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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss Warmland.

Posts from the Essays Category

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Photo by Jeannette Breward

Content warning: birth, change in birth plan, failed induction, caesarean section, surgery, previous miscarriage, placenta (including picture of my placenta at the end)

 

I’d planned for a totally natural water-birth at home with my team of midwives, a doula, and my partner with our gentle shepherd dog looking onward. I had read about orgasmic births on Ina May’s farm and which essential oils were best for birth and the benefits of salt lamps and yoga balls. I arranged my birth pool rental and for my placenta to be encapsulated and wrote things like seeding and delayed cord clamping into my birth plan, which I printed out and secured in the binder the midwives gave me to keep at home with my charts and information for after the baby was born along with instructions on how to contact the woman who was to encapsulate my placenta and a phone tree with the phone numbers of family and close friends and who was responsible for each call. In the weeks leading up to my due date, I ate spicy food, had lots of sex, walked my dog for hours up and down steep hills, walked the stairs in my building repeatedly (note: these aren’t easy things to do with a 70+ pound weight gain…), took evening primrose oil, drank a ton of raspberry leaf tea, made art, and wrote affirmations about trusting my body and welcoming my baby.

Then, my due date came and went. I wasn’t too stressed initially, two of my close friends who had given birth within the past year had both gone 10 days over their due dates and I knew that, statistically, something like 60% of first time birthing people went over their estimated due dates. But once I was officially 41 weeks, with my induction scheduled, I started to feel stressed out. I knew I didn’t want an induction and I resented the fact that my baby was already being forced to adhere to some schedule without a medically relevant reason. Sure, there is an increase in some risk factors (including stillbirth) associated with going past 41 or 42 weeks, but my ultrasound and nonstress test showed a happy, healthy baby who we expected to be a bit on the larger side. As the threat of medical induction loomed, I drank two doses of midwife’s brew, a concoction containing apricot juice, castor oil, almond butter, and a strong infusion of lemon verbena. Although I had multiple friends tell me to prepare to go into labour shortly after taking the drink, as they had, it did absolutely nothing to help bring on my labour.

After a long conversation with my doula and an even longer one with my partner about options and how to navigate balancing advocating for my dream home birth with my midwives and their concerns, I decided to go into the hospital, as instructed, at 41+5, to receive a medication that would make my cervix more favourable (I’d been stuck at 1cm dilated for a couple weeks already with no forward motion) in hope that when I went home, I’d be able to relax a bit more and dilate my way into having my home birth after all. I was technically scheduled to continue the induction process (with the midwife breaking my water and starting me on Pitocin) the next day, but I was hoping I’d be able to avoid that part.

When I got to the hospital, I had a long conversation with the patient OB who had followed me throughout my first trimester (due to a history of recurrent miscarriage) and he explained his concerns with me not giving birth within the next few days. He pulled up a chair and took time to answer all of my questions and heard me out about about my concerns. By the end of the conversation, I honestly believe that he was committed to supporting me and my team in achieving as much of my birth plan as possible and that a bit of medical assistance was warranted in this situation. The first step remained what I had already decided I felt okay about doing- the medication in my cervix to increase its favourability. I also opted to stay in the hospital for the night and to reconsider my home birth. The extra couple of days increased the risks for my baby and, at this point, that was my only real priority. I also knew by that point, although I didn’t say it out loud, that the medication was unlikely to work. Something was causing my cervix not to dilate and I just felt, like, SO deeply, that it wasn’t going to budge.

 

The medication was super uncomfortable. I started cramping, and by the time my partner my doula, and I went out for dinner, I was feeling pretty awful. I hoped this meant that I was wrong and that it was working. The next morning, when they checked my cervix, it hadn’t changed at all since the day before. As per my discussion with the OB, he agreed to administer a second type of medication meant to achieve the same result- one that my midwife said tended to work better in her experience. Six hours later, my midwife attempted to check me and, this time the check was so painful I screamed. My cervix still hadn’t changed, it was still so far back she could barely reach it and now so irritated, the extreme discomfort I normally experienced during cervical checks had become a searing pain that terrified me far more than the idea of labour itself. My midwife decided to check in with the OB to discuss possible next steps and came back within a few minutes to explain that neither of them felt comfortable moving forward with the induction as we had planned it, but that at 41 weeks and 6 days pregnant, my pregnancy was too high risk for them to feel comfortable with it continuing. I was presented with two options:

  1. Get an epidural and go through with the induction plan otherwise, in spite of my unfavourable cervix and hope it worked
  2. Elect to get a cesarean section

I was scared. All I wanted was my baby safely in my arms and I didn’t feel that continuing to put my body through an extended course of failed intervention was particularly respectful to it. There’s also something incredibly emotionally exhausting about your body repeatedly reacting poorly to failed methods of induction, both natural and medical. I started to cry and asked the midwife if my partner and I could have a few minutes to discuss what we were going to do. We talked about the options, and my partner brought up that his main concern was me feeling sad or disappointed in straying so far from my original birth plan, and I explained to him that, at this point, the game had changed and I felt good about adjusting my expectations. I explained my feelings about something going on with my cervix that we didn’t understand and not wanting anything else to be stuck in it and also that I felt that, for this reason, this birth was going to end up in cesarean whether I continued to put my body through the induction process or not. I tearfully phoned my doula and talked through the situation with her and she, along with my partner, supported my decision to do what I needed to do to emotionally process the change in plans and to shift my mindset around how my baby was going to enter this world.

We told the midwife that I was going to opt in for the cesarean section, and within an hour I was being taken through paperwork, given information by my midwife, by the OB, by the amazing nurse, and by the anesthesiologist, who told me he would be putting a spinal block in so I wouldn’t feel the procedure at all but would be fully awake. I signed the papers, and got to hug my doula before I was taken to the OR and the spinal block was administered.

Everyone in the OR was amazing, casually talking about their weekend while checking in and communicating with me every single step of the way. At some point, I started to cry…not because I was sad as much as because I was a crazy mix of scared for both my body and my baby’s body and also because I was just so physically and emotionally exhausted from the past few days- no- from the past week since my pregnancy had changed to increase in risk each day. My midwife checked in and asked if I was okay, and I said “yes” unable in that moment to explain to her exactly what was going on for me. My partner came into the room (I learned later that when the anesthesiologist had gone to get him, he had warned him that I was pretty emotional) and didn’t need to ask me any questions- he knew exactly where I was at emotionally. He was confused about how violently my body was shaking though, until the anesthesiologist explained that it was from adrenaline. My partner stood right by my head and the procedure began. The midwife and anesthesiologist talked me through the whole thing, though I remember very little of what they actually said.

