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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts from the Essays Category

Content: mention of self harm, suicidal ideation, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, rape, disordered eating, self-harm, consensual sex, naked bodies, posting nudes online

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There are two things you need to know about me right off the bat if we’re going to talk about this:

1. I used to be really into self harming and I also have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The combination of these things manifested for me as an eating disorder when I was a teenager and coping with trauma. I developed dysmorphia, which means I didn’t see myself the way I was. The way I saw myself was distorted.

2. I was raped when I was seventeen.

Okay, heavy, I know. But it’s all good, I’m still here. And, no word of a lie, taking and generously sharing nude photographs was one of the key contributions of my wellness plan during, arguably, the most significant time in my recovery.

I was in university, the most crushing waves of grief around my mom’s death had run their course, I had my own apartment, and I had embarked upon the most exciting a sexually adventurous relationship of my life. I was learning that sex could be powerful and sweet and absolutely filthy all at once and it was incredibly healing. This intimate new relationship also meant that I was accountable to a person who cared deeply about me and who I connected with on a level I’d barely even ever dreamed was possible before it happened. It meant I had to stop cutting and start eating, even if it was almost unbearably uncomfortable.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessions, often in the form of “intrusive thoughts” that infiltrate your brain repeatedly until you’re ready to do anything to get rid of them. My intrusive thoughts focus on either contamination or suicide. I’m either obsessed with the things in food I become convinced are killing me or I’m repeating over and over in my head “I wanna die I wanna die I wanna die…”. Starving myself became one of my compulsions. I’d go through rituals around counting calories or simply restricting compulsively. When that stopped being a feasible option since it became so difficult to hide, I decided I needed to find a healthier way of feeling good and in control of my body.

The good news is that, as I mentioned, this was also a sexually explosive time in my life. I was living an hour and a half away from my new partner and, as many young couples do, we used technology to stay connected (okay, and to get off). We’d sext and send nudes and I realized how much I got off on it. I loved the intimacy, the (seemingly, anyway) undivided attention, and providing something that gave pleasure to someone who gave me so much pleasure. I got to engage with my own body on my terms in a way that felt good to me- a huge deal for any sexual assault survivor and for someone who had a history of disordered eating. I was finally feeling good in my body.

I started a blog of nude photos online. I loved the engagement, just being honest and confident in my body. Repeatedly posting photos where I had chosen the pose, the body part(s), the time of day I posted- everything. I got to choose how I responded to any comments (if at all). I got to choose my aesthetic- trashy, authentic punk girl. I came up with a name (based on a song my partner had written about my blowjob skills) and it was a blast. There’s something about repetition that really works for me. Repetition and intentionality. Writing things out (like “things that feel good“, saying things out loud a few times, and posting nudes.

I had control, I had a reaction, and I was learning what it felt like to love and appreciate the body I was in and the ways in which it contributed to me feeling good.

I read about a woman who was a professional (or semi-professional?) vocalist. When she lost her hearing, she learned to memorize the way the sounds felt in her body. That’s kind of how I  started to feel about my body when I was posting nudes regularly as a person with dysmorphia. Each time I went through the process, it felt good. So I began to associate my body with good. Being in my body felt good, and that is something I’m grateful I learned.

I don’t post nudes publicly anymore, though I sometimes send them to my partner or my girlfriends. But I still hold on to that feeling. It’s like that work during that time in my process flipped a switch for me. I can honestly say that taking nudes contributed positively to my mental health.

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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 throughout the 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, 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, even 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, lets 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!

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“I texted my friend to say I wanted to talk with them about something and it made them really anxious and now they want an apology.”

It’s never fun to get those texts or to be the person who genuinely just wants to have a conversation and finds out someone was distressed by their message. We’ve all been there, probably on either side at some point or another. Whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or even professional relationships, our actions affect one another.

