Depression and My Some Other Day [—at A Life Overseas]

September 30, 2019 § Leave a comment

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On September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, I, like many of you, read the news that Jarrid Wilson had taken his own life. I didn’t know Jarrid, but his death made national news—and reached my computer screen—because he was an associate pastor of a California mega-church and because he and his wife had co-founded Anthem of Hope, “a mental health organization dedicated to amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide.”

I didn’t know Jarrid, but I know people like him, people who struggle with depression . . . people like me.

That’s not easy for me to write. I think of myself as a private person. I think of myself as someone who’s in control and even-keeled. But life is too short, sometimes much too short, to keep putting off openness and honesty for some other day.

I am inspired by those whom I’ve seen walk a path of vulnerability. Some are contributors at this site, such as Abby, who writes about her bipolar disorder. Ann discusses her depression in a post on meditation. And Marilyn blogs, “I have never spoken openly about my depression. In fact, this piece is the first piece I’ve ever written about the dark feelings that threatened to consume me.”

This is a first for me, too.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

(Marilyn Gardner, Depression and the Third Culture Kid,” Communicating across Boundaries, December 27, 2016)

[photo: “Pier,” by Omer Unlu, used under a Creative Commons license]

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When Debriefing, Leave Your Shoes—and Socks—at the Door [—at A Life Overseas]

March 2, 2018 § Leave a comment

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When we first moved to Asia, one of the customs we needed to learn was not wearing shoes in someone’s home. It’s one of those cultural things. But starting out, we had our reasons for wanting to leave our shoes on. It’s convenient. What about the holes in my socks? I don’t want you to smell my feet—and I don’t want to smell yours! It just doesn’t feel right.

But It didn’t take long for going shoeless inside to become our habit, and even our preference. Then we’d fly back to the West and upon landing we’d again be in the land of most-people-wear-shoes-in-the-house. Of course, we still could take ours off, and we often did. But sometimes it was easier just to leave them on. Then it was back on the plane (where, a recent headline proclaims, you should never take your shoes off), and we’d start to reset our minds about a whole range of things.

Back and forth. Back and forth. It can all get pretty confusing. Sometimes we need help sorting things out—things much bigger and deeper than clothing choices. A great opportunity for processing on those issues, whether you’re finishing a term, or a lifetime, overseas, is a set-aside time for in-depth, personal debriefing. And for that kind of debriefing, regardless of the location, shoes, and socks, don’t belong.

OK. Now I’ve moved to speaking figuratively, so let me continue in that vein and talk a little about feet. Most of us aren’t that crazy about how ours look. There are crooked toes, calluses, bunions, blisters, unclipped or ingrown toenails, and pasty-white skin. And then there’s that smell. Yes, missionaries may have the beautiful feet of Romans 10:15, but they don’t always seem that way to the ones who own them—thus the socks and shoes. Debriefing, though, should be about openness and trust, showing your feet, so to speak, as they truly are. But that’s not always easy.

To read the rest of this post, head over to A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Shoes,” by Long Road Photography, used under a Creative Commons license]

Vulnerability: Letting Others See What Is Hard to Look at Ourselves

December 28, 2016 § 1 Comment

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I recently wrote about Steve Saint’s travels with Mincaye, when Steve—the son of martyred missionary Nate Saint—was logging thousands of miles on his way to speak to thousands. But that was before an accident in 2012, while testing an experimental wing at I-TEC, that left him as an incomplete quadriplegic.

Since then, Steve has openly shared about his struggles and pain. In a post he wrote last month at the I-TEC blog, Steve talks about his feelings of insignificance. “It is hard to feel very important when Ginny has to help dress me and when I need a bib at dinner time,” he writes. “But then when I’m lamenting that I no longer count I’ll get a letters from someone thanking me now for trusting God in suffering. Go figure.”

I’d like to add my vote saying that Steve still counts. I am so grateful for his honesty, for his willingness to be vulnerable. He is truly serving through his scars.

Here is how he begins his post:

About half of the time I can only function at about 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, with no warning I crash to about 1 or 2 in 10. I lose the tiny bit of feeling in my hands, the bands around my body begin to clamp down so tightly that I go into spasms just trying to stand up. But worse than the physical torment I struggle with, the increased pain is accompanied by an involuntary hardening in my “heart”.  I sing along in church and hear preaching that used to move me, and I feel nothing. 

But, the physical pain and spiritual feelings take second place to an almost constant sense that my life has no significance anymore. But I’m not the only one struggling to have my life count. . . .

I hope you’ll take the time to read the rest of “No Count People?

