You Actually Have Control Over This

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash

“I got latitude / I got gratitude / And if you look up to the moon, you’ll see my attitude” – Real in My Veins, Young Thug

. . .

A few years back, there was a lot of hype/research/talk around the idea that gratitude was an antidote to fear. I bought into it, wrote about it, and practiced it.

Sometimes it worked for me, sometimes the anxiety won. 

If I felt a panic coming on, I’d close my eyes, breathe deeply, and think through a few things I was thankful for.

I wouldn’t just list them and be like: “I’m thankful for food, water, and shelter.”

I’d dig into each thought: 

“I’m thankful for healthy food because I know what it’s like to grow up with unhealthy habits. Eating better will help me live longer and be there for my family.” 

“I’m thankful for a roof over my head. I know what it’s like to not have stable housing. There are a lot of people waking up on sidewalks every day.” 

This practice grounded me and still does. These days I do it before I’m feeling anxious. I start my day with prayer.

I thank God each morning for waking me up another day, and I thank God for His protection and provision before I go to bed. I even thank Him when my bank account is empty and when depression has crept up again.

I find great comfort in 1 Chronicles 16:34.

Some people have filled journals with things they’re thankful for. Some just scribble a few words on a post-note and stick it on the bathroom mirror so they’re reminded.

The Shine app prompts you with a daily check in that’s pretty neat because you can track what you’ve written.

You can go on Pinterest right now and fill your board with quotes galore. Whatever floats your boat is cool with me because we need a whole lot of thankfulness these days. 

It seems like things get worse by the minute. Lock downs, shutdowns, layoffs, lack of benefits, and the birthdays and funerals we can’t attend are regular conversation. The National Guard rolled in a few days ago here in Baltimore and things are getting realer and realer.

There’s so much we can’t control.

It makes sense if hopelessness is an unwanted visitor camped in the backyard of your heart. But, I’m here today to tell you that gratitude still counts. It’s not a buzzword, it’s a word to hold onto. Let it fill you up a little while you wade through an ever growing to-do list. 

Maybe gratitude won’t help with your anxiety or fear, do it anyways. It certainly won’t vanquish illness or suffering, but still, do it anyways.

Find things to be thankful for, if nothing but the air in your lungs and the ability to read this text right now. 

I have readers all around the world, so I know your situation looks different depending on your latitude and longitude. I know you might be grieving, holding onto your last few pennies while waiting for a check to clear, or feeling trapped because you can’t even go outside and isolation has gotten the best of you.

But, I still invite you to take a moment each day this week to focus on something that came into your life that you didn’t deserve.

Think about a person who helped you when no one else would.

Reflect on the last time you had a hiccup of happiness.

And sit with it as long as the memory will last because we get to hold onto our joy – even when it’s just an echo.

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The Courage to Panic When the World is on Fire

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

I personally struggle with accepting that I’m in panic mode. It feels weak.

I tell myself messages like: “Sinclair, you’ve been through worst” or “Dude, generations before you actually went to war, what are you freaking out about?”

But, that doesn’t get me anywhere. You’ve heard that acceptance is the first step, right, but how often do you allow yourself to accept how bad things get when ish hits the fan?

It’s difficult to do. It’s hard to sit with our thoughts in between Netflix episodes. It’s challenging to be with our pain and misery.

Still, it’s important that we do more than just lean into discomfort, we’re called to face it. To look at it, roll around in it, and get to know the things that are bothering us.

I, too, am tired of seeing words like pandemic and crisis, and I know it’s not healthy for me to over-consume news updates. In no way am I suggesting that we should over do it.

But, we can find a middle. Ann Friedman wrote about existing at the crossroads of caution and courage, rather than navigating the line between panic and caution. And that’s something for us to aim for. For us to have the courage to be honest about however we’re feeling and to voice it.

“I’m feeling really ______ right now, and I don’t know what to do!”

“I wish I could _______ but instead I _______.”

Fill in those blanks for yourself.

