Never accept reality as an end

I dug for it intently. There was no shovel involved. I was neither exerting myself nor bent over next to a mound of earth. There were no drops of sweat to wipe off my brow and no dirt under my fingernails. I was in bed leaning against a pillow, laptop on lap, phone in hand. It was a dig synonymous with the times. A digital dig? Possibly.

I sat for an obscene amount of time, head bent in cell phone prayer, stalking scrolling through an Instagram feed. Oh how I scrolled. I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled some more. I’ll know it when I see it, I kept saying. My long-suffering thumb bore the brunt of my obsessive search. Rats! I couldn’t find it even after scrolling down to the first ever post.

I resumed my work. I looked for it twice more, unsuccessfully. The day was almost over when I finally found it. What helped me know where to look was remembering the period I first saw it and why it appealed to me so much. It was an excerpt from Khaya Dlanga’s journal when he was 20.

“I believe this to be true for anyone who wants to achieve anything in life: never accept reality as an end. If we only ever face reality as an end; if we only ever face and accept our current difficulties, our reality, then we are doomed. It is imperative that I live inside my head, a world that is not realistic. By that I mean believing in a truth that isn’t yet. But a truth that nonetheless which I will create in the future. One must face reality and the facts, but even more important is pointing out the reality that WILL BE to yourself. When someone says, ‘Face reality,’ they are telling you to forget your dream and what you know you want to do with every single fiber of your being, they are telling you to forget that you know you can do it even though it’s damn hard at the time. I choose to answer in the following manner, ‘Yes, I will, but I choose to face, to create the future reality that I want, not the one you want me to.’ And refuse to subject myself to the narrow present reality.”

Rather deep for a 20-year-old ey? I certainly was not brimming with this kind of wisdom at 20. I digress. Khaya Dlanga is easily one of the most interesting people I follow on Instagram. He’s a senior executive at Coca-Cola South Africa. Never met him. That’s about all I know about the man. He mentioned, when he posted this excerpt from his journal, that when he wrote it he was “going through an intensely difficult period (including being homeless for a few months).” The tough times, he said, lasted a few years.

What helped me remember where to look for the quote was that when I first saw it (about five months ago), I was struggling with several uncertainties. Also, the World Cup had recently come to an end (and my team lost, sigh) which meant that it had to be sometime around the end of July. For most of last year and more so towards my graduation in August, I had been wondering whether my choice for a master’s degree was a prudent decision. Please refer to my previous post for context. What would I do with this seemingly obscure qualification once I graduated? Where would I work in this area of study that was so poorly understood even by those in the mental health field in Kenya? I was also pretty broke, with zero savings and paying for a huge part of my school fees with a loan from my parents. Would I even find work that I could make a decent living from?

In addition, I was working (and still working) with individuals who have literally had the rug pulled out from under them in the most brutal of ways – refugees. After experiencing the tragedies of war, here they were, impoverished and living with a great deal of uncertainty in a land that is growing increasingly hostile towards them. How difficult it must be for them to look beyond their reality! I was struggling to look beyond their reality.

Khaya’s (I think we should be on a first name basis by now) quote speaks of a quality I greatly admire  – a stubborn resolve to keep on despite the odds. It speaks of hope. It also speaks of something so dear to me; something I feel I cannot live without. Something without which, it is impossible to please God biblically speaking (Hebrews 11:6) – faith. Never accept reality as an end. My reality is quite different now. I will refer you to my previous post yet again for context. I should stop here before I get on a pulpit and break into song. My intention was to share a quote that I have returned to again and again and why it moved me. I’d love to hear yours.

Where I’ve been

I’m trying to write about where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing and why I’ve not been writing. Trying because writing is much like working out. It needs to be carried on frequently and with a certain kind of intensity, else your brain grows lethargic and your fingers stiffen at the touch of a keyboard. As I write this I’m picturing my pot-bellied brain in an ill-fitting t-shirt and visible muffin top, lounging on a sofa with a packet of crisps, watching episode after episode of a third-rate sitcom.

After a long hiatus from writing, when you finally settle down to write, instead of getting down to business, you overprepare. You minimize your Firefox webpage that has about 47 tabs open, switchback to your blank MS Word page that has been open for a few hours, set your font type to Calibri, size 12, rub your palms together and crack your fingers. You fidget in your seat trying to find a comfortable position. This position ceases to be comfortable after two minutes and fidgeting becomes your position for a while. You type your first sentence slowly. Your process is interrupted by ridding yourself of a hangnail, long stares out the window, videos of an adorable two-year old boy singing Beatles songs with his dad, bathroom breaks and frequent poses because formation of pithy and articulate sentences gets difficult.

