Checking-in is a phrase that had previously been more associated with checking in to a temporary stay, like a hotel or a dormitory, or maybe even a conference. A respective tenant or guest needs to check in as an act of reporting one’s presence; to provide the proper identification, sufficient payment, receive instructions and learn of services, as well as to get the keys to access the area where they’ll be residing while there.
Here more recently, particularly in the last year, checking in has taken on a more direct and personal meaning; and is said or believed to be something we all need to do (especially considering the societal climate we’re experiencing). We’re still in a pandemic. Numbers are rising. Students have returned to school. There is still overt division and differing opinions on whether to mask or unmask. Vaccine shaming is actually a thing (on either side). And to top it all off, regular life is still happening.
Yes, in addition to all that seems abnormal, people are still: getting married, getting divorced, having babies, losing babies, buying houses, losing jobs, receiving unwanted health diagnoses, launching new businesses, sinking in failing businesses; and apart from COVID deaths, people are still dying from suicide, murder, and naturally.
It’s a lot.
We Need to Check In
People need to CHECK IN; but rather than it being just an act of acknowledging one’s physical presence, we’re also needing to confirm our mental and emotional presence. Some are becoming more desensitized, numb, detached, and absent in spirit in a way that is seen as dangerous and unhealthy. Suppressing true emotion for the sake of not dealing with whatever it is…to the point that people are losing themselves. We need to make it a point to CHECK IN.
Last year around this time, I wrote a blog entitled Oh Grief, about all the losses people were facing and how overwhelmed everyone was with the sudden halt to life as we knew it. We were not ok in 2020; and in 2021 we ARE STILL in the struggle. Normally, we would hope for and say, “What a difference a year makes.” But I don’t think this year has been as different as we would have hoped. Do you?
Why Check in?
This spring, I had the honored pleasure of being selected to serve on the launch team for Michelle Williams’ new book Checking In – a memoir of how getting real about depression saved her life. First of all, I couldn’t believe I was chosen (as I applied on a whim). But I was super excited to watch and be a part of her process, as well as to actually read her book.
Tendency to Compare
As a later member of Destiny’s Child (a musical group that I have long a fan of) Michelle was the member I always worried about. She, from the beginning, had some very big shoes to step into. That feat would have been intimidating for anyone. But then to walk into an already established group like Destiny’s Child, beside the likes of Beyonce’ Knowles and Kelly Rowland (who both just exude confidence and who are both just natural bona fide performers); she came in with the cards already stacked against her.
Though Tenitra (Michelle’s real name) possessed her own level of talent and some level of experience apart from Destiny’s Child (she had sung background and toured with singer, Monica); she had not had the level of exposure she was stepping into, and fans and critics would let her know it.
Against All Odds
In her book, Checking In, Michelle details what it was like knowing that the odds are against you. Knowing that you are the least favored of the most loved group. Knowing that so many hope that you’ll fail; and that any mistake you make (of your own or otherwise) is going to be scrutinized to the highest degree. In Michelle’s case, not just in her immediate circle…but in the WORLD. That’s a lot of pressure.
Pressure. Hmmmm…. Think for a moment. Michelle is not the only person to have this experience. Life and transitions, and evolvement bring with them pressure. Pressure to perform. Pressure to fit in or to make it work, when it seems impossible. Some would even describe this pressure as heaviness. A sadness so-to-speak. Much like grief. A heaviness that comes from… wanting or needing a job that you can’t seem to get. If you have a job, feeling unseen or unappreciated on that job; or even having similar feelings within a family or organization. Like Michelle, I think the biggest struggle lies in how we interpret our value in those moments. Do I bring value to the table…and if I bring value…do others see it?
The pressure that we experience is often referred to as anxiety – a strong apprehension, uneasiness, or nervousness about an anticipated condition. Notice it didn’t say a current condition, but rather an anticipated one. In her memoir, Michelle mentioned a very profound point about anxiety, stating that “Anxiety is not a representation of truth, it is a representation of what we fear.” So…not what is, but what we fear will be.
With so many different variables that contribute to the pressures of life, we need to CHECK IN every now and again.
Checking in. In looking again at the definition that describes checking in as an act of registering in to a place; I focus in on the word register – to make or “secure” official entry. Are we really registered? Meaning…are we fully engaged and present? Better yet, are we fully secure in where we are and WHO WE ARE in moments? Are we ourselves registered in a secure place of consciousness?
No, not always.
Michelle, both in her memoir as well as on her podcast and book tour, makes a point to talk about the importance of checking in with yourself, God, and others; and she writes of the importance of understanding that it is (and should) be a three-tier process.
