Tag Archives: Mental Health

Love Others As We Love Ourselves

This is really quite hard.

For example, an analogy was spoken to me earlier today. If I have a nice comfortable bed to sleep on, but I know someone who doesn’t, then the ultimate “love others as yourself” would be that I buy them a nice comfortable bed to sleep on.

Out of my abundance, my love pours onto others. This love can look like money, possessions, a kind word, a smile, a hug, or simply, love. Just a thought that I love the person standing in front of me.

But when I’m not able to love someone as myself, when I’m not in an abundance, or a place to be generous, what happens?

When I decide to take care of myself, what does this mean, for myself, and for others?

Self-care for me personally, looks like quiet time. It is me, in my room, with the door closed, listening to music, reading, thinking, pondering, wondering, processing. This can look very different to each of us.

You can go to a spa, to the movies, for a manicure. Treat yourself. You can close your door, turn off your phone, close your eyes. Still yourself. You can take a nap, go for a walk, sit in nature. Calm yourself. You can run, lift weights, eat. Power yourself.

How you take care of yourself can be very different to how someone else might take care of themselves.

There is one thing, though, that I believe is certain about self-care. It is short lived, and it is needed more often, the more we keep neglecting our needs.

As a person who gives an extensive amount of time and other resources, I often find I run on empty. I need to refuel, refill, and re-energize, daily. Often more than once a day.

The demands that are placed on us are far too often more than the resources we have to give. But our relationships are far too valuable.

So where is the balance between self-care and caring for others?

We each have a rhythm. My rhythm is a lot of quiet time, a lot of time reflecting and learning, a lot of time growing. When these things fill me up, when I’ve read enough, sang enough, thought, pondered, and wondered enough, I get to be joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, loving, good, gentle, faithful to my friends and family and most importantly, in control.

I’m not tired, worn out, too busy, overwhelmed, bombarded, needing someone to take care of me first.

I’m full. The rhythm of my heart is just as it should be. I have an abundance of all things good and that love, and everything else that goes along with it, can pour out all over others. My needs are taken care of. First.

I am no good in taking care of another, until my needs are met, first. This can take some time, trial and error to learn. But it is worth the struggle. Once you find your pace, your life will change.

Your relationships will be more fulfilling. The amount of people you take care of will be greater and but the work will be lighter. You will be filled with so much love that you can share it all around you, all of the time.

You are loved. You are worthy. You are a beautiful woman that gives so much. Take care of what you need so that those who need you, can be taken care of, all around you.

Blogger Talk – Self-Care

Candice

Who do you know that has “Self-Care” down to a fine art?  Please give them a shout out and share why you admire this skill.

I believe that self-care is a journey, and with this I believe it will always be a working progress and commitment as it looks different with each activity or life event that happens for everyone.  There may be some who have mastered self-care in the moments or at this time, but I believe it is never truly mastered.  So instead of giving a shout out to one person, I would like to give a shout out to everyone who has embarked on a journey of self-care and what that truly means to them, to those who are currently working through what that looks like, and those who have mastered it in the moments.

Who do you know that has “Self-Care” down to a fine art?  Please give them a shout out and share why you admire this skill.

I believe that self-care is a journey, and with this I believe it will always be a working progress and commitment as it looks different with each activity or life event that happens for everyone.  There may be some who have mastered self-care in the moments or at this time, but I believe it is never truly mastered.  So instead of giving a shout out to one person, I would like to give a shout out to everyone who has embarked on a journey of self-care and what that truly means to them, to those who are currently working through what that looks like, and those who have mastered it in the moments.

Flipside to question 2, who would you give the gift of the ability to provide “Self-Care” to themselves?  What would you like to see them do for themselves?

I can’t think of one particular person, if that makes sense.  If I could I would give the gift of the ability to provide “Self-Care” to everyone.  I would encourage and challenge everyone to take on the journey of self-care and really give themselves permission to see what that looks like and means for themselves.  I would do this with everyone because it is needed with everyone, it is impossible to give to anyone else unless we are first giving to ourselves or to be present in the moments of life without being present within ourselves.

Is there a difference between “Self-Care” and Self-Love”?  If yes or no, please explain further.

