I’ve been thinking about grieving since a lot of my clinical surrounds loss and grieving different kinds of relationships. Every day I think about healing and naturally, I think about my own life. Ironically, my ex-boyfriend forwarded me this BuzzFeed article about sadness (I think because of my professional interests, but who knows). The article was written by author, Mac McClelland, of Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story and For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question.
It reminded me about a theme from the Girls Empowerment Group I co-lead: how we don’t learn how to end relationships. We also don’t learn how to be okay with sadness. It seems like our society has deemed emotions around break ups (or “friendship divorce”) only acceptable in the form of pop music. I love this line of her article, “Everybody knows that crying girls are silly and weak. Hysterical, and overdramatic.” I remember how pathetic I felt starting graduate school and being torn up about a guy (forget about the fact that we dated for 5.5 years).
This scene in Bridesmaids perfectly illustrates our discomfort with sadness. Melissa McCarthy slaps Kristen Wiig around and tells her to stop being sad, though she has recently lost her job, her savings, her home, and her best friend. Often times the very same loving people trying to shake the sadness away from us and coach us to stay strong are denying our right to feel sadness, and ultimately, grow and learn from it.
We have so much to learn from loss and grief and I’m only beginning to realize that, because for the first time in my life I’m allowing myself to experience my feelings without trying to make them go away as soon as possible. I refuse to make myself so busy and distracted and fill the void with a new boyfriend or project. I appreciate the sentiment and am certainly not wallowing 7 months later in my misery—but even if I was—it’s about however much time I need to heal. There are no stages of grief, and if you do believe i them, know that there is no set amount of time that a person moves through them. Loss and grief are best described as waves as one of my favorite teachers writes:
“But then, all of a sudden, I’ll be going about my business and a wave of grief will roll in from the depths, crash over me, and drag me back out with it into the deep waters. I welcome the grief waves; I want to feel the hole in the universe; I want to cry and miss her. I know that too soon she’ll be a beautiful and funny memory—my wild little sister who brought everyone so much joy. So I think about her a lot; I pray for dreams and visitations from the other side; and I talk often to her kids and her mate and my other sisters, so as to keep her presence vivid for as long as we can.” Elizabeth Lesser
It’s so tempting to numb, distract, deny our feelings of sadness. Who wants to feel sad?! Yet this allowing of myself to be exactly how I am has taught me the meaning of compassion. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself, kind, and generous. I’ve experienced closeness, gratitude, and joy like I’ve never felt before. As Brene Brown writes, there is a deep connection between the amount of sadness and joy we experience-you can’t numb one without numbing the other. It is actually not possible to build walls up for selective feelings, without building defences against all of them. When we build walls up, it protects us out of fully experiencing ANYTHING, and therefore we are no longer able to fully experience life!
I’ve always been a sensitive and emotional person. I used to cry on the soccer field in middle school when my best friend would trip (which was a lot because she was as aggressive as she was tiny!) Still, I think we are taught from a young age that we should smile for the camera and not dwell in the past. My dad’s coaching on the soccer field echoe these sentiments, “No pain, no gain! Take no prisoners!” I was raised to be tough. As we get older we learn that people like to be around happy, bubbly people not the depressed, introvert.
To be clear, there are different types of sadness, as McClelland writes:
If your sadness comes from seemingly no place or even an obvious place but keeps you from participating in life or enjoying anything and refuses to abate no matter how long you go on letting it express itself, you of course can’t keep living like that.
Maybe if we didn’t live in a culture that shames us for feeling sad for too long, I wouldn’t have been so afraid of my sadness. I thought I might never feel like myself again. It was hard to remember feeling happy. Nothing felt normal and yet I was expected to continue on as if nothing had changed. Everyone else seemed to be going about their lives.
Over the years I’ve gotten better and better with “self-care,” but this experience required more attention and time. Going to the gym, meditating, and calling a friend was not going to be enough-or rather, this wasn’t going to be a “tough week” that I had to make it through. Instead of being patient and gentle with myself, I was judging myself and causing myself more suffering by agonizing over whether or not I should stay in my graduate program. Everyday I felt exhausted by the decision to stay or to go. How on Earth would I decide?
