973 days. That’s how long its been since I returned to Barbados. For those of you whose Maths skills are like mine, that’s close to three years since I last touched the land of flying fish and coucou and my first Crop Over since 2017.
No one could have predicted a global clusterfuck (sorry, sorry I mean pandemic) would hit the planet not a month after Mummy Reds and I returned from Barbados. In 2017, after I flung my costume on the floor of my hotel room, I promised myself a break from the constant sensory stimulation (no matter how much carnival means to me). If you are new to this blog and have just heard of Carnival, please do the following pre-requisite reading:
Okay, so you’re back? Good. I was talking about the Kadooment Day I decided that maybe my cousin was right when she told me to hang up my feathered wings because “there’s more to life than carnival”. On Monday 7th August, I got back to my hotel from parading the streets of Barbados and decided that I definitely needed a break.
Whilst my love of the pageantry is strong and the men look GOODT (please note, I am not objectifying those sexy Bajan men in hoochie daddy shorts), I realised that I started feeling horrible about myself. I became more critical of my appearance and regretted some of the choices I made when I was having fun. Behind the elation of the colourful photos, I hated myself, would come home to England and ruminate on how undeserving I was of the joy and beauty that is Crop Over (and any other carnival).
And then the Earth ground to a halt. And for over two years I was left with the ongoing analysis of everything I had done wrong, every argument I’d had and then finally, the two years I purposely took myself away from the one thing that has consistently brought me happiness.
So for five years, I purposely starved myself of friendship, creativity, bacchanal (the good kind, eh!) and the release that working middle-class adults need to survive the ever-increasing expectations of a demanding work life. During that five years, I also let myself balloon to the largest I had ever been in my life, ashamed that anyone would see me this way and they would deem me unworthy of love, affection and more importantly the Carnival I so love.
Don’t worry, this is not all doom and gloom (you can go to my Depression and Anxiety section, if you want to shed a tear or two). There’s a turn-around coming.
Several weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to go to Barbados in the final days before Kadooment. Initially, I was excited at the opportunity to have meetings in fabulous restaurants next to the sea and see what family I could in passing. After one hour of sheer joy, dread set in and I realised that I would have to
a. return to trauma that no one knew I had
b. arrive in a body that I myself didn’t know and was coming to terms with
c. engage with people who only knew a hurt Reds, a confused Reds who couldn’t necessarily express herself
d. don a costume or bathsuit (that’s swimsuit for those of you who may be unaware)
I thought about these things day and night and triple that once boarding my flight. I mean, I can have an anxiety attack worrying about whether McDonald’s ice cream machine is working, so it was easy for me to melt into familiar and very unhealthy patterns.
NOW! Let me tell you, many things went wrong on this trip (and I could have very well flown back to England. I would go into detail but I am kind and will protect the identity of the ignorant) but I chose to stay and my trip was full of firsts. Hugging my friends and family brought me to tears at times. Standing on a beach in a party, listening to live music from artistes whose lyrics I could recite backwards, putting on a costume took me back to 2017 like it was a few months ago, driving along the coast road peering at turquoise waters out of the corner of my eye.
I left Barbados full of gratitude on the one hand and on the other, familiar pangs of guilt and regret. I started to think about much better I should have looked in my blue costume, I wondered if I engaged with people in a way that made them comfortable, I worried about my anxiety spilling over on to my friends and loved ones. Thoughts of what I should have done in social situations and all of the damn Instagrammable moments I missed.
As I sit in my bedroom, reliving the highs and lows of my trip, sunburnt and exhausted, I wonder what I should have done differently. I’ve shed a few tears, thinking there were things I could have done but didn’t. I also recognise that this trip, gave me myself back. My returns from Carnival trips gone, may have felt the same but now I can name my post-Carnival stress disorder (perhaps mixed with a bit of jet lag).
As with all of my life experiences, my short trip uncovered so much about me, to me. I struggle to accept kindness and generosity and see my worth in my productivity. While the trip was phenomenal (there are no words to fully articulate the sights, textures and vibrations I felt), the lows it gave me are lessons that I can build on.
God spare life, health, wealth and the planet, I won’t stay away this long again, and I will pad myself with the love my incredible friends and family continue to pour into me.
P.S. I am hoping to write more but we’ll see what moods I am in these days.