When I declared 2017 “the Year of the Glow Up,” I needed a win. 2016 was my first year without my mother, and it was painful, to say the least. In her death, my greatest fear had been realized, and adjusting to that “new normal” wasn’t easy. My mother was my center; I’d lost my center and was a complete mess.
In retrospect, I was exactly where I was supposed to be in 2016. I’d placed entirely too many expectations on my healing process because I was trying to fulfill the expectations of others: Your mother raised you to be strong. She prepared you for this. You can do this. In many ways, I felt like I had to have a phenomenal 2017 to counter the horrors of 2016—just to prove everyone right.
Thus, “the Year of the Glow Up.”
But despite my best efforts, 2017 didn’t glow like I thought it would. On top of still grieving Mama, my doctoral program wasn’t giving me the time and support I needed to process her loss—yet still demanded I meet the rigors of pursuing my degree at maximum speed. Then, while also trying to heal from a devastating heartbreak that ultimately went viral, a date friends pushed me to go on to get over my heartache ended in rape.
Diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety, I was hospitalized for a week in a psychiatric facility. Just a few months later, what a police officer referred to as a “computer glitch” resulted in my being unnecessarily arrested and processed for having an expired registration on a legally registered car. If all of that wasn’t enough, as I recently recuperated from surgery, a friend came to visit me on her way to celebrate the upcoming wedding of that great heartbreak—a man whose bed I’d just left 11 months ago and celebrated my birthday and Christmas with this time last year.
And for 2017’s final blow, four members of my family ended up in the hospital at the same time, with my aunt passing away the day after my birthday and my cousin 48 hours later. In the week before Christmas, my family attended two funerals. If 2017 was supposed to be the Year of the Glow Up, it was missing a few bulbs.
A few weeks ago, one of my mentors called me simply to say, “You’re doing a good job.” It took a while to believe her. I haven’t always been gentle with myself these past two years. I’ve made assumptions about how I should’ve reacted or healed from certain traumas, and have been brutal with myself when I didn’t hit those benchmarks. My mentor’s words reminded me that despite it all, I’m still here.
We are not given instructions on how to navigate life’s treacherous spots, but every day that we rise to meet the sun and face a new day, we are healing and finding our way. There were days when my glow was a flame, times my fierceness was on full display, and I walked in the world with confidence. Then there were days when that glow was only a flicker, my only accomplishments taking a shower, putting on pajamas and getting right back into bed.
Ironically, all of that is the beauty of the “glow up.” Light is still light. Even in its smallest quantity, it pierces darkness. The unrealistic expectations we have of ourselves are unnecessary. All we really have to do is show up, give whatever our best is at the time, and trust that the universe will do the rest.
2017 also gave me moments of deep joy in the midst of my trauma and heartache. Whether it was the Fenty Beauty launch, a cautious first date or FaceTime with my girls, I gave myself permission to get lost in laughter, love and happiness. I watched one of my closest friends take on breast cancer with her own brand of magic—and win. Earlier this month, I attended a dinner for black women in digital media and was reminded that the gifts I bring into the world matter. And as we speak, I’m holding my best friend’s daughter, born the day before my mother’s birthday, and celebrating her first Christmas.
Ultimately, I didn’t lack any of the things I needed to remember that life isn’t over. When we are hit hard, I truly believe the universe finds ways to remind us that the pain we endure is not the sum total of who we are. We have always been so much more.
In 2017’s whirlwind, seeing my therapist every week to work through these experiences and emotions has been divine. Having been in consistent therapy for over a year, I am able to gauge my growth in ways that make me proud. I trust my own voice and know what wellness and wholeness look like on me. I’ve learned the necessity of being surrounded by healthy people and operating in healthy spaces. I’ve learned to give people room to grow, as I haven’t always been in this space of good mental and emotional health. I recognize that life is hard for all of us—and instead of making it harder, we need more folk who will work to soften the land with compassion and empathy.
In declaring 2017 “the Year of the Glow Up,” I set out to prove a point I never needed to make. It was perfectly fine to be undone by the tragedies of life. I am not superhuman; I am affected by what happens to me, and 2017 taught me that lesson more than any other year in my life. I had nowhere to hide and couldn’t fake a glamorous glow even if I wanted. This year, my glow has been all about the truth of my experiences.
I’ve navigated 2017 with depths of heartache some people will never see in a lifetime. Every day, it has been too much and unfair. Yet I’ve come to know grace and humility in intimate and life-sustaining ways. To be on the other side of all of it means there’s a power inside me that I didn’t know was there. I’m grateful for that power and ready to activate it, living into all of the possibilities of my greatness. And that greatness doesn’t mean 12 months of consecutive wins, but the courage to keep living when the losses inevitably come. Without question, I had a glow up this year—one that, when I look back at it now, completely takes my breath away.
Many of us had a hard 2017. But in just a few hours, it will be over. There will be those who tell us that just because the year changes, our circumstances will not. I hope we don’t listen to them. I hope we have enough faith to believe that things can and will be different. Hard times don’t last forever—I’m affirming that for all of us. Here’s to peace and beauty in 2018!