I believe that self-care and self-love are directly related and that you can’t have one without the other.  Self-love is loving yourself enough to take care of yourself and giving yourself permission to ensure that you have self-care in whatever way needed.  Without self-love you wouldn’t be able to explore the true meaning of self-care and what that means for you.

Good at “Self-Care”?  Have you always been?  If not, what changed?  Please share.

For years when I thought about self-care I thought about my self-care looking like spending time with my kids, or my husband or my family, or even having a hot bubble bath.  Recently, I have been given a different outlook on self-care and what that means to me.  This all started with a time where I was struggling emotionally and having difficulty balancing, when talking to one of my space holders about my concerns and where I was at my space holder looked at me and said those magic words “what do you do for you when things get tough?” I automatically started talking about these above things, mostly around my kids, spouse and family, she then asked me the same question again… I didn’t get it at first until she explained to me that self-care is about filling my own cup up, and though these pieces are strategies used for self-care it is so much more than that.  For me in that moment I realized that for years I was trying to fill my own cup up through others without looking at what I really needed in those moments in order to care for myself in mind, body and spirit.  Since then I have dedicated myself to figuring out what my self-care needs to look like, and though I don’t think this will ever be mastered it is a working progress.  Since this time I have been able to realize that there are moments where I absolutely need to fill myself back up through the happiness of others however, there are also moments where I need to allow myself the freedom to do the opposite.  I need to give myself permission to leave the house without having the expectation of being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, Social Worker and just walk, just walk to clear my head without any interruptions.  I need to give myself permission to rest when my body says it needs to rest, and to have all emotions needed in those moments without guilt and shame.  I have realized that on overly tough days my self-care does look like a quiet bubble bath, but with that I also realized the importance in giving myself permission to have a good cry if it’s needed.  So in closing, I believe that self-care comes in so many forms and what I have learned for myself is that it depends on where the need for self-care is, but regardless of the need the important thing that I learned and continue to practice is to give myself permission to do the things I need to do for me to care for myself so that I can care for others.

Please share your tried and true “Self-Care” strategy that anyone reading this blog post could also do.

As stated above my tried and true self-care strategy is continuously in the works.  But with that it is loving myself enough to give myself permission to fill my own cup up whenever and however it’s needed without guilt and shame.

Donna

Finish this sentence:  The one thing for myself I would love to do but can’t seem to do it is ____Travel

Reflexology as my own business.  I see it in my future and I am taking baby steps to get there.

 

Please share your tried and true “Self-Care” strategy that anyone reading this blog post could also do.

Positive thoughts, in relation to the law of attraction.  I create positive energy around myself, and that is what comes back to me.  Try it, it really, really works.

What is your most luxurious “Self-Care” indulgence that you couldn’t possible do without?  Please share.

It is a combination, through trial and error that I have established to feed my soul: My monthly massage, practicing yoga, long bubble baths complete with scented candles, journaling and family game nights.  These are my must-have.  

Recommendations for a Very Good Bath: Finding Your Chill Zone

Jennifer

I’ve gained a reputation (in my house) as someone-who-takes-baths-very-seriously. I wasn’t always a serious bather; I showered almost exclusively from the ages of 12 –25, but the bath has recently become the most important part of my self-care routine. I’m on a one-bath-per-week minimum these days, and it’s an actual ceremony. It’s ~a dance~

Bath GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

I flip the laundry basket upside down and drape a towel over the hard plastic so that you can’t see the hard plastic (ambiance is Very Important). I strategically place my computer on top so it’s at the right height to watch in the tub, from where I’ve watched all of the classics: Gilmore Girls, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Grinch (in season). I have a book too, or instead, probably something with feminist undertones, really. If I’m reading, the 8tracks playlist hastags like ‘Chill’ ‘Jazz’ ‘Winter’ ‘Relax’ or ‘Piano’.

 

I have a Very Big mason jar full of icy lemon-water or green tea, set in the front-left corner of the towel that’s draped over the laundry basket. I pull out one or two essential oils – maybe rosemary, then lemongrass, or maybe lavender, then bergamot – and I put them on the edge of the tub where they wait for me until I’m ready.