If you’re a person with anxiety, you can probably relate even more. Catastrophizing is a thing we do by definition, and “Hey dude, can we talk when you get off work?” can quickly turn into “Hey dude, I think you totally suck and I don’t want to be friends with you anymore ’cause you’re the worst”.

This  fear relies on the concept that things are being done to us, and that means that we have no control over our experience. By giving into this fear (which, yeah, is real and uncomfortable), we allow ourselves to give any power we do have over our reactions away. And then our fear is enforced. It’s also a way we tend to avoid accountability for our uncomfortable feelings. If we can blame someone else instead of taking ownership for ourselves, that’s a lot easier in the short term. This then allows us to justify our feelings, which are often unavoidable within ourselves, rather than just giving ourselves permission to feel them. I wrote about this before when I wrote about escaping and preventing toxic communities:

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 we relate to that person.

This works on a smaller level than just in the context of community-building. It also works in individual relationships. So here are three easy steps for what to do when someone makes you feel bad:

1. Readjust your paradigm.

Did someone make you feel some way? Or are you feeling someway about something what happened?

2. Take back your power.

Once you’ve shifted your paradigm to a place where you’re recognizing that you have control over your reaction rather than simply being a passive recipient of something someone else does to you, you’ll find you have a lot more choice over how you respond. No, this isn’t a magical anxiety cure- but it does help.  A lot. This is the time to make an in-the-moment decision about what’s going to happen for you. Sometimes, (okay, a lot of the time) that reaction is emotional and it’s totally okay to let yourself feel it. But don’t act on it immediately. Take a breath and give yourself a little time and gentleness to feel what you need to feel.

3. Make a decision about how you want to react.

Sometimes people do things that violate our boundaries, which is one of the most common reasons we end up getting in our feels. The good news is that we’re in control of our boundaries and we can shift them as we need to. Although emotions aren’t always negotiable, actions (and reactions) are. And it can feel really empowering to choose who you want in your life and the context that you choose to have them. Sometimes it’s worth the work to communicate about your boundaries and to negotiate your interactions with people, and sometimes it’s not. The cool thing is that it’s your choice.

I’ve mentioned that emotions aren’t always negotiable, especially for people living with anxiety disorders, but I also need to acknowledge that we live in a social world where so much is out of control. The way our disabled bodies operate in a late-capitalist system, the way race affects peoples’ experiences, the way our gender dictates literally how much we will be paid or how likely we are so be raped… We don’t have control over those things. And I want to be very clear that I am not talking about systemic violence in the rest of this post. It’s also well worth noting that people have the choice to use whatever privilege they may have to hold some space for oppressed people’s reactions for being oppressed. That shit is real.

What this post is about is about how we do our best to operate within this world and how we can tangibly go about standing in our power when we do have control over what happens. Because that’s real too. And all of these things can exist simultaneously.

I am a big believer that if you create time and space and you set an intention, powerful things can happen. What does it mean to create time and space? To me, it simply means scheduling in time dedicated to a specific thing intentionally.

Here’s an example: A few years ago, my friend and I attended a Take Back the Night rally where we didn’t feel the style of the rally represented our fight against rape culture. The next year, we decided to start our own Take Back the Night rally that resonated with us more and to see if just maybe it might resonate with other people too. We reached out to some other friends who we knew were invested in fighting against rape culture, set a time and date, and booked a space in town where anyone who wanted to could sit in a room and talk about what a really effective and empowering Take Back the Night rally looked like to us. Time, space, intention.

We got pretty specific about the time, space, and intention around the event itself. We asked questions such as “what time of evening will the most people be able to attend? “What time is dark enough to stay true to the message of the event without causing unnecessary accessibility concerns?” and “what is our take-away message?”. We wanted it to feel empowering and we definitely didn’t want people going home feeling like their insides had been ripped out of their bodies. We wanted people to feel safe no matter who they were- and especially if they had experience feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in town. This event was for them (us). This influenced the decisions we made about where the event was held, the style of performances, the people performing, the route of the walk, the food and beverages we had available, and a million other details. It sounds like a lot of work, and in a way it was, but through collectively coming together, a group of random people in this small town created a brilliantly successful event. If I didn’t have a skill to move the event forward, someone else at the table did. If someone else at the table had money and no time, they bought something for the event and stopped coming to meetings. If someone said something that showed they were missing a perspective, someone else could say “hey, what about considering this…”. Time, space, intention.

