Day 37 of 45 Days of Courage

It takes courage to trust.

I want to start today by saying that I am completely overwhelmed and humbled by the support you have shown me over the past 24 hours. I have received lots of encouraging comments and texts and thumbs up and heat emojis and exactly zero negative or hurtful comments. It has made me feel like I am wrapped in love and comfort and encouragement. Thank you.

It takes courage to trust. I am awake early again this morning, and I am watching CNN. There are so many reasons not to trust. Between politicians who lack integrity, natural disasters which destroy lives and homes and people hating and killing one another for their race or gender or religion…it is hard to trust.

But, as much as it may seem like there is much and many to fear, if we take a moment to step back, we will see there are many people doing good in the world, many people who live with courage and integrity and we can choose to trust.

That is what I am going to do.

Today I choose to trust that people are basically good, even when they make mistakes. This week I chose to trust my son’s safety to the doctor who performed his eye surgery, and soon will truth the surgeon who will take out my tumour. I trust that good people are working to improve the lives of those who find themselves homeless and in crisis. I choose to trust the ones I love who want me well. I choose to trust my wife as we continue to strengthen our marriage.

It isn’t always easy for me. I have always struggled to trust. But I am surrounded with people worthy of trust and people who put their trust in me every single day.

So I will find the courage to trust them, and to trust that when the scary and sad news hits the screen of my TV, there are good people who will continue to work to make the world safe, that will step up to lead with courage and care and will rally the resources and people to rebuild the lives of those who face tragedy.

I love a quote by Ernest Hemingway. “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” I think this is better than how I often have lived – to not trust unless they prove themselves.

Can you find the courage to join me? To trust first and assume good intentions first?

Day 36 of 45 Days of Courage

It takes courage to tell the truth.

I have a truth to tell. It isn’t that I have lied to you or that I have hidden something from you. It isn’t that I have completely misrepresented myself to you. But as I look back, I see I have mentioned on more than one occasion that I have a story to share. My truth.

I debated sharing this with you. I grew up believing that you don’t share your personal business with others. But after talking with my mom, and hearing her encourage me to share this, to break silence, to begin to shatter stigma, I decided I want you to know this important part of who I am.

I recently learned that I have bipolar disorder.

I have been struggling for the past couple of years. Truthfully, I have probably been struggling my whole life but At a very early age I learned how to push through, get things done, appear to have it all together, be successful. But my struggle forced me to break down some of those walls when my wife got sick a couple years ago. She nearly died and I nearly fell apart. At a time when I just wanted to be strong for her and for our kids, I just couldn’t shoulder it.

My doctor at the time had diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder and prescribed me Zoloft. It never really worked but she continued to increase the dose. I never questioned it because I trusted her.

Unfortunately my anxiety (or what I thought was anxiety) got worse. It got so bad that at one point I considered death to be preferable to living like that. I looked for help and was not taken seriously.

My current doctor and I, and my therapist have been working with a psychiatrist to figure out what has actually been going on. Since I have been off the Zoloft for a few weeks it is a lot easier to assess. I came off it because it interferes with pain medication and my tumour, Tina, was causing me tremendous pain.

The doctor explained to me that what I thought was weird displays of anxiety was actually manic episodes, possibly triggered by the Zoloft but definitely made worse by it. In fact, Zoloft is one drug specifically stated NOT to use for people who have bipolar disorder because it triggers manic episodes.

So, to get to the point…

I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The doctor believes that there may be a genetic link, based on some things I shared, and there is a genetic component. But, I am getting treatment and it can be managed. Now that I am on a more appropriate medication, I am much more stable and feel way more in control.

One thing I can do to empower myself is to share my diagnosis. To tell the truth. Bipolar is a scary word. But it is just an obstacle. I am a successful professional who has overcome two years of the wrong treatment (one that could have killed me) but who is still a successful professional with bipolar.

I am a loving parent, a devoted partner, a dedicated friend, a caring daughter. I am the kind of Principal who seeks first to understand, to help when I can, and to discipline when needed. I was all these things before my diagnosis. I am all these things still.

I feared telling the truth because of stigma. I feared telling the truth because I had been taught to keep our problems to ourselves. I feared telling the truth because I don’t ever want anyone to believe I can’t lovingly parent my children or competently do my job.

