Unless you’ve walked a step in my shoes, it’s so hard to appreciate and understand the power of a collective. I’ve tried to articulate this topic for a while but words have failed me. Today, I will try my best to explain exactly what I mean by the power of my collective. I can only explain it by narrating my experiences. Please bear with me. This is going to be a super-duper long post!
You see I was raised in a closely knit family. I had my own share of childhood trauma which I still really haven’t shared with but a couple of friends. The power of love and nurture ensured that I turned out pretty decent.
Fast forward to my adulthood and I’ve been blessed to grow my birth family into a family that I call my tribe. I do quite agree that folks can be all up in your business but having my tribe has been a major source of my own strength. There’s never a time that I’ve been down in the throes when I haven’t had someone there to offer a word of encouragement, of prayer or maybe even just sit and let me cry my eyes cherry red!
Let me take you back four years ago to when I moved to Nigeria to work in the International Development space. My son was barely 2 yrs old at the time. Not long after we moved there, he started to have seizures. I had waited so long for this precious gift. I was so sure all my problems were over when I had him and motherhood would be all about cute outfits and nice smelling hair when I cuddled my little prince. It never occurred to me that I would go through the most major challenges of my life in the years that lay ahead. I guess it never really occurs to anyone.
The first time a major seizure happened I was at work and my boss at the time didn’t allow phones while we sat in meetings. Just imagine my despair when I emerged over an hour later from a stupid meeting with banks (I’m pretty sure they never implemented our ideas anyhow) to find that the most important person in my life had needed me to give the go ahead to push the meds to save him and I wasn’t available. I am so fortunate that my cousin’s daughter was in the same school at the time. They called her instead to get the permission required to administer the meds to stop my son’s seizure. By the time myself and his father finally made it to the hospital, my Mom and older brother were already by his bedside.
The second time he had a major seizure, I was awake at 1am talking to my girlfriend who needed to unburden her soul. Quite frankly I was a bit irritated (ok girl therein lies the truth :)!) because I love my sleep but she needed to talk. The lights were off when I felt my son move in weird, jerky movements on the bed beside me. I turned on the lights and my God! My heart stopped! My son was face down in vomit, eyes rolling every which way, limbs in spasms and foaming at the mouth.
I was living with my big brother and his family at the time (story for another day). I woke my brother up and he totally forgot about the discomfort of his eye which was swollen shut from a growth and drove like crazy from Lagos mainland to the Island (a pretty dangerous trip at that time of morning). He stayed the whole night by me while I waited to see what would happen with the awful prognosis the doctor had given. Through our stay in hospital my friends were amazing! Showing up to stay with him so I could at least take a shower. I still wonder why on earth Nigerian hospitals put toddlers in beds one storey building high!
Early last year, I was physically sick and mentally depressed. I don’t mean the kind of depression you just throw around casually when your Jimmy Choo shoes don’t come in before the party where you need to be the Slay Queen! Nah girl! I mean like really depressed. I had my baby brother (ok well he’s not such a baby anymore at 34!) make decisions for me because I couldn’t take simple decisions. My big sister would call me every day and just sit on the other end listening while I tried to get a sentence out without bursting into tears. Most times, I failed in that simple task but she was there telling me I would be ok and asking me how long I would cry for? Even my little man who was going on 5 at the time would sit with me, swinging his little legs from my high bed, holding my hand saying, “Mummy, you will be ok”. He would ask me to sing our favorite Christian song with him and when I would finally grudgingly oblige, he would say “Mummy keep singing, louder Mummy, louder!”.
I had girlfriends I hadn’t even known for such a long time pack up my entire house right down to my panties when I had to give up my home because I was too sick to do anything else (it shattered my heart to let go of my home where my son was born, where my sister in law got married and where so many happy memories were created). I just simply couldn’t afford it anymore on my own. These same women even unpacked and set me up in my new apartment. My younger brother turned to Hercules and Voltron and Superman all in one for me. I can’t even begin to tell you how much he did to get me through that time. I had one girlfriend show up everyday to make sure I ate and didn’t just roll over and let myself die. I had another one who would take my son off my hands so I would just rest. I had family and friends cook for me. I had friends praying for me all over the world. I had and still have a family physician who is simply the kindest and most respectful one I’ve been privileged to be under his care in all of my life. Some of my visits consisted of just sitting and sobbing endlessly in his office. Nothing too stupid to tell my GP or ask him. “Doc am I going to make it?”. He insisted on educating me enough to become my own advocate in the decisions around my healthcare. I believe him honestly to be a big part of God’s plan for me to still be here.