When they cut me open, they were surprised at how much I bled and I remember the midwife warning me there was a lot of fluid and there was going to be a lot of the sound of suctioning going on. My blood pressure got very high (unusual for me, whose baseline blood pressure is barely that of a conscious person) and also dropped very low at certain points, so the anesthesiologist kept having to give me medications to alter it. The team asked my partner if he wanted to see our baby come out of my body, and he asked me if that was okay with me. I said, “of course”, and he excitedly peaked over the curtain to see our baby be taken out of my body, head and one arm first, and then the rest of him. I heard him cry, and thought with relief, “that’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard”. Someone held him up above the curtain and I saw his screaming, bunched up, red face and thought, “there you are” and “who ARE you” and “holy shit, there WAS a human in there”! This abstract thought that was my “rainbow baby”, who I was almost afraid to believe, even until the end, would ever be here, was real after all. He was here. After almost two years of pregnancies, three miscarriages, and a day short of 42 weeks with this being growing inside my body, I could barely believe it. Wilhelm Erik Warmland was born at 6:27pm on March 2, 2020, weighing 7lbs 15.6 oz at 20.5 inches long.

The midwife placed him on my chest and I held this being who I knew so intimately and it was completely surreal. After a few minutes, the midwife asked if my partner wanted to do some skin-to-skin as well while they finished closing me up. My partner asked if I was okay with that and I said, “of course”. I just wanted one of us to be with him. They went back to my hospital room and I joined them shortly after. I held my baby and didn’t let him go for hours. My dad and brother came to meet him and eventually my partner did more skin to skin and my brother went out to get us food and then he did skin to skin with his long-awaited nephew while we ate. My friend came and took gorgeous photographs of our first hours together.

The woman who was encapsulating my placenta was on route, so my doula reminded me that I could ask my midwife for a “placenta tour”, which I had mentioned being interested in. When she did this, she noticed that my placenta contained an extra lobe with veins. This can happen when the pregnancy started out as a twin pregnancy, though I also wonder if it could be related to my previous miscarriages, including an early miscarriage I had the cycle before conceiving Wilhelm. It turns out this can cause issues with bleeding if it’s ruptured during the process of water breaking and often results in cesarean section, which validates my decision to stray from my birth plan. This wasn’t the only extraordinary thing about Wilhelm’s birth though. In spite of being almost 2 full weeks “late”, he had vernix on him and there was tons of clear, meconium-free amniotic fluid. There was also no calcification of my uterus at all. My body knew. I kept saying I knew I could trust my body, and it turns out I was right. It just didn’t look the way I expected it would.

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Photo by Jeannette Breward

Content- This essay contains my miscarriage stories and suggestions about what to say to people in your life when they’re miscarrying. This advice is based on my own experiences, but you know your friends best. This is meant to be a starting point and also to generally start more conversations about miscarriage in general, because it’s more common than we think…
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Almost a year ago, my partner and I decided we were ready to have a baby. We’d always talked about wanting a family, and we were at a place where we felt that financially and emotionally we were ready to start it. After 6 months, I took a test and found that it was faint, but positive. I tested religiously the next few mornings and watched the line darken- just a bit. Within another week and a half I was bleeding and a visit to the doctor confirmed that my HCG levels had fallen to 4. They called it a chemical pregnancy.

Two months later, I was pregnant again. I hoped that this was the time, but I was secretly waiting for blood. I started to feel sick, I monitored my HCG levels, and then started to see them rise more slowly than they should. I went to the the hospital for an unrelated reason, and when I told them I was 7 weeks pregnant, they offered to do an ultrasound for me to confirm that my organs were all in decent shape, related to my reason for being there. They weren’t looking for  heartbeat, but they also didn’t find one. I was referred to an OB who sent me for a more in depth ultrasound. It was confirmed that there was no heartbeat. I opted to wait to miscarry naturally, hoping for some miracle baby that was just hiding. A few weeks later, after a visit with my midwife, who I was planning to get my care from, where she answered all my questions, I got my final confirmation. My next choice was to take a medication to help pass the pregnancy or to do a D&C. I was still hoping not to have a D&C, so I tried the pills.  

They caused some bleeding, but nothing like what I was expecting. A scan a few days later proved me right, I was still pregnant, but there was no baby. I tried another version of the medication and I had a day of pure hell where I thought it was all over with, but my next follow up showed that there was still tissue inside of me. They told me they would do a D&C that day and I texted my partner asking him to come to the hospital. When he had to go to work, my dad showed up to drive me home and make me soup and walk my dog. When my partner got home, he sat with me and we talked for a while and then went to bed early.

**Important side note: the “abortion pill” became approved and available in Canada over the last few years and is only covered by six provinces. Without OHIP, each round of drugs would have cost me $337.25.

All in all, it’s been one hell of an experience trying to expand our family. My partner and I had been of the mindset that is was something to be open about with the people close to us, since it was something that was a huge deal in our life and support (or at least understanding) would be nice in the case of a loss. What we found when we told people about our losses, was that most women we knew had their own miscarriage stories. We also found that, like with any loss, people rarely know what the “right” thing to say is.

The short answer is that there’s no right thing to say because there’s nothing that can be said to change that your friend/family member/whatever has experienced a loss. That’s not always the most practical (or sensitive) thing to say in the moment though. The only thing I heard more than people’s own miscarriage stories was “people really need to talk about it more”. And we do, and I gotta tell you, it felt good to hear that my story wasn’t unusual. because grief is lonely enough without acknowledging that miscarriage is such a common reason for so many people’s grief.

Here are some ideas for things to say when someone in your life has had a miscarriage:

1. I’m sorry you’re going through this.

As someone who has experienced a decent amount of significant deaths around me, I feel pretty confident saying that this is solid way to respond in any situation where someone is grieving for any kind of loss. You acknowledge that they’re going through something and it’s appropriate, regardless of your relationship with the person or how close you are to them.

2. Do you want to talk about it?

If you’re fairly close with this person, it’s worth asking if they want to talk about it if you have the emotional capacity and physical time to take that on. If you don’t have that emotional capacity or physical time, just don’t offer.

This shows that you’re able to hold that space for your person and encourages them to process what they’re experiencing. Even early loss can feel like crap (to say the least) when you’ve been trying to get pregnant and found out that you were. Some people don’t process through talking about it, or they may just not  want to in that moment. By asking, you’ve given them the option to talk about it or not with you.

3. Do you want some company? I’m available at [time, days].

This is another way of identifying a way you feel capable of being supportive. Sometimes it can be lonely when you’re grieving and it helps to have people around physically. Sometimes it’s nice to have a distraction from feeling bad to talk about completely unrelated things.

Miscarriage can be an intense experience, both physically and emotionally, at times, but it’s important to consider that even grieving people are whole humans and their grief isn’t all that’s going on for them. It can be a really helpful way of supporting your person.

4. I get that you’re going through a lot right now. Take whatever time you need.

We live in a society where we put a lot of pressure on women to carry on with their lives during their pregnancy, especially early pregnancy, which people are typically expected to hide. My experience of early pregnancy was that it can be pretty challenging to carry on with everything in your life when you’re exhausted and nauseous. Miscarriage can be painful, physically and emotionally.

