What was driving my choice? Fear and guilt.
And who was this choice for? Those who I fear I might disappoint in some way.
To this, that voice responded, echoed by many lovely friends, “You will be happiest when you live your life for yourself.” In deciding to live my life for me, I am facing fears, leaving comforts, and risking disappointing someone else. Wow, that’s some scary stuff. It is okay to be scared or uncomfortable, as often we are challenged to grow in ways we otherwise would not have expected. In the face of all that we see on the news, in our neighborhoods, and with fellow humans, now is the time to be uncomfortable and challenged to grow.
This writing began because I was asked to write about my decision to leave Chicago and CMP – and it was a hard decision for all the reasons listed above. I have outlined the discomfort I felt in my decision-making process, and how I ultimately chose to take that leap while acknowledging the fear and discomfort along the way. Without having a graceful way to weave these two topics together, because they are inherently different, I choose now to name that there is something of greater concern that I do not want to go unaddressed. If you find yourself uncomfortable with the Black Lives Matter Movement, or if you or someone you know are not sure where to begin with anti-racist unlearning, that it is okay. That discomfort, anger, sadness, overwhelm, hopeless is all okay and a natural response to circumstance. Circumstances that countless Black and other People of Color experience without the ability to ‘turn it off.’ I cannot and will not try to speak to your experience, reader, but if it is anything like mine, you have the choice to turn it off or to do something different. And I will name that it is uncomfortable for me to even write this – What if CMP doesn’t approve of this message after all this isn’t what they asked me to write? What if I say something utterly terrible or wrong and I don’t even know? What if I am opening myself up to criticism I am not ready for?
I am faced with a decision: Do I let these thoughts stop me from doing or saying anything and be another silent white voice? Or do I acknowledge that this is uncomfortable and scary and unknown, and do something anyway?
I hope to also convey that I have the privilege of choosing to live my life for myself. In that decision to do so is included the choice to actively participate in unlearning and anti-racist work. I am living my life for myself and actively choosing to do no harm to others, even when that is starting by learning what harm I do that I am unaware of. You can be uncomfortable or scared or uncertain where to start, and start anyway. There is no perfect time or place to begin, and waiting for it to come could be the barrier between you and growth.
I am not here to make CMP political, speak for anyone else or the practice, or to make BLM about me. I am not here to tell you what you should be doing or not doing or that I know exactly what I am doing. I am also not here to remain silent out of fear and perpetuate white silence and violence that this country was built on. I am Noël Quigley, a therapist, a white human, and I was raised in a society built on white supremacy. I benefit from many of those systems, have been affected by the ever-present racism, and I am making a choice to be uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable to face this inherited racism within me and my life and to do the work of unlearning, and do my part in social change.
If you are having a hard time figuring out where to begin or how to balance taking care of yourself and taking action in societal and systemic change you can talk to your therapist, find readily available resources for anti-racist work, donate to causes/organization/bond funds, and other options for where to begin. If you are white, elevate black voices, listen and educate yourself, and contour work and processing of white guilt privately so you do not re-enter the public conversation on your experience.
In attempts to tie this story together, we know that change is a risk. Change is inherently scary and uncomfortable. It is also the only constant in life, and something that we can often have some choice in – Do we stay where we are comfortable or do we act in ways we had not yet imagined to create something we have not yet seen?
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