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My Constant Companion

Dear D

When I don’t feel you pressing down on me, it seems as if you do not exist at all. It makes me wonder why I’m taking medication, not to mention everything else I do to accommodate you. It makes me wonder if I’m really making a big deal out of nothing.

So today I write to you not because you are particularly oppressive, but because whether I am having a ‘good’ day or a ‘bad’ day, you are still here with me. After all, a person who has arthritis or diabetes does not cease to have this condition if they have a series of days that go well.

It’s hard to know what to say to you on days like today. I tend to either want to forget you exist, or stop myself from being happy because maybe that will make the down times less of a fall. I know that’s not true, of course. There’s nothing I can do to make them less painful. The best I can do is enjoy days with little to no pain.

I keep remembering that final scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind where John Nash is accepting his award. When he looks out over the audience, he sees what he now knows are his hallucinations. But instead of their presence being derailing, they are presented as a kind of friend. Of course, I do not have schizophrenia and I have no idea how accurate the movie is related to those aspects of mental health, but it gives me a picture of what I think you could become. The doctors tell me that because you have visited me multiple times, it is unlikely that I will be free of you, so I see the final scene of the movie as a hope that my relationship with you can change. I imagine maybe one day in the future I will be able to observe you without being overwhelmed by you…maybe you’ll even be a bit kinder to me than you are now. I can hope, can’t I?

Until then,

Tami

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

Little white pill.

Dear D

I thought we were well acquainted, but even after all these years it seems that you are still somewhat of a mystery to me. The things that worked before do not seem to be working to the same degree now. Sometimes it makes me think I’m crazy.

So the doctor has suggested I try a new medication. New medications seem simple on the surface, but if I’m honest, I always have some fear when I try a new one. They give you this pamphlet filled with information about what this medication could do to you. Yes, it’s supposed to help, but it can also do all of these things that are the opposite of what you want it to do. Potentially hurt or potentially harm. And even though they give you this big list and you should feel so well informed, at the same time you wonder – what is this medication going to do to me? They can put together this list of all the potential effects, but they don’t know exactly how my body, my mind is going to react. And if it reacts badly, is it worth the side effects just to be free of you?

I make my decision. The little white pill looks so small and unassuming, but there is so much more there. I slip it into my mouth, hoping, hoping that it’s going to do what the doctor wants it to do, what I want it to do, what the pharmacist says it could do. But not knowing at the same time. All I can do is wait and see.

I’m thrust into a new level of hyper-vigilance with the entirety of my body and mind. Is that pain new? Is that because of the medication? Am I feeling a new body ache or is that something that was always there? What’s happening in my mind? I try to pray and have peace, knowing that God is in control and that it’s going to be okay. Yet I’m here, with this little pill now inside of me, wondering what it’s going to do, and only time will tell.

Tami

 

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

Seeing my blindness

Dear D

You’ve made my life hard this week. I’ve been trying to be aware that what I feel in times like these is not ‘normal’. That is, there are times when I do think clearly and have motivation. I am not always blinded to reality, exhausted, and feeling alone. I know this time will pass, but that does not make it easier, it only gives a thin ray of hope that this is not the end. In the meantime, I try to be gracious with myself and facilitate many distractions to make things more bearable. I have an insatiable drive to achieve, yet inadequate resources to even attempt satisfaction.

I still don’t know how to make friends with you when you make the mundane aspects of life like walking through quicksand. I don’t even know how to figure it out. You move cloaked in mystery, but I feel you pressing me down. I am, at best, an ambivalent acquaintance, and at worst, a sworn enemy. Logic tells me there is a way forward, but my eyes fail me as to where it is.

Walking by faith,

Tami

 

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

A beginning

This is the first post in what will be an ongoing series where I write to D, which stands for Depression, in an effort to turn an enemy into a friend. To see all posts, visit the Series page for Dear D.

Dear D,

How do you turn an enemy into a friend? That’s the question I find myself asking these days. I was taught to love my enemies, but I have hated you. Maybe that’s the place I should start – with repentance.

I forgot again today. I’m sorry.
I know you told me so.
Actually, you told me over and over again.
Begging me.
My to-do list was too long.
My drive to succeed too strong.
My disbelief too loud.
My heart too proud.
I’m sorry, but.