I flick the lighter and light the end of a Balsom Fir incense stick from a box that I was gifted by a friend at Christmas two years ago. I take a second to reflect on the almost-empty box. I know I’m going to miss the smell. It’s woodsy and it makes me feel like I’m outside. I light a candle or two, too.  I drop in the special combination of essential oils (the rosemary and lemongrass or the lavender and bergamot) at a rate of 10 drops per oil, and I hop in. For the next hour I inhabit a territory that I like to call a “chill zone”.

 

Chill•ŸZone noun The mental and/or physical space or state in which you are most comfortable, relaxed, zen, clear-minded, and peaceful.

 

Ideally, an act of self-care will allow you to spend time in your “chill zone”. I’ve bestowed this name upon a room before, but it isn’t always a physical space. It could be sitting on a bench taking deep inhales and exhales of fresh air. It could be drinking black coffee and starting a new book. It could be drawing in your journal while sitting beside a Vanilla scented candle. It could be watching a movie with your cat. Maybe it involves using something that a loved one gave you as a gift. Maybe it’s eating a big bowl of spaghetti bolognese with lots of Parmesan shaved on top while you listen to Amy Winehouse. Your “chill zone” is your own space and it’s up to you to find it and spend time there. For me, it’s a Very Good Bath, and I suggest that you give it a try.

 

 

I am Totally WORTH It, and so are YOU

Self-Care.  What a timely topic, as this year I have declared, to no one but myself – that this is MY year of Self-Love.

I am committed to taking care of ME, my mind, my body, and my spirituality – trust me this was a long time coming, actually 52 years in the making.  I have been and continue to be a lot of things for a lot of people – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The difference this year – is everything I give to others, I am now giving to Myself.  I can attest, that with this dramatic shift in my thought process – I actually have more energy to give to others.

So you ask, how is that possible – is that not defeating your commitment of Self-Care?  Nope.  Why?, because giving to others now makes me feel great, because I feel fulfilled myself.  Now taking care of others has become a choice, not a duty.  Let me also say – the people you love and are doing so much for, notice the difference.

As a caution, My idea of Self-Love will more than likely be dramatically different from anyone else’s – you have to find out what you really need to feel….well to feel your best Self.  I will share a few things I have learned in my new journey – and it is only February!

Embrace the Law of Attraction – what you put out into the universe comes back – make sure what you are thinking, and feeling is what you want surrounding yourself.  A dear friend gave me this gift of Self-Love Thinking.  I now practice gratitude everyday, and thanks to Pinterest, have a jar on my dresser that I write a kindness or event that I am grateful for each week – so at the end of the year – I see all the good in 2017.  What a great way to start 2018.

Stress Less – How?, Breath.  I enrolled in a beginner’s Yoga Class when I found myself at work one day, gasping for a breath at my desk….I truly forgot to breath – wake-up call.  Now thanks to a wonderful yogi Amanda Tripp, at Yoga By Sarah, I am mindful of my body and what it is telling me, I feel the effects of the yoga postures and I have the breathing techniques to calm myself in times of stress.  She has taught us that yoga extends beyond the classroom, so I continue to grow through the practice of yoga.

Enjoy Food Again – I was not eating for optimal health, and in fact was feeling the effects mentally and physically.  So in January, I joined Weight Watchers and can now say, I am enjoying food again.  Eating healthy provides me with the fuel to do all the things I want.  With this program I eat what I want, and it truly helps me look at myself…Beyond the Scale.  Fitting in so nicely with my year of Self-Love – our group leader Sue Smiley is awesome!

Move It, Move It – Literally, and figuratively I had to move more!  Yoga helps, now I am walking which I find helps clear my mind as well – there are so many great nature trails in Niagara – I want to explore them all over this next year!  I have signed up for the 150 Participation in celebration of Canada’s 150th year and look forward to checking off a few new activities.

Something Old / Something New – As I look to expand my activities, I have tried an introduction to Ariel Yoga, Suspension Training – learning I don’t like hanging upside down, and I am not ready for training of any kind.  I  also learned to knit, thanks to my very patient Mom.  I have returned to embracing my curly hair (thanks Barb and Kaitlyn) – it is after all who I am.  I look forward to experimenting with cooking food that is edible and putting paint brush and canvas again, something I haven’t done since high school.

