I got a cryptic email from someone in the Women’s Center at Ohio University. It was an invitation to come to the OU Women’s basketball game on February 17th. She didn’t want to say much, only that several women would be acknowledged and she wanted me to be there by the half-time presentation.
There are several sporting events each year that honor breast cancer survivors, so I just put two and two together and assumed that was the plan.
I’m embarrassed now by my attitude and my words as I was driving to the game with my kids. These events are nice, but they’re always so sad. I don’t want to be honored for having survived breast cancer. I want the women who died from this stupid disease to be alive. Or honor the women who are fighting for their lives right now. They’re the ones who need the encouragement…
My kids ignored my little rant. Really, no answer was the best answer. Aside from the women’s basketball game, it was also Game Day for my husband’s team and my kids know that always makes me a little edgy.
Just before half-time, I lined up in the back hall of the arena with nearly 100 women who were all student leaders at Ohio University. Presidents of social clubs and academic clubs and student athletes, talking with these young women taught me one thing: Future America, we’re in good hands. Their beautiful minds and inspired spirits will make them powerhouses for positive change in our world. I’m certain of it.
The Director of the Women’s Center, Dr. Geneva Murray, tells me to wait at the end of the line and walk out with her. At this point, I’m still not certain whether or not this has anything to do with breast cancer. Should I have worn pink?
All of a sudden, I find myself in the middle of the basketball court with a team of female college leaders at my back and a whole lot of OU basketball fans at my front.
Sweet Lou, our legendary announcer starts reading off a bunch of stuff about me and kindness. Geneva hands me a plaque… “Ohio University Empowering Women Award presented to Nicole Phillips…”
and everything gets blurry.
Apparently, I had started leaking from my eyes.
All I could think was, Me? Don’t you know that empowered women empower women? The only reason I have strength to remind others that they have strength is because of the people who pour into me day after day, week after week, year after year.
From my first female editor at The Forum who helped birth the name Kindness is Contagious to my current female editor who carves out a spot for me in the newspaper each Friday. My amazing college intern, Maddie, who works her tail off trying to make me sound good on The Kindness Podcast. My dear friend, Teresa, who retired from her 42 year career and is now helping me organize mine. My mother-in-law, who is in charge of my kids right this moment, while I’m speaking for a week in Wisconsin. And oh so many more.
(Side note, I’m also surrounded by many kind and supportive men. They are prayer warriors, business leaders, activists for change, and yes, one is a very cute college basketball coach.)
I get to remind people of the immense power of kindness because of so many who have shown it to me in the past and continue to do so today.
So about this award… see where it says “Presented to Nicole Phillips”?
I’m gonna take a Sharpie and add a few words so it actually says, “Presented to all the people who empower Nicole Phillips” because surely it was meant for you, too.
I know when the dark clouds are going to roll in… it happens at the beginning of every basketball season and it happens again at the end. I used to really fear it. I would feel the heaviness creep in on my body and I would wonder if this was the time it would get me, if this was the time the depression would force me down for good and leave me incapable of caring for my family.
It’s been this way for more than a decade, so luckily my husband can see it coming before I can. He reminds me that this is all temporary, and after we limp through a week or two, all is back to normal.
But what happens when depression moves in? When it camps out at the foot of the bed and refuses to let you open the curtains?
I talked with a man from New Zealand named Brent Williams who lived with depression for seven years. He felt robbed of his health, his career and his family. But he made it out with valuable lessons that he is now sharing with other people dealing with this illness.
Brent wrote a beautiful graphic novel — it looks like a comic book — which describes his journey through and eventually out of depression. The book is called Out of the Woods. Brent talks with me in Episode 19 of The Kindness Podcast about why he intentionally chose that writing format and how we can support ourselves and others who are dealing with depression.
Want a little good news? How about this: You can let go of the anger.
Right here and right now — or whenever it next pops into your body and threatens to explode. You can let go of the anger. It won’t grow in strength and come back to haunt you later if you refuse to express it.
Throughout my life, I’ve heard phrases like, “The steam’s gotta come out somewhere” and “It’s important to vent.” We feel anger and we assume that giving it full access to our mouths and our actions will be the only thing that will get rid of it. But that’s not true.
Dr. Brad Bushman and his team at Ohio State University have been researching the activity of anger in the brain for many years.
I’m no scientist, but I’ll sum up a few of their findings as best I can.
Basically, they have found that the more we express anger — the more we vent — the more active and strong the “anger centers” of the brain become. It’s as if giving the anger room to move makes it stronger in the future.
Yelling, screaming, stomping and throwing are great ideas if we’re training our brains for the Anger Olympics, but if we want to be people who show grace and restraint and have the ability to control that anger in the future, we’ve gotta learn to reign it in.
Now please, make no mistake. I am not saying that when someone is treating you badly, you should suck it up and become their personal punching bag. I am also not saying that anger has no place in our society. We often need to feel that passion as a catalyst to change our world.
Anger has its place, but as a woman on a mission to spread the news of the power of kindness, I can tell you there are times when anger isn’t our only alternative, it’s just a lazy default.
So what do we do?
Remember that song, I’m a little teapot, short and stout? Here is my handle, here is my spout. When I get all steamed up, hear me shout. Tip me over and pour me out.
When that teapot begins to shout, we don’t have to pour it out. We can remove it from the heat. At some point the steam dissipates.
Our bodies are the same way. When we get all steamed up, instead of shouting, we can remove ourselves from the situation. Reading a book, watching a funny show on Netflix, going for a walk, or adding inspirational quotes to a Pinterest board give us just enough time to escape the heat of the situation. When we’re calm, if we still need to talk it over, we can do that. But the fact that we told our brains, “No” to the first reaction we wanted to have means that we will have more control over those reactions in the future.
I don’t know where you are in the anger department. Maybe that’s not a struggle for you. But isn’t it nice to have a little knowledge in your back pocket just incase it ever sneaks in?
Visit Dr. Bushman’s website for links to his articles on anger management.