You told me I only succeeded in creating a possibility,
not a guarantee.
I thought I had done enough.
I’m tired of doing. Forcing.
Yet I continue,
fearful that in stopping I would be undone.
I’m sorry.

Please convince me again.
Show me the wisdom of your ways.
Integrate my scattered mind, my weary body, my fragile spirit.
I long to be whole, but.
I betray myself.
Too much longer and I’ll lose you completely.
Then in the silence there will be nothing left to say.
I hope you see that I am trying.
Do you?
I’m sorry.

Dealing with unmet expectations

Several years ago, I had a conversation with my boss where I asked if he could take 10-15 minutes once a month to check in on me, as I found it difficult to ask for help in the moment. Without flinching, he said he couldn’t guarantee anything. I left the conversation in disbelief and anger. I thought I had a completely realistic expectation of a leader, and he shut me down.

I stayed angry for a while, but then I realized something. If I truly had a need, I was responsible to meet it. No matter how reasonable my expectation was, I could not force the other person to fulfill it. I had to find another way.

This is not an isolated event. It’s happened numerous times where I had what I thought were completely realistic expectations of others, only to realize – sometimes painfully – that they were not willing or able to fulfill them. Of course, I could keep pushing, but it is an exercise in futility guaranteed to cause further frustration (and who knows, maybe permanent damage). I’m a slow learner it seems, because I have to keep reminding myself to take responsibility for my own needs and get creative in making things happen. In the scenario above, it was as simple as finding other people I could talk to when I needed help.

What about you? Have you found yourself in a similar position? What do you need to do about it?

Looking for magic, finding the ordinary

The cursor blinked rapidly as I stared at my laptop screen. As much as I tried to keep going, I knew I’d hit a roadblock and needed a break. Anxious that I was wasting time, but knowing that sitting there longer wouldn’t change things, I left the apartment to go for a walk. They had helped me overcome roadblocks in the past, maybe they would again. Sure enough, shortly into my walk, things clicked and the ideas began flowing again.

I felt my tiredness begin to show when my temper shortened and my levels of irritation seemed to skyrocket. I think I managed to keep my thoughts in my head most of the time, but I doubt I hid all my facial expressions successfully. I thought of what I could do to find the rest and rejuvenation I needed, but nothing seemed to present itself as a solution. I decided to take some days off anyway to see if it would help. It had before, anyway. When I went back to the office, I still felt tired and afraid that it hadn’t done any good. However, as I set about my work and interacted with colleagues, my inner responses were much more gracious and things seemed different.

I share these two stories not to emphasize the need for self-care, important as it is, but to discuss something I’ve been thinking about lately: trusting the process. I find I often get stressed when I want a particular outcome, but I am not in control of all the variables to make it happen. Actually, I think that in life we control a lot less than we think we do. However, we can put ourselves in positions or create environments where if the outcome were to occur, it would happen there. That’s letting the process do the work.

Does a walk magically fix a mind in roadblock? No. But it does provide a physical and mental break from the work that allows the mind to reorient itself and the body to stretch out after sitting. Do days off miraculously fix anger and irritation? No. But they also provide that break that enables a release and reshuffling of everything going on inside. These are ordinary practices. While it seems my inner skeptic says every time that it isn’t going to work, it usually does. And I am learning to trust that process.

How to Deal with The Cat that Came Back: A Life with Depression

I remember listening to a children’s song when I was young about a cat that always came back, no matter how much you tried to get rid of it. In the Fred Penner classic version, the chorus goes like this:

But the cat came back the very next day
The cat came back, they thought he was a goner
But the cat came back; he just couldn’t stay away

Though the song is about a literal cat, I find it serves as an apt metaphor for other things in life. A cat that I thought I had left behind recently came back. Its name is depression.

After a six-year battle with depression, with three and a half of those years on different kinds of medication and a variety of counselors, I was finally free. My doctor had titrated me off the medication and declared I no longer had depression. For the next number of months, I was afraid it would come back every time I had a hard day or something bad happened. But it didn’t. The cat was a goner! At least I thought it was.