Spend Time with Family & Friends – Lastly, but most importantly, I plan to take all the energy I get from loving and taking care of myself and share it, by spending time with my family and my friends.  All of whom have always felt I was worth investing time in taking care of myself – the difference is this year I feel it too!  Here’s to a year of family game nights, movies, hikes, girl’s nights and quiet evenings at home with the fur-baby!

If you take anything from my journey – I would hope it is that YOU need to practice Self-Love everyday – in the ways that are unique to you and that will help you feel fulfilled.  YOU are WORTH It.  And then I hope that feeling of love goes beyond yourself – to your family, friends, community, and beyond!  I think we can all use a focus on LOVE this year, Namaste.

Namaste

 

 

 

Power of Being a Girl 2017

Power of Being a Girl

YWCA Niagara is hosting it’s 11th Annual Power of Being a Girl conference within the region.
Many events lose interest of the community and participants after that many years, but this conference remains popular. Why? Maybe it has to do with the powerful impact it has on the grade 10 girls from all over the region who participate.

Throughout the years, the event has touched many lives. One of the speakers in previous years explained that at one of the conferences, some of the girls came up to her individually to self-disclose issues they have felt including thoughts of suicide and the difference the day had made to them. 12 girls that day felt empowered enough to find positives in their lives, things to look forward to as well as to speak about it. That’s some of the differences these events can make.

As huge a success as that story is, Power of Being a Girl has also inspired girls to discuss body image issues, negative feelings of loneliness. The discomfort most girls face during the ups and downs of teenage years. Some students have said:

“I felt alone and isolated. I was living in everyone’s shadow,” she said of the difficulties she once had but has since overcome. “Now I want to help others get out of the shadow and let their light shine.”  – St. Catharines Standard

More participants said:

“Your skin is the costume. Your personality is the beauty,” she says.

“If you keep trying to be what society thinks is perfect, you’ll never experience peace.

“You’re always chasing.” – St.Catharines Standard

The conference gives girls a safe place where they can check in with themselves and realize they are not alone in their feelings. They have the chance to ban together and encourage confidence in each other.

“At first, I was really nervous. And then I realized, we’re all girls here,”

“Everyone has flaws. They have to learn to love those flaws. They have to learn to love themselves.”

“Really, really good. Made me proud to be a woman.”

“My favourite part was knowing that I’m worth something and finding strengths I never thought I had.”

This year’s conference speaks to healthy relationships. We have no idea what’s truly in store for these participants in terms of revelations but we sure look forward to exploring them. If it’s anything like the last ten years, it will be a huge success, change the lives of so many.

#POBG2017

Question of the Month: Self-Care

The question of the month is: In one of the coldest months of the year, how do you or your loved one’s take care of yourself?

Dana

I have felt extremely lucky the last couple of weeks because the weather hasn’t been too cold, so I have been happy to pretend that winter was on its way out (but as I am writing this, it’s very clear that winter is STILL here!) I always struggle with winter time, there is less sunlight, it’s cold out, and it limits what I can do. In the past I have found it very depressing, and all I want to do is cuddle up and eat carbs while waiting for spring. This year, however, my boyfriend and I adopted a rescue dog in October and it has completely changed our lives! I can say that Cooper (our wonderful dog) has completely brightened up these dark months and he is the reason why we are both taking better care of ourselves. Obviously, owning a dog means we are way more active, and that makes a huge difference in our moods. We are out playing/walking/hiking for at least 2 hours a day, which has led to our clothes fitting much better and our confidence growing! We also have gone to new places, taken on new adventures, and spent more quality time together. We are still huge fans of cuddling up on the couch, but having a dog to take care of has pushed us out into the world to discover new things. We have noticed that we both have more energy and get a lot more accomplished in the day.

