We recognize and celebrate brave female leaders. The women featured in our Brave Women Leaders blog demonstrate resiliency, bravery, and the ability to radiate their light brightly. They have gifts, experience, and strengths to share with the world and they do so bravely. 

Dr Maryam Zeineddin is a brilliant and compassionate leader, a Mother, Entrepreneur, and Founder of the not-for-profit organization, Zili Health. Maryam and I met many years ago when I was working for BC Women’s Health Foundation. We had an instant connection and I have been in awe and inspired by her ever since. She is a co-owner and family physician at Ambleside Medical Centre in West Vancouver, a UBC clinical instructor, a board member at the BC family Doctors, the Statutory Negotiator for Doctors of BC, and is a frequent CBC health columnist. As a full-time working mother, Maryam realizes the importance of affording herself the same consideration and kindness she advocates for her patients. She studied an approach to therapy called Compassionate Inquiry mentored by Dr. Gabor Maté, to help soften the effects of repressed fear and pain, and practices mindfulness and meditation regularly herself.

What does bravery mean to you?

When I was a little girl, if someone told me to let go, I would feel unsafe and maybe even hurt. Why would anyone in their right mind tell me to let go? Let go of what? I am so little, I need to hold on to survive, I need my pillars of comfort.

As I grew older, the notion of letting go at that time was equal to being lazy and not working hard enough to get what you want. Letting go meant not being socially responsible and not caring for my duties as the older daughter of an immigrant family of three girls. It was so interesting how I had created this narrative that letting go was not something brave girls did. You never let go! Letting go meant not fighting for my rights and for all the things I believe in, like health equity, diversity and inclusion.  Bravery was symbolized as “Never Letting Go”, a message strong woman may have been told over multiple generations.

As time went by, I grew up and faced hardships in motherhood, suffering from anxiety while trying to balance my professional life. Bravery for me was about getting through these tough years, but my mind was always in the future or the past. It was so hard to be present, even as life unfolded right in front of me and my children growing up.

Bravery for me is having the courage to acknowledge what’s sabotaging me, how I am feeling and finding a way to acknowledge it without judgment, i.e., letting go of expectations, letting go of some of my responsibilities that do not serve me, letting go of what I can’t control, to love myself intentionally and shift some of my perceptions and core beliefs that I am enough and worthy only because of my roles. Gabor Mate, a phenomenal mentor of mine told me, “Maryam, your worth is too attached to how much you care for others, and until the day you can understand to care for that part of you who is feeling so neglected, you will not find peace and calm”.

What is one of the bravest things you have ever done?

My coping mechanisms sabotaged me as I was a hyper-achiever, a controller and a pleaser. I had a house, a loving husband, two beautiful girls, amazing friends, family and most of all, I was a business owner and family doctor, providing a service of continuity of care and primary care with my colleagues and staff for over 10,000 patients in our community. From the outside it was like seeing Pinterest pictures of the perfect kitchen or chef with no mess.

But again, pictures don’t tell the whole story; pictures show moments. I was getting tired: tired of trying to balance it all, tired of not being fully present with my family and friends, and tired of working in a broken health care system with band-aid solutions with very little value for the work that goes into carrying for your patients. Trying to be a superwoman with no superpowers wears you down.

I began to feel brave once I felt vulnerable enough to admit how burnt out I was, and how little I was honoring myself. My coping mechanisms were no longer protecting me, like they did when I was younger. Instead, they were taking me away from myself, my essence and my loved ones. Showing myself any kindness or compassion during the pandemic felt indulgent, and therefore impossible. My roles and responsibilities were to hold space for patients with fears and worries, while being a mom of two daughters, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a Junior Chief negotiator for physicians, a CBC health contributor and the founder of a not-for-profit preventative health platform called Zilicare.

I still have many roles, and still try to have purpose and intention in my professional and personal life, but the difference now is that I don’t let my various roles take away time from the most important time of the day, me time!  The entire purpose of our not-for-profit Zilicare is to actualize an individualized plan for caring for oneself in order to achieve what fuels one’s body, mind and soul. I am worthy regardless of my roles, and through mindfulness, self-compassion and self-awareness, I can acknowledge when my coping mechanisms get triggered. I note the trigger “guilt”, and then let it go.

What benefits have come from leaning into bravery? 

I stepped back and took some time to rest. I began to gain insight and examined my perception of bravery and of letting go. For once in my life, I stopped ‘doing’, noted my hyper-achiever, controller and pleaser saboteurs, and reflected on how I might set goals for myself differently. I redefined what strength and bravery meant to me.

For me, just being and caring for myself is now an act of bravery.