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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged mental health

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.

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Check out my interview with Wayne Kennedy here!

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Wayne and I sit down (with no notes or prep!) for a solid follow up to our first conversation a few months ago, which you can find here.

We talk about:

  • Wayne’s cool new gig at Long & McQuade
  • Recording his recent live album
  • What’s happening with his new solo album
  • Joining Avem
  • Surviving suicide attempts and living on the bipolar spectrum

We get really honest about the mental health stuff. This conversation is about as real as it gets. If you need crisis support, please phone Four County Crisis at 705-745-6484 or toll-free 1-866-995-9933.

Featured Tunes:

Grow Up Stay Young by The Anti-Queens
Of Flesh & Blood by Jenn Fiorentino
Shut Up, I’m Trying to Sleep (LIVE!) by Wayne Kennedy
…And the Hits Keep Coming by Old Wives

(In the spirit of Wayne, keepin’ it 100% CanCon and 75% local!)

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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.

August 17 LIVE on Northumberland 89.7 FM Small Town Radio!
LISTEN HERE for the podcast version. 

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Tune in to hear my interview with my good friend (and low key mentor) David Sheffield. We are gonna talk about Green Wood Coalition, affordable housing, art, poetry, local events, frontline social work, harm-reduction, building community, and more. 

“I’ve lived in various parts of Ontario, but Northumberland County has been my home since 1986. My wife, Beth, and I settled here at that time, and have always felt that this was a great place to raise our four children. I often note that my children have been my best teachers, and that’s more true today than ever. We have four grandchildren, also living in this area, and we are enjoying the new discoveries they have brought to our lives.

My work in community outreach started 10 years ago, but I think I was being guided to this place by many years of life experience. This feels more like a vocation than a job. Much of my career was in the painting trade, while spending off hours in community engagement through art projects, meals, church activities, music festivals and campfires. My writing—poetry and non-fiction—has been published in a variety of periodicals and anthologies. Writing is my favourite way to process some of the difficult days that one can encounter in this kind of work.

These days, I’m the Community Director at Green Wood Coalition, which is a people-level response to the disconnection of poverty and related social struggles. The work is difficult, at times, but also very inspiring because of the resilience of individuals that I encounter, and the encouragement of many people who work alongside me.”

If you wanna read the article Gareth Vieira wrote about poets, including David and I, click here.

To learn more about Art Hives, click here.

Learn more about Overdose Awareness Day Northumberland here. 

Features Tunes:
Roll Away the Stone by Carlos Del Junco and Jimmy Bowskill
I Will by Christa Couture
Shelter Valley Road by David Newland
Barley by Birds of Chicago

July 20 LIVE on Northumberland 89.7 FM Small Town Radio!
LISTEN HERE for the podcast version. 

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My guest, Shanna Layton, and I discuss things like:

  • How Shanna found her love of cooking
  • Her career in the food industry
  • Managing good allergies and food restrictions in the food industry
  • Surviving sexual assault and domestic violence
  • Setting the rumours straight about Pitcher’s Place
  • Shanna’s favourite places to eat in Northumberland County
  • Shanna’s upcoming professional projects (meal plans!?)
  • If you have been affected by the content in this episode, please reach out to someone you trust.

    If you would like to speak to a counsellor, I recommend phoning 4 County Crisis. They have counsellors available 24/7 at 1-866-995-9933.

    If you are experiencing domestic violence, visit www.cornerstonenorthumberland.ca for resources.

    Featured Music

  • Black Hole by Charly Bliss
  • Young Girls by Kate Boothman
  • Wilderness by Cheryl Ireland
  • Sing Every Day by Avem

 

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!)