Sometimes, knowing that people realize you need a little more gentleness or time or space or care can be really helpful, whether that’s an extra day off work or understanding around missing a meeting.

5. What kind of soup do you like?

Bringing people food is rarely a bad idea, especially if they’re sad or not feeling well. Soup is warm, comforting, and most people like at least one kind. Be a friend. Bring soup.

IMG_5128The trans pride flag at George & Orange.

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance. Cobourg Queer Collective describes this day as a day where “we remember and honour our transgender siblings who have lost their lives due to transphobia: from hate crimes, from illness, from murder, from suicide, from substance abuse. And we acknowledge that transgender people of colour and two-spirited Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by this due to racism and xenophobia”.

I started my day by checking in with (and being checked in with myself) by a few transgender and gender variant queers in my life. This is something that happened throughout the day, and it was the most powerful thing I experienced all day (which is saying something, because there were tons of powerful moments). These check ins weren’t heavy or energy draining, quite the contrary, actually. They were gentle and energizing:
“Hey, how are you doing today?”
“I’m feeling good, stoked for some events today”
“Awesome, I’ll see you there!”

These simple questions are transformative. They go to highlight one of the many messages tied to this day- we are not alone. The work we have done and are doing, both personally and in the context of our communities, is noticed by the people around us and this day is a time to be conscious with the space we create and the energy we put out into the world. We are all capable of caring and being cared for.

At 4 in the afternoon, I went to George & Orange, a wine bar and restaurant in Cobourg, and held a chair while my friend, Ariel, stood on it to put up the trans pride flag in front of the restaurant. Her friend, Jenna, is the owner of the restaurant and has been a long-time supporter of transgender rights, flying the trans pride flag for the entire month surrounding Pride this year.

IMG_8268Jenna and staff at George & Orange.

“Trans Day of Remembrance is about celebrating the lives of people who have lost their lives to violence against trans people in the past year and years past, as well as raising awareness about discrimination against trans people in general,” Ariel shared, “Jenna is a good friend of mine, I also used to be an employee here. She’s always been an outspoken supporter of the transgender and LGBT community in general- and also of me as an individual.”

It was powerful to see that flag flying out front of this local, small-town, woman-owned business. It was also powerful to feel the loving energy that filled the place as the staff, Ariel, and myself chatted about what this day meant for us. The restaurant also planned to support the efforts of Cobourg Queer Collective, who would make their way to the restaurant after the rally they were holding later that evening.

At 6:30, Cobourg Queer Collective, lead by Ashley Bowman and Kim McArthur-Jackson, met outside of MPP David Piccini’s office on Division Street in Cobourg. Although this wasn’t the original location intended for the event, Cobourg Queer Collective stated, “this year, we will also recognize that the forward momentum that we had hoped was happening, seems to be reversing in many areas. In our own province, our governing party (the Ontario PC Party) felt it appropriate to acknowledge our trans siblings’ plight by putting forth a motion to further marginalize them, by not acknowledging their gender identities, and removing mention of them from school curriculums. While the leader of the party had stated that this will not move forward, it should NEVER have come up to begin with.”

46508459_1945928008775805_4744591144292188160_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of rally participants with MPP, David Piccini.


There were around 50 people in attendance, including PC MPP David Piccini himself, who attempted to answer the many questions people had for him while also listening to the speakers.

“It’s pretty amazing to see quite a few people here. This cause is very close to our hearts as allies and we’re so happy to be here. I’m hopeful that our MPP will recognize that Northumberland County will be unwilling to accept the level of prejudice that the PC government is considering putting in place,” says Heather J.

While some people’s motivation for attending the event was largely political and about using their privilege to make systemic change, for other people, especially trans and queer people, this event was about just being there with a shared intention.

“I’m here to show solidarity for trans people who have lost their lives,” says Natalie K., “I just felt it was important to show up, maybe take some pictures, and be a part of such an important event in our community.”

46499318_2492231567484224_6765956174316568576_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of event coordinators, Ashley and Kim.

Event co-organizer, Ashley, says she’s “hoping to achieve more awareness of trans issues at both a local level and a provincial level” at the third annual Transgender Day of Remembrance event for Northumberland County.

Overall, the day was powerful, though it also left me with a few questions. Why only one local business acknowledging this day? Why only a single event in Cobourg? Why nothing at all in Port Hope or the rest of the county? These events take an incredible amount of work to coordinate and it’s easier to hope that someone else will take on that labour. With such high rates of violence against transgender people, next year, let’s do even better.

46508674_339706093275213_6089201377236484096_nPhoto by Jay Boyd-Stofleth of the rally.

Big thanks to Jenna, Ariel, and George & Orange, and Cobourg Queer Collective for the work they put into commemorating this day!

I recently began “Integral Coaching” sessions with an absolutely delightful woman named Rae Kess. This process started with a conversation about where I’m at personally and with my creative work. It then moved to world-building and goal-setting. Then, Rae created a rad outline for our work (it’s very based on metaphors, super cool stuff) that provided a one-sentence focus for my work over the next 5 months. The topic she identified after our conversation was:

“To be more able to set clear boundaries so I can focus my energy on structuring and monetizing the creative work that I care about.”

To get there, one thing we discussed a current way of being and a new way of being. For me, the current way of being involves attending to other people’s needs and pushing aside my own creative projects because my energy has been spent elsewhere. Moving in to the new way of being will, theoretically, involve setting up structures that support my work so that I can be more intentional with where I spend my energy.

The thing that I’m intentionally maintaining is keeping a lot on my plate. I love to be busy, it keeps me well. The key is where I am prioritizing and focusing my energy. In order to re-set my energy throughout the day, Rae suggested a 5-minute-a-day exercise she calls “Tiny Explosions” (LOVE IT). The idea is that our bodies need to be engaged in the transition towards a new way of being. If I am emotionally/mentally/spiritually in a state of transition, it makes sense that my body ought to be as well- even if it’s just in a small way.

As a disabled person, I recognize the importance of connecting with my body and tuning in to it. This makes a lot of sense to me. So, I reached out on social media to crowd source strategies people in my community that people use to refocus their energy during their workday.
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Not surprisingly, people came up with a ton of great strategies. Here they are all in one place (with links to what they’re talking about):

Jasmine-June Cabanaw – Sun salutations

Ron Hyatt – Short walks, meditation

Amy Anderson-Macarthur – Exercise ball vs chair, Resistance bands

Jenni Burke – Spinal Flex: inhale forward and exhale back.

Heather Harrison – Kundalini

Cailey McCormack a cuddle with my pupper – no joke. She sits on my lap and stares at me and I stare back and it makes me laugh, and then I put her down on the ground and take a few deep breaths. I also drink an entire glass of water. It’s one of my strategies for helping me get out of a panic attack. Something about it that works.

