Feminist Dads: Setting Our Daughters Up for Success by Steve Lerer

At 4:29pm on Friday, May 3rd, my life as a person, husband, and student affairs professional changed dramatically. At that moment (a month earlier than expected), Samantha Beth Lerer entered the world ready to hit the ground running. Sammy, or Sam depending on the day, arrived at an interesting time for our country and much of the world.  In our country, we are simultaneously seeing new rights extended to some and taken away from others. Many of these changes can and will impact the world in which Sam will live. As a student affairs professional, I advocate for my students every day, but have I found myself wondering over these past few months:

“How can I be an advocate for my own daughter’s success in life?”

As a male, with one brother, I have never really witnessed first hand what it is like to grow up as a young woman in our society. Yes, I see it represented in the media and, yes, I do my research, but I never really explored my impact on and my responsibility for the development of successful and confident young women. Now that I hold a future Nobel Prize winner and Ph.D in Experimental Physics in my arms every night, this question weighs heavily on my mind.

“What does it mean to be a Feminist Dad and how do I earn that t-shirt?”

I have read a few articles on this topic and watched a few picture montages but I feel that it is important to talk about this in the education arena because when dads take part of the responsibility of breaking down societal expectations they can make a major impact in their daughters lives.

Feminist Dads need to have equal expectations for their daughters as they do their sons. Prior to Samantha’s arrival, I said many times “My daughters won’t be allowed to date until they are 30” or “Of course she is going to do ballet, but my sons are going to play football”. It strikes me now how sexist those comments are, but those are the general expectations laid out for us across this country. It is up to us as educators and dads to show that we treat our children equally. These gender stereotypes need to be addressed; if I raise my children right they will make good choices when they are all allowed to date and they can play whatever sports, if any, that they wish.

Feminist Dads need to confront other men on their behaviors toward, and general ideas about, women. Too often, good dads sit there while their friends make inappropriate comments about women, either specifically or generally. Sometimes, due to peer pressure, they join in. Feminist dads understand that this behavior perpetuates societal norms and it is up to us to stand up for women, especially when we are in uncomfortable situations. It is easy to be an advocate around other advocates but as we know with our students in need, you make a much bigger impact when you advocate around those who do not share your beliefs.  Just ask yourself:

“If my daughter was here and he said that, what would I do?“ Then do that.

Feminist Dads need to let our daughters know that they are smarter than they think and can be and do anything they want. Seriously. Why is it that over 50% of college students are women but a much smaller number are in the STEM fields? It is because from K-12 young girls are encouraged out of science and math and pushed towards the social sciences. Yes, there are programs for women in the STEM fields once they get to college, but it is already too late for many. Feminist dads know, from day one, they need to reinforce education in the STEM areas. We need to increase the percentage of women scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in college and it starts at home. (Check out http://www.goldieblox.com/ for one great idea.)

Feminist Dads also need to show their daughters how they should be treated in relationships and beyond. We need to treat our partners with respect and show our daughters what healthy, equal relationships really look like. We need to share in the responsibilities at home, just like we teach our students to do at work.  Whether dads want it to happen or not, their children will emulate their behaviors at some point in their lives, so we need to be good male role models everyday, all the time. This way our children’s generation may do better at addressing issues like sexual assault and domestic violence than the generations that came before.

Finally, Feminist Dads must be active in supporting movements for women’s health and rights, not just financially, but in person as well. In fact, take your kids along for the ride and show them what it means to be a Feminist Dad. Show them that you are not just a Feminist Dad at home but you take that message of equality and respect out to others and fight to make the world a better place.

It is my hope that Samantha will grow up in a world where it is a common thing for her to pursue a dream to be an astronaut (Did you know: NASA just selected its first 50% female cohort of astronauts); where she will ALWAYS make the same amount of money as her male counterparts; where a female President is just the way of things; where women are in charge of laws pertaining to themselves and their bodies; and where she is proud of the work her Feminist Dad did before she was able and ready to fight for herself.

Steve with his daughter, SamanthaSteve Lerer is the Assistant Director for Student Life at the University of California, Merced. He serves as the advisor to the Associated Students and coordinator for Leadership Programs. Steve volunteers for NASPA as one of the Region VI Knowledge Community Coordinators. He lives in Merced with his wife, Virginia, their three-month-old daughter, Samantha Beth, and their dog Bella. Steve can be reached on Twitter at @stevelerer or check out his blog, stevelerer.com

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Moments Matter by Shawn Brackett

Writing this post was both challenging and fulfilling; I was filled with apprehension because I wondered about the place of a man in writing a post for “Feminist Fridays” and I was filled with excitement over the possibility of giving back to a community so important to me.

I reflected upon how I could contribute—to recognizing the achievements of women, to supporting women in the drive for equity, to increasing the number of men who say, without reservation, “I am a feminist.”  I know that my privilege means never having to explain a career choice or an outfit choice.  I know that my privilege means I am likely to earn more money than a woman.  I know that some will value my words above a woman’s.  All because I am a man.  Through reflection, I realized that I had an opportunity to use my privilege.

So now I say, proudly, that I am a feminist.  I am a feminist simply because I believe with all my heart that women should never have to defend their worth, their achievements, or their desires.  No one should have to say, “Women are the equals of men” because no one would dare imply that men might not be the equals of women.  Feminism as I understand it is not a rallying cry to castrate men, discredit masculinity, or establish matriarchy—it is the longed-for declaration that there is inequality in our world and we must change this if we are to realize the potential of humanity.

The change we need and the change we seek will not take place overnight but we cannot wait forever.  In the words of Anne Frank, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  It is in the moments that the course of the world unfolds.  How wonderful is it, then, that our lives contain so many moments!

I have come to realize that the women in my life have had a positive impact on my growth and my development through seemingly insignificant moments of time.  A coworker who says, “You don’t seem okay. How can I help?”  A student who takes the time to thank me for talking with her late in the evening.  A professor who asks, “Why not?” when asked about a research idea.

Moments matter.

I could convey a thousand stories of a thousand moments, but the one that stands out to me today is that of a first-year university student who had just moved into his residence hall.  He was nervous and excited to meet the other students on his floor; he did not see the mixed emotions of his parents who were about to say goodbye.  He rushed through that interaction and quickly turned to other things, giving little thought to what his parents might be feeling.

Two weeks later, he called home and blurted out, “I want to come home. I hate it here.”  His mom then betrayed him and said, “No. You can’t come home until Thanksgiving.”  Surprised by this, he said, “I thought you were going to be there for me—always.”  She said with a choking voice, “I am here for you. I love you and I have to go, honey.”