Emotionally, having this wonderful addition to our family has made us so much happier and appreciative of what we have. I mean, how can you be down when you have an adorable dog looking at you for love 24/7? Cooper is an absolute joy in our lives, and he is definitely making these cold and dark months fly by. It is a little depressing going for a walk in the dark at 6 pm, but at least we are doing something together. Being outside is great for the soul, and now we make sure to enjoy and make use of every minute of sunlight we have! We are counting down until spring and can’t wait until there is warmer weather and new adventures to go on!

I think the biggest difference for me this year, is not allowing myself to get stuck in the ‘winter rut’ of secluding myself inside.

I am much happier getting out every day with the ones I love most, going on adventures on the weekends and enjoying that extra minute of sunlight we get every day!

McKenzie

During the darker winter months of the year, it can be tough to keep up with a self-care routine. Over the years I’ve learned that I’m a person that requires a lot of self-care in order to stay relaxed and rejuvenated, as well as to keep stress levels down. Everyone’s routine for self-care is different, and can take some exploring before you find what really works for you. Here’s a few things to try out the next time you’re in need of some “me time”!

Bubble Baths:
My #1 go-to self-care routine is definitely having a bath. I don’t skimp when it comes to a luxurious bath! When I’m able to afford it, I’ll take a trip to Bath & Body Works or Lush and stock up on bath bombs, face masks, soaps, and moisturizers to use for all of my self-care bath sessions, that way I’ve always got a stash to pick from when I feel like changing it up. I usually plan my bubble baths around the rest of a spa night, where I’ll do hair treatments or paint my nails as well… I really go all out. Once my face mask is on and the bath is ready, I’ll climb into the tub with a good book and soak for a good hour or so! You can modify your routine for a shower as well – I’ve even made rosemary and eucalyptus hangers that I put over the showerhead, so that when it gets hot and steamy, the beautiful smells start to come out and make for an amazing shower!

 

Pets:
Spending time with my furbabies is also another go-to in my self-care routine. Nothing makes me happier than snuggling with them! I currently own guinea pigs and a kitten, who are all very eager for love and attention. I love coming home after a long day and being able to cuddle them and spend time with them!


Journaling:

This is a great way to keep track of you and your life. I found that writing myself letters or writing about my day or how I’m currently feeling is very cathartic and can help me work through situations or emotions that are stressing me out. I really enjoy it because it feels like a personal therapy session with myself; I’m checking up on me, seeing where I’m at in my life during that particular day and working through it. Some days when I don’t really feel like writing I’ll draw little pictures or doodles too, or maybe add a few stickers if they’re lying around.

Meditation:
It requires some practice and dedication, but it is definitely worth it! Meditation has helped me relax when I’m going through a stressful time, and helps balance my emotions. I usually make my bedroom into a ‘zen room’ with candles and some calming music, set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes to start and sit quietly, being mindful of my breathing and letting thoughts come and go in my mind. Meditation can be tricky to get used to, and there’s even a bunch of free apps to help you get started!

Yoga:
It can also help with stress levels, but I love yoga simply for the fact that it’s easy exercise. I’m generally not the type of person who will go out for a run or go to a gym – I’m very much a homebody, so yoga is a fantastic way for me to still get my exercise without having to go out. I found it much easier to do than meditation at first because of the focus on the movements and stretching of the body. If you’re the type of person that has a tough time with sitting in one place for too long, definitely try it out!

Hopefully some of these ideas could help you start your own routine! All of these, paired with eating well and getting enough sleep each night really had a positive effect on my life and energy levels, and really encouraged me to put myself first and take really good care of my body and mind, especially during the coldest months of the year!

What Goes On Behind Closed Doors

Everyone knows someone who has been, or is being abused. It may even be yourself. The problem is that nobody likes to talk about such a horrible subject. Everyone wants to believe that it will never happen to them. But the truth is if you were to look around at the people you know, there’s at least one person who is suffering in silence.

Abuse comes in many forms and may be difficult to spot at first glance. The person who is being subjected to abuse will often lie or cover up what is happening to them because they are ashamed or embarrassed.  They often live in fear and believe that they are helpless to do anything to stop the abuse. Sometimes they have been beaten down so badly that they can’t see a way out.