Amber Dawn Vibert Eating food and drinking water is the only thing that makes me feel okay

Paul Devlin – I just take a moment to be happy I’m at work and not in the hospital or jail. Positive thinking for a min to keep me moving

Ariel Patricia – Jumping jacks

Craig Martin I leave work early. Takes 5ish minutes. When I get home and jump into the pool it totally re-energizes me.

Richard D. Quodomine – Feng Shui health and exercise balls

Danielle Hobbs – I run my hands under really cold water, like ice cold.

Dayna Lepofsky – Go for a short walk, cold water on the wrists or face, a quick stretch in the sun if possible, stretch out my limbs in the chair if I can’t leave my desk, crack my back, blink really really hard a few times but this one kind of just makes me dizzy sometimes lol

Sarah Jean Kennedy – I wash my hands and splash my face with cold water a few times. Fix my makeup and hair then back at it!

Tom Keefer – My fitness program consists only of doing one set of as many push-ups I can do once a day. It works pretty good and is real quick.

Andrew Charles Weed – pen

Monique Melanson  – Do a breathing exercise

Kim Doolittle – Sleep and naps

Jesse Watts – I do a couple 5 minute meditations a day. Helps me with my anxiety and helps me get “grounded”/relax. Not really physical but helps with body connections.

Jeff Wheeldon – Pushups. Start small, but do it many times per day. Amazing how fast your strength can improve from incremental gains, and it wakes me up like nothing else.

Anne-Marie Bouthillette – 5minute meditation/deep breathing/body scan

Effie Dice – Wim Hof breathing

To summarize, the most common suggestions were:

  • Push ups or jumping jacks
  • Meditation
  • Washing hands or face with cold water
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • Stretching

 

It’s powerful what happens when we ask for what we need. Try some of these strategies if you’re looking for a “tiny explosion” to refocus during your work day. Or, better yet, ask your community what strategies they use!

(Thanks for the inspiration, Rae!)

 

aka. “Acknowledging autonomy as a means of building healthier communities”

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(image shows myself and my best friend, Luna the shepherd dog, in an open field surrounded by trees, representing simultaneous autonomy and interconnection).

Can you think of a time in your life where you wanted to be part of a community of people who you grew close with, even loved? Where you put a lot of time and energy into creating that community with some sort of shared goal or intention? Me too.

I’ve been a part of theatre communities where we worked on shows together, activist communities where the shared goal is dismantling rape culture or working towards environmental sustainability, and casual communities where the goal is simply to be friends. Sometimes this more casual community building looks like a group who gets together to share meals or to work together in a garden. Sometimes, like many people in my generation, this means online group chats.

Can you think of a time where you felt let down by your community? Maybe you were going through something really tough and craved the support of the community you’ve worked hard to build. Maybe you felt ignored or under appreciated. I can relate. It’s really easy when we feel this way in our communities to chalk it up to “toxic communities” and honestly, that’s the script that is growing to dominate a lot of modern thought around social justice. But I think that this is an oversimplification at best, and, more honestly, actively detrimental to the overall goal of community care and individual wellness that social justice aims to work towards.

Community building as a concept is complicated and I see a lot of discussion around some of the key pieces these days. Things like self-care, balancing emotional labour, and accountability. While it’s exciting that these discussions are happening at all, and it’s to be expected that thinkers will stumble their ways through these complex and imperfect topics, I, a white, queer, disabled woman who lives with CPTSD, am increasingly finding that the shallow way we discuss this stuff is more harmful than helpful.

Basically, what I’m asserting here is that the problem isn’t that we are building toxic communities, it’s that we are empowering individuals to engage in behaviours that are toxic to themselves, and thus, toxic when it comes to building healthier communities. We mistake enabling self-harming behaviours for care in attempt to acknowledge that the violence perpetrated against marginalized people is real and unfair. However, by encouraging a victim mindset, we effectively marginalize people who have been affected by systemic violence even further.

I don’t believe that it is my job (or my business) to dictate how anyone else chooses to cope with or react to their experiences in the world. I believe that is up to each individual, and that building healthier communities relies on each individual to do their own work. It’s easier, when we have experienced trauma and/or violence to follow scripts where we validate one another’s pain (effectively playing in to the same power dynamics we claim to be working to dismantle) rather than addressing and taking ownership for our own experiences and subsequent (re)actions.

What it comes down to for me, as an individual, is this: do I want to commit to my trauma and live in it, or do I want to live my best life where I acknowledge my trauma without allowing it to control my life?

In the context of a society where there are unequal distributions of power, I would agree that it’s true that one cannot fully control what happens to them or every event of their lives, but what one can control is how they choose to respond to what happens. When it comes to community building, when we are all so committed to living in our own emotional shit, we tend to project that on to other people in our community.

For me, my dissatisfaction in communities I’ve experienced as toxic has a lot less to do with anyone else’s actions but my own dissatisfaction with myself. This results in me being so wrapped up in how worthless I feel (because trauma stuff) and feeling so bad about how I’m not feeling cared for by my community that I’m not being a good community member either. I’m not actually taking care of myself in a deep way either. I’m just wallowing in my own shit. Living there. Committing to it. It’s a lot easier to chalk my feelings up to other peoples’ actions rather than taking ownership for my own and doing something to actively work with whatever it is I’m going through. It keeps me trapped in my own shit.

Escaping and preventing toxic communities comes down to changing our perspectives from “they did this to me and this feels awful” to “this happened and it feels awful because I’m perceiving it as something that was done TO me that I have no control over.”. The reality is that you do have control over what you do with your hurt. Sure, communicating to the person you felt hurt by may be helpful, but what will be really helpful is you changing your perception (and thus, your reality) of the hurtful thing. It’s not about ignoring the hurt or “choosing not to feel it”. I mean, that sounds nice, but we all know it’s not that simple. It’s about feeling it and acknowledging that it probably had nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person/people. What is yours is your reaction. When we accept people for where they are at, it makes for far healthier and happier interpersonal relationships. And when we can’t reconcile where someone’s at with the reality we’re choosing to actively build for ourselves, we get to choose the context in which you relate to that person.

This isn’t to say that we should stick around people who contribute to us feeling bad or who we don’t ultimately feel are conducive to our journey in wellness. It’s also not about anyone being “at fault”. It’s never so simple as a simple perpetrator/victim dynamic. We are all hurt beings in some way, we are all trying to stumble our way to happiness and fulfillment. But what I think we, as social justice oriented thinkers and carers, would benefit from is actually acknowledging the role of autonomy in community building.

(Big thanks to Sabrina Scott and Susan Kesper for taking the time to provide feedback on this piece and supporting me in making it better!)