Wrestle with them. And share what you come up with with someone you trust. Hop on the phone and do some social long-distancing or just take the time to get to know your fear.

I suggest setting a time limit on this. I heard someone call it a Worry Hour once, but for you it might be beneficial to limit it to 10-15 minutes.

I’m done feeling embarrassed by my fears. By mulling over the polarized rhetoric of whether or not we have anything to panic about. If we’re panicking, we’re panicking.

There’s power in accepting this. At some point we’ll move through it. But, let’s not run away from the part of ourselves that tell us what we need to know.

We will get through this.

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Everything Ain’t For Everyone: A Word on Protecting Your Dreams

Photo by Allee Ilyse Photography

“Real Gs move in silence like lasagna.” – Lil Wayne

I’ve made the mistake of telling others about my dreams more than once. I don’t know, I guess I’ve always had this insatiable need for validation.

I’ve wanted people to respond by saying, “Yeah, totally do that thing you really care about. I’m here for it.” 

And then when that doesn’t happen, I curl up like a cinnamon roll and my dream – my precious dream – becomes this impossible, irrational thing. 

But let me slow down for a sec to just say that not all dreams are possible or rational or even attainable as is. Sometimes they need to be edited, altered, scaled down.

Still, there’s nothing assuring or loving about someone telling you that what you want for your future is dumb.

There are a variety of ways respond to someone telling you their life’s passion, and yet, so many of us have experienced the laughs or scoffs or sighs of disappointment that come from people who never deserved to bear witness to our vision in the first place. 

Lemme say that again for the people in the back: everything ain’t for everyone.

Some people don’t deserve to be in the writer’s room of your life.

This goes for family, the girls in the group chat, the workout buddies, the pastor, and sometimes even your therapist. We need to be careful about seeking feedback and guidance from people who haven’t been where we want to go.

It’s a natural tendency to unintentionally deter someone from their dreams because we: a) are unknowingly jealous/envious or b) think we’re doing the right thing by saying, “Pick another dream. That one doesn’t suit you.” 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with advising someone to be realistic or to slow down and rework their plan. But this needs to be done with great grace and care. Our words hold power and our dreams can be fragile from being bruised over the years.

Be mindful of who your share your first and second drafts with because you will absolutely be judged and graded on them. 

Be selective with the people you add to your personal board of directors. Our mentors should have lived the experiences we seek to have.

Resist the urge of just linking up with the first person who will give you the time of day and listen to your story, because you actualizing your dream might mean lives being saved or changed.

Your dreams coming true might mean chains and burdens being broken for someone else. Your vision might bring more beauty to this world and Lord knows we need that.

This is a call to move in silence, because sometimes that’s required to position you for a blessing. A call to be extra intentional with how you move.

It’s a nudge to go back into that cobwebbed closet and dust off that dream you retired because someone dismissed it and invalidated it.

In fact, here’s all the permission and validation you’ll ever need. You’ve been put on this earth for many many reasons and in your heart was planted a great dream – maybe several dreams. It may very well be something you have a natural affinity for, or it might be something far off that you’ll spend a lifetime working for, or some combination of it all.

Never mind all that.

Just get started now because this dream is yours and you are absolutely the right person for the job.

Use your resourcefulness and just get to the next step on the journey of making this thing come true. Keep at it.

Get smart people around you, and make sure your basic needs are taken care of so you’re not suffering while trying to make awesome happen. And remember that relationships matter. Don’t neglect the people that care about you. Take them with you and encourage them to go after their dreams too. 

And no matter what happens, stick with it. If you have to put it on the shelf at times that’s okay. Life happens. We’re keeping it real here, but always come back to what you care about. The way you come back to anything you really love. 

Your dreams matter. Protect them. Chase them. Be mindful of how you talk about them. And never ever stop dreaming. 

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How to (Finally) Stop Beating Yourself Up

Photo by Allee Ilyse Photography

A few weeks ago, I was at my weekend retail job silently cursing to myself. I was upset, feeling over it, and feeling pretty embarrassed. 