Checking in with You
Checking in with yourself is vital. Why?! Because before others can sense that there’s something going on with us, there is an innate feeling within us that signals something is not right. Warning signs if you will – feelings of anxiousness, heaviness, depression. We may try to ignore these feelings or suppress them, but Michelle said it best when she said, “No one is a better liar than a depressed person in denial.” Ain’t that the truth?!
I remember when my son left for college. Most people who know me know that my son, Rudy, and I are VERY close. We always have been. Though I knew the day was coming and I was so excited for my son, and I knew I had prepared him; I buckled over in the fetal position sobbing on the floor the night before driving him from Georgia to Grambling State University in Louisiana.
For the next few months, I was in a complete fog. I couldn’t think clearly. Wasn’t very talkative. Frankly, I didn’t care. My life that I had known and become accustomed to and felt my value through for 18 years was fully packed up and gone. And because he was 10 hours away, there was no way he’d be home on the weekends like I had been when I was in college and only 45 minutes away. No, I wouldn’t see him again from August 14, 2016 until that Thanksgiving. I was a train wreck.
The fact that I know the exact date should give you some indication as to where I was mentally and emotionally. However, I didn’t realize that I was in a depression until a friend pointed it out. I guess I was talking crazy and negative, and those who know me…know that’s not my nature. He just called me out. “Dawn, you don’t sound like yourself. Are you sure you’re not depressed because Rudy is gone?”
I immediately thought to myself, “Me!? Depressed?! I’m appalled!”
Yet, I knew this person would never say anything to me to be mean or malicious to try to hurt me. I respected him. So…I let it digest…
He was exactly right.
Wow! How did I get here? You know how I got there? Because I had not checked in with myself. I had not checked in with God. And up until that conversation, I had not checked in with others. My friend in that moment had thrown me a life preserver.
Within myself, I knew something was off, but I was in denial. I hated to admit that most of my identity was actually tied to my son and what he needed of me. But he no longer needed me the same way. So now, I was in denial that I had to face the fact that I needed to redefine and re-establish myself. I had to do a search for Dawn…and I didn’t want to; because what I liked more than anything was being Rudy’s momma and caregiver.
Denial – refusal to acknowledge the truth or reality of something – is a natural tendency for most people; especially something they feel embarrassed about, like having adult separation anxiety and worse…depression. We ignore that little something inside because we think no one else can sense it.
Michelle suggests, “Always check in with the intuitive part of your mind.” That part of your mind that is not just based on feelings, but based on previous knowledge or insight. We know ourselves better than anyone else; but we tend to have a problem tapping into our mental health needs like we tap into a physical health. There isn’t and shouldn’t be a difference in the attention we give to our overall health and well-being. We shouldn’t just use “mind, body & spirit” as a cliché. We should be intentional about them all.
Checking in with God.
Aside from actually praying, I believe that most of us have thoughts or subliminal talks of God every day. We are either thanking Him for something; asking Him for something; or apologizing to Him about doing something we shouldn’t have done. However, when we “check in” with God, it is for guidance and consultation; connecting with Him to feel His presence and leading, and His love. There is a comfort that He offers which no one can else fulfill – not ourselves or others.
Too long without check-ins with God are like being on a spiritual diet. Just like being on physical diets that deprive our bodies of the substances they need or crave leave us feeling irritable; the same is true with a spiritual diet. We will become irritable and unfocused; and more than that, like a physical diet, we can look at gain nothing being out of tune with God.
Know that checking in with God doesn’t mean that we’ll know everything, but trusting that He knows best will provide that peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.Proverbs 3:5-6
Checking in with Others
Why is it important to check in with others? This point is two-fold. First off, sometimes we need to check in and just let people know what we have going on. Those closest to us can and should probably pick up on whether or not we’re ok, either from our voice or body language, or if the check in includes a lot of tasks or reports we hadn’t normally had.
As the person reporting in, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to say when you’re not okay or when you may be feeling overwhelmed or depressed.
A Safe Space
The person you’re checking in with should be a friend you trust. If they are, they should be able to offer you advice on how you might be able to handle the situation better based on knowing you well or based on their own experiences. Or, without offering any advice, they are able to hear your battle cry and begin praying with and/or for you; or at a minimum just be that listening ear to assure you that you are supported.
As I mentioned, the check-in with others is two-fold. So, if you’re not the one checking in with someone else because of your own need, consider that you may need to be the person checking on someone else. That friend you haven’t heard from in a while, could it be that they are in need of a courtesy call? Maybe they are sinking in whatever their situation is and could really use a life jacket. Be your friend’s life guard. I’m not saying jump in and risk drowning yourself, but at least throw them a rescue tube. If not you, then maybe a helpful resource.