 

 

 

 

 

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CW: rape, sexual violence, gender-based violence, restorative justice, hollywood, violence against women, masculinity, emotional labour, men’s mental health, #MeToo campaign, gender

 

 

Nearly a decade ago, I read a book called “Cunt: A Declaration of Independence” by Inga Muscio and it kind of changed my life. It’s a book that’s far from perfect, but it was perfect for me to read at the time. I had been sexually assaulted and slut-shamed a few months prior, and was coping by self-harming, writing songs I’d never show anyone, and listening to a ton of Bikini Kill in my bedroom.  Although I was always told I was an emotional being, not a logical one by most people when I was growing up, I know now, looking back, that I’ve always been a very logical and analytic person. I wanted to understand what had happened to me, and I desperately wanted to be well. “Cunt” was just what I needed to begin to feel knowledgable about the dynamics behind why gender-based violence happens and empowered regarding what comes next.

So I did a lot more reading, went to university for Women’s Studies, focused my work on sexual violence prevention, and produced 6 plays about the stories of sexual violence survivors (directed 2 of them). Then I moved to a rural community where I situated myself firmly on the ground of anti-rape advocacy. This whole time, I was in and out of therapy, I was writing, I was learning to form positive relationships, and I was working hard on my own (continuous) healing process. For the better part of ten years, my life has largely revolved around gender-based violence. Why it happens, what to do about it, how to live through it. It’s complicated and layered and non-linear.

During my first week of university, in 2009, when I really started to dedicate myself to this subject, I remember introducing myself to people who asked what my major was only to have them scoff at me and tell me we don’t need to study gender and that I’d never go anywhere with that degree. During my final semester, in 2013, I remember trying to write a major research paper about the representation of non-binary gender and having a difficult time finding academic resources on the subject- to the point where I used blog posts and tweets as sources for my academic paper.

Four years later, that paper is now so outdated that you couldn’t pay me enough to let you read it. But at that time, it was pretty cutting edge and I was really proud of it. That much changed in only four years.

Over the time since I first read “Cunt”, there has been a MASSIVE shift regarding the topics of gender and, more specifically, gender-based violence. Especially recently, with the viral social media #MeToo movement and the trend in Hollywood where serial abusers are being called on their behaviour by the women they have assaulted, discussion around gender and gender-based violence is becoming mainstream. And I get it: it’s a lot to ask someone to radically reconsider who they are and the way they exist in the world, which is what happens when you ask people to critically reflect on the ways gender rolls are constructed.  But at the end of the day, I would like to believe that most people don’t want nearly every woman in their life to have experienced gender-based violence in some form, as evidenced by the massive success of the #MeToo movement. And I want to believe that anyone is capable of doing better.

I also want to take just a moment, before I continue, to be extremely clear that I am referring to women in this essay because women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence. And even more disproportionately affected by gender-based violence is women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, queer women, women with disabilities, transgender women, and women living in poverty.

I’ve recently had some friends who know how obsessed I am with gender-based violence ask me to comment on the discourse rising in mainstream culture. And my over-all comment is that it’s amazing and important that light is being shed on gender-based violence in mainstream culture. With that being said, that discourse is overwhelmingly immature (which is to be expected!) and I urge people to listen to the survivors who have been speaking out about these topics and symptoms for longer than it’s been cool (even, arguably, safer) to do so.

Regarding discussion in mainstream culture on the topic of gender-based violence, there a few specific subjects I’d like to share my thoughts on. Here they are in a slightly more digestable format:

Yes, people who have been doing the work around these topics should have their voices magnified over the opinions of people who are just starting to think about this. And no, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging you’re just starting to learn about a subject and listening to the people who have put in extensive time and energy around it.

Hopefully, by this point in the essay you already get my perspective here. But I’ll give you a metaphor to help communicate my point.

I drive a car pretty much every day. I own one, I know a little bit about how it works, I live in a world where there are lots of cars around. But I am far from a car expert. I haven’t really spent that much time thinking about how cars work, or the history of cars. I don’t know statistics about cars off the top of my head, and I haven’t spent years tinkering around under/inside a car, examining parts and trying to figure out what makes them work best (or at all). So when I take my car in the mechanic for maintenance and they tell me that I desperately need a part replaced or my car is gonna be seriously messed up, I’m not gonna go “well, I haven’t noticed anything wrong with my car, my car gets me to and from work every day and it’s fine”. If I have time, I might educate myself on the part of the car that’s apparently damaged, I might call a friend who has spent a lot of time and work learning about cars, I might consult a few other mechanics, but I’m not going to consider my limited knowledge on the subject equal to theirs. I’m going to listen and try to learn more.

To be clear, it’s not a matter of anyone being “better” than anyone else or attaching value judgements to knowledge that people do or don’t have, or recreating power dynamics. It’s about knowing when to share your perspective and when to sit down and listen.

I also want to be clear that the time and space I’m referring to need not include formal education, however, participating in formal education does take a lot of time and space. It’s not a reason either way to invalidate the type(s) of work a person has put in.
Don’t derail conversations about gender-based violence by centring the conversation around men as victims.

There are many cases where men experience rape and sexual assault. All sexual assault survivors deserve support and space and communities, and I do not, for a moment mean to diminish the importance of men’s mental health. I’d like to be clear that it’s not men who are the problem here. There isn’t even a one-stop answer regarding what the problem is. But a major part of it is the way that masculinity has been defined and then systemically privileged . A key component of the definition of masculinity is being more logical than emotional and being emotionally strong. This doesn’t leave much space for men to cope with their every-day feelings, mental illness, or trauma. As a result, there are many men who struggle because of this definition, as well as women and femmes who are, by negative definition, left to bare the brunt of the emotional labour.

Constructions of gender are not innate, they are something we can actively work to redefine- if you’re willing to do the work.

Although all gender-based violence statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, over 80% of sexual assault victims are women and something like 99% of rapes (against people of all genders) are perpetrated by men. When you derail conversations about gender-based violence to redirect the conversation to focus on men who are sexual assault survivors, you’re taking up a disproportionate amount of space.

Instead, I would encourage people to actively dismantle gender roles and to make appropriate space for men who have been victims of sexual assault to talk about it and heal. This isn’t going to happen through derailing women’s social media posts about gender-based violence.

Don’t derail conversations about gender-based violence to make disproportionate and inappropriate space for conversations about false allegations.

If you think being a man is scary right now because you’re worried about false allegations, maybe you should consider how scary it has been to be a woman or femme throughout history. Only between 2-4% of rape allegations are falsely made.
A study a few years ago found that 1/3 college men would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it. According to a far larger study done by the UN, most men actually don’t believe that they are raping women.

What this shows is that a lot of the “false allegations” are made when a man didn’t understand that what he was doing wasn’t consensual. Again, this is related to the construction of masculinity- and not just that- the construction of femininity as the negative definer of masculinity. This is why learning about consent is REALLY important.

Exclusion isn’t restorative justice and it will usually result in more problems than it prevents.

There are cases where people are part of a community and they harm people in that community over and over again. There’s a clear pattern, and then when confronted with being called in (not out), they repeatedly get defensive, aggressive, and refuse to listen and (un)learn. In that case, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone not to be part of a space/venue/show/event/whatever. There are also situations where a survivor may not feel safe being around someone who has harmed them, and that’s valid and well worth working to navigate, based on the specifics of the situation.