And on the topic of letting others see us as we are—if you haven’t watched it yet (or if you’d like to watch it again), here’s Brené Brown’s TED Talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability,” in which she says,

I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

(I’m sure this makes me a prude, but before you gather the kids around the computer to listen to a video that Uncle Craig recommended, please note that it has a touch of PG language.)

(Steve Saint, “No Count People?” I-TEC Blog, November 29, 2016)

[photo: “Let There Be Urbex,” by darkday, used under a Creative Commons license]

Empathy: A Ladder into Dark Places

November 11, 2015 § 5 Comments

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When Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, discovered that “the way to live is with vulnerability,” it flew in the face of her training as a researcher. She had been taught to control and predict, the antithesis to being vulnerable.

She voiced this in a 2010 TED Talk, and the video went viral. Two years later, she followed it up with another TED Talk, this time on the topic of shame. While not as popular as her first video, it’s powerful in its own right. In it, she shares about the response to her earlier talk and stresses two basic points: “Vulnerability is not weakness,” and “We have to talk about shame.”

To combat shame, she says, we need empathy, because “empathy’s the antidote to shame.”

If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.

That brings us to a third video. This one is a short animation, adapted from a presentation Brown made on vulnerability to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). The RSA piece is titled “The Power of Empathy.”

“Empathy is a choice,” says Brown, “and it’s a vulnerable choice.”

In this short, embedded below, she refers to four attributes of empathy, identified by nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman:

  1. Seeing the world as others see it
  2. Being non-judgemental
  3. Understanding another’s feelings
  4. Communicating that understanding

The animation is a nice touch in fleshing out Brown’s words. I especially like the image of lowering a ladder down into another person’s darkness. One of the books we have on our bookshelf at home is Bonnie Keen’s A Ladder out of Depression: God’s Healing Grace for the Emotionally Overwhelmed. It is nice to see that ladder not just as a metaphor for recovery, but for empathy, as well. (As an aside, I also like how, when you can’t see her face, Brown sounds a lot like Martha Stewart.)

I do, though, have a bone to pick with Brown—bear with me here, or just skip straight to the video. While she does a great job of describing empathy, she does so at the expense of sympathy. I really don’t think that empathy is “very different” from sympathy. I don’t agree that “sympathy drives disconnection.” Brown describes empathy as “feeling with people,” which actually sounds to me like a good description of sympathy. In fact, when the word sympathy came about over 400 years ago, it was from the Greek sin, “together,” plus pathos, “feeling.” . . . in other words, a “feeling together.”

Empathy, on the other hand, is a relatively new term, introduced into the English language by psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener in 1909. Titchener got the idea for empathy from einfühlung, a German word crafted 50 years earlier to describe a form of art appreciation based on projecting one’s personality into the art being viewed—thus, “a feeling in.”

Over time, sympathy has had to give ground as empathy has gained the high road, and sympathy has come to imply something more like “detached pity” or “a lack of compassion.”

But of empathy, Titchener writes,

We have a natural tendency to feel ourselves into what we perceive or imagine. As we read about the forest, we may, as it were, become the explorer; we feel for ourselves the gloom, the silence, the humidity, the oppression, the sense of lurking danger; everything is strange, but it is to us that the strange experience has come. We are told of a shocking accident, and we gasp and shrink and feel nauseated as we imagine it; we are told of some new and delightful fruit, and our mouth waters as if we were about to taste it. This tendency to feel oneself into a situation is called empathy, on the analogy of sympathy, which is feeling together with another. . . .

One could even make the case that inserting our feelings into another’s situation can get in the way of seeing the individualness of that situation. Sometimes it is better not to say, “I know how you feel,” but rather “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.”

As Brown explains, sometimes the best thing to say is very little, something like “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”

Oh, well. Thank you for letting me step in and defend sympathy. I think it’s gotten a bad rap. I think it’s been misunderstood. And I empathize with that.

To see why a blog about cross-cultural issues is interested in the topic of empathy and listening, go here.]

(Brené Brown, “Listening to Shame,” TED, March 2012; Theresa Wiseman, A Concept Analysis of Empathy,” Journal of Advance Nursing, vol 23, issue 6, 1996; Edward Bradford Titchener, A Beginner’s Psychology, Macmillan, 1915)

[photo: “The Light,” by Amanda Wilson, used under a Creative Commons license]

Soaring Heights and Tragic Depths in the Life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

January 11, 2013 § 2 Comments

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In 1929, Anne Morrow Lindbergh was on board the first ever passenger-paying flight, part of Transcontinental Air Transport’s (TAT’s) combination plane-and-train trip linking New York and California. Her husband, Charles, was the pilot, while Anne, the only female passenger, recorded her experience, later published as part of Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1929-1932. How things have changed:

The ship is beautifully decorated inside, painted a cool gray-green, with the most comfortable green leather-covered chairs, that are adjustable. Little green curtains and blue-shaded lights. There is a white uniformed attendant shouting in my ear that he will get anything I want—reading or writing material. . . .