Little did he realize this would set him on a different course, a better course.  Because it forced him to begin standing on his own two feet, to make friends, to learn how to make his way in the world.  And that way would include joy and sadness and triumph and defeat and it would be blessed. Truly blessed.

When I talked to my mom about this years after, I asked her what made her say no.  She told me that she knew I had to do it on my own.  She said, “That was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do.”

I know the power of moments because I have experienced the power of moments.  Individual women have given me so much:

-A woman gave birth to me, raised me, comforted me, sheltered me, and challenged me.

-A woman taught me how to read and write.

-A woman inspired me to study history.

-A woman encouraged me in the depth of my struggle with suicide.

-A woman mentored me during my master’s thesis process.

-A woman invited me to start running.

-A woman gave up so much so that I could have enough.

So I leave you with this:

Honor the moments in your life.  Hold onto the moments as if they were all that mattered—because they’re all that do.  Tell your loved ones that you love them.

Honor women in your life.  Not just because they are your mothers, your sisters, or your partners, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Shawn Bracket is a Residence Community Coordinator at California State University, Chico. Find him on Twitter: @shawnbrackett and at About Me.

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Everything I Need To Know I Learned as a Preachers’ Kid, Tiffany Kinnard-Payton

What would Jesus do? This is the question that runs through my mind as a student who has violated almost every university policy in the handbook, and never responded to a single email all year, proceeds to explain to me how their lack of accountability, preparation and organization in their request for housing is entirely my fault. I take a deep breath, say a prayer, and begin.

“Dear Student, I understand your frustration at the situation your find yourself in. It is my hope that we can work together to find a solution. Please know that I am committed to helping you as much as I can, given the current restrictions brought about by your late request. I cannot promise that the solution will be exactly want you want, but I will do what I can to make sure this process is helpful and thoughtful. How does that sound?”

I pause as I prepare for the upcoming verbal tirade to continue. “I’m sorry.” “This really hasn’t been my semester. I don’t mean to sound upset at you. I’m just mad at the situation, but I do want to stay on campus. Can you help me?”

Thank you Jesus! I send a small praise up to God at my desk, as I and the student begin to review viable options for housing.  

I remember a day just starting out in the field where my response would have been less than desirable as I was just beginning to break the surface of how to effectively utilize my Counseling and Higher Education training. It was in those moments that I came to rely on something that had gotten me though many challenging situations-the lessons I learned as a preacher’s kid.  

I am sure that most PKs, as those of us who are children of preachers are affectionately called, can remember many days spent in our churches, and navigating through this sometimes complicated path.  I can remember sitting in church babbling praise songs, and playing a tambourine before I could talk. I watched my mother lead the Ministry for the Deaf, and my dad work tirelessly as the assistant pastor.  We spent at least 4 nights a week at the church, and when we weren’t at church, we were doing something in the community associated with our church.

The life of a PK came with some notoriety, and perks (first dibs on choir solos, and the best parts in the Christmas plays), but it wasn’t all fun and games. There were many days spent in the “PK fishbowl” being looked at as the beacon for what was supposed to be appropriate, just, and spiritually acceptable. Imagine the pressure! Having to watch were you went, who you were with, what you said, and how you said it. I’ll say it-being a PK was hard…and still is. But, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I learned some of the most important lessons that I use every day in Student Affairs from being a preacher’s kid.

Lesson # 1: Taking time for reflection is a priority.

There is so many times as professionals that we look back at our responses to a situation as say, “I wish I could get a do-over.” We respond without taking the time to think about the impact that our words have on our students and our colleagues. Whenever my sister and I would ask for advice about a situation going on in our lives, my mother would ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” The question alone would give me pause to think about whether my response was reflective of that. I will admit that there were times when I didn’t do what Jesus would do, but the question still remained, and allowed me to search myself for ways to improve and develop into a more thoughtful person. Now days, I try to think about that before I talk to a parent, or a student who’s “special file” is filled with loads of educational sanctioning. Personally, I try to never miss a day of prayer. For me that’s another way to reflect before I speak. I like having conversation with God, even if they are just simple ones like, God, I need your help today. Help me to be who you have called me to be. Amen.

Lesson # 2 God wasn’t a snob

One day my dad gave a sermon about Mary Magdalene. I can remember thinking, “seriously? This lady is doing WAY too much!” After church, I asked my dad, “Daddy, how did Jesus love her despite her faults?” My dad said that if you look in the Bible, God never spent much time with the politicians, mayors, Pharisees, etc. He spent most of his time with the people who needed him most-the lame, deaf, sick, meek, poor, and the unloved.  He talked to them with respect and honor as if they were kings and queens. God never looked down at people, he used is time to see life through the eyes of those people. His candor reflected his love for them and desire for them to love one another. He said that if you truly love God, you love ALL that he has created, not just the things or people that are pleasing in your eyes. This lesson has helped me in working effectively with students from many walks of life. It’s not just the students that listen to feedback, or are actively engaged on campus that deserve our help. It’s the students that have challenges in those departments that sometimes need our help the most.

Lesson #3 Value Integrity-God Demands it

My mother would always say, “Preacher’s kids are supposed to be an example. Be a role model, even when no one is looking.” This has always stayed with me, especially working in Student Affairs. Our integrity is what gives us credibility with our students, and allow them to trust us to help them. I work every day to strive to bring integrity to my work, my service to the campus, and to myself.

These lessons, along with many others, continue to help me grow emotionally, spiritually, and professionally. I challenge you to find a little PK in yourself today, and use it to make a difference.

Tiffany Kinnard-Payton is the Associate Director of Residence Life at Walsh University. Finder her on Twitter: @TK_Kinnard.

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A summer to relax, enjoy and NOURISH by Jenny Levering

I was in Savannah, Georgia for a wedding a few years ago and came across a shop.  Not only was the design of the shop cute and trendy selling creatively intuitive products, but, most importantly, the entire place was filled with smells of lavender. I took a deep breath of this sample essential oil and felt more relaxed than I had in a long time.  NOURISH is the name of the shop and nourished was the way I felt when I walked out.

Nourish is defined as: to provide with food or other substances necessary for life and growth; feed. To keep alive; maintain. To foster the development of; to promote.

What does nourishment look like to you?  What brings nourishment to your life?  When are times in your life you need nourishment the most?  Have you ever thought of the innate desire to be nourished?  We usually think about trees needing nourishment, plants needing nourishment, but rarely do you think of yourself as needing nourishment?