Four years depression-free came to a crashing halt at the end of 2017. I had been feeling off for a while but thought it would pass like all the other times. The feeling persisted, despite my best efforts to address it through engaging projects, extracurricular activities, time with friends, and prayer. I still didn’t think it was a big deal until the suicidal thoughts crept into my mind. It was then that I knew I needed help.

I felt like I had failed and was going backwards in life, especially as this turbulent time coincided with my 30th birthday. Why couldn’t I have things together like everyone else? Of course, now it is easy to see the lies in that question, but at the time it was a real struggle. I talked with my family and they encouraged me to see my doctor. He prescribed the same medication I had been on before and met with me until I stabilized. I’m grateful that medication works for me, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy road. I’ve had to continuously deal with a lack of motivation, tiredness, and self-defeating thought patterns. Sometimes I ask God why he couldn’t have given me a dog instead of a cat. Despite these struggles and the unknown ahead, I have been discovering ways to deal with my cat that came back. Here’s what I’ve learned that I can pass on to you.

  1. Though the cat may eventually leave, accept that it is here at the moment.

Fighting against reality makes dealing with it impossible. Trying to say the cat isn’t there, or that it isn’t affecting you, actually gives it more power. Accept the presence of the cat for the moment. This doesn’t mean you want it to stay, but it allows you to do what you need to do to address its presence.

  1. Take care of the cat. Feed it. Give it water. Empty the litter box. Buy a scratching post.

Once you’ve accepted the cat is with you for the moment, take care of it. Be kind to it and find out what your specific cat needs, which may be different than what other cats require. Healthy eating, regular exercise and time with other pets are all important, but easily neglected when you have a cat. You may need to see a veterinarian, or other cat specialist, too, but that does not mean you are weak in dealing with your cat. It means you are wise and strong.

  1. Talk about the cat with others. It could just be that they have cats, too.

Trying to hide the fact that you have a cat is fairly difficult. People who visit your place will probably see the cat hairs and furniture scratching. Lying about having a cat is exhausting. Although it is hard to be honest about your cat, when you are it is incredibly freeing. Not only will others be able to help you take care of your cat, you may find out that they have cats, too. Actually, having a cat is quite common, even though it seems everybody else has dogs or other cool pets that are way nicer than a cat.

I’m still hoping that my cat goes away. Until then, I’m going to practice acceptance of its presence, good cat care, and talking about the cat with people like you.

Taking Off Our Glasses: A Leadership Lesson

I’ve worn glasses for a long time. I think I got my first pair when I was three, or at the latest, five. I’ve worn them for so long that I often forget I’m wearing them.

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I suffered from depression for six years. Everything felt so dark and hopeless, like wearing a pair of sunglasses that could never come off. I couldn’t imagine that life could look any differently.

I think how we see and engage in leadership is not so different from these experiences. We become saturated in a single perspective and we cannot imagine it could look another way. We do not even realize we are wearing glasses. So, we continue thinking and operating with a narrow, anemic perspective, believing that’s all there is. Maybe we find mentors, read books, go to conferences, or take courses. Seemingly we are engaging in good things and becoming better leaders. But all of these things are the same colour as our glasses so that we are never challenged. If something different does manage to break in, the threat of the anomaly is quickly quenched. To reference Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a popular Nigerian author and speaker, there is great danger to a single story.

Most of what I have seen, read, and experienced regarding leadership is from a white, Western, male perspective. This is not a bad nor a wrong perspective, but if it becomes my only set of glasses, then it is incomplete. Some time ago I came across Next Leadership. It’s a UK-based organization founded by Kate Coleman. Not only is she a woman, but she was also born in Ghana, and has been a pioneer for women in leadership in a number of areas. Her book ‘the 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership’ was the first book I ever read on leadership by a woman. For the first time in my life, I saw a different perspective on leadership, and discovered well articulated, unique challenges for women in leadership.

A number of months ago, I found another book on sale: ‘Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women’ by Dr. Halee Gray Scott. This was my second book on leadership by a woman. Both Coleman and Scott recognize that from the outset, many women are disqualified for leadership based on their gender, especially as it relates to specific theologies among Christians. However, they write presuming (and presuming correctly) that women do have leadership gifts and are already leading in all kinds of arenas. Through these books, I began to see more of my glasses.