We have each been given an envelope full of data on the TAT organization. . . . Also I have been handed a large folding map (decorated à la old picture-map style) of our route. Postcards of places along the route. The “courier” has just offered me a little aluminum table to write on; there is plenty of room for knees and a table.

. . . .

At Kingman [AZ] we took on two square tin cupboards and one large thermos. The little table was set up by me, covered with a lavender linen tablecloth (tied on), and on metal plates I had passed me a delicious meal: cold chicken or tongue, etc. . . .

After researching Lindbergh’s life for my post on Gift from the Sea. That led me to Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, which I’ve just finished reading. It covers her wedding to Charles—the first global celebrity—their flights together, the birth of their son, and his kidnapping and murder 20 months later. The first three of the years covered in the book are the golden years, the last one, leaden. Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead is certainly an absorbing read, with Lindbergh’s account of the happiness and the tragedy written down in “real time,” not in the typical reflective style of a memoir.

Another event recorded by Lindbergh is her flight with Charles to Asia, with stops in Canada, Alaska, Russia, Japan, and China.  In a letter to her mother, she wrote about visiting a missionary station among the Inuit at Point Barrow, the northernmost point of Alaska. Again, how things have changed:

The afternoon after we arrived we heard all the little Eskimo children screaming and all the dogs howling, and coming out of the bungalow we were told excitedly, “The boat’s coming, the boat! See—the smoke!” . . . By the time it got in sight every man, woman, child, and dog was down on the mudbank to see it. It was tragedy not to be there. “Oh, poor Kay, she’s on duty at the hospital and won’t see it!” someone said.

An old white boat (like the Hudson excursion boats), the water wheel churning foam, was towing a big barge. Everyone speculated:

“Perhaps my shoes will be on it!”

“Doesn’t look like much gasoline—hope there’s more inside.”

. . . .

“Perhaps Mother sent me some fresh tomatoes.”

. . . .

Everyone trooped on board very excited and looked over lists of packages.

We’ve got a bathtub! You won’t be able to lord it over us any more—a regular bathtub.”

“That’s the new tank for my motorboat. They’ve sent the wrong kind! Look, Lenny, they’ve sent the wrong kind—and I sent them all the specifications. Can’t use it—have to wait till next year.”

In another letter, Lindbergh wrote about the difficulties faced by the missionaries:

I felt as though my life didn’t count for anything against the terrific sternness of that life. And terribly sad. They had been there so long and were old and tired and they dreaded sending David [their 15-year-old son] out. When they first went up there there was no radio, only the one boat, and they heard about the death of one of their sons four months after he died.

About a church service, led by the Presbyterian missionary Henry Griest, she wrote,

It was so strange, terribly strange, to hear Dr. Greist explain the Bible to them.

“‘We have gone astray like sheep.’ Like the reindeer who have scattered on the tundras.”

“‘The power of God.’ Force—like dynamite that blows up the ice sometimes and lets us get a ship out—the dynamite of God.”

During their time in China, the Lindberghs’ trip was cut short when they got news that Anne’s father had died. A few months later, after they were settled back into their rural New Jersey home, Charles, Jr. was taken from his bedroom and killed.

Forty years after the events of 1932, Lindbergh published Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead. In the introduction to the “Hour of Lead” section, she discusses suffering, grief, and courage, and the—sometimes painful—necessity of vulnerability.

What I am saying is not simply the old Puritan truism that “suffering teaches.” I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable. All these and other factors combined, if the circumstances are right, can teach and can lead to rebirth.

. . . .

One must grieve, and one must go through periods of numbness that are harder to bear than grief. One must refuse the easy escapes offered by habit and human tradition. The first and most common offerings of famiy and friends are always distractions (“Take her out”—”Get her away”—”Change the scene”—”Bring in people to cheer her up”—”Don’t let her sit and mourn” [when it is mourning one needs]). On the other hand, there is the temptation to self-pity or glorification of grief. . . .

Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a sheild, permissible for a short time only. In the end one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable—open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering.

Lindbergh wrote a full account of her Asia voyage in her first book, North to the Orient. Newsreel footage from the trip can be seen at this link, courtesy of PBS’s Chasing the Sun.

(Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1929-1932, Orlando: Mariner, 1993)

[photo: “Col. Lindbergh and Wife Get Ready to Fly the Pacific,” courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, used under a Creative Commons license]

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