I don’t think many women educators think about needing nourishment.  We work, we are professional, we have families, we maintain relationships, we work more, we worry, we give to others, we support students and we advance our careers.  We become secondary; we don’t think about nourishing our own bodies, minds and souls consistently.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot this summer as I’ve had an opportunity to retreat from work and clear my head a few times.  I don’t believe we think about nourishing ourselves because we’re not constantly living our most authentic lives.  We get caught up in who we need to be for our husbands, partners, boyfriends, students, families, colleagues and we forget who we are at our very core.

So this summer, I’ve spent time thinking about me and only me.  I’ve decided there is nothing wrong with being selfish, just for a bit. I’ve decided to focus on making sure I nourish myself this summer so I can nourish others when school starts back in the fall.  To be fully nourished you need to nourish your body, your mind and your soul.

Nourish Your Body

Kale and apples…kale and spinach…kale and raspberries.  Blend it up, juice it up, drink it up and your body will be nourished!  WRONG.  While juicing is the trend and very good for you, how are you truly going to nourish your body this summer?  From diets to eating right to getting to the gym to yoga find what is right for you and just make the time.  I’m the queen of excuses for not nourishing my body.  I really want that glass of wine after work so I’m not going to go do yoga or go for a walk in the park.   I think I finally realized this summer that my priorities need to shift to focus on my body.  I think a lot of women who give so much to their careers sometimes get lost and forget to take care of themselves.  We will only be good at our jobs, our careers, and advising our students, if we are comfortable in our own bodies and sense of self.  I know what I need to do; you know what you need to do for yourself.  Make the time and do it.

Nourish Your Mind

If you are like most people, you may have a number of different identities at work and in your personal life. You are a leader to your team, a friend to your colleagues, a collaborator to your boss and an expert to your students.  We all have several roles to play in life.  Do you have to act the same in each role in order to be authentic?  How many people do you know that are different people in different situations?   Think about it.   Do a little exercise with yourself and list all the different relationships you have in your life and the roles you play in each of those relationships.   Are they consistent?  This is just the beginning.  You won’t find and develop your authentic self overnight…it’s a lifelong process of discovery.

A great read that a dear friend shared with me is the book The Invitation.  This book is a declaration of intent, a map into the longing of the soul, the desire to live passionately, face-to-face with ourselves and skin-to-skin with the world around us.  Nourish is simply an idea to help me find my most authentic self.  If you want to begin to nourish you, start with this book.

Nourish Your Soul

I went to college in Los Angeles and had an amazing special place out on a “do not enter” rocky pier in Marina Del Rey.  Surrounded by water I would go there and reflect on my life, think about family, dream about life after college while I watched the boats come in and the sun go down.  I was at complete peace when I was there.  It’s harder to find a place like that now I’m in Ohio, and even more challenging to make time with a busy work schedule. But I know that I have to find the time to build self reflection, prayer and meditation back into my life.  What do you need to bring back into your life to nourish your soul?  What have you lost that you need to reach in and just pull back?  Where do you need to go to find a sense of quiet or just simply be?  What will it take for you to do it?

Why is this important?

Women who work in higher education, student affairs specifically, need to become better role models about nourishing ourselves.  We are burning ourselves out and leaving the field, or burning other women out and they are leaving the field.  I believe we have an obligation to nourish other women.   We can foster development in other women professionally and personally.  What if we valued ourselves enough to know exactly when we need to nourish our body, mind and soul?  What if that was a part of our everyday life for ourselves and the people we work with?  Think about it.  We put plenty of pressure on ourselves to perform, to supervise, to manage, to “lean in”, to support our families and our friends, and to change students’ lives.  What if we put that same amount of pressure on ourselves to balance our lives and nourish?

Time to get to work.  What does nourishment mean to you? Where are you going to find nourishment?  What’s it going to take?  Take time for you, be a little selfish and think differently.

 Jenny Levering is the Director of the Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life & Student Activities at Miami University.

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The Wake Up Call by Ginny Carroll

In November of 2009, I had that wake up call, that smack down, that bubble over with anger I must do something moment of my life!  I watched Oprah interview Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the book they had recently authored – Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  I was so intrigued by their stories that I immediately bought the book and read it non-stop until I reached the end. It was frightening, frustrating, and inspirational all at the same time. Frightening and frustrating to learn how women are – still today – subjected to brutal violence and oppression across the globe. And inspirational because of what this couple went through to expose the true stories and give voice to those that would otherwise be silenced—just because of their gender.

These harsh realities are so alarming, yet at the same time seem so distant from my everyday experiences as a girl and my everyday experiences now.  So I almost reverted to the common excuses: “The problem is so big, how could I possibly make a difference?” Or, “It’s the culture, I cannot change the culture.”  Fortunately, my anger at the atrocities inflicted upon girls and women around the world bubbled over into an intense desire to make a difference.

Reading Half the Sky lit a fire in me. And all the data around the global issues affecting women indicate that it’s not hopeless, and that education is a big part of the answer.

  • educated women earn 25 percent more income and when women earn an income, they reinvest 90% into their families, breaking the poverty cycle

  • educated women are less likely to become victims of human trafficking

  • educated women are three times less likely to contract HIV

  • educated women have children who are 40% more likely to live past the age of 5

Education is a fundamental human right and is vital to overcoming poverty and inequality globally.

Educating a girl is one of the highest return investments available in the developing world, yet there are 66 million girls out of school.  And what stunned me most of all, was that according to a study from Harvard and the Asian Development Bank, not even 7% percent of the world’s population are college degree-holders. That was the straw… because I am a college educated woman.

I was inspired to act because I am an educated woman and because I believe educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty.  I also believe schooling can be an impetus for girls to stand up against injustice.  And, as a woman committed to empowering women, how could I sit by when so much human potential was being wasted? As well, I knew just the community of educated women that would help.

For more than 25 years I have worked and volunteered around a very large community of college-educated women – women who are powerful with strong conviction and compassionate hearts. I’m talking sorority women. This was the place to start.  In my eagerness to make a difference, I reached out to the sorority women I know – across affiliation, umbrella group, creed and color.  I personally asked them to stand with me in a humanitarian effort to help diminish the oppression of women worldwide.   They did and the Circle of Sisterhood was born.

The Circle of Sisterhood Foundation achieved its 501c3 U.S. charity status in September of 2010, with the mission to “leverage the collective influence of sorority women to raise financial resources for entities around the world that are removing educational barriers for girls and women facing poverty and oppression.”