But the truth is, the only way stigma is erased, and the only way to help others understand is to tell the truth. The only way to shine a light on the fear people feel about getting help is to shine a light on what getting help looks like.

There are many out there who live with bipolar, who are enduring the agony of mania and the devastating drain of depression who never seek help because of stigma and shame. I am not ashamed. I am strong. I am brave. I am Christine and I am going to overcome this challenge.

To my amazing family and friends and caring colleagues, thank you. Thank you for patiently walking with me through this long and often dark journey. Your love and support mean all the world to me. Because of you, I am here and I will use my truth to help others who are afraid to tell theirs.

Day 35 of 45 Days of Courage

It takes courage to show up.

Are you living your life as a participant or a bystander? Many of us are standing back and watching our lives go by. Any of us who live on autopilot are doing just that. For much of my life, I lived without giving much thought to what I did. I just wanted to get things done, be successful, appear to be in control, but because I was just letting it happen, I was actually out of control.

And then I decided I needed and wanted to be a participant in my life. I am learning how to show up for myself and for others.

Having the courage to show up, for me, has meant lots of changes. But in particular, it looks like three things:

1. Being attentive

2. Being present

3. Being brave.

Be attentive

When I lived on autopilot, I was able to tune out all sorts of voices and actions. I just went through the motions of living the life of a wife, a mom, a friend, daughter and successful professional.

Unfortunately, I also missed out on really connecting with people. The word “attentive” comes from the root “attend”. In my life, to attend my life means I have been learning to be available- to myself, to my kids, to my wife, to my colleagues, to my friends – as a listener, a non-judgemental support. It has meant learning to hold space for others to attend to their lives and to stop trying to fix everything. I have learned that people are very capable of taking care of their own lives and I am a much better friend, able to be a witness without stepping in.

Be present

While it has been very important to learn to be a witness to others’ pain, being present has been a lesson in being more than just an observer in my own life and the lives of those I love. Being present means being an active participant in my life, accepting that life is not simply happening to me, but welcoming the invitation life gives me to actively shape the course of my life. Being present allows me to savour the beauty of this life, both the parts that feel good and the parts that are painful.

Be brave

The last part of showing up, for me, is being brave. Truly, being brave is the most important part of showing up for my life. It is the reason for this 45 day journey we have been on together. But what does it look like?

Being brave has looked like fighting for my marriage instead of walking away from it. It means having those conversations that feel really uncomfortable. Being brave means taking control of my health, both my physical health and my mental health, rather than ignoring it.

Being brave means telling the truth about who I am, what matters to me, how I feel and what I believe. It also means knowing that I am doing the best I can do right now, while committing to my own growth and learning. It means putting myself out there and being willing to accept both praise and criticism.

I hope this journey of 45 Days of Courage has helped you find the courage to show up for your life. I don’t know what that looks like for you but I thank each of you for your support as I have sought the courage to show up for my life.

Day 34 of 45 Days of Courage

It takes courage to remove the mask.

We all wear masks. Sometimes our masks change depending on the circumstances. We may wear one mask at work and another when we are shopping at the mall in December. But we all need to take that mask off sometimes. Do you have a safe space where you can find the courage to remove the mask?

The reasons for wearing a mask vary. Often we do it to protect ourselves or to follow what we believe is an expectation about how we present ourselves in the world. At times throughout my career, I have struggled with balancing who I am at my core with the person I must present myself as in my workplace. I no longer believe that and now I know that being exactly who I am, someone who cares for others, someone who can sit with someone while they struggle, someone who encourages others to be fully who they are, makes me a better leader, not a weaker one.

Behind every mask there is a face, and behind that, a story. It takes courage to remove the mask, to share the face, to share the story. I am living my story right now. I have found a place where I can fully remove the mask and just be, without feeling judged or shamed or less than capable. My story has taken a recent turn. One I need to share with a few close people before I can make it public. But know this: my story is one of resilience. It is one of a woman who overcomes obstacles, turns them into stepping stones and thrives. My story is one of struggle and one of never giving up. When I share with you, please allow me to remove the mask and to show you my face. See me for who I am, not what you assume based on negative stereotypes.

