In April, my best friend and I going to go see a concert in Toronto. We’re both traveling from different countries to Canada, so this will be the first time I’m traveling to another country completely on my own.
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.
The Queer Identity and International Aid Work
When I voiced my concern to a colleague about being gay and traveling abroad, I was basically told I shouldn’t make everything about my sexuality. I really struggled with this… was I applying my international work and travel through an unnecessary queer lens?
Luckily one of my mentors in all things LGBT ( and one of the loveliest woman I know, hands down) guided me to the crux of the issue- it wasn’t about applying my lesbian-ness all over the place; the true issue is that I am afraid of stripping my identity in order to be successful at my job and in my long term career.
When I think about identity, my head honestly starts to spin. I only came out 5 years ago. My queer circle hasn’t expanded much in those years, the large majority of my friends are heterosexual. Do I “act” and “look” more gay than 5 years ago? Probably. Some ‘friends’ have given me crap for it, but I see nothing wrong with buying into different identities and changing how you want to present your identity. If I never changed, I’d still be wearing Hot Topic shirts and thinking that Dashboard Confessional got their lyrics from my diary.
People change, identities change. I really hope that I’m not the same kind of gay 10 years from now. Everyone grows, everyone evolves (cue Pokemon reference..?)
My identity never comes into question in my domestic work, and luckily hasn’t caused conflict or disturbance internationally. I know everyone has their “work” self, their “family” self, etc. But straight people get to be straight in all of these scenarios if they choose to.
I don’t want to tattoo ‘Lesbian’ on my forehead , but at the same time, I don’t want to worry about if my hair looks too gay, if I shouldn’t wear plaid of my marriage equality ring. Or purposely not talk about my amazing girlfriend.
I am a gay woman. Yes I have other identities, but this one is pretty central to who I am. Because I want it be, and at least for now, that works.
The obligatory Introduction…. of sorts….
Normally introductions would involve: “Hi! My name is ——“, and all of the other details like where I live or where I work. Unfortunately I am unable to disclose that information, because I’m gay AND I work in the national non-profit sector. I can tell you that I’m a 20 something lesbian who helped found an international non-profit. Outing myself could lead to denied entrance into countries I work in, my organization could possibly be banned from certain countries… you get the idea- it wouldn’t be good.
I really wanted to find resources on being LGBT and working in the non-profit / international aid realm; how have other people coped with putting themselves back in the closet for the sake of their work?. But I really couldn’t find anything. I know I’m not the only LGBT person working in a non-profit that isn’t LGBT related. Where is everyone at? I figured that starting this blog would help me (and whomever comes across my humble little blog) understand and work through what it means to be queer working in the international arena.
I understand the irony surrounding a blog about struggling with the idea of the closest as a means of protection (for me and my organization)… while keeping myself in the blogger’s closet. I would love to share stories with you about the inspiration and the creation of my non-profit, what it has accomplished. I would love to tell you about my amazing, supportive, and beautiful girlfriend. But at this point in my career, it’s honestly not worth the risk.
I’m going to delve into this more in-depth as time goes on. My goal is to update at least once a week, talking about my international journeys, various themes surrounding identity, worrying, language,etc. and any articles I can find discussing the LGBT experience in the non-profit world.
My goal is to create a space where people can discuss best practices, safe(ish) locations when traveling, and vent frustrations about maneuvering in a sector that defaults to heteronormative.
Fingers crossed, next week I will be traveling to —- for 2 weeks. This is the first time going abroad whilst being out AND in a relationship. I hope that the next couple of updates will focus on my thoughts and adventures in a mildly to moderately discriminating country.
Till next time- best wishes and safe travels!