The whirlwind of excitement and momentum is breathtaking. In less than three years, more than 160 campus sorority communities and over 650 individual donors are engaged in creating awareness and raising money to remove barriers to education for girls around the world.  To date, we’ve had an impact in 12 countries and will be funding a school build in Africa in July.

Clearly, the impact in three short years demonstrates the power of the sorority community, and educated women, to stand up against injustice – together.  Sorority women – both alumnae and undergraduate – are having a significant impact on the movement to educate girls around the world.

If education is the answer that will start a chain reaction to end gendercide, sex slavery, oppression, sex selective abortion, and intense brutality against women, then there is much we should do as educated women.  We have the wherewithal and the numbers to have a significant impact for generations to come.

Ginny Carroll is the Founder and Chair of the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation and CEO of inGINuity. Connect with Ginny via Twitter: @gc_inginuity.

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Trusting Yourself to Learn From Others by Kelvin Rutledge

First, I would like to thank the Women in Student Affairs Knowledge Community for giving me the opportunity to write for today’s blog post. I will say this—I struggled with writing this blog post. I actively thought “What could a male graduate student who just finished his first year possibly contribute to the community?” I do not view myself as a scholar and I am trying to find my bearings to the field as a whole. Thus, I thought about it for a while and just figured the best possible option is to talk about what I know best: my lived experiences. Let me explain.

Throughout my undergraduate experience, one of my most interesting courses was sociological theory. Although many of the ideas and frameworks challenged my concepts on interactions, ethics, and morality with people, feminist theory happened to cause a shift in my daily presence.  As a Canadian sociologist, Dorothy E. Smith actively advocated for sociology to be for women and not about women in comparison and presented the concept of “bifurcated consciousness.” “A bifurcated consciousness refers to two different ways of knowing, experiencing, and acting—the one located in the body and in the space that it occupies and moves into, the other passing beyond it (Adams & Sydie, pg. 552, 2001).”  Through her lens of writing, she challenged me to examine who I was as a man and how I treated women as a whole. It is this idea that I wish to explore with you within the realm of higher education and student affairs.

This consciousness is crucial for me in two distinct ways. First, the relationship building piece has to be a reflective and intentional process by both the women I interact with and myself. Within student affairs, I have plenty of discussions with women about our respective futures, personal lives, career paths, and who we are within these processes. And although many conversations between professionals center on the intersection of identities, I think it is important to examine this idea of consciousness in regards to the cycle of socialization. Harro (2004) articulates that there are a multitude of personal, cultural, institutional agents that intersect, challenge, and form our thought processes, values, and normative behaviors as individuals. This is important to understand in making these connections on a surface level; but, to really dig deep and get something out of the relationship, I want to dial into the consciousness and understand how each individual is showing up into the space on a personal level. All in all, I believe that Smith’s ideology wants all of us to connect but understand what is behind this connection and how our presence intersects with this connection.

However, it goes deeper. I think the idea of consciousness is crucial for me to really help women develop professionally in the field. Before entering the student affairs profession, I worked as a fast food manager. Over the course of my four years of management experience, I had the pleasure of working with over 10 full time managers—all of which were women. Whether I realized it or not, many conversations about race, class, gender, and their respective future within the company occurred as I was the only male management staff present. Upon reflection, the only reason why this may have been effective was because of one defining factor: I provided the space to talk openly about their presence as women and as managers but also the space to provide their personal history and narrative—that other consciousness—and its potential intersections to that current space.  I say this because the same goes for student affairs. To be fully developed, we need the space to provide access to the other side of our consciousness that rarely gets to speak. Moreover, we need to make an active effort to understand what lies in our consciousness through engaging in conversations and deeper learning experiences.

We do amazing work in student affairs. We advise, challenge, and advocate for students, staff, and our institution at large. We see the potential of learning that extends outside of the classroom. However, we cannot do this effectively if we are unwilling to challenge the process within ourselves. So, I would like to challenge men to actively engage women in conversations about their consciousness and discover what men can learn. This is the only way we can truly help, understand, and support our co-workers and colleagues. Also, I would like to challenge women to be vulnerable, step into a space, and display what your consciousness is really saying unapologetically. It deserves a platform just as much as any other part of your identity as well.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my experiences and journey. I hope to hear about yours sometime in the future.

 

Kelvin Rutledge is the Graduate Assistant, ePortfolio and First-Year Outreach at The Florida State University Career Center. Find him on Twitter @SAGradKelvin.

 

References

Adams, B.N. & Sydie, R.A. (2001). Sociological theory. (pp. 551-552). Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press

Harro, B. (2010). The cycle of socialization. In M. Adams, L.A. Bell, & P. Griffin (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice (2nd ed., pp. 15-21). Florence, KY: Routledge

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Fail Fearlessly by Cori Gilbert Wallace

There’s a moment when you receive that fifth “You can do it!!” email, the eighth tweet of encouragement, the fifteenth hug when you most desperately need it, where you realize the basic, yucky, facts.

This did not work out AT ALL.

In any way.

It was a big, fat, failure. From top to bottom.

Relationships were strained. Friendships did not survive. Emotions were high.

It stunk.

Failure offers a renewed sense of personal resilience. But beyond that, big, fat failure allows us to adjust the lenses through which we view our lives to be just rose-tinted enough to survive, but just clear enough to maintain some self respect and see what we are capable of surviving.

Most of the ability to survive a failed situation resides within.

I paused when I wrote that last sentence. For some reason, I really, really paused. I believe that the ability to survive resides within, but I also still confront that small, high-pitched internal voice. YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH!!! THIS IS YOUR FAULT!! WHY CAN’T YOU MAKE THIS WORK???! YOU AREN’T A VICTIM!! WHAT ARE YOU SURVIVING, YOU BIG BABY??!! PEOPLE ARE EXPERIENCING WORSE!!! GET OVER YOURSELF!!!!

And then the answer comes. I know what I’m surviving. It’s not failure. I’m surviving my own fears, self doubts, and hesitations. I’m finding the way to survive, again and again, the worst parts of myself.

For all the talk about the importance of failure in learning, women sure don’t like talking about theirs. I am certainly no exception. It’s been a rough year. For lots of reasons, personal and professional, the academic year of 2012-2013 has been undoubtedly one of the worst on record. It was so bad, so unwaveringly terrifying, so personally challenging, that I’m clinging to the one small truth that sustains me.

I survived.