My saving grace was that I reached out for support. I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly and needed guidance. I found a therapist, I sought support from a professor, a Dean, some trusted classmates. I spoke to my cousin and friends on the phone. I let myself be loved and held, because “sometimes we are each other’s wings until we find our own. (Rha Goddess)”
I can’t explain in this coherent essay how I finally healed from my loss because I’m still healing everyday. Actually, some days I don’t think about it at all and this is how I know I’m making “progress”. My feelings are constantly changing and I know as time goes on the pangs of loss will be less frequent and eventually, I will get to a place where I can reminisce with my ex-boyfriend and possibly have a healthy friendship. I knew I was healing when I stopped feeling shame about the fact that I was still sad about the break up. A weight had been lifted and I finally was giving myself permission to feel, to be present with where I was at.
“They say it takes a big man to cry, and I think — unfortunately, given our collective feelings about sadness — that’s true. But it takes a bigger woman still, to feel the strength of a sob, without apology or shame. With pride. I’m the biggest I’ve ever been, the way I let my emotions run, sadness included: the way it cleanses me, tears washing my face, resolving me to continue to feel with abandon.” Thank you Mac McClelland, for the reminder that it’s okay to be sad.
This past week has been a roller coaster ride of emotions. I feel full, inspired, and ready to try to integrate these experiences aka make sense of the madness. Saturday I attended a fundraiser hosted by Haymarket’s People Fund for Community Change. The community conversation led by longtime anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise and Haymarket People’s Fund Executive Director Karla Nicholson focused on the recent lack of indictments, the Black Lives Matters movement and the impact of these events on the anti-racism community. I was drawn to the event because Tim Wise was my introduction to antiracism work (heard him speak my first semester of college at Mount Holyoke). The highlight for me was getting to talk to an inspiring Smith alumnae, currently Director of Client Services at Project Place. I’m looking forward to meeting with her next month to learn more about her awesome work! Also, I loved Tim’s perspective on the importance of remembering that mistakes are part of organizing and activists and leaders should be supporting young people leading this movement. Monday was Martin Luther King Day. I participated in a protest against police brutality, mass incarceration, etc. Out of the 4 other protests I’ve been to this Fall, this one had the most children and most energy of solidarity, and the most inspiring speakers. I learned Samuel Jackon’s I Can’t Breathe Song, which gave me chills. Cassandra Bensahih, Community Organizer from EPOCA , was one of the speakers and it was amazing to learn about her organization’s work. Friday, I finally made it to an organizing meeting. I can’t believe they keep scheduling them on Friday evenings. Still, there seemed to be a great turnout (over 100 people). I left at 9:30PM and most people were still there! The setup was thoughtful and I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of a segment on self care for activists! I so appreciated the question posed to the crowd: What can we do to make the movement inclusive to ALL people? As I headed to my car from this meeting, I was struck by the fact that I was literally walking around and between sleeping bodies who did not have a warm bed to go home to. My thoughts began wandering from short term solutions to anger. How could our society allow this to happen? How do we justify this? How do we look away and become numb to these human beings without family, without jobs, without beds to sleep in. Rewind to Tuesday evening- it was the first Girls Empowerment (waiting for the girls to give us a better name!) group. This is something I’ve been planning and talking about for over a year now. I attended multiple trainings last year that fueled my passion for group work with teen girls and finally the opportunity arrived.The experience of getting the group started reminded me how patience and persistence pays off. I believe whole heartedly in the power of groups to transform us- and I couldn’t be more excited to create and hold space for these beautiful young women. I have no doubt these girls will change my life, in fact, in a week’s time, they already have.
The next night, I joined two of my colleagues at Wayside for a panel and screening of A Path Appears. Despite some anxiety about being on a wait list, it all worked out. I was blown away by the documentary clip (focused on anti trafficking work in Boston) and can’t wait to see the rest on PBS. There was a huge acknowledgement of the real heroes of the story (not Nick Kristoff, the film producers, the celebrities, the nonprofit, etc. )—but the women who chose to share their story in the documentary simply for the sake of helping others. I was elated to learn Becca Steven’s Thistle Farms social enterprise is one of the select few organizations featured in the film because of their effectiveness in this issue. Can you BELIEVE the average age of girls who are trafficked in the US is 12-14?! My Life, My Choice (Boston NGO) begins their prevention work in middle schools. TUNE IN TONIGHT 10PM ON PBS. Then this weekend I received tragic news about one of the families I’ve been working with over the past several months. I won’t be able to go on here due to confidentiality concerns. As you can imagine, I was tired after such an intense and full week. I was grateful to have planned an overnight with one of my closest friends. We snow-shoed, relaxed in a sauna & whirlpool, met an interesting social worker on a beach, cried, tried some delicious beverage with my mother, watched Broad City, cooked an insanely delicious salad for our friend’s housewarming/birthday party. I am definitely looking forward to this blizzard and getting to enjoy a quieter week since I’m ready to hibernate the rest of Winter! On a lighter note, I recently started dating again as an adult for the first time and these are my findings.