But let’s jump back a decade real quick.

Jersey City was my home during college. I interned at MTV, helped plan large scale university events, did service in Honduras (while surviving an earthquake), and got a degree. 

A few years later I got another degree. Married the love of my life who birthed the world’s most precious baby, and took on several master’s level positions in the higher ed field. The resume was on lock.

Then disaster struck. My brain was hijacked. Our life and finances in shambles. My situation dire. 

2019 crawled forward and the world kept moving as it does. I eventually picked up weekend work in the fall while continuing to be a stay at home dad during the week.

And let me tell you, though I am over the moon about getting to raise my daughter so closely and for so many hours a day, I felt a great sense of pride when I was cleared to work again. 

My therapist and psychiatrist told me I was “stable”. Stable enough to get a retail job and finally help a little with the bills.

I went from having back to back to back jobs with free housing, an excellent credit score (yeah, I was in the 800+ club), and money in tha bank, to spiraling to a really low place with lots of debt, tears, and pretty much the opposite of everything I worked with my family to build. 

So off to work I was. I told myself my number one goal was to create an amazing experience for every guest that came to my lane. I’d bag their items with a smile, take genuine interest in them, and give them the service I’d expect.

October 2019 was me as the comeback kid and a busy Christmas season later, I’m still here. I’m still smiling – except for the other day when I stood silently cursing to myself while shuffling in carts from the parking lot and emptying trash. 

“I have a master’s degree. What am I doing emptying people’s trash. How did I end up back in this stigmatized class of unskilled workers. I didn’t sign up for this! I worked so hard NOT to be here!”

And I didn’t, but God spoke to me in the gentle way He does when I’m feeling weak, broken, triflin’. He said, “Fam, what’s up? Have you forgotten what this all really means? Have you forgotten who you are and whose you are? I love you but you are no better than anyone.” 

I’ve struggled with the idea of humility for a long time. I’ve been resistant to the idea that we’re all on the same page. Surely having more money, more degrees, better credit scores, more accolades, better character and morals, better better, surely all that put you further along and higher than others who weren’t working as hard.

Surely I could work to be better than those who gave up easily, committed crimes, held petty grudges, gossiped, lied, did their worst on purpose, pierced their upper ears and got lower back tattoos. Right? 

Once, I even debated a close friend on this. I was high up on a horse that hadn’t even left the stable. I was judgmental with a capital J and indignant to a fault. I’d earned the right to be this self-absorbed and myopic – to be better.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it took having a world shattering manic episode to humble me, but I’ve certainly learned a new – more compassionate – version of humility amidst the ashes, the hurt, the pain, and the loss. So much loss. 

So as I tied that trash bag and hauled it to the back of the store, I realized – just a little more – how it’s important for us to resist thinking too highly of ourselves. Especially when much of the world lives without clean access to clean water or clean air.

Especially when all of us are broken in some way and in need of reconciliation.

Especially when none of us could do any good for anyone else by dying on a cross.

Especially when the richest of the richest still struggle with skeletons, mental illness, and grief.

And definitely when the person you secretly compare yourself to every time they pop up on your timeline still experiences hurt, loneliness, and insecurity. 

All of this is a reminder of how short we fall, how messed up we are, and how we need to really actually die to ourselves daily so we don’t forget how to love and show up fully to the people who need us most.

I believe humility is an understanding that we can’t effectively serve others until we get out of our own way. I don’t wanna take advice or guidance from anyone who’s condescending.

And, I’m betting you don’t want handouts or pity from anyone either.

What we want is for someone to say, “I see me in you. Neither one of us is perfect. And still we get to do life together and give all that we can while we’re here.” 

My hope and invitation today is for you to reflect on the small ways in which you puff yourself up, distance yourself from people you’ve judged, or have been hard on yourself because you’re not where you should be in life (I’m talking to the unemployed person, the person on medical leave, the person who just got out of jail, the person back in a rehab situation, the person who just fell off their diet again – the imperfect person). 