I know a few women who are in unhealthy relationships, but one stands out more clearly than the others.  She is someone I love very much and it kills me to watch her being treated so horribly. To the outsider it seems like she lives a privileged life. She has been married over 30 years to a successful businessman who earns a six-figure income.  They have a beautiful large home on the outskirts of town with a swimming pool and hot tub. They both drive new cars and go on vacation to the Caribbean every winter.  It looks like she’s living the dream.  But, appearances can be deceiving!  She is married to a man who controls every aspect of her life, from the way she cooks to the correct way she’s expected to stack things in the fridge and cupboards.  He decides when and where she can drive her car.  He has driven away every single one of her friends with his rude comments and obnoxious behaviour.  He has worn her down to a shell of her former self.  He undermines her confidence and tells her she isn’t capable of doing anything without his input and permission. He barks orders at her and monitors her every movement.  He talks down to her and degrades her publicly.  He beat her dog every time it did anything he perceived as being disobedient. He has had multiple affairs and she finds evidence of the gifts he buys for other women.  He hides money from her and closed their joint bank account.  He comes and goes as he pleases and never offers an explanation for his whereabouts.   He talks to her like she’s a child and treats her like an object that he owns.

We were both married in the same year to the same kind of man. Except that I left after 10 years of abuse and heartache. I left with nothing but my children and my sanity. It wasn’t always easy but I have never regretted leaving. I’ve put myself through school multiple times, I’ve travelled and experienced so many opportunities that life has to offer.  I wasn’t able to live in a big fancy house but at the end of the day I could come home with my children and lock the door behind me knowing that there was no one there to ridicule and belittle me.  I was free to make choices and learn through my mistakes without someone degrading me.  I didn’t know what life held for me when I left but I knew anything was better than living with someone who enjoyed suffocating the life out of me.

I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to get my friend to understand that she has so much more power than she’s aware of. I’ve tried to explain to her that she holds the cards to her future and that she has more power than she realizes.  She would never be destitute because he would have to give her a very generous settlement, in spite of his underhanded ways.  And yet, she still feels trapped in her golden cage.  It should be illegal for someone to abuse their spouse but until she’s ready to make a move, all I can do is offer her unconditional love and support.

If the day ever comes that she finds the strength to detach herself from this selfish, arrogant, abusive sociopath I will be there to help her pick up the pieces of her life.

Question of the Month: How do you embrace a new way of thinking?

Carli

It’s been a tough year. That seems to be universally agreed upon if my Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram feed can be relied upon.

Clearly, we can point to so many specific things worldwide that made 2016 tough, but for me personally it was a bit more intangible than that. I could never quite place my finger on what was wrong, I just couldn’t find a way to feel right. And believe me, I tried. I signed up for the gym classes and faithfully went for awhile. I ate right, faithfully for awhile. I took me time, set goals for myself, worked hard and played hard. But mentally, I don’t think my head was ever in the game.

So, leading up to 2017 I found myself taking profound sighs of relief that the year was almost over and a new start could begin. I had this belief that my mindset would magically change and I would be so much better equipped to follow through with my plans and goals. And then I read a novel that made me shake my head. And immediately after I read two quotes on Pinterest that made me shake it again.

Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to change? To be something better, lose weight, figure our shit out… immediately. Here’s my advice:

I’ve been tasked to answer the question ‘How do you embrace a new way of thinking?’ and to me that seems to be the best answer. Let it go. Let go of the immense pressure you put on yourself, your year and your future. Let go of the guilt, the weight, the disappointment. Let go of the idea that everything must be just so.

Because it will, eventually. It just may not be the way you originally thought. Expect change. Expect that things won’t go the way you planned. Expect that you will still find a reason to live, laugh, love and embrace life- even with it’s imperfections. Expect yourself to be, and allow yourself to be- who you want to be in that moment. I’ll leave you with this thought as it’s had a profound impact on me when I believe I needed it most this New Year.

Dealing with trauma

“I don’t want to keep retelling my story.”

“I’m tired of being bounced from service to service.”

“How am I supposed to trust helping professionals if they never give me the support I need?”