There’s this thing that often happens now in popular culture (and in communities) where someone is exposed for something problematic they’ve done and then everyone either jumps on the “I’m so edgy” bandwagon (spoiler: condoning people hurting other people isn’t edgy, it’s just shitty) or boycotts their existence. The person accused of perpetrating harm immediately gets banned from community spaces, blacklisted from work opportunities, and abandoned by a good portion of their support system.

I get why this happens. It’s a reaction that many feel is justified, and I believe in providing space for that. But I also don’t think it’s particularly useful in a larger context. When we position people as inherently a perpetrator or inherently a victim, we do justice to no one. Reducing anyone to such a simple definition simply doesn’t allow for the root issues to be addressed or for working towards a place of healing, learning, or reconciliation.

That being said, restorative justice and accountability are complicated and fuelled concepts that don’t have any definite definition. I recommending reading up about it and talking about it a lot. It’s really complex.

There’s so much more to say, but I’m so tired. I’m excited for these conversations to be on the table in mainstream Canadian culture, not just in women’s studies classrooms or rape crisis centres or teenage girls’ bedroom floors. But there is a lot of work to do, and there will be growing pains. Please. Do the work, listen to survivors, and do better. Because we are all capable of doing better.

 

By Lyss England

A few nights ago, there was a fatal shooting at my local hospital. A couple in their 70s who had been spending the summer, as usual, in Northumberland County were patients in the hospital for undisclosed reasons when the husband, Tom Ryan, shot his wife, Helen Ryan, before being shot and killed by police. Immediately, there were vague reports released on social media by local media, and immediately, people began speculating.

The overwhelming response I observed was that it was a mercy killing where Helen must have been terminally ill and her husband, graciously, had agreed to end her suffering. Within the next day, the story was uncovered that Tom had been a “violent, horrible man” who Helen’s cousin, Connie Woodcock, had expected would potentially kill her eventually.

“I did expect him to kill her sometime. We are all shocked it happened, but not terribly surprised,” Connie told Northumberland Today’s Pete Fisher.

I’d like to believe that the reason so many people immediately assumed this to be a mercy killing is due to people wanting to believe the best about one another. However, I think that this reaction is also, at least partially, due to our culture’s tendency towards sticking our heads into the sand when it comes to intimate partner violence and unhealthy dynamics in relationships. Maybe it even has something to do with the dynamics associated with ageism, where few people realize that domestic violence is an issue for seniors who have been married for a long time.

Even with the #MeToo campaign going viral, and the more local expression of solidarity with survivors of gender-based violence, Take Back the Night Port Hope in the very recent past, there were only a few women I knew who were whispering amongst each other, do you think this may have been intimate partner violence?

The standard gendered expectations are often our default: he was protecting her. As it turns out, Tom Ryan had been controlling for a long time in ways that many intimate partner violence survivors can relate to. Helen’s cousin Connie told Pete Fisher,

“He had threatened Helen many times. She had no money of her own,” she said. “I thought at times that she was right over the edge too, except when I spent time with her she started to be more normal and like the person I knew as a kid. He completely had her under his thumb.”

This kind of behaviour is common in many relationships. Sometimes it is obvious to friends and family members, but often, it’s far more subtle. In fact, there are similar toxic relationship habits that are relatable for far too many people. Some of these habits may include:

  • Feeling as though your partner is your “everything”
  • Constant communication (phoning your partner multiple times throughout the day, getting angry when they don’t respond instantly to texts)
  • Expecting your partner to solve your problems
  • Expecting your partner to change for you
  • Spending little to no time with your friends, only spending time with your partner
  • “Keeping score”
  • Being dishonest to “keep the peace”/Being afraid that if you don’t be dishonest to “keep the peace”, that your partner may be so upset that they may harm you or themself
  • Threatening suicide or self-harm if your partner does something you don’t want them to/tries to leave
  • You guilt your partner into doing what you want them to do/not doing what they want to do

Sometimes, it can be really dangerous for women to leave abusive or unhealthy relationships. Sometimes, it can also be really dangerous for men to leave abusive or unhealthy relationships too, but the reality of the situation is that women are disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence. And even more disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence is women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, queer women, women with disabilities, transgender women, and women living in poverty.

Regardless of identity, one way to work towards less intimate partner violence is to talk about healthy relationships. Some qualities of healthy relationships include:

  • Regular check-ins/Setting aside time to communicate (being honest about what’s going on for you and asking how things are going regarding the relationship for your partner goes a REALLY long way)
  • Respecting each other’s privacy
  • Knowing and being able to list positive qualities of your partner’s close friends
  • Thinking your partner has good ideas
  • You trust your partner
  • You appreciate and value your partners growth
  • You support your partner in their goals and accomplishments that they’re proud of
  • You can name things your partner enjoys
  • Even when you argue, you are able to acknowledge that your partner’s feelings are valid and that they have some good points that you may just disagree with
  • You compliment your partner
  • You enjoy spending time with your partner
  • You say positive things about your partner to other people
  • You and your partner each have your own friends, hobbies, and interests, as well as shared friends, hobbies, and interests

It’s important to talk about these things. It’s also important to talk about the role toxic masculinity played in this murder, as well as in intimate partner violence in general. While women are expected in our culture to be polite, caring, and submissive (an expectation that is changing, but still systemically ingrained in Canadian society), men are expected to be the opposite. Strong, emotionless but for anger, controlling, in charge. Basically, constructs of masculinity encourage a kind of spiritual death that isolates and dehumanizes men, and feeds violent behaviour, especially in relation to women, who are constructed as opposite these highly-prized masculine traits.

While constructs of femininity have been and are continuously going through a radical reconstruction, constructs of masculinity, by their nature, have not evolved in the same way. Further, the radical reconstruction of feminine gender appears, in 2017 Small Town Ontario, to be causing a reaction in the form of hypermasculinity. It makes sense- an action results in an equal or greater reaction.

So let this be a call of anyone who bothers reading this to work harder on doing that work that healthy relationships require and to magnify is voices of survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence.

And let this be a call to the men reading this to do that work required to redefine masculinity- because the current construct isn’t working for anyone, when you really think about it.

Resources (to be added to):

Healthy Relationships- LoveisRespect.org

50 Characteristic of Healthy Relationships- Psychology Today

Healthy Relationships vs. Unhealthy Relationships- Kids Help Phone

10 Habits of Couples in Strong and Healthy Relationships- Bustle

Worried Your Partner is Emotionally Abusive?- Everyday Feminism

10 Toxic Relationship Habits- Everyday Feminism

How to Recognize and Respond to Intimate Partner Violence- Everyday Feminism

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 5.36.26 PMContent- medical system, ableism, denial of access, chronic pain, mention of parent death, pharmaceutical medication, naturopathic medication.