A short five months ago, someone who has since become a close friend reached out to me and suggested I start a radio show. He’d heard me talking about something on the radio and thought I sounded pretty good. He also recognized the need for more young, female voices on air. A good man, this guy. To be honest, I’d been thinking about it for a while. The few times I’d been on air promoting something or discussing something with a regular host I liked, I’d found that I enjoyed broadcast media. It was a transferable skill from theatre in a lot of ways and it also meant that I had an excuse to do one of my favourite things- create time and space. The intention was to find out what people in my community were excited about and how it contributes positively to their lives.

So, I pitched my show, The Nothing Exists Radio Hour. “Nothing Exists” refers to the idea that nothing is what it is in and of itself. Each individual’s perception is shaped by their unique experiences, informed by their subject positions in a social world. What we each choose to do with those experiences is what makes us who we are. When we intentionally give time and space to peoples’ stories, we learn a lot from each other.” I wrote a super comprehensive proposal and had two meetings with the guys at the helm and it all got started. The conversations were so cool. It was rad. People were listening.

I had to field a few situations where I feel I was being given an unnecessary run-around, but I figured maybe it was just a case of people working differently than me. I did get the sense that the perception of me was that I was a crazy bitch, but I wasn’t sure why they would think that, other than the fact that the simple idea of creating time and space was overwhelming to them. And I guess I look kinda weird and I call myself a feminist and some people have a different understanding of what that means than the way I mean it. Then, rules I didn’t know existed started gradually popping up. And the accusations of things I had not said or done. Things came to a head recently, and it became impossible to deny that there was some predisposed (and inaccurate) ideas about who I am and how I operate going on in this very male-dominant space.  

It had been communicated to me that it was my responsibility to book my own guests and that if there was someone I could interview for the station or the station thought I’d be good at interviewing, they’d send along relevant information. So when the municipal candidates were all officially announced, I posted in the local politics groups I’m active in that if any of the candidates wanted to come on my show, I’d love to chat with them.

Something that is important to know about me is that I love municipal politics. I think they’re fascinating. I love picking apart policy and I love being active in building the community I live in. When I reached out with that post, I didn’t see it as a straight up political interview as much as a conversation between two people about something the guest is excited about.  I received a very positive response and almost instantly booked the entire amount of time I had left on my once-a-week show. The candidates who reached out to me were reaching out to me because they were either people who knew me or people who specifically wanted to reach out to the demographic of people who listen to my show.

Then, I received a call from the station informing me of a policy they had introduced that conflicted with the many interview I’d already booked. I explained that the interviews were booked already, but was told that each candidate was limited to one 15 minute spot. I asked for the reasoning behind this policy, I was told that it was so that all candidates were treated fairly. I asked why only 15 minutes and didn’t receive a real answer. The response to me questioning the policy was very much ‘we don’t have to explain this to you, you just have to do it’. After a second phone call from yet another man involved with the station where my questions about the policy weren’t clarified, I explained my position as follows:

1. I do not feel as though limiting candidate interviews to 15 minutes unless they can afford to pay for for an ad (that doesn’t actually give insight to a candidate’s position on relevant topics) is ethical. This does not create a fair opportunity; in fact, it’s essentially extortion. This is, as I understand it, not within the station’s mission and mandate.

I understand that the station is in desperate need of money. However, this is not an appropriate fundraising opportunity. This is an excellent opportunity to sit with a person who may be interested in purchasing ad space face to face to answer questions and close the sale. Limiting an interview to 15 minutes restricts the amount if information accessible through the station to the community.

