Valuing Myself Over My Non-profit: Struggling with Depression in the Non-profit Sector

As someone who has been dealing with depression for most of my adolescent and adult life, and now who is finally dealing with said depression, I’ve been realizing that my thought process on certain topics has been skewed, to say the least.

I have mentioned in a previous post that my organization can’t go on its annual trip because of health and safety risks. More specifically, we are concerned about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. There haven’t been any reported cases in the country we would be traveling to, but we are greatly concerned about the traveling to and from. It would most likely be a non-issue, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

That is what I keep telling myself: even the smallest chance of getting seriously ill isn’t worth it. That I could accomplish so much more staying stateside and postponing the trip.

My depression made me believe that it was better to risk my life to do something that would just maybe make me feel better. Even now, I finally admitted out loud (to myself and my girlfriend) that if we weren’t together I would be extremely tempted to go ahead and just go, ignoring all the obvious risks and leaving it entirely to chance. Why does it seem so easy for me to think that my life could be expendable for the sake of my non-profit? That everyone involved, including myself would be better off if I took the risk? I understand that it’s important to be self-less at times in our line of work, but when that crosses over the line into self-destruction it’s terrifying. I never saw myself cross over that line; I can’t pinpoint when the notion that my non-profit appeared to have more value than my existence.

Sometimes I honestly don’t know whether I’m actually being selfless, or just not valuing my own person. Looking back, it’s much easier to see the times where I was chipping away at myself “for the sake” of my organization, all in the name of being passionate and hard working. I don’t think there is anything wrong with working hard and making sacrifices, but when that becomes a part of everyday life, when you are constantly forsaking your mental and physical health for the benefit of your organization, it’s too far.

We owe it to ourselves to take care of ourselves first, and our organization second. It might seem selfish (it definitely has to me in the past), but your health and safety are worth so much. Throwing it away isn’t going to make yourself or your organization better. It’s just increases the chance of pain and burnout.

It’s even hard for me to write this, but my life is more important than my organization. My health is more important than my organization. My safety is more important than my organization. I will keep saying that to myself, over and over and over again, until hopefully it becomes as natural to me as breathing.

So You’ve Fallen in Love with a Non-Humanitarian

My girlfriend is terrified of going on airplanes, she absolutely loathes them. She certainly doesn’t understand how I fly 20+ hours at a time for my organization, or why I would that fly that far, or why I am so passionate about my cause. When it comes to a powerful news story, I’m the one crying and she’s the one looking at me strangely. I’m not saying she is apathetic and heartless, she is a very caring and loving person to her friends, family and me. Honestly anyone compared to me would appear at least mildly apathetic. Really, I am hyper emotional and empathetic.

Honestly, before I started dating her, I thought my ideal woman would be very much like myself- someone in the aid or non-profit sector, probably working in education development and/or with kids.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’m not saying that two humanitarians couldn’t have a successful romantic relationship, I’m sure many do. (I’m in no way shape or form an expert on other people’s relationships.)

I could write a 10 page essay on all of the things about my girlfriend that I love – but I will spare you (you’re welcome) and list out a few reasons why being with a non-humanitarian makes me better at what I do.

  • She balances out my emotional tendencies – which helps me think more objectively about my work and the world.
  • She challenges my worldview. We can debate and discuss global and domestic issues; we might not change each other’s minds, but perspective is definitely expanded.
  • She cares because I care. My work is important to me, so it’s important to her.
  • She tries to understand what I do. I can talk about my day and she is truly interested and asks questions.
  • She respects my passion. No, she doesn’t get it all of the time, but she respects that part of me and allows me to feel how I feel.

Like in any relationship, balance and respect is essential. Could I have found that with a humanitarian? Sure, but other humanitarians will have the same emotional hangups and the manic bouts of passion towards a cause. Which could be good for some people (again, not a relationship expert), however, I would not be great at it. Really, I just imagine us being in separate corners curled up in the fetal position.  How could we be emotionally supportive of each other if we were stuck in our own heads, worrying over the state of the world?

What makes being with a non-humanitarian so special is that she cares in spite her worldview. I get a peek into a different worldview and so does she. She helps me draw myself out of my head. She is my rock and my balance. I wouldn’t be the humanitarian I am today without her.