A bit of time has passed since I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 5th Annual Womensphere Emerging Leaders Global Summit 2014 in NYC. It’s never too late to share reflections and inspiration, so I’d like to revisit five favorites from Womensphere.
- Lead by being different.
Men and women are different as leaders. Whether the presenters were discussing a new model of leadership, online media presence, or transforming pain to power-the consensus was clear: It is our differences that make us powerful. Define your own voice and the way it’s being heard. YK Hong, Multi-media visual artist & fashion designer, reminded us that “We are the architect of our own brand.” In my work with emerging leaders, I’m applying my learnings from the Summit and teaching youth to effectively utilize social media. This means building their networks, making connections, and sharing their values with the world. Technology has broken down barriers to communication and has empowered young people to “DIY” and become experts in anything! I ask my high school and college students: What does your profile say about you? How does your Linked In profile appear to employers? What messages do your tweets send to the world?
2. Numbers matter. As numbers change, policies will change. Diversify your friends, staff, life!
Multiple presenters urged women to consider running for office. Victoria Budson, Executive Director of the Women & Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School of Government shared that more women in executive positions will impact women’s issues, specifically women suffering for leaving workforce to have children. On the subject of diversifying your life, Diane Brady, Senior Editor of Bloomberg Business Week, suggested that people should be forced to travel abroad, and she quotes “Comfort the conflicted. conflict the uncomfortable.”
3. Passion and purpose are more important than balance. Most women don’t have a choice.
As we continue with the age old work/life balance debate, it’s important to be reminded of the big picture. Between Yasmine Ergas, Associate Director at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights Director at Columbia University, sharing statistics on women ironing children’s chests due to gender inequity and Saran Kaba Jones’, CEO & Founder of FACE Africa, data about death due to lack of access to clean water, we remember to be grateful that our hardships are rarely impacting our basic human needs. Deborah Jackson, CEO & Founder of Plum Alley, echoed this sentiment by urging us to gain perspective on the bad things that happen and ask ourselves: Will this really matter?
4. Be your own best advocate.
Pat Mitchell, CEO of Paley Center for Media, walked us through a salary negotiation. While we hope gender expectations evolve in the future, women need to be mindful of how their assertiveness may be perceived in the workplace. We must mitigate the backlash by asking in a certain way that is relational and within the expectations of how women are expected to behave. By including comments like, “I am so pleased to join your team…” this will ensure you are more likely to be heard and not put people off. Diane Brady, providing a journalists perspective on leadership, expressed the need for more women to bring their ideas to the table. We must put ourselves out there and stop being so hard on ourselves. Women think they will get leadership roles based on merit, but we need to be better at asking for opportunities.
5. Be sharing and giving with your network.
This was another thread that united all of the presenters at the Summit. Whether discussing how to leverage social media to connect and engage with leaders in your field or emphasizing the importance of mentorship, and establishing partnerships: technology has transformed and expanded what’s possible for our relationships. As someone who loves connecting with new people and discovering exciting professional opportunities, I now make sure to always ask myself how can I add value to [So and So’s] professional endeavors. Since the Summit, I have been sharing dozens of job opportunities with my networks. I know how much I appreciated people who did this while I was in transition/seeking new opportunities.
There was a lot to love about this Summit. From the efficient table rotations to the thoughtful panels and career exploration opportunities. One of my favorite parts of this Summit was experiencing women’s leadership from so many viewpoints. Further collaboration between the various industries represented at the Summit is essential for progress to be made on all global and domestic issues. We’ve got a lot to learn from each other, and I’m hoping to see more folks from the healthcare industry represented next year. Womensphere embodies the movement at large in how it was inclusive and committed to developing the skills of emerging leaders.
Jocelyn Schur is a entrepreneur, business owner at Schur Consultations, and soon to be Smith School of Social Work student. She can be reached at SchurConsultations@gmail.com or http://www.JocelynSchur.com. She looks forward to your comments and feedback!
Watch this 9 minute clip to learn about Des’ Journey Towards Empowerment!
She shares wisdom that will give you the chills and inspire you to love yourself and what you do with your life.
1. Hardships help develop compassion & connection
2. Genuinely listen & engage or do something you love to center yourself
3. Hardship helps you connect better with others. It’s a gift.
4. Instead of retreating, open up! You’re not the only one.