I regularly hear these comments from the people I serve; and having worked for a number of organizations in Niagara over the past 20 years, hearing them still breaks my heart, even after all this time. Presently, I work with individuals living with the impact of sexual violence and intimate partner violence. I consider it an incredible privilege to support others in negotiating the daily impact of the harm they have endured, and it has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever engaged in. I also believe that working with survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence has fostered a new appreciation of why the above comments are significant and deserve further consideration.

Victim Blaming

Sexual violence and intimate partner violence are significant and widespread; the outcomes of both are far reaching. Although a number of statistics exist indicating who is most at risk and/or who is primarily affected by these concerns, I have learned in the course of my work that sexual violence and intimate partner violence do not discriminate. And for multiple reasons, many people do not report their experiences or reach out for assistance. Individuals who have endured such pain are often reluctant and anxious about telling their story for fear of what others might say or do. They are regularly told to “get over it” or “move on”. They are shamed into feeling they did something to bring the violence upon themselves, or end up being criticized and judged about how they chose to respond. These reactions from loved ones, friends, and helping professionals cement for me the notion that abuse tends to exist in a shroud of secrecy and fear. Is it any wonder when people continue to be silenced and blamed for circumstances beyond their control?

Dealing with trauma

The impact of sexual/partner violence extends beyond one’s mind or body; one’s very spirit has been violated as well. When someone is wounded in these ways, their ability to feel safe and trust others becomes compromised. They struggle with a number of crippling physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural reactions that are often confusing, frightening, and exhausting. A person’s experience of the world becomes forever altered, and the harm that has been perpetrated insidiously seeps into every crevice of their life. It shows up in the most unexpected ways, and causes significant damage to the relationship with oneself and others; because at its very core, trauma is relational.

I’ve come to appreciate the complexity of trauma whether it’s childhood sexual abuse, recent sexual assault/rape, or intimate partner violence because the brave souls I encounter in the course of my work somehow find the courage to reach out for support. It is incredibly difficult to cope with the aftermath of these forms of trauma. The impact to one’s mental health is significant and people often engage in coping strategies that are labelled “unhealthy”. I struggle with framing coping in this manner because if people were able to manage their pain in another way, I’m convinced they would. People don’t intentionally try to make their situation worse. They do what they need to do to survive. And it’s is easy for us (i.e., external others) to judge how they manage the outcomes of their harm, particularly when we haven’t walked in their shoes. No one has the right to judge or shame; these responses cause as much, if not more damage, than the original violation.

Systemic Challenges

It is equally important to recognize that the complexity of an individual’s circumstances is often compounded by the way in which various systems support them. The pitfalls that individuals encounter within systems they access are numerous, oppressive, and cause considerable harm to someone who is already struggling and incredibly vulnerable. Although these systems are in place to support individuals in addressing the outcomes of their trauma in a meaningful way, more often than not, I have found these systems to be inadequate and ineffective. As a result of my work, I have come to believe that systems, not the people they support, are the problem.
I encounter few people who sing the praises of the systems that address various aspects of trauma. And I don’t blame them for this one bit. It’s not that people are ungrateful for the support they receive. If anything, I would argue they have come to believe that substandard support is what they are entitled to because they encounter it so often when attempting to engage in services that are supposed to help. But the people I serve deserve better. They deserve more. They deserve care that is accessible, timely, compassionate, and integrated. This means the systems people utilize in their efforts to get back on track need to work together to streamline support and put their clientele at the center of care. Trauma’s goal is to disconnect and fracture, and it does this incredibly well. We cannot expect to assist people in healing from the harm they have endured if we ask them to accept support that is fractured and disconnected. If we do, we run the risk of perpetuating the same harms that we are tasked with standing up against. Instead, connection and collaboration is required across systems and in conjunction with the people we are responsible for serving.
I have deep affection and admiration for the people I serve. And I respect the guts it takes to reach out from the darkness when it would be much easier to hide in the shadows. Every single day, the people I work with teach me about what it means to negotiate interpersonal harm; I am surrounded by the courage it takes to share one’s story and I am blessed with multiple opportunities to witness the endless possibilities that exist for healing. I am regularly reminded about the resilience of the human spirit and feel incredibly honoured to walk with people through some of their toughest moments. It is with gratitude that I engage in supporting others who are struggling because I am acutely aware that how I choose to engage matters. Because the way in which we respond and connect to others, without question, makes all the difference.