Not to get too detailed, but the best way to articulate the general goings-on would be to say, I lost dear, beloved friends. I removed friends from my life. I lost loved ones. I gained distrust in other people. People lost trust in me. I discovered deception. I cared for a seriously ill parent. I lost mentors and mentees. I grieved. I resigned. I upped my investment in therapy. I said “I’m sorry” and “I’m scared” more times than I can count. I wrote letters and blog posts and emails and Facebook messages and speeches and e-cards and tweets and press releases that did not express the massive inner turmoil, the painful and personal, public and private struggles I was facing.

I was asked to write this blog when things were going so incredibly well. I was in a bright spot in my life, experiencing a burst of good fortune. As the universe does, it delivered a burst of validation that I had something to share, and a worthwhile and helpful story to tell. Like a balloon, that air-filled sac of self confidence slowly lost volume, and my self-confidence drifted to the floor. And then I had a thought….

What if the best thing I have to offer is a seat right next to me on the “fail boat”? What if there is a woman out there, failing, right now? What can I do to help her?

And I pause again. Because I really want to help you. We need smart, caring, effective women like you to be living their best lives, in environments where they can thrive. We need women in student affairs to find other women to support, and to find new avenues to offer their skills and talents to the communities where learning occurs.

Here is what I have to offer my fellow failures after my year of failing miserably.

Let go of shame. Are you Bernie Madoff? No? Well then that’s one check in the right column. Most of my mentors manage the shame of other people incredibly well. My sophomore year in college, my English professor, Dr. Florence Krause asked me to pay a visit to her office one Spring afternoon, to talk about my academic performance and discuss my plans after graduation. Dr. Krauss was a tiny, feisty teacher from Oxford, Mississippi. She was the picture of smarts and virtue. At that time, I was pretty deeply self shaming. (Who am I kidding? Still working on it!) Dr. Krause said something that continues to motivate me to this day. “You can do anything. Don’t let your shame stop you from believing you are worth the support of other people.” I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Krause, a mentor of mine, a valued educator, who is still serving others and living a fairly incredible life. She doesn’t want you to sit in humiliation, and neither do I.

Fish when the fish are running. Or strike while the iron is hot. That first rush of energy to solve a problem when you find the answer, the bright moment of motivation, or that feeling one sunny morning when you finally want to get out of bed is the moment. It is the moment that counts. If you feel stuck, or unmotivated, the most powerful opportunity might just be your next tiny moment of bravery. Jump on that moment. Make something, anything happen.

I literally keep a list of people to call or email with big ideas who I know won’t laugh at me. Those people are called friends. They dream with me and help me leapfrog over inertia. They keep my mind running with ideas. When I feel brave enough to get outside of my comfort zone, I act right then. You can too. Don’t wait. Get moving.

Listen to small voices. I’ve had many conversations where a small inner voice whispered to me, and I ignored the voice or tried to outwit my intuition. For example, I once had a conversation where someone indicated (in the midst of some intentional vulnerability) that I had nothing to worry about, and that nothing mattered more to this person than relationships. I knew this person, unfortunately, was lying. Hearing I “had nothing to worry about” was a deliberate attempt to challenge fear, and any person who cannot authentically lean into your fear with you and work through it, well, is trying to manipulate you. I’ve know that for years. I should have listened to my small, still voice, as it has been crafted by experience. You should too. You are pretty smart! Use those smarts and listen to yourself.

Protect your spirit. I follow Lolly Daskal on Twitter, and I read her blog. Inspiring, uplifting, and wise, Lolly offers healthy, helpful tips that motivate more than 200,000 fans and followers. One day, she retweeted a peers blog post, entitled “How Not to Suck.” I felt pretty sucky that day, so I didn’t read it. I wasn’t comfortable sharing every detail of my struggles with friends or colleagues, so I kept some things private, and when I’m feeling hurt or sad, I don’t heap on additional content or conversations that will make my spirit drop any farther down the well. Not to avoid challenging content, but to self protect. Here’s the deal I’ve made with myself — If I know a conversation is going to be hard, I have it, but then I put it in perspective. Yes, sometimes conversations hurt. But no one ever died from a conversation. Avoid negativity when you need to, but walk into every conversation knowing you will make it out alive.

Stay humble and hungry for more. Let me be clear..humility does not mean devaluing yourself to elevate others. Humility is self-awareness with a healthy sense of imperfection, that relies on personal drive and development. Many of the women I admire most are hard working, self-aware, but also value their time and uniqueness. They value their uniqueness so much that they are constantly honing and refining the “good but could be great” elements of their personas, adding to the personal toolbox, and building their emotional intelligence. They are hungry to improve, because they use personal growth and well-being to measure improvement. They are team players, and work for and with other people, but their primary occupation is maximizing who they are, and what they have to give. They are internally motivated to find the next great lesson, and they are always learning. Be humble. Be humble. Be humble.

Never forget, even when you fail (or let yourself or others down) you are worthy of love. I’ve made friends with personal and professional rejection this year. Not just the ”Hey, haven’t seen you for a while, let me remind you why it really stinks to have me around!” kind of friend, but the “I’m moving in, and I’m going to follow you to places with new people, who you really want to respect and value you. I’m going to be here awhile, sister, so sit back and get comfy!” kind of companion.When I’m feeling rejected, I always try to look at what I have done, what I’m not giving, or what I lack that creates a space to feel rejected. That coping mechanism doesn’t work, and it also doesn’t give me any answers. It’s terrible for people who want to be liked (you know, as a sign of humanity and love of others) to experience rejection, because it reminds you that there are people out there who don’t think you are that great. They might actually think you are pretty terrible.

But you know, they are wrong.

The most well-adjusted people I know understand their own egos, and honestly believe they are worthy of love. They have self respect. They don’t manipulate or compartmentalize or self-shame. They know they are worthy. That they have merit. They that even their worst failures are not so repulsive that they can’t gain grace.

Make grace your most valued companion, and lend her to everyone that you can.

I also made fairly good friends with grace this year. I had to find her myself….she was tough to track down. I had to put her ahead of almost every conversation, and I had to remind myself that I was worthy of having her by my side — that I was worthy of empathy from myself and others. My interactions with students made personal grace a little easier. Most students have the real need to determine what core values make them more confident and able to deal with life’s ever-present challenges. My best conversations with students, the ones that really get them to think are ones where we explore what values matter to them. Most values that I hear repeated again and again are those related to integrity, family, courage and hope. Demonstration of these values, living these principles requires empathy for others, and for yourself.

I think the concept of personal mercy, being gracious and gentle with yourself cannot be underestimated as a coping mechanism. Even in the midst of failure, grace should never leave your side.

