I never expected life to be easy. For someone of my background, feeling so could cause a mental breakdown very early on in life. I was told from very young that I had "two strikes" against me--I was black and female. Therefore, I was due to face a lot of strife due to the very fact of my being. It was my mother's way of preparing me to be "strong."

But now I wonder if this proposed "strength" has backfired in a way. Here's what I mean: these last few years in Spain have been more than a little challenging. But I've stuck with it because, well, I feel as though I am supposed to. I keep telling myself that if I just keep pushing through things will be worth it. But is that actually true? And more importantly, what would it be worth? What am I giving up? And what am I gaining in return? How do I decide whether or not things are truly balanced and not leaning too much in the negative direction?

This brings me back to my initial point. I wonder if one expects life to be difficult, does that lead you to accept the unacceptable? Have I been conditioned to believe that I must endure life instead of enjoying it? How do you differenciate when your challenges are working like pressure on coal and to turn you into a diamond and when the pressure is just trying to crush you?

I've spent the last few years examining much of what I've been taught and disregarding things that I feel are not working for me. This has been especially helpful when it comes to personal relationships. Like I stated before, I was raised to be a "Strong Black Woman" who was meant to let life's challenges roll off my back. But I was also born into a family with a history of severe abuse. And while I have not personally experienced physical and sexual abuse, I have been around people who treated me very poorly for far too long.

In Spain, I again began to collect these kind of people. But given what I was going through, not having a proper support system really began to make me think. I then began to realize that I had been taught to accept abusive behavior as normal; and disrespect as par for the course.

As I child, I had always known intuitively that what I was being taught was wrong, but I had no voice and no agency as a child to refute it. What's more, I was surrounded by verbally abusive and dismissive people who often told me that my experiences weren't real.

It wasn't until I moved to Minorca last year that I began to truly question all of this. My stress level dropped precipitously while I was living on the island. And while life there wasn't without its challenges, it was nowhere near what I had experienced in Madrid. It was then for the first time that I began to validate my own feelings. I dismissed all the voices old and new that told me that what I knew was invalid.

But now here in Valencia I am now questioning everything again. The last three weeks have been just as if not more challenging than my first few weeks in Madrid. Again, I expected things to be challenging, but not this much. And now, I can't help but wonder if it is all worth it? I am generally good at reading the signs in my life and being aware of the red flags. The problem is before I was just bad at following them.

But now things seem cloudy. I am now in a place where I feel as though I will no longer accept abuse. But is this situation abusive? Is this a repeat of my terrible experience in Madrid, or just the kinks being worked out before a wonderful year unfolds? Is all this just a sign to give it up.

Well honestly now, it all remains to be seen. I'll give it to the end of the month and if things don't straighten up, I'm flying back to the States. But maybe that is the lesson--the fact that I am actually asking the question shows that I value myself and my time far more than I did before. I just hope it is not being wasted.  

Candace Fykes