I suffer from Only Grape Syndrome (OGS). Some time ago I was a talk given by Shayka Amina Al Jerrahi. She spoke about how one of the essential roots of human hurts is the belief that we are alone. “Imagine, it’s like a grape on a bunch thinking it’s the only one.”
OGS is characterized by 4 persistent symptoms:
- Believing you are the only grape on the bunch, that you are not part of a larger community
- That you can only rely on yourself—even for small things
- Forgetting that you are part of the larger bunch of your family, your lineage
- Intense loneliness
I thought I had by and large kicked it until I began thinking about writing about it. This last week I’ve felt traces of the intense loneliness I experienced for a good chunk of childhood and adolescence. In my teenage years, I endeavored to get comfortable with it, thinking it was my lot in life; loneliness was a fact to be endured. Thankfully, I’m not there anymore. I’ve also seriously questioned whether it would be ok for me to write about something that feels so vulnerable to me.
OGS first came on when I was about 5 or 6. My mother and I moved to Los Angeles from Nigeria. It was major culture shock for me, with my accent and fancy dress. The kids in LA public schools were not impressed with my dresses and ribbons everyday. “Christmas Tree” they called me. I came home one day and told my mother I would no longer go to school dressed that way. With some dedication and many hours spent mimicking tv commercials, I lost my Nigerian accent, allowing me safe passage on the playground. From that experience and others in later years, I somehow internalized the notion that other people were, by and large not safe, even as I yearned for meaningful connections more than anything. Other people could not be counted on. Somehow disappointment always turned up. I remember walking around my high school campus, after some small slight, feeling reaffirmed in my belief about the unreliability of everyone but myself. There were a few exceptions but for the most part…
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to notice more deeply the ways that friends, family and folks in brief encounters, can be magnificent, kind, loving, thoughtful, patient, funny and otherwise gorgeous, in my direction. I’ve learned to be more understanding and less attached to small disappointments—and to catch it when those disappointments arise because I haven’t actually communicated what I want. You know, that awkward moment when someone doesn’t say/do what you hoped they would and you’re disappointed that they didn’t just know to do it without you having to tell them. Sound familiar anyone?
“Are you mad?”
“You’re acting mad.”
“It doesn’t seem fine.”
“by the way, here’s that scarf you gave me. I don’t need it.”
A week later—maturityJ
“Remember last week?”
“I was really hoping you would surprise me by making dinner.”
“Oh! That’s what you were mad about. Why didn’t you just say something?”
“I’m saying it now.”
OGS has also seriously impacted my relationship with my family. It’s gotten a lot better in the last couple of years, but for the most part, I really forget that there is this network of people I am connected to, past and present. I don’t call them often. It’s a strange thing really, and it isn’t because I don’t love or care about them. It’s the amnesia of OGS. I’m working on shifting this because I see the distance it has caused with people I don’t actually want to feel distant from. The irony is that the embarrassment and others ways I can feel bad about not reaching out to my family can become a further obstacle, which only compounds the situation. My cousin has been asking me to visit her for a very long time and I haven’t made it yet. It has actually caused some damage to our relationship.
“Heeey! Nice to hear from you. It’s been a very long time.”
“[slight pause of embarrassment], yes. I’ve been…[what reason can one really give if it’s been months, or years??] you’re right, I’m sorry about that. I’m working on it…How are you?”
Since moving to Philadelphia, I’ve been thinking a lot about connection and community. When I decided to move I knew that I would be leaving the physical proximity of friends it had taken me years to make, and new friends I hadn’t had enough time with. I tried not to think too deeply about it. Arriving in Philly and into the arms of a new relationship, I thought that it would be my entry point into a sense of community, something I’ve not felt very connected to throughout my life. As fate would have it my beloved took on a project that resulted in us not seeing each other very much for several months. Unexpectedly, I was left on my own much of the time. OGS kicked into super-high gear, working overtime in fact. I didn’t know where to begin in getting connected. What I have slowly gotten comfortable with in recent years, is the sense of belonging to communities beyond a physical location. I belong to the Muslim community, to the Sufi community within and beyond that, to the community of educators, the community of artists, and so on. I feel more and more at home in these global spaces, understanding that even within a community there are smaller communities as well. My heart is healing here. A year later, I’ve noticed enough to catch my OGS and put it on the side as I endeavor to build a community of friends in Philly.
Though Only Grape Syndrome is serious, it can be remedied through the contradiction of catching it when it flares up, reaching out to folks—family, friends, supporters, mentors/teachers, community. When that temptation to forget the web of connections that are lifeblood, just picture imagine yourself as one grape on a full bunch on a vine with lots of other full bunches. As it turns out, we are not the only grapes. Alhamdulillah.
Questions for your consideration:
- Do you suffer from Only Grape Syndrome? If so, what does that look like in your life? (remember that all or only some of the symptoms may be true for you)
- What does community mean to you? What communities do you belong to?
- What would it take to deepen your connections to/with those you love? With those you want to get closer to? Are you willing? Are you able?
- What do you to do to kick OGS to the curb?