I’m not good with things ending. The ending of the school year, of relationships…I typically bungle endings and only half-heartedly allow myself any closure. But I’m closing out this phase, and this post knowing that I’m stronger BECAUSE the “failboat” has had me as a passenger for a little longer than desired. If you are sitting with me, please know, your personal failures will never transcend the love you give to others. You will stumble and fall, many times, but at least that means you are running. Keep running. You can outrun those without the courage to race boldly, and that is worth the skinned knees and shortness of breath. Are you ready? Let’s go.

For additional thoughts on failing fearlessly, I encourage you to visit this blog post written by my friend Matt Monge, and I encourage you to read the work of Brene Brown.

Cori Gilbert Wallace is the Vice President: Communications for Delta Gamma Fraternity. Find her on Twitter @corinwallace.

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“Can We Escape the ‘Cape?'” by Davida Haywood

On April 16, 2013, at 8:41 p.m., I hung up the “cape.” You know the “cape.” It is the one that so many of my sister-friends wear, consciously or unconsciously, under their daily attire. Sometimes the “cape” comes in a variety of colors. Oftentimes, there is an “S” somewhere along the back representing one of their many “s/hero” identities.

On that Tuesday evening, I hung up my “working woman” cape and slipped into my “mommy” one (which really wasn’t a cape—just t-shirts and sweats accessorized by a number of baseball caps).

But, can I be honest? I struggled a bit.

I didn’t struggle because I wasn’t ready to welcome my new son, Kole, into this vast world. I certainly acknowledged that once he arrived, I couldn’t send him back. Nor did I struggle with the fact that it had been nearly ten years since I had done this mommy-thing—although, I think a number of salespersons got a good kick out of my seemingly antiquated questions about baby formula, car seats and strollers.

Rather, I was concerned about the great “cape escape” that I would have to perform so quickly—leaving my professional identity as an executive director of a multicultural center to embracing a more personal one, after having committed the last several years to crafting and building the first. Let me be clear. Out of all of my life accomplishments, being a mother is irreplaceable. My children are truly an extension of me (and every institution that I have been employed at and their respective mascots!).

But, I would be fibbing if I didn’t say that I wasn’t concerned about having to, at least for a few weeks, leave my work cape behind. I know what some of you may be thinking. This sister-friend should have been excited and looking forward to her son’s arrival (I was…see my story at the end). Instead, here she is contemplating some of the most challenging and contentious inquiries facing women (and some men) in the academy—1) can we truly achieve work/life balance; 2) can we truly decide when the “time is right” to grow our families (via marriage and/or partnerships, children, extended family members, pets, etc.); and, 3) can we truly be ourselves doing so? The latter, even as I have returned to work this month, continues to linger in my mind.

Since I entered higher education, first as an undergraduate student then full-time professional, and again later as a master’s and doctoral student, I worked hard to acquire the necessary skills that would allow me to be an informed practitioner. In addition, I was careful to craft and carve out a professional identity that at its core celebrated and welcomed integrity, hard work and even room for lifelong growth.

Like so many of my sister-friends in this higher education movement, we work long hours, sometimes because they are required but also because at the end of the day, we care about our institutions and students. Our desks, planners, phones and other electrical devices are filled with reminders and schedules that we can recite in our sleep. Sticky notes are our friends. And, our “mobile closets,” where we easily change into our “s/hero” attire, assume all kinds of verbal, visual and physical forms.

Certainly, I don’t know the precise and concise answers or solutions to the inquiries that I previously raised. However, as I slip back into my “working woman” cape (the mommy attire just gets tucked underneath), what I know for sure is that even in our absence from work, our institutions continue to function. Our students’ lives go on; and when a crisis unfolds (regardless of its magnitude), someone usually knows how to find us (thanks technology!). Further, the same folders and sticky notes that were on our desks prior to leaving are gladly waiting for us when we return.

I am also aware that it can be difficult to separate out and compartmentalize our many capes (or personal and professional identities). Sometimes, they aren’t removed and get tucked in; or, perhaps, they become interchangeable. Hence, my own experience welcoming Kole into the world, just as I was leaving campus (note: quick change out of the “working woman” cape) to pick up his brother from school (note: had to untuck the “mommy” one).

Later that evening, I was scheduled to bring remarks at one of our many multicultural graduation celebrations. I never made it back to campus. Instead, I had to detour to our university’s hospital.

For a few minutes, the “working woman” and “mommy” capes were one, as I was being cared for, hooked up to medicine drips and wheeled around the hospital. Recalling that I had a few more assignments to complete and sticky notes to address (prior to taking maternity leave), I was determined to work and send one last email (what would we do without Wi-Fi?)—even as the nurses said, “Ms. Haywood, you will need to put your phone away.” What they didn’t know was that my handheld tablet was just a few feet away!

Whether one cape or multiple capes, and the possession of many “s/hero” powers, we are who we are. Yes, we can wear capes emblazoned with “Dr. or Ms.,” but also those marked with “mother, wife, partner, daughter, sister, aunt or friend.” Our “mobile closets” move with us. And with time, we get better at the quick cape changes and soar even higher.

I welcome your commentary and feedback.

Davida L. Haywood, PhD serves as the executive director of the Student Life Multicultural Center at The Ohio State University. In between cape changes, she can be reached at haywood.21@osu.edu.

 

 

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Can a male be a feminist? by D. Matthew Gregory, Ph.D

As a Student Affairs professional and as a male advocate, I am deeply honored to have been invited to write a blog post for the Feminist Friday series.  Before I begin, I am a Caucasian, Methodist, husband, father, son, brother, advocate, social justice aficionado and ethnographer.  As a qualitative researcher, I often write with an auto-ethnographic lens.  As I thought about the invitation to write for Feminist Friday and what my topic could be, I continued to reflect on my dissertation journey and one conversation in particular.  This conversation not only paved the direction for my dissertation, this conversation helped to shape my answer to the question,

“Can a male be a feminist?”

