popular
Photo via TONL

On Choosing Your Own Path and Chasing Checks

Balancing personal happiness with financial stability is not easy, especially under the gaze of immigrant parents

It's Monday. My direct deposit was supposed to be made a week ago.

I spent most of the morning making casual-but-frantic inquiries with my bank's customer service. Each time, I was told that there was no way for them to check if money was coming; they could only confirm if it was there or was being held for some reason.

This was a perfectly reasonable and efficient response to my anxiety driven question, but that didn't stop me from thanking her for her time, hanging up, and then calling again to speak to another representative. Later in my car, I reach for the phone at every stop light and lie to the pop up notification designed to prevent texting and driving.

With a quick glance, I check to make sure the light is still red and that traffic crossing the road is still moving steadily. I've rehearsed the next sequence: Swipe, open app, fingerprint, check balance and groan at the number I see. A black Toyota Camry pulls up behind me and immediately begins honking, shaking me out of my angst.

***

Over the years, I've had periods without work due to depression and other mental health concerns. There was no money coming in and needing to depend on others for help made me spiral further into the depressive state I was already drowning in. Lack of money didn't help my depression. Depression didn't help me work. In those moments, I questioned every decision that led me to this space.

I grew up watching how hard my parents worked. All children of immigrants know the story of how their parents left home for education and to provide a better life for their families. We also know that it is our responsibility to make those sacrifices worth it. I remember watching my parents work multiple jobs while going to school and raising a family. It was an example of what was to be expected of me: Do whatever it takes for your family. It was a lesson in how to persevere and survive, but it was also an early lesson of how I did not want to live my life.

At an early age, I knew that I was plagued with a heaviness that I had not yet discovered the language to explain. I was grateful for the sacrifices my parents made and I wanted so badly to be worthy of those sacrifices, but I was also terrified of what that would mean for my life.

When I was younger, I told every adult who would listen that I wanted to be a lawyer. As an African, the other immigrant option—doctor—wasn't my ministry. Math and I didn't get along well enough for me to devote my life to it. Perhaps if the internet was around back then, I could have researched to discover other career options, but back then, I was the oldest and didn't have any other examples. Lawyers are basically performers and since I couldn't fix my Nigerian born mouth to tell my hard working parents that I wanted to be on TV, I figured dramatic opening and closing statements were a good compromise.

I'm always concerned that anything I build can be toppled by one sleepless night or a morning I can't seem to welcome.

I used to believe that my parents wanted me to choose between happiness and financial security, but I've since learned they were worried about my future. They knew that struggling would be alleviated by steady work. My father told me once that he thought perhaps my depression came from idleness. Keeping my mind busy would help me ignore the weight of depression. We know that's not how it works, but I do understand why he would think that. He's always worked through any obstacle that came his way, but it didn't work like that for me. It couldn't.

I didn't know what the options were back then but I knew there had to be another way. I know that I made the best decisions for myself, but can't help but feel guilty that I didn't choose the path that would show my parents how much I appreciated their sacrifices. Sitting in my car—fiddling with banking apps, hoping the checks I earned found their ways into my account—I think about how I should have chosen a life with more concrete expectations and clearly drawn measures of success.

Despite my career, my parents still worry about my future and despite my successes, I always worry that I've disappointed them. I know that I could have gotten that law degree, but I can't tell you if I would have lived long enough to practice. The career I have chosen hasn't been without its pitfalls. I'm always concerned that anything I build can be toppled by one sleepless night or a morning I can't seem to welcome. Trying to find the balance between what works for me psychologically and what works for me professionally is a delicate balance. The instability and lack of guarantees has triggered self-doubt and treading a bit too carefully when leaping would have served me better but ultimately, the need to reconstruct and redefine what I call success has been the most helpful.

At the end of the day, chasing checks isn't so much about the hustle, it's about knowing that I haven't given up. It's about knowing that I've completed something and that thing has put me just a bit closer to the stability that I need. That said, if I'm going to run after invoices, I'd like the option to sit in the back with a driver watching traffic while I check my apps and ignore all the honking.