When Motivational Memes Serve to Shame

In between the click bait of things “you won’t believe,” recipes for the “best brownies ever,” articles speculating on how Donald Trump isn’t even human (hmm, perhaps not just conjecture), and the usual shots of friend’s children and vacations, my Facebook feed (and Instagram) seems to offer a lot of advice on how I should live my life. I mean, a lot.

On any given day, I can scroll through 20 different memes of motivation that, quite frankly, don’t do much beyond exercise my eyeballs. I mean, I wish they would do more. I wish it was that easy. I also wish it was easy to ignore most of them. I know some people say they can, but I call bullshit. Unless you ignore social media altogether (and yes, there are people who can and do), you will be inundated with motivational memes. And some will catch your eye. But so what, right? They’re harmless, right? Well, yes and no. I think we know words can hurt, no matter the intention.

Take this one I recently spied on Instagram:

“If you want to be happy, you have to be happy on purpose. When you wake up, you can’t just wait to see what kind of day you’ll have. You have to be the one to decide what kind of day you’ll have.”

or this:

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”

Or this:

“Just do it. No more excuses. Just do.”

Fair enough. I’d like to have a great day, thank you. In fact, I’m a naturally happy person, I’ll just come out and assume I will have a great day. And if I’m sent challenges to my happiness, I’ll just put on my impenetrable cloak of joy, and I will repel the sad-making stuff. There. Done.

Not So Fair Enough

Get hit by a car on the way to work? Choose positivity! Loved one diagnosed with brain cancer? Think on the bright side! Lose your job? Your home? Your hope? Just go out and change your life! If this take sounds harsh to you, it’s because it is meant to be critical. I am skeptical about most inspirational memes. I want to question their premise. I want some critical thinking used on their validity. And the reason I want to do this is because I feel that often they are empty words. I know words can work as a placebo, and that is something, but I think many memes are a misdirection. And misdirection is a technique used by snake oil salesmen, sneaky politicians (not all mind you, not all), skilled statesmen, and dodgy preachers. Worse than that though, inspiration memes can be sticks and stones that do harm.

Sometimes Choices Aren’t Choices

I say this because sometimes choices aren’t choices. Sometimes they are illnesses that have nothing to do with free will. And sometimes those illnesses lead to other illnesses: addictions. Fighting occasional blue funks with memes that amount to inspirational porn is one thing. Believing that a person with a mental health issue, a clinical disorder, can be prodded into health with positive messages is another. It’s like saying good thoughts cure cancer or lung disease. (And if you believe they can, then I’ve got some swampland in Florida just waiting for you.) Good thoughts are important, but they aren’t the cure or an enduring or effective treatment, even when they are meant to encourage good practices. This is particularly true for addictions. One thing we know about addiction is that it anesthetizes pain. For people in pain—those suffering from undiagnosed and diagnosed mental health issues, addiction is a double burden. A judgey meme isn’t going to galvanize change. The “just do it” mentality serves mostly to remind people that they aren’t worthy. This opens wounds and personalizes blame. It makes things seem simple when they aren’t. It prefers to assign blame to irrational things; to ascribe great power to people who are in many ways powerless to their illnesses. All you need to do is get your act together, one minute or second at a time and all will end well… Simple words for a Sisyphean task.

Motivational Porn

Much like inspiration porn, where people with disabilities are called inspirational just because they live with a disability, this mental health and addiction motivational porn serves to make people who don’t have a mental health or addiction issue feel like they don’t have a responsibility, or part to play in turning things around (beyond posting encouragements). It largely forgets that mental illness is in some measure, structural and the treatment of it requires more than a few encouraging words. It requires money. Money for treatment and continuing care. Money for housing. Money for teams of professionals doing research into the medical, psychological, and social conditions that create and perpetuate mental illness and addictions. People don’t fail to “conquer” their mental health and addiction issues because they aren’t courageous, or clever, or fighting hard. Getting healthy does require great, and often repeated effort. But it isn’t just a personal thing. It has more to do with decent support systems and societal advantages than shaming people with “change your thoughts, change your life” memes.