One particular aspect stuck out to me from Scott’s book. In her studies, she focused her thesis on perceptions of female leaders serving in para-church ministries. She discovered one of the unique challenges for women in para-church leadership (and likely in Christian leadership in general), was the discrepancy between how good women were perceived compared to how good leaders were perceived.

When women display the desirable leadership traits – confident, competent, assertive, and bold – they cease to be viewed as warm and caring and are instead perceived as tough, aggressive, and domineering. This creates a double bind, because if women act in ways consistent with gender stereotypes, they are not viewed as competent leaders, but if they act in ways consistent with good leaders, they are not liked. In political circles, these women are called ‘iron ladies’. (p.107)

Scott adds, “since perceptions of female leaders strongly correlate with perceptions of successful leaders, but greatly contrast with perceptions of women in general, it means that Christians view female leaders as exceptions to the rule” (p.115). From my own experience, her research results ring true. I’ve had to decide that I will use my gifts and pursue my calling regardless of how favourably people view me, as a woman or as a leader. More women than I can count have told me they could not do what I do. This could be true, since we are all given different gifts and abilities (1 Cor. 12). However, even those that could lead likely believe it is not possible. Scott concludes, “whether we like it or not, we do not think a woman can be both a good woman and a good leader” (p.107). We lose out on capable leaders because many women consider this price too high to pay, and choose instead to act in ways that will gain them social acceptability as a woman.

How can we move forward? The first step is to realize the danger of a single story about leadership, and have the courage to seek out other perspectives. Imagine you actually are wearing a pair of glasses, and that leadership can look differently than you may have believed until now. With your new and evolving viewpoint, challenge others to see beyond what’s right in front of them. Use whatever privilege you have to encourage people, especially women, to pursue leadership in ways that are unique to them. Whatever you do, refuse to let a single story dominate the leadership landscape.

When the Nameless Have Names

“It’s so hard to wait. All of us are waiting.” Razia* looked at me with her w14241621_10157380559890697_1156738265325242717_oeary brown eyes, not expecting me to do anything, but happy to speak English and share her story. She was one of many Afghans, Syrians, Iranians, and Iraqis I met this past week at refugee centres and camps in and around Athens. Most of them are waiting for their papers to move on and settle into another country.

Mustafa, his wife, and their two daughters, came to Athens some months ago from Afghanistan as well. He showed me photos and video of their journey on his phone. Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and now Greece. I wondered how they were alive after seeing the cold, barren land they traveled through. “Our youngest daughter almost died from the cold on the way here, but we came so our children could have a better future.”

Ahmad and his family, from Iran, were volunteering at one of the care centres. “I have been to Canada to present at conferences. I have a PhD in meat science. Now, I’m a refugee.”

Pari*, holding nearly 2 year old Fatima, welcomed us into her small, white tent with a smiling face. She and her husband, Hassam*, had been staying there for the past seven months. I asked if they had family staying in the camp. She said they were all in Afghanistan. “Can they come visit you?” I asked. “No, it is impossible,” she replied, sadly. Then I heard why. Many marriages in Afghanistan are arranged by the parents, but they married for love. Pari comes from a rich family, and Hassam from a poor family. Hassam’s family didn’t agree with his choice, and were trying to kill him. They were still not completely safe, even in this camp thousands of miles away. When I asked if they would move on to another country, like most of the other families hope to do, Pari told me it was too expensive. What will their future be like, living in this tiny tent?

This is just a glimpse into the lives of many who have fled their homes because of political instability, terrorism, family threats, and a host of other reasons. Their lives are incredibly difficult, and their futures uncertain, but their past was enough for them to feel like they had no choice but to leave. I have no idea what that is like. I can’t wrap my mind around what they think, feel, and experience each day. I found myself wishing that I could escape. That I hadn’t even come. It was so much easier when they were ‘just’ nameless people on the news. I cried and I prayed. I asked God why. I still don’t have those answers, but I have experienced a small piece of God’s heart for the poor and oppressed.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

Now, I’m on my way home, and although there’s a sense of relief, there’s also a twinge of guilt. I have a home. I realize the privilege I have that I can choose how much of the suffering in the world I want to see. I can turn off the news, but for Razia, Mustafa, Ahmad, Pari, and Hassam, it is their everyday life. I’m more connected now, but I fear I will easily forget them. Will you remember them with me?

 

*names changed