When CBC covers elections, they state that all candidates are given equal opportunity to airtime, but that this does not necessarily equate to equal airtime. Everyone has equal opportunity to reach out to the station to be guests on the shows whose listeners they want to target.

2. I do not feel as though altering the format to fit the station’s new policy is in integrity to my show at this time. If this policy had been introduced and communicated to all show hosts earlier (specifically, before I’d booked guests), I would have been more inclined to find a creative way to maintain the integrity of my show while honouring the stations policy, even if I didn’t agree with it fully from an ethical point of view.

So I proposed that I take my show off the air during the time I do interviews with candidates and simply promote them through the other various channels where I distribute it. I let all the candidates I had booked know that after running into some conflict, my interview would no longer be airing on the radio, but it would be distributed through other channels and that I was happy to continue with the interview we had booked if that was agreeable to them. I also explicitly said that this meant that the candidates would still be free to do an interview with the radio station and that I would be happy to hook that up if they needed a hand with that. I exhaled a dramatic sigh of relief- thank goodness this bullshit is dealt with.

Until my partner came home to let me know that yet another man from the station had approached him while he was working to let him know that I was spreading misinformation. I was telling candidates that they had to pay for their interviews and that’s illegal and what I was saying needed to be nipped in the bud. My partner had read all of the communication around this subject (when I was pulling out my hair going “what am I missing here?!”) and knew this wasn’t the case. He also knew this had nothing to do with him and that it was completely inappropriate for this man to approach him about something to do with his partner. So he told him that this had nothing to do with him and he should probably talk to me directly about it.  

Upon hearing about this, I emailed the man who had approached my partner and clearly and bluntly informed him, “do not ever approach my partner at a work event again to discuss things that have nothing to do with him. That is incredibly unprofessional, sexist, and straight up insulting.” I asserted my boundaries, and not surprisingly, this was uncomfortable for the person on the receiving end of my email. He informed me that he was not sexist.

And then, I was reprimanded by the station manager. I was told that it’s unprofessional for volunteers to speak to volunteers that way.

At no point did any of these people ask for any clarification from me about where I was coming from. All I wanted to do was create time and space for these candidates to talk about what they were excited about in the community and about their platform. If they wanted to have that conversation with me, I wanted to have that conversation with them. So I opened up the space, and people wanted to occupy it. And then I was told about a policy that just didn’t make sense to me. And when I tried to understand the reasoning behind the policy, I was basically told that it didn’t matter if the policy made sense or if I was cool with it or if it conflicted with commitments I had already made.

So I clarified my position calmly and moved forward.

Then, today, I become informed by the station manager that two men from the station (who I saw last night and who said nothing to me then about this) have complained that my interviews were still posted on the website. I was told that that went against the resolution agreement (not true, the agreement was not to air the interviews on the station and not to promote it through the station). I was again accused of spreading misinformation to candidates, which I never did. Again, it was a case of people making assumptions and not asking directly for clarification.

I’m probably missing a million things here and am totally wrong about others. The problem is the way I was treated simply not for doing what I was told without question.

So this leads me to wonder- what is so threatening about a young woman who is clear about her intention to simply create time and space and who doesn’t just do things because she’s told to?

I love following politics, but I’m an anarchist. I believe in people using their individual skills to come together to make things work. I believe in people finding strategies that work and taking the steps forward to make things happen. I also believe in doing things because they make sense, not just because someone tells me to. I want people in my circles to give me reasons to believe I’m wrong or I’m missing something because I believe it’s worth the work and temporary discomfort to expand my understanding of this world and the people in it.

I also believe, to my fucking core, that I am worthy of respect. And apparently that is exceptionally threatening when it upsets the power dynamics in the male-dominated space that is broadcast journalism in small-town Ontario. The good news is that I believe making time and space for people to talk about what you’re into and how it keeps them well is worth the work and temporary discomfort it’s taking to expand and build this space I’m occupying with my show and the station. It still, ultimately, is a thing that feels good.

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!)