My hope for you is just to get in touch with the whole, failure prone, probably-undeserving-but-still-worthy person that you are. That I am. That all of us are. Imperfect. Beautiful. Messy. And, though sometimes unnoticeable, loved.

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You Will Get Through This

Photo by Matthew Bookhout

Your storm will not last forever. You will get through this. 

It’s hard to believe this when the calls stop coming, and the text messages go unanswered, and the showers become a chore to take. But, even still, you will get through this. 

Though your relationships have shifted and your dreams don’t look the way they used to, there’s hope for you yet. 

There’s hope for the person struggling to navigate a toxic relationship. For the person who can’t quite figure out how to stand up for their values. There’s hope for the person that cries themselves to sleep every night – often unsure of why they’re crying in the first place. 

You will get through this.

No matter how hard it is right now, know that something brighter and sweeter is coming. These are not words to be taken lightly – not empty promises. 

Keep showing up however you can – you don’t need to look your best or even do your best. Just keep getting to that next breath. And the next one.

I believe in you. 

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Why Compassion is an Antidote to Loneliness

Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash

Two years ago, I experienced a major life crisis. I wasn’t myself, but my self was doing terrible things. Regrettable things. 

Eventually, I returned to reality and watched as wind displaced ashes of my past life. The stench of death impossible to remove. Death of friendships. Death of security. Death of faith. 

A new beginning lay before me, but it was the restart I never requested. No requiem nor relief. 

One of the most challenging aspects of my restart was the isolation. 

In fact, I was inspired to write this post because I’ve recently had several people – friends and colleagues I’ve deeply cared for, for quite some time – tell me: “I wish I would have reached out sooner, but I didn’t know what to say.” 

And, let me be clear when I say I don’t blame them. I don’t. 

One of the most heartbreaking things about a heartbreaking disease like bipolar disorder is that it creates a chasm between persons living with the illness and the ones they love (and even the ones they just see on a regular basis like the professor, or the coach, or the neighbor, or even the pastor.)

While coping with a new diagnosis or continuing to battle a recurring nightmare, people living with bipolar disorder often feel alone in plain sight. Bearing great pain and living with the awareness that some of the people they used to break bread with aren’t in a place to say anything. No happy birthday. No Merry Christmas. No “it’ll get better.”

This is often the deepest wound: grieving people who are still living. 

Bipolar disorder was – and has been – a disruption of everything. When you’ve gone full blown Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde like I did, it’s hard for others to know how to relate to you, be near you, work with you, or approach you.

I, too, would be hesitant to reach out to a person who – for a time – unknowingly succumbed to madness and horror. Whose brain couldn’t be trusted and whose actions brought forth havoc. The hesitation is human and the reservations are valid. 

All this to say that someone in your life will inevitably experience a great disruption. Things may eventually calm, and they may begin their own intentional journey of healing.

At this point, you might feel compelled to reach out because the compassion you have for them outweighs the judgement in your heart. You might feel anger, resentment, and fear, but you know you want to connect.

I invite you to go ahead and reach out to them.

Take your feelings with you. You don’t have to put them on the shelf. Take your questions with you. Take your truth with you. Gather it all, pick up the phone, and let that person know you’re thinking of them.

Promise yourself that you’ll try to listen, and remind yourself that you get to be heard as well. 

I received several “I’m thinking of you” texts last year. They lifted me during some of my most shame filled moments. They cut through darkness and briefly shook me out of isolation.  

If you find that the relationship is worth it and you deeply care for the person, I invite you to commit this act of bravery: write a few genuine words to the aid the unseen in feeling seen and hit send. It could very well save a life. 

It saved mine. 

With a stable mind and a positive prognosis, I’m grateful to know that death didn’t claim every relationship. That my faith wasn’t killed, just strengthened.  And that, my security has been renewed. It’s now firmly planted in God. 

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