Bassey Ikpi is a Nigerian born, American raised writer and mental health advocate. She is the founder of the mental health organization The Siwe Project and creator of #NoShameDay. She is currently working on her first memoir in essays for HarperPerennial. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @basseyworld

In April we're exploring "The Hustle"—the things people do to survive and thrive at all costs. Click here for more stories about all the ways people manage, make and squander money.

popular
Photo by Hamish Brown

In Conversation: Lemn Sissay On His New Book About Re-claiming the Ethiopian Heritage Stolen From Him by England’s Foster Care System

In 'My Name Is Why,' the 2019 PEN Pinter award winner passionately advocates for children in the institutional care system, and in turn tells a unique story of identity and the power in discovering one's heritage.

It took the author Lemn Sissay almost two decades to learn his real name. As an Ethiopian child growing up in England's care system, his cultural identity was systematically stripped from him at an early age. "For the first 18 years of my life I thought that my name was Norman," Sissay tells OkayAfrica. "I didn't meet a person of color until I was 10 years of age. I didn't know a person of color until I was 16. I didn't know I was Ethiopian until I was 16 years of age. They stole the memory of me from me. That is a land grab, you know? That is post-colonial, hallucinatory madness."

Sissay was not alone in this experience. As he notes in his powerful new memoir My Name Is Why, during the 1960s, tens of thousands of children in the UK were taken from their parents under dubious circumstances and put up for adoption. Sometimes, these placements were a matter of need, but other times, as was the case with Sissay, it was a result of the system preying on vulnerable parents. His case records, which he obtained in 2015 after a hardfought 30 year campaign, show that his mother was a victim of child "harvesting," in which young, single women were often forced into giving their children up for adoption before being sent back to their native countries. She tried to regain custody of young Sissay, but was unsuccessful.

Whether they end up in the foster system out of need or by mistake, Sissay says that most institutionalized children face the same fate of abuse under an inadequate and mismanaged system that fails to recognize their full humanity. For black children who are sent to white homes, it often means detachment from a culturally-sensitive environment. "There are too many brilliant people that I know who have been adopted by white parents for me to say that it just doesn't work," says Sissay. "But the problem is the amount of children that it doesn't work for."

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Maxine l. Moore

Bassey Ikpi’s Literary Debut on Her Mental Health Journey Is a Call for People To See Themselves, and Others, With Genuine Empathy

We speak with the Nigerian-American writer and ex-poet about her book that challenges us to rethink mental health challenges.

Bassey Ikpi is the Nigerian-American writer whose debut book of essays is the epitome of vulnerability and honesty around the mental health conversation.

In I'm Telling The Truth, But I'm Lying, which has already landed a spot on The New York Times' Best Sellers list, we follow Ikpi as she takes readers on an exploration of her life from her formative years in Nigeria, moving to Oklahoma as a pre-teen, being a black woman, a poet, a mother and her multitude of identities through the lens of one living with the eventual diagnosis of bipolar II and anxiety.

Her name may ring a bell for those familiar with HBO's Def Poetry Jam—Ikpi made her mark with several appearances on the show and her way with prose and words still hold true with this book of essays. Pulling the reader into a gentle tide of her consciousness, truths and lies, Ikpi shakes our preconceived notions of how the mind works and what "normal" even means.

Keep reading... Show less
Audio
Ayanda Jiya. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

South African Women Dropped the Best Debuts of 2019

We highlight 10 noteworthy albums & EPs from a new generation of vocal talent in South Africa, featuring Elaine, Ayanda Jiya, Ami Faku and more.

The South African music scene has seen an uptick in youthful, vocally gifted artists over the years. Much of this is owed to the recent global resurgence of R&B, as well as the increased significance of streaming sites, especially SoundCloud.

From internet-savvy artists creating jazz, alternative soul and house-infused spoken word to radio friendly iterations of pop and Afro-soul, 2019 has been the year of impactful debut performances.

This year ushered in the voices of a new generation of South African female artists announcing themselves to the world.

Here's a lowdown of 10 great releases from talented female vocalists, songwriters and composers marking this new era.

Read ahead below. This list is in no particular order.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief
Album Cover Art.

Listen to Stormzy's New Album 'Heavy is the Head'

The British-Ghanaian grime star has dropped his much-anticipated sophomore album featuring YEBBA, H.E.R., Burna Boy, Ed Sheeran, Tiana Major9 and Headie One.

British-Ghanaian rapper Stormzy has finally dropped his much-anticipated sophomore album Heavy is the Head. The album comes two years after he released his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer.

The 16-track project features the likes of American singer-songwriter YEBBA, H.E.R., Burna Boy, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, Tiana Major9 and Headie One.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.