I was eight years old, running some relay race in gym class, when I first experienced the pain. Burning, throbbing, aching pain in my ankles and knees. My ankles gave way, and I fell, embarrassingly, in front of my peers. That was how it all began- a lifetime of chronic pain.

Between then and when my mom got sick when I was fourteen, she advocated or me to have any and all testing done to rule out any potential chronic health issues. She had fibromyalgia, and had since my brother was born, so she knew to believe me when  said I was in pain…though I don’t think she wanted to believe the extent of it. As tests came back negative again and again, I grew to normalize my pain, assuming everyone lived this way. By the time I was in university, the pain wasn’t just in my ankles and knees anymore- it was overwhelmingly in my shoulders, neck, and back, though my legs also often ached and I couldn’t seem to digest any food or drink aside from water and milk chocolate. It was overwhelming, but as far as I was aware, everyone felt this way.

If anything, I believed that the issues all stemmed from my depression, which is what my doctors told me after yet another CT scan came back normal. My doctor had prescribed me Prozac and Clonazopam after my mom died, days before my sixteenth birthday. By the time I was in university, my prozac prescription  had been maxed out and replaced with a high dose of Cipralex. Despite this, I was actively self-harming (via cutting and self-starvation) daily and was in more physical pain than ever.

Then the accident happened. You can read about it here. After that, my pain got infinitely worse. What I had been able to normalize before was no longer something I could even think about ignoring. So I went back to my doctor and we started the torture- I mean testing- process again. CT scans, (“inconclusive”) MRIs, EKGs, and a million other tests I can’t even remember the names of. For one, they put thin needles in my nerves and sent shocks in to test my nerve response. The specialist didn’t believe me when I said it was excruciating. At some point, my doctor diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. In other words, he gave his lack of understanding about what was going on with me a name that was meant to acknowledge and validate my wide-range of painful symptoms.

I took to the Toronto Public Library, reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. I made lists of potential treatment options- both based in traditional Western medicine and more alternative methods. I  stepped into the role of advocate for my own treatment and watched the battle unfold. Since I was no longer a passive recipient of my doctor’s decisions, he and I began to clash. At one appointment, he suggested the third or forth pill I could try (he’d prescribed me more medication, Lyrica and Tramadol, on top of my psych meds upon my diagnosis).

I said, “I use cannabis to manage my symptoms and have for years, that’s how I am able to function. Can you please give me a prescription so that I don’t run into any issues with the law while trying to medicate appropriately. My understanding is that fibromyalgia makes me eligable for this prescription”.

He said, ” I will maybe consider it after you have tried every approved pharmaceutical drug approved for your condition”.

He sent me to a pain clinic in Hamilton, where the doctor prescribed me Gabapentin and began to give me nerve block injections, a cocktail of drugs injected directly into the nerve in the curve where my neck and shoulder meet with a long, thick needle. The first time, I screamed the way people cry when they get punched in the nose. The spasm I experienced throughout my entire body was simply indescribable.

“Be quiet, you’re going to scare the other patients,” said the specialist. He turned to my partner, “don’t let her read up on the Gabapentin, I’m sure she’ll just end up with all the side effects if she does that”.

As it turns out, Gabapentin was one of the medications I got the most side effects from. It’s also the most common medication people recommend to me to this day when they find out I experience nerve pain.

It took three or four trips to the pain clinic before the specialist diagnosed me with neuropathy and declared that nerve block injections were not an appropriate treatment method for me after all.

I don’t even remember how many medications I tried to appease my doctor. Lyrica, Gabapentin, Tramadol, Nucynta (a powerful opioid similar to oxy), Cymbalta, Amitriptyline, Prednisone, and more. I was a full-time student in the first few years of my twenties, and feeling like a drug addict because I was following doctors orders. It was around this time that my partner’s father accused me of being an opiate addict and threatened to disown us (flash forward- we ended up disowning him). It was right around this time that I failed the only class I would ever even come close to failing. It was right around this time that I was constantly suicidal because the quality of my life was so deeply affected.

I began to try every alternative treatment I could think of- yoga, acupuncture, massage, naturopathic remedies, homeopathic remedies, energy therapy… Most of them seemed to work a bit better, but I had a  long way to go. Regardless, it cemented my commitment to having some control over how I managed my symptoms.

I went back to my doctor and said, “I’m done with this. I don’t want to me on drugs anymore. I want to manage my symptoms naturally, and I know it’s going to take a lot of work, but this is what I want to do. I brought my paperwork, I’ve filled it out, please sign off on a cannabis prescription.”

He said no.

I found another doctor through a friend who was compassionate and gained legal access under the MMPR in 2013. After evaluating my symptoms, he prescribed me 20 grams per day so that I could tincture or eat it if I wanted to, rather than smoking it. At the same time, I (against the advice of my doctor- don’t do this!) went off all my medication cold turkey and changed my diet to exclude gluten, sugar, and nightshades. I went through about two weeks of the hell that is opiate withdrawal and sugar withdrawal combined, and then almost immediately noticed a huge difference in the way I felt. I still lived with serious pain, but I was able to manage it- through choices I made.

Because my prescription is so large, I realized the importance of having access to grow it myself. It would cost over $100 000/year to purchase my medication from an LP. Since having my prescription, I’ve experienced two sets of law changes and the advent of recreational legalization.  At one point, I literally received a letter form Health Canada telling me to destroy my plants because they were no longer allowing patients to grow for themselves. LPs were to be the only option. While I’m excited that access will be easier for many people and they won’t have to go through what I did, I’m also terrified that it may impact my access moving forward. My access, and thousands of other people who could probably tell a story similar to mine.

I am 26 years old, I received my diagnosis 7 years ago, and I work full time, volunteer 10-20 hours/week, maintain countless beautiful relationships in my life, and manage my pain pretty damn well overall. I smoke a ton of cannabis, am conscious of my lifestyle, eat really well, go to therapy once a month, and take naturopathic medicines. Because that is how I choose to manage my pain.

I want to see the widest possible range of access for this versatile plant. I want to see people having access to grow their own, cultivate the strains that work best for them. I want to see dispensaries where  people can easily access multiple strains. I want to see mom-and-pop shops instead of LPs. I want to see less stigma, because autonomy is important for disable people like me. Access is important to disabled people like me.

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I’ve been making lists of things that feel good. There is literally no qualifier for making the list except that the thing felt good. There are no rules, I don’t post these statuses with any real consistency, they just happen when I feel like I need them. I started posting “things that feel good” statuses when I was about six months into a violent (but, as always, functional) depression because I noticed that my thought patterns focused in on negative things that didn’t feel good at all, and that I was focusing all of my energy on those feelings that didn’t feel good. I was looking for a way to train my brain to notice things that felt good instead, and one day I decided to post a list of things that had felt good that day as a Facebook status.The response I got kind of blew my mind. A ton of people liked it or otherwise “reacted” to it. People commented that they thought it was a cool concept. People approached me in the street to tell me they had loved that status.