Think about it, if you’re a valued customer at a hotel and you’ve made a reservation but you haven’t checked in by a certain time, the hotel attendant would give you a call to check to see what’s your status. Now, if you are in fact a valued customer, the call will not just be to see if you’re not coming so they can give your room away. More than likely, they will ask what additional accommodations you may require so that they can guarantee your comfort and convenience.
I’ve received some courtesy calls before and the pressure that they took off me were tremendous. My intention had been to call them first to let them know I had been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, but I just didn’t get a chance to. I’m glad their protocol was customer-focused and they didn’t just leave me out there, and worse…give my room away.
Have you established or considered protocols for your relationships and friendships? How long do you go before you need to check in or give a courtesy call?
Afraid to be vulnerable
So again, why don’t more people check in? Michelle suggests it’s because people are afraid to be vulnerable. She says, “You’ll help more people [by being vulnerable] than you will hurt yourself.” But it’s hard for us to get to a place of vulnerability. We’d much rather be transparent than vulnerable. And know that they ARE NOT one and the same. To be transparent you just honestly tell someone what’s on the surface. Truthful…but not deep.
Friend 1: How was your day at work?
Friend 2: Long and horrible?
Friend 1: What happened?
Friend 2: I don’t really want to talk about it.
In this example, Friend 1 has been transparent. Friend 2 knows that Friend 1 didn’t have a good day and will more than likely give him/her space to process and decompress. But let’s look at vulnerable:
Friend 1: How was your day at work?
Friend 2: Long and horrible?
Friend 1: What happened?
Friend 2: Well, I really try to make myself available for the betterment of our team at work. My manager acknowledges my efforts when no one is around; but when we get in meetings, he constantly points out my mistakes to everyone else and makes me the example. Others laugh and I really feel hurt and embarrassed. I’m not sure if I should just talk to my manager, or look for another job.
In the second scenario Friend 2 was vulnerable versus just transparent. By checking in, Friend 1 can now offer support and empathy, and not just space; which not only encourages Friend 2, but fortifies the relationship.
Don’t forsake checking in
Again, the casual meaning of checking in is an act of reporting one’s presence physically. Let’s make it normal to check in mentally and emotionally with ourselves, God, and others; making a regular pattern of communication or monitoring. This will assist us in always showing up for ourselves first and then to others; staying connected to our identity as a person, so that we don’t lose ourselves. Being intentional about our check-ins with God will help us connect to the guidance we need to give us access to the fulfillment we both desire and require.
The Masked Singer
I’m not going to go into all the specifics of the book, because I want you to read it. But know that Michelle not only provides specifics on how she became a famed member of the group Destiny’s Child, but she gives the backstory of her lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety, and how she fought to mask it for fear of further shame. She shares her very public engagement and break-up with Pastor Chad Johnson, who long worked for the NFL as a chaplain for the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Further, Michelle reveals how she ended up checking herself in to a hospital to finally begin the work of getting to the root of her own mental health struggles; thus, part of the inspiration for the book title – Checking in.
Michelle accounts that her participation as The Butterfly on the popular television show the Masked Singer was actually and unknowingly a metaphor for what she had been for years – a masked singer who was finally coming out of her shell to become who she was intended to be.
The Final Check In
There are other readers and reviewers who thought that Michelle’s memoir, Checking In, was too churchy. In my opinion, if this was their thought, they didn’t know Michelle very well. Michelle has always presented herself as a Christian. It was always known that she was sometimes uneasy about certain dance moves and clothing that she wore while with Destiny’s Child. She also has released four solo albums in the gospel genre. I don’t think it’s a secret where she stands in her beliefs. Her direct references to scripture regarding her experiences, as well as her advice, made the book that more insightful for me.
Hebrews 4:12 has always been a reminder to me (even as a minister) that God’s word carries more weight than mine ever could.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.“
I don’t think Michelle’s intention was to just entertain, but to help and to minister. I believe she succeeded in that.
I hope that you will take the time to read Michelle Williams’ memoir, Checking In: How Getting Real about Depression Saved My Life – and Can Save Yours. You can find it at checkinginbook.com, on Amazon, and Audible. It’s worth the read. Not only is it insightful, but helpful. There’s a little masked singer in all of us waiting to become the beautiful butterflies we were destined to be.
Michelle’s is the true epitome of someone who has fallen and gotten back up on her own terms. I don’t know about you, but that part resonates with me. Let’s take her example and rise from the darkness like a new day. ~Dawn