I have previously written about the subject of bullying (in school and in the workplace), and I have also written about women supporting each other in the workplace. So now, it's only natural I write about women, stress and suicide in recognition of Suicide Awareness Month.
In this day and age, there is more pressure than ever before being placed on women. From full-time (even part-time) employment, cooking, cleaning, childcare responsibilities, care-giving to elderly parents, the list goes on and on. Women today are expected to do more than ever. If you are fortunate enough to not have to work or to have household help (in the form of a nanny, housekeeper or a partner who evenly splits household responsibilities), this may reduce your stress somewhat. But in reality, most women do not have these options. It's insane. You have to be the "best" parent, the "best" employee, the "best" wife (girlfriend/partner), have the newest model car, be highly educated, thin, attractive... My Lord, how can anyone cope? Women are made to feel inadequate on every level. Just watch all the commercials on TV, they tell you, you will be happier if you drive this brand new car, eat this food, have this gadget, wear these clothes, etc. No wonder women feel it's all too much; you feel like a failure if you can't measure up to these ridiculous standards.
Job problems, excessive stress, crisis, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, child abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), and a lack of social support are all common risk factors for suicidal behavior. Any one of these things would be terribly overwhelming for a woman to deal with. And then, comes the coping mechanisms: alcohol, too many sweets, smoking, Xanax. I know when I've been stressed to the max, I reach right for the chocolate! (At least it tastes good.) All things that work against you as far as your health is concerned. But what is left when someone feels like these ineffective coping mechanism just don't work anymore?
I worked with a woman who died by suicide. Though I was away on vacation when the call came in, I remember falling to my knees and crying out in utter disbelief. To this very day, I cannot shake it. The call was on a Monday and I had just seen her three days before. She seemed fine to me; we were laughing and joking together. I wonder what was going on with her then? Did anyone see the signs? Was she one of these women under extreme stress?
By all accounts, she seemed to be happy, content, nothing seemed off (at least not to me). I guess you can never truly tell what someone is going through in their life. I know it's true that everyone has a story, and that most people are going through something. It's frowned upon to be negative; you should be a trooper and just plow through. You just cannot know.
I'm sure there are many women who feel that they are not living up to everyone's expectations, always feeling inferior, juggling too many responsibilities and just feeling completely overwhelmed. Sometimes it feels like you are never good enough. Even if you have high self esteem, sometimes it can feel there is always something or someone to come along and try to knock you down. The pressures of society can become too much then comes the hopelessness. And thus begins the downward spiral. I have always had a high regard for myself; however, I have had many obstacles, setbacks, regrets, disappointments, missed opportunities and let-downs. But, I can honestly say that I somehow always managed to go on in one way or another. I think it has helped me that I have sisters, which has helped me deeply understand other women and be more empathetic to other people's struggles. That's all it takes sometimes, a little support, concern, and empathy to help someone get through a bad time and feel that they don't have to end their life. That somehow things will get better; tomorrow may be brighter. Suicide is not the answer.
There are hotlines, programs, lifelines, that can help. Following up with loved ones is just one of the actions that you can take to help others. Also, talk openly with someone, become available, show interest and support, offer hope that alternatives are available. Ultimately suicide isn't anyone's fault, but the commonality of it may be reduced if we encourage more open emotional sharing and normalize feelings of depression that may otherwise by held within and result in suicide]
National Suicide Prevention Life 1-800-273- TALK provides a 24/7 hotline to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
It really saddens me that women feel so much pressure these days. We live in a very "life is hard, just put up with it" society, but that just keeps emotions in and stops people from seeking the help they may desperately need. Which is why I am so adamant about treating others with kindness, empathy and understanding. You never know what anyone is going through; what is going on in their lives. Someone can be having a hard time at their job, have money issues, be unemployed, having issues with their children, siblings, parents (they can be caretakers), marital problems, or be struggling deeply with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. We should all stand beside one another to help other women out whenever possible. Someday it could be you needing help, and it would be nice to know that someone has your back and truly cares. It can be the difference between saving a life or losing one.
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019