It was just a status on Facebook, and I hadn’t posted it in hope of receiving any type of response as much as to hold myself publicly accountable for this paradigm shift I was attempting to create for myself. It is an easy way to keep a record. That being said, I’m never one to turn down validation, and the reminders every time I would receive a notification to look at that status were helpful in re-training my brain, because I kept re-reading these things that I was intentionally acknowledging as feeling good. It became a mantra, these Things That Felt Good.

I started posting them more often. As my depression lessened, the posts began to feel more celebratory and less like another thing I put myself through the motions of in hope of feeling better. People continued engaging with the concept of them both on and offline, and even began posting their own. Being mindful of things that feel good was a concept that made sense to a lot of people. And I felt as though it really was contributing to a meaningful change for me.

As a person who is fascinated by performance, I have always felt drawn to public displays of self-discovery and change. I think that expressions of authentic processes of self-discovery are the highest form of art, and that it follows naturally for that art form to bleed into the public sphere. With presentation of this wild display of vulnerability comes the opportunity for those witnessing it to reflect, relate, connect with the artist, and with one another. It creates space for discussion. It also creates space for accountability and the continuation of the process of reflection for the artist.

There’s also something to be said for the intentional self-objectification that comes with using the self as a medium for artistic expression. The process of exposing ones self has been, for me, a way of looking at myself from outside of myself. A way of taking space from my body, and then being very much in my body. Objectifying my Self, and my experiences on my terms. Making my Self a display in a way that I consent to, intentionally.

I didn’t intend for Things That Felt Good Today posts to be an art project when I started to do it, but upon reflection, that is a large component of what it is and what has been healing about it. 

Things That Felt Good Today posts are an art form because they are vulnerable displays of mindfulness that is related to the authentic self and are performed publicly. They are full of transformative potential for the artist, and for those who witness them. For those who choose to engage with them, those who create their own, those who think about them.They are a performance piece that feels good.

Okay, I don’t really know what the revolution will look like. To me, it’s already happening. It looks like: community gardens/ community meetings/ learning to take care of ourselves (whatever that means)/ community dinners/ debriefs/ sober spaces/ systemic institutions that are honestly willing to accept feedback/ spaces that aren’t sober/ art groups/engaging in discussion about what caring for one another looks like. The reason those things feel revolutionary to me is the focus on simultaneously taking care of myself and also actively caring for the people (and other non-human beings) in my life. 
 
Standpoint theory is a postmodern feminist assertion that day to day experience is what shapes a person’s knowledge of the world, which informs the way they experience the world and shapes their identity. Scholars such as Sandra Harding, Nancy Heartsick, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Smith have written about it, and a lot of modern-day feminism is approached according to it. You and I went to a theatre to see a play and I sat front and centre and you sat on the back, stage right. After the play, we sit down for coffee and discuss. You saw things that I didn’t see and I noticed things you didn’t notice because we had different perspectives of the performance. Similarly, if you are a straight, masculine person of colour, you are going to experience things differently than I, a queer, femme, white person. Intersectionality is the concept that identity is comprised of multiple standpoints, all of which work together to inform the experiences and identity of a person. Identity informs experience because the world we live in is one comprised of thousands of years worth of historically informed power dynamics which are embedded in defining concepts that construct social and legal systems. Comprehending identity according to standpoint theory and intersectionality can be difficult, because once you think about yourself in relation to these concepts, you’re faced with the realty that you’re privileged in some ways, and likely being systemically oppressed (oppression = systemic power + prejudice) in some ways as well. This is a complex reality to be faced with. But when you start to explore it, beautiful things happen.
 
Finding your “authentic self” is, simply, a never ending process. It’s a process full of checking in with yourself about what qualities and subject positions make up your identity, and how you perform your identity in relation to the social world. To me, finding for my authentic self means analyzing my subject positions, and it also means being honest about my capacity to actively care for both myself and others. As with many things, it comes down to balance. Being honest with myself about my capacity. This requires me to make myself vulnerable enough to be authentic with myself. It’s been a far from linear journey towards recognizing my capacity in this sense. I am a person who gives until I am depleted. This may sound like a positive quality, and in some ways, it is. But in other ways, it’s rooted in selfishness. I get off on caring or other people. Call it mommy issues, call it a saviour complex, either way, caring for others makes me feel good. But this can be problematic in that not only does it deplete myself, but it leads me to inserting myself into peoples’ lives because I identify them as needing to be cared for. 
 
This is where the concept of capacity comes in. When I get that urge to care, I ask myself: What is my capacity to engage in the situation? Sometimes, the answer is that I am feeling relatively emotionally well, relatively physically well, and I have the time to allow to providing care for someone. Sometimes, I am struggling with pain or mental health shit that lessens my capacity. Sometimes, I don’t have time. Sometimes, I weigh the amount of emotional labour the other person has contributed outward when they had the capacity and the balance is off for me. 
 
The next question I ask myself is: why do I feel that someone may benefit from my emotional labour? Sometimes, the answer is that I have skills or knowledge that may be useful. Sometimes, it’s that the person has explicitly asked for support, advice, counselling, or another form of active caring. Sometimes, the answer is that I feel compelled to do something that I think may make someone else’s life easier or happier, whether they agree or not. 
 
As always, consent is key when caring, and it’s a much more complicated concept than someone asking for emotional labour or not. Ideally, we would live in a society where consent is always given verbally and explicitly. “I need support/advice/help/validation, is it within your capacity too engage in this kind of emotional labour”. I actually have groups of friends where we do this and people will actually reflect and acknowledge whether or not they have the capacity to engage, and in what way. I feel that moving towards this kind of mutual, consensual exchange of emotional labour is absolutely revolutionary. Of course, there are situations where people (ie. me) assume predetermined consent, or where people are physically and emotionally unable to take care of themselves in a way that puts themselves or others in danger. This is where this concept gets really complicated, and I can’t even begin to think of answers. But this is where discussions come into play. The almighty exchange of knowledge based in lived experience.
 
So, now you’re thinking about authenticity, capacity, and emotional labour, but what next? I think that with this process, there eventually comes a sense of assertiveness. I understand my Self, my capacity, my needs, and I am comfortable asking for them and receiving them. There also comes a time and place where you find a sense of “okayness”. I am okay with my Self and what is happening in this moment because I am in it, and it will pass one way or another in a way that will contribute to my process and my experience of the world. Sometimes this is simple, other times, it may challenge the very essence of your sense of Self, and it feels like you’re back where you began. This concept of “okayness” is often referring to as “radical acceptance”.
 
How are these concepts revolutionary? By actively caring for both your Self and the people around you, it alters the workings of our social world. First on a personal level, and then an interpersonal one. It shifts focus from productivity, to an ethic of care, which is arguably far more complicated, but also more sustainable. This shift toward an ethic of care then expands:
 
Self -> interpersonal ->  social systems -> physical environment.
 
When we learn to prioritize an ethic of care in accordance to the capacity of each of our authentic selves, that is absolutely revolutionary.