I’ve been… not writing, evidently. But that’s not really an accurate description of what I’ve been doing, is it? I’ve been doing “other” things. This is not helping either.

I’ve mentioned my interest in psychology and mental health here severally. Should be in my ‘About’ section and also casually mentioned or referred to in some of my posts. Well, it’s not casual anymore. Things got pretty serious. We’re thinking of a future together. Kids. Maybe a dog. Or parrot.

We got serious when I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. I haven’t always been a writer. I suppose it’s more accurate to say that there’s another significant part of my life away from writing. I should probably give a little background of my history with psychology. When I was considering what career to pursue before I joined an undergraduate program, psychology was my main interest. I had to forfeit it when my parents insisted that I go for a program that they felt would guarantee me a job. So I went for a communications degree with a focus on print journalism. I was a tad unhappy about not pursuing psychology but since I love writing I wasn’t too badly off. About a year later, I was privileged to get a chance to pursue both communication and psychology concurrently. My alma mater allowed students to take on two majors. I graduated with a bachelor of arts in both four years later.

Back then, I hardly ever told people I was doing both. I would say either depending on who was asking and how well the person knew me. It felt like a double life to some extent in a rather interesting way. I had to do two separate internships for both programs; one at a newspaper and the other at a mental health department of a hospital. All the while I hoped I’d find a way to marry the two in future.

I remember asking a prominent media personality who visited our school to give a career talk while in my second year what career options existed for people with interests like mine. Could I practice as a psychologist and still work in the media? No, he said. He had never heard of anything like that. I had to choose one. He said something to this effect.

When I graduated, I found myself straddled between two career paths. I had two CVs. Still do. One for my writing and print journalism-related stuff. The other for psychology and mental health-related stuff. I applied for jobs in both fields. I’d take whichever came first, I told myself. I was however secretly hoping my psychology degree would get me into the NGO world where I thought I would make lots of money.

After graduating in June 2010, I spent the rest of the year contributing for different publications, blogging, and learning Spanish. I found a full-time job in December at a local family and lifestyle magazine where I went on to work for four years.Not quite the short background that I’d hoped for ey.

I love writing. I’ve stated that many times. But I did grow weary of doing only that, probably because my other passion was not being fed. This, among other things, led to me pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. It’s basically a specialized area of psychology concerned with the alleviation of psychological distress. (If interested in what this area of study entails, this might be helpful.)

My program required a whole year of internships during my final year and at some point I had to stop working full-time to fulfill this requirement. I struggled with this. It meant giving up a huge part of my salary and working only as a contributor in the midst of (unpaid) internships, classes and research papers. It got a little crazy and I was pretty busy and broke for most of this year. (Thank you to all my good friends who, either knowingly or unknowingly, insisted on paying for coffee or meals during our dates! :D)

My final semester of internship was at an international non-profit dedicated to healing survivors of torture and violent conflict through therapy and physiotherapy. I enjoyed my time there. There was a vacancy that I qualified for that I went on to apply and interview for. I was not successful. When I graduated in August, I did not have much figured out with regard to what direction my career would take from that point on. I thought I’d go back to my old job at the magazine, renegotiate my salary and terms as I figured out my next move.

The week after my graduation, on the day I was to meet my boss, I got a call from the non-profit. They had another vacancy for the same job I had interviewed for and they were asking if I was still interested. Yes! So my salary and terms renegotiation meeting turned out to be a resignation meeting. I accepted the job and since then, I’ve been involved in mental health trauma care with different refugee groups living in Nairobi. It has been an exciting, scary and lesson-filled three months. I enjoy my work and I am immensely grateful to God for this remarkable journey I’m on.

What happens to my writing? I’m still working that out. I still love writing and sometimes I get anxious at the thought of that part of my life wasting away. I’d like to blog now more than ever. There are so many unwritten stories in me! I’m also trying my hand in fiction. I may have a short work of adolescent fiction published sometime soon, which is another angle of writing that I’m excited to venture in.

I’m still sort of making it up as I go and still have many questions about my life’s purpose and what the future holds. Though I have a few vague ideas, I’m still not quite sure where all of this is headed but I’m learning to be ok with some of life’s uncertainties and enjoy the season I’m in. That’s where I am.