It was summer and humid in Southern Illinois, I was nearing my prospectus defense.  I had recently confirmed a new committee chair and had recently switched dissertation topics.  Times were hectic in my world.  Because so much time had lapsed since my comprehensive exams and little time was left in my program hour glass, I chose to write on a topic that was near and dear to my heart, male advocacy against sexual violence on campus.  I had both personal and professional experience with this topic.  As a male, I have women close to me who are survivors.  As a housing staff member, I fielded a few initial reports on incidences of rape and sexual assault.  As a police officer, I had fielded and investigated sex crimes to include interviewing all parties involved, presenting options to the survivor, making arrests, and transporting and staying with the survivor at the hospital during the hospital process.  During this time, I did not see my role as a male in these situations as inappropriate or as potentially re-victimizing.  To me, it was an opportunity to help women in the midst of a potentially devastating personal crisis.  Women close to me had similar experiences and did not receive supportive help during their time of crisis.  In some instances they were told they deserved what had happened to them or their concerns were dismissed soon after making a report.  It was my chance as a male to right a wrong.  These women and my role with these women inspire me to be helpful and compassionate as a husband, father, and administrator.

My view of myself as a male advocate was not challenged until I met with my doctoral committee members to defend my prospectus on that hot and humid summer day.  The conversation began like many probably do, a summary by my chair of my progression and my decision to change topics.  I provided a relatively brief summary of my topic, my interest in choosing such a topic, and my plan for the remainder of my dissertation research.  What happened next, was a personal paradigmatic shift.  A female member of my committee asked something close to the following, “As a male researcher, why do you feel it is appropriate to research a topic that is regarded as almost exclusively a female topic?”  I am sure I was defensive in my response about how sensitive I am, being raised by a single mother, and how experiences of persons close to me qualified me for such research.  I was so struck by this seemingly simple question, I cannot recall what other rationale I may have offered.  I do remember my committee member’s suggestion, “if you are determined to conduct research on this topic, you must incorporate and become knowledgeable of feminist theory…there is no way a male can write on or begin to understand such a gendered topic without doing so through feminist theory.”  I politely thanked her for her feedback and may have answered a few other questions from my committee.  This one question impacted me so much that I cannot recall the rest of the prospectus defense.  After taking two weeks to calm down and to reflect further on her question, I began to find out what I could about feminist theory.  Like many pressing topics, I ‘Googled it’.  I identified several books on feminist theory and in particular one book on feminist theory and rape.  These books made me look at societal issues, administrative practices, legal constructs, power dynamics, and the relationship between genders in a whole new light.

“Can a male be a feminist?”

Prior to this dialogue with my doctoral committee member, I recall a different conversation with a former supervisor, mentor, and cherished friend.  I remember her arguing eloquently and convincingly that a given male could be passionate enough and active enough in support of equality for women that he could be called a feminist.  We spoke about my background, my advocacy as a male instructor in the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) program, and now my role as a male researcher on sexual victimization of women on campus.  At the time of this conversation, I would have ordinarily been moved to assert without hesitation that I was a ‘male feminist’ and should be recognized as such by all.  After all, I considered myself to be a sensitive man, socially just, raised by his mother, a brother to several step- and half-sisters, a husband, and father to a daughter.  However, I found myself sitting in my mentor’s office in cautious disagreement with the notion that a male could be labeled as a feminist.

…as I reflect on my answer to her question, I look around my supervisor’s office, clean, the epitome of professionalism.  I look at my supervisor, she is classy, she is smart, a strong personality, and carries a definite presence when she walks in the room.  I listen to her encourage me as a person and support my research.  It is uplifting and appreciated.  Yet, the same person has shared with me how she as a female professional has been wronged by male supervisors and male colleagues.  She has shared that she makes less money than some of her less-experienced male counterparts.  She has shared that some men have labeled her as a “bitch” when she offered her opinion or defended her point in a meeting.  She has shared that she feels male colleagues have dismissed her advice because their opinions supersede hers.  She has shared that she considers herself to be a feminist.  She has shared that mentoring young female professionals is important to her.  She has shared that having female friends is of great value to her.  I know in most cases, she is right.  Yet, I find myself struggling with her comment that a male can be a feminist.  Is it my admiration for her and other women?  Is it my regard for the women’s movement?  Is it my love for female family members?  Why am I reluctant to agree that a male can be a feminist?  Out of respect and due in part to a lack of my own awareness as to the complexity of the topic, I simply agreed with her that men can be labeled as a feminist and I chose not to present a counter argument.

“Can a male be a feminist?

If you have not viewed the recent TED post by Jackson Katz, it is an intriguing talk. (http://on.ted.com/JacksonKatz).  Katz challenges the belief that issues like sexual victimization of women by men are entirely “women’s issues”.  Katz argues that in fact, they are most definitely “men’s issues” as well.  Katz asserts that men are largely the problem in the first place so, it stands to reason that in order to address the problem, men may need to be the focus of efforts to change the culture.  While I tend to agree with many of Katz’ points in his TED talk, there is something powerful about an issue being linked to a certain population.  Taking that linkage away or globalizing that linkage removes the perception of power.  The issue, while negative, becomes a symbol for the struggle, a reminder of the oppression, and can be a source of pride for those who have endured.  For some feminists, the idea of reclassifying a societal issue like rape as an issue for both women and men may be akin to the re-victimization of a rape victim by a male researcher.  Let me put it this way, men, the stronger gender, will involve ourselves in this issue, acknowledge we are largely responsible, and will begin to socialize younger men and educate men in more healthy and respectful relationships with women (i.e. fix the problem).

Katz’ argument that men need to be involved for change to occur was one of my arguments when I chose to write my dissertation on male advocacy against the sexual victimization of women on campus.  However, as a male researcher there were concessions to be made.  Feminist theory was essential to guide and inform my lens to minimize the chance I would hurt rather than help the cause to reduce sexual coercion on campus.  It was too dangerous for me as a male researcher to interview female survivors so I and other men could better understand the harm caused by rape.  Doing so carried a high risk of re-victimization and was arguably inappropriate for me to do as a male researcher.  It was extremely difficult to firmly believe I had something to offer to further the dialogue and yet be constantly reminded from a feminist perspective that my mere presence in the dialogue could be unwelcome and inappropriate.

So, when asked, “Can a male be a feminist?”, I do not believe the answer to that question is mine to make.  For me, the answer to my own question, “Can I be a feminist?”, is only an answer to be made by members of the group at the center of the issue.  If someone, like my mentor, believes I have or can contribute positively toward the feminist cause and refers to me as a feminist, it is a label she chose for me.  Very different than a label I chose for myself.  What I do call myself is an ‘advocate’.  An advocate for women, an advocate for racial equality, an advocate for gay/lesbian rights, and an advocate for a socially just world.  If by advocating for what is socially just for women, I am referred to by others as a male feminist, then it is my honor to be linked to such a powerful movement.  Personally, being a male feminist would mean significantly more if women gave me the label than if other men called me a feminist or if I called myself a feminist.

