Random Musings

We are not OK

Yesterday, while hanging out with friends, one of them let it out that something in her died a while ago. She mentioned working in a toxic culture that killed her zest for life, and leaving that culture for a place she hoped would be better, only to find herself sinking helplessly into what seems like a dark abyss. Her words were poignant and brought back unpleasant memories of going through a depressive state myself and seeking something to hold on to.

As I reflect on the words of my friend from last night, I am reminded of the importance of prioritizing mental health, not just at home, but also at work, at places of religious worship, in our relationships, in our families and in every other aspect of life we engage with. I, personally, am particular about prioritizing mental health at work considering people spend most of their adult lives there. From my experience, toxic work cultures, bosses and lobbyist colleagues can create room for deterioration of mental health. Work cultures where qualified people are unseen, unheard and exploited can easily set the platform for despondency and apathy. Work cultures where expectations are not well-defined and employees find themselves constantly chasing waterfalls can lead to pent-up frustration,feelings of inadequacy and a strong desire to escape reality.

A few weeks ago, a lady tweeted about the overwhelming anxiety she felt about going to work, and asked for excuses she could give her manager for not showing up to work. While I was glad that she was aware of the state of her mental health and the trigger of anxiety and despondency, it broke my heart that she had to cook up excuses to have a mental health day. It is important for employers to prioritize employee wellness by creating healthy workplace cultures where employees feel valued, heard and appreciated.

It is also important for us as individuals to know our triggers. We should learn the situations and behaviors that push us into depressive states and those that push us out of them. We should learn to tell people we are not OK. We should accept that although “vulnerability is the least celebrated emotion in our society” (Mohadesa Najumi), we can find our own people in society – people we can cry to, people we can express our frustrations to, and people we can share our deepest feelings with.

For me, I learned to find these people during the course of my PhD. Well, I did not have to look too far; my parents, sister and brother were right there. I cried to them when my experiments were not working, lamented to them when I was unable to sleep and cried even more when I became uncertain of my ability to succeed in the program. At work, I have learned to build relationships with people I can call my friends outside of the workplace. I can cry to them, vent to them and just tell them when I am in a depressive state. I know many people say the workplace is not the place to build friendships; but let’s face it: the fact that we spend more than 70% of our weekly time at work is proof that we need to build happy and meaningful connections in these spaces.

We should not be ashamed to say we are anxious, not coping, in pain or uncertain and despondent. We should not be ashamed to cry when everything becomes overwhelming, when our plans don’t work out, or when we are hurt by something seemingly insignificant. As I reflect , I realize it is important that we provide spaces and build relationships that enable us to expressly state that we are not OK. It is our reality and we should be able to share it with the people in our spaces.

And, when we are giddy because the stars are aligned and life is meaningful, we should not forget to ask those around us if they are OK.

Featured image: talkspace.com

Random Musings

Us and the Environment: A Case of murder-suicide

This is a bit of a long read and I hope you learn something from it. I would like to ask a few questions and I hope you answer them honestly.

What exactly do you know about your immediate environment? What do you know about the land, the water quality and the air quality? How polluted does the air feel during the summer? Can you confidently drink the water that runs through your tap? If you can, is it because you are certain the water is of excellent drinking quality or because you have been told it is and haven’t bothered to investigate it yourself? When was the last time you wondered about the impact of your actions on your environment, or even asked yourself how the household products you use, the foods you consume and the wastes you dispose affect you?

Yes, that’s right. When was the last time you asked yourself how your actions towards your environment affect you?

It is needless to say that we exist, whether we like it or not, in a symbiotic relationship with the environment. How that relationship has played out has left very much to be desired. For many of us, land, water and air are not elements we give much thought to as we go about our daily lives. We invest in environmental degradation on a daily basis when we head to the stores to buy water bottled in plastic. We encourage deterioration in air quality when we purchase our fancy SUVs with high emissions, alleviating our guilt by telling ourselves that the carbon taxes we pay should be enough to take care of the problem. We consistently purchase household products made with the most unfriendly chemicals and dispose them into the environment without any thought to how these chemicals end up in water resources and travel back to us.

We are certainly not aware that as we continue to contribute to environmental degradation, abusing the power we have over the environment, we are also killing ourselves. In other words, we are murdering the environment and at the same time designing our own suicide.

Think about it: how often are we feeling ill? feeling betrayed by our bodies? feeling lethargic for no reason? scratching our eyes because there’s something in the air? treating endocrine conditions? and contracting chronic illnesses? Have we stopped to consider that as we strangle life out of the environment, we are inadvertently strangling ourselves?

I know climate change is the buzz right now. To be honest, in my professional circle it has been the buzz for years. But now that teenagers are protesting across the world, it is a bigger buzz. Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is causing more people to take note and pay attention. And while climate activism can create the necessary awareness, it is important for us to understand that for many people, climate change is the least of their worries.

Indeed, climate change will lead to frequent droughts, loss of homes due to flooding and will likely drive migration; yet, for millions of people, these mean nothing. Their everyday lives are already a battle for survival. They only have access to polluted water resources, are the victims of the wastes from big pharma and other medical organizations, and live on heavily-polluted land. Climate change simply sounds like another ill they will have to deal with.

The truth is the environment is already killing us and we cannot afford to resign ourselves to fate. We need to prioritize everyday environmental health just as much as we speak about climate change.

How can we do this?

  1. Stop buying bottled water. Bottled water companies are not producing water. They are producing plastic. Plastics are a big problem for the environment and for our health. They have been linked to endocrine disruptions, and I suspect they might play a role in increasing the disposition of women to uterine fibroids. (Please note that this is a suspicion. Hopefully when the research grants come through, I can confirm it). Reduce your use of plastic bags. Rather opt for shopping bags that you can reuse.
  2. Get off the grid if you can. Diesel and petrol generators don’t simply make the air unattractively cloudy, they release volatile hydrocarbons into the environment, some of which are known to cause cancer, dizziness, liver lesions, etc. Where you can, opt for solar panels. I know they are not perfect, but they are worth the investment in saving our environment and in the process, ourselves.
  3. Opt for natural household products where necessary. The products we use and the way we dispose them have a tendency to affect water resources and land. In other words, they find their way back to us and cause illnesses we cannot easily treat.

We should become more responsible stewards of the environment, not just because we are afraid of temperatures getting hotter and some places getting flooded, but also because we exist in a mutualistic relationship with the environment. If we do not take care of it, it cannot take care of us. So far, it has endured the abuse we termed development, and has sustained us in spite of our narcissistic approach to it. Now is the time for us to introspect, change our ways, get over our insecurities and treat the environment with all the love and care we would give to ourselves. XOXO

Featured image taken from pinterest