My hope for you today is that you find the courage to remove your mask. Maybe not with the world, but within the safety of supportive and loving people.

Sometimes the bravest face you can wear is your own.

Day 33 of 45 Days of Courage

It takes courage to heal.

Being alive means experiencing all sorts of things. We experience great joys – the start of a new relationship, the birth or adoption of a child, the anticipation of a new career or beginning a new adventure. And we also experience massive pain – a diagnosis we weren’t expecting, the loss of a young person, the ending of a relationship, a career that ends.

I think that when we experience tremendous pain, we allow ourselves to feel terrible for a day or two. And then we pull ourselves up and get on with it. And in a way, that is good. Returning to regular routine is an important part of healing from a traumatic event. But while we are returning to our routine, are we continuing our healing? Or are we just slapping on a happy face and pushing through?

It takes courage to heal. It takes courage to give ourselves the time we need to care for ourselves, to recognize and accept that each of us takes a different path to healing. It takes courage to take a day off for self care when you feel like you need to be at work (I hope you have supportive leadership that would encourage self care). It takes courage to pick up the phone and call a therapist or your doctor. It takes courage to take the first step in your healing journey.

Please take a moment to stop…and take a breath…ready?

You matter. Your healing matters. You are capable and strong and brave. Ask your body what she needs? Sleep? Healthy food?Movement? A glass of water? Your meds?Ask your soul what she needs to find peace today. A good cry? A conversation with a good friend? Time to play with your child? A walk in the woods? Then tell your mind to stop interfering and remind her that she matters too and you want her to get on board. Now, find your courage and take the first step toward healing your body, soul and mind.

Day 32 of 45 Days of Courage

It takes courage to celebrate your successes.

It feels weird to be putting this post out so late today. However, I was at work early today to set up our support team, and then had to make sure I got my son ready for the hospital for surgery later in the morning.

For some, it is easy to celebrate success. They throw parties to recognize their raises or promotions, and to reinforce their wins.

I am not like this, though. But I wish I were. I am not sure why I find it difficult to celebrate a success. Is it because I fear I will look arrogant? Is it because I don’t want to “jinx it”?

Whatever our reason, we need to share when we succeed. It is important that others know that hard work pays off, that the hours of practice and failure and restructuring and trying again have led you to success.

Today, I was late getting this post out. I was at work early to support my kids and staff, and I am now waiting for my son to come out of surgery (we just heard from the surgeon that all went well). My intention was to share some of my recent successes because it has been a week (month?) of real challenge and I wanted to change my mindset a little bit. But, perhaps I can ask something of you instead.

Would you be courageous enough to share some of your recent successes with me? And I will add to the conversation after I get my young man home.

I love these words from Nelson Mandela. Let’s celebrate our milestones together.

Day 31 of 45 Days of Courage

It takes courage to forgive yourself.

At different times in our lives, we look back on something we did, something we said, something we missed that we believe could have been different. What do we do when we recognize these moments?

I think it is a very human reaction to wonder how a doing something differently could have changed a situation. But the truth is, we can’t really know. We can’t change the past. We can’t go back. But we spend so much time beating ourselves up.

I spent the day yesterday with my school community, helping the people I work with and serve to begin to heal after a tragic loss. There were lots of tears and also some laughter. There were also lots of “what if”, “could I have” and “I should have” questions and wonderings. “What if I had said something different during that last conversation?” “Could I have missed something?” “I should have seen that something was wrong.”

But the truth is, we couldn’t. We have hundreds of interactions with people every day. And it will take courage for all of us asking those questions to forgive ourselves. Part of forgiving ourselves is accepting that we did not know what we did not know until we lived through it. And now that we know, we can learn and grow and do something else moving forward. However, healing and moving forward can only happen once we are able to forgive ourselves.

I recently recognized that I was behaving very badly toward someone I perceived was harming me. I asked for forgiveness and while she has not accepted my apology, I also hadn’t forgiven myself. I am now ready to forgive myself. And I will find the courage to do so.

What do you need to forgive yourself for? Can you find the courage to forgive? Will you try, with me, today to offer yourself some grace and begin to grow and learn and become more of who you are meant to be?

It may take time. My grieving friends may need time to process what happened before we get to a place where we can offer ourselves forgiveness.

If you need help today, please reach out.