So, I ask you, “Are you a feminist?”

D. Matthew Gregory is the Associate Dean of Students and Director, Student Advocacy and Accountability at Louisiana State University, contact him via email  or find him on Twitter at @DMattGregory.

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“Telling Our Stories” by Sarah Allard

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
At the beginning of June, I attended the Region IV-E WISA Drive-In Conference at Lake Forest College. It was an amazing time of connection, learning, and processing. During my five hour drive home, I spent four hours of it in silence, thinking about the concept of storytelling and the powerful nature of each of our personal stories. This is the aspect of the conference that stuck with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, which was why I needed those four hours of silence to process. I understand the power of stories. I have always been impressed and jealous of those who felt free to tell their story.

Why did I keep my story inside of me for so long? Because I was ashamed of it and feared judgment. The shame and fear have kept me isolated. I was punishing myself for something that wasn’t my fault (but felt like was my fault). I had (figuratively) locked myself away, alone in a dark room and it has prevented me from fully connecting to my family, friends, and colleagues.

I am terrified but it needs to be told.

The first time I seriously considered killing myself occurred when I was 17 years old. I was attending high school in the small rural town I had grown up in. I felt so low, so helpless, that I could not feel anything other than the emotional pain I was experiencing. I could not fathom how it could get better. I didn’t fully understand what was going on with me. Nothing traumatic had occurred in my life. I had supportive family and friends. I just knew that the suicidal thoughts weren’t “normal.” I was scared to tell anyone and felt safer to remain silent. I wrote my anguish in a journal that I kept hidden and I buried every feeling so that I would not be found out. During that time, I never made a suicide attempt and saw college as my freedom from the pain. I assumed once I was in college everything would be all right and that the pain wouldn’t follow me.

This was not the case. I was able to get through college without too many issues. I actually thrived in college, but while in my first professional job things fell apart. I began experiencing so much anxiety that I couldn’t sleep or concentrate. I found myself crying frequently and uncontrollably. I felt no joy or hope and spent a lot of time alone. Soon, nothing felt worthwhile and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of darkness with no way to escape. At the time, I did not realize how bad things had gotten until the person I was dating told me that he had hit his limit with his ability to help me. He encouraged me to see a counselor. Reluctantly, I agreed to it. I viewed seeking this kind of help as a sign of weakness. I was the person that helped others, not the one who needed professional help! I made an appointment with a counselor where she, after having me answer a number of questions, diagnosed with me having Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. I had a diagnosis and now I was ready for a cure.

didn’t realize this was just the beginning.

Adamant about not taking medication, I started by doing counseling only. The counseling was somewhat helpful but I was still experiencing a lot of sleepless nights, crying fits, and suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t until one day I found myself in my car on the side of the road crying so hard that I couldn’t breathe that I realized I had zero control over this. I went on medication soon after. With antidepressants it takes about a month for them to be fully effective but their side effects can be felt immediately. I experienced shakiness and literariness, nausea, and headaches. Physically, I felt horrible but pushed through in order to feel some emotional relief. The side effects did eventually vanish. The combination of counseling and medication did help me become functional again but only functional, not cured.

It’s been 9 years since that initial diagnosis and I have seen many different doctors and counselors, been on and off medication, tried various combinations of medication, and been given various diagnoses. One doctor thought I had bipolar disorder, another thought I had obsessive compulsive disorder but they all agreed that I had depression and an anxiety disorder. I’ve been on antidepressants that didn’t work and mood stabilizers that I didn’t need. When the right antidepressant and anxiety medication was found, they helped me feel a little bit better. I wasn’t crying uncontrollably, my anxiety was under control, I was sleeping at night, and things didn’t feel as hopeless.

But I was still experiencing suicidal thoughts and came closer to making a suicide attempt than I would like to admit.

Three years ago, my worst moment was a moment of intense crisis. I had spent the day at home crying, feeling worthless and hopeless. I walked into my kitchen opened up a drawer and just stared at the knives sitting in it. Earlier, I had been thinking of ways I could kill myself. I knew I was out of control. My life felt meaningless and I assumed my death would also be meaningless. I stared at those knives and then panicked. What the hell was I doing?! I slammed the drawer shut and just collapsed to the ground in tears. I knew I was in trouble but didn’t know what to do. I don’t’ know how long I laid on my kitchen floor before I made myself get up but I did get up. Each time I have had a moment of suicidal crisis (I’ve had 4) I have always able to stop myself from taking action and pick myself up. I’ve been fortunate to somehow find the resolve to keep pushing through and remind myself that things are not as bad as my brain believes it is.

It took 8 years before the right medication combination was found for me. It also took 8 ½ years before I was on the dosage I needed. I spent years just getting by, thinking that was how life was supposed to feel. The counselor I currently see did not agree. She connected me to a psychiatrist who was much better at managing my medication than a general practitioner. The difference of having the right medication at the right dosage was amazing. Small problems weren’t devastating. I could feel hopeful again. I could experience joy. I didn’t feel like I was drowning in my emotions. And I didn’t feel suicidal.

This journey has taught me a lot about myself and my ability to persevere. It’s a journey that does not and probably will not have an end. For me, depression is not a situational thing. It’s something that will always be part of me. This means that I will be on medication for the rest of my life. It took me a long time to come to terms with that. The truth is that I’m still coming to terms with it. There is no “cure” for me. I have had to learn to manage it. I punished myself for this by keeping my distance from people and not talking about it. I felt like a burden and I didn’t think it was fair to place that burden on anyone else. It was mine to carry. The only people that are aware of it are my parents, a couple friends, and a couple select supervisors. Even then, I felt incredibly guilty and held back on how bad it really was.

Today, I feel great. I’m diligent with my medication and I have several strategies for coping with stressors. I also have developed ways of monitoring myself so that I’m able to catch when things are going downhill for me. Journaling has become my best way of processing all my thoughts. I also see a counselor regularly and follow up with my doctor consistently. I learned that even though I will deal with depression for the rest of my life, there are ways to manage it, experience joy, and live a full life.

I tell this story in the hopes that others who live with depression do not feel alone. I know that there is still a stigma attached to mental illness and in order to break that stigma we need to stop being silent. The silence is what has kept me isolated because I have always felt like I was hiding a part of myself. This story is only one aspect of me but it’s an important story for others to hear. Connection and understanding take place when we are able to stop fearing judgment and tell our stories.

I will continue to tell my story. Now, I want to know your story.

Sarah Allard on Twitter: @SEALife23

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