Written by Asha Harkness
Reflecting on the Old Me
As I reflect on the past few years, since 2020 chewed up and spat out all of the ‘rules’ or ‘business as usual’, I can see that investing in rewarding relationships has been instrumental for me.
Those relationships have helped me to reach a wonderful level of self-acceptance for my queer, Brown, female, disabled, self - which has led me to pursue my true passions and allowed me to create more moments of contentment and joy in my life.
All my life, I've been fed messages that I don’t belong. I am not right. Or good. Or attractive. I have suffered from anxiety and depression, an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence as a result.
But, the last few years have taught me what a phenomenal human being I am, in so many ways (which is something little Asha would never have said about herself or thought possible). My realisation comes with the understanding that often, the ways I am phenomenal, contrast with what society acknowledges or rewards, as they go against the mainstream or don’t contribute enough to profitable gains. But these parts of me are wonderful, nevertheless.
I couldn’t have gotten to this point without investing my time and energy in rewarding relationships.
This involved being vulnerable. Putting myself out there into new spaces, creating new connections. And though hard, I did it. Every Brown or queer, or Brown and queer person I connected and grew relationships with, since late 2019, has led me closer to myself.
The people I have since reached out to reach far beyond just Brown or queer, but having those initial connections reciprocated and trusting myself enough to maintain and grow them, has been invaluable.
That includes people who reflect the parts of me that don’t fit into the usual but also those who challenge my assumptions of what it is to be ALL THE PARTS that make up me. As a bisexual woman of dual-heritage, I have often found, even in my minoritised identities, that I don’t fit in within the South Asian and LGBTQIA+ communities. I am not desi enough or gay enough. But there are plenty of people who will accept me for me. And as cringey or clichè as it is, that has to start within.
Seeing Myself Through New Eyes
In order to reach the increasingly frequent moments of contentment and joy, I’ve had to invest heavily in my relationship with myself. Some things were essential to get me on the right path, such as therapy. Others set me up for continued success with healthy habit-building and self-support tactics, such as coaching, nutritional advice and outdoor exercise.
Something I’ve built into my life in recent months has been time to myself to create and express myself. Be that by painting, writing, crochet, gardening or even mindful colouring.
Again, learning more about the me I've become, I now plan in some time for this creativity and quiet during the ‘winter’ phase of my menstrual cycle, when I am craving solitude, comfort and when my mood or energy levels may be lower.
This time alone gives my body what it requires and creating something just for me, results in pride. Topping up my self-esteem and confidence.
I used to share my creations with family and friends, and even on social media. But this, I’ve learned, is just me seeking external validation and always comes with mixed results. So now, I create just for me - and share if I want to. The pride I feel can no longer be knocked by the opinions of others. I have released myself from that pressure and abated the perceived need for perfection.
Allowing Space for Everything Else
Other rewarding relationships I have continued to invest in include people who I care about deeply but who don’t yet understand all the wonderful parts that make up me. Maybe they never will. But the more confident I become with the whole of myself, the more energy I have to share those parts of myself when the opportunity arises. It’s important to me that I continue to share space with people who are challenged by my way of thinking and to allow myself to be challenged by them.
This does take more work than building relationships with those who share my minitoritised communities. I need to build my mental resilience and confidence and create the right environments for discussions, which make me vulnerable to traumatic or emotional triggers, or even expel more energy than I have to give - but I have decided that is what I want to do and who I wish to be, so I will put in the work and stay the course.
The You, You Want to Be
To anyone reading who may be in a similar position, don’t feel you always have to challenge family and friends on certain topics as they occur. You can come back to them when you have more capacity. It’s not your job to educate everyone at all times.
For any allies reading, take note of the minoritised people around you. When you hear or see something that’s not right, check in with them. If they don’t have the capacity to speak up, it’s your chance to bear some of the emotional labour. It doesn’t have to be in the moment, but checking in with the person you care about will mean so much to them.
Asha Harkness (she/her), is the Founder of Indigo Inclusion. A consultancy that exists to help everyone thrive in the workplace.
Things that bring her joy include dogs, podcasts, coffee, anything arts-related, queer spaces and outdoor exercise! She loves to connect with like-minded or curious people and chat about queer and South Asian culture, mental health and all things diversity, equity and inclusion.
You can find her on LinkedIn.