Later on the same year when I fell really sick again, I was not as afraid. For one thing, my faith in God had grown and really I had become absolute in the knowledge of my collective. Every single one of my friends and family showed up for me big time. I was inconsolable that I wouldn’t be at my son’s school for his 5th birthday. My brother’s girlfriend took pizza to my little man and my other girlfriend took cupcakes. I still look at pictures from his classroom that day with tears of gratitude in my eyes anew each and every time.
It was a fun evening in my hospital room with family and friends turning up with pizza and another cake to celebrate my little man. I even had another girlfriend gift him $1,000! My collective has always gone over and beyond for me!
Right before my lungs went into failure, God brought back another friend into my life who can be quiet as a mouse, which can be frustrating (did I just say that out loud?) but was a key part of my recovery. My friend gave me hope in a special way and just let me keep talking. He listened to my innermost fears and disappointments. I told him the stupid and not so stupid and he helped me keep believing that I would make it if I would just keep fighting for the things I want. Finally, he wouldn’t let up on getting me to start blogging. Another amazing friend paid for a year of premium subscription for my blog. This blog is my safe space to just let it out.
In the time I was home and on oxygen all the time, I really started to work hard on scaling my fashion line which prior to then had been more of a hobby. My girlfriends told their girlfriends who told other girlfriends. Most of my sales still come from referrals from my tribe. I had a girlfriend who is a makeup artiste come in to doll me up and shoot a collection of clothes for me as a birthday gift. She was very accommodating once I got tired and needed to get my oxygen back on and even waited for me to dash out to pick my son from daycare to finish up the photo shoot.
The last bit of my journey thus far I’d like to share in this post was this past Thursday. It was a very normal day in our household. My brother and his family recently moved to Canada and have been a part of our household for a few months now. My little niece has become the sibling that my son longs for. They fight, they make up, they are the best of friends. This also means that they get in trouble together. I scolded both of them for numerous reasons that night. Nothing at all unusual. Finally around midnight, we all turned in to sleep. It hadn’t been even an hour into our sleep when I stirred in my sleep to ask my son as usual to move over in our king sized bed and give me the space I deserve. He didn’t respond in his usual way which roused me a bit from sleep. His breathing was off and it was difficult to move him. I jumped up to turn on the lights and it was a hellish dejavu!
My son was face down in vomit in full blown seizure. I screamed for my brother who immediately rushed in and took him from my arms while I grabbed a blouse to throw on my nightie and we ran for the car. I was so focused on running to get him to the hospital that I didn’t even hear my son calling my name in the moments he was lucid. My brother heard him and kept assuring him, “I’m here, I’m here”. He carried my son, speaking to him while I sped through the night, speaking to the folks at 911 who met us at an intersection and took over. Once the meds had been administered and we were enroute on the ambulance, I sent off the same message to my family and friends to pray for us. One message forwarded to my tribe was all my brain could handle.
Within the hour we were at emergency, my other younger brother who is my son’s godfather magically appeared I imagined at the ER and stayed the night with us. I alternated between praying, singing hymns of praise & supplication and crying as I waited for my son to wake up. Within the same hour, my closest girlfriends in Nigeria and England were messaging and praying with me. My big brother sent a prayer our way and so did his grandma and grandpa (my parents). Thank God for the time difference. I’m going to be honest and say his Dad isn’t quite the strongest in times of crisis. He isn’t the biggest comfort as I find myself consoling him while he sobs and peppers me with questions (sowwie dude! maybe next time you can get it together before calling :)!).
I had also sent the same message to my ladies’ prayer group. At 4am, one of my sisters in that group called to pray with me while we waited for my son to come to. Another girlfriend also woke up early and stayed up praying for my son.
The first time he came to, I was in the washroom but my brothers were there. The second time he came to, he was hysterical to see all the wires and gadgets he was hooked up to. My own previous stay in hospital hooked up to all kinds of gadgets to keep me alive had put a mortal fear of hospitals in him. His godfather; my brother calmed him down.
The rest of the afternoon I had my girls, my family (my niece, my brother’s wife, his dad’s sister) and even my colleague turned friend come through to check on my son and pray with me and over him. Friends who didn’t see me at a party I was supposed to attend the next day kept checking in to make sure I was ok. It has indeed taken a village to keep myself and my son alive, well and happy.
I hear my friends tell me over and over again how much I’ve been through and how incredibly strong I am. I do agree that I am a strong woman. I will not just roll over and let life eat me up ever! I believe I still have a lot to do around here. However, I know without a shadow of doubt that I cannot continue to work on willing myself back up without the force of a collective behind me.
If you are my friend or family and I haven’t thanked you for what you stand for in my life, please know that you absolutely rock! I am truly humbled by and grateful for the power of my collective.