Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers

Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers

Image description: A glass ball nestled in a mossy log on snowy ground, reflecting the wood, moss, and snow. Photo credit: Pixabay.

The January Possibilities topic was “Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers” and we talked about the many ways in which winter is both delightful and challenging, and how the short sunlight hours, the frequent illnesses and pains, and the cold weather impacts our moods, our social lives, and our access to self-care tools and spaces.

I collected the insights and suggestions of the group into a free resource – the third of the monthly collective documents! I’m really proud of this work, and of the valuable knowledge that’s shared each month at our events.

You can download the PDF here.

You can also find the Facebook event for the February discussion on Self-Care in Queer Relationships.

January Preview

I’ve spent the last couple days mapping out my immediate upcoming projects. It’s pretty exciting, and there are many things coming up that you can be part of!
Check these projects, collaborations, and events out, and get in touch with me if there’s anything that piques your interest.
  • I’m launching a book club for parents, stepparents, and caregivers of autistic kids. We’ll be reading books by autistic authors, and recentering the conversation about what autistic kids need away from neurotypical experts, to autistic experts. I feel like this is a critical counter to the standard approach, and it’s important to me because both of my stepkids are autistic. I want to do the best that I can for them, and that means listening to autistic adults. You can get involved by sending me a message and letting me know you want in. Unlike most of my work, this one will be in person. We’ll be meeting once a month-ish at my home, so space is limited. However, I’ll be writing up a detailed review of each of the books we read, and those reviews will be posted on my Patreon, and then on this blog.
  • I’m collaborating on the creation of a resource for extroverts, addressing self-care and mental health, since so much of the available self-care and mental health writing assumes introversion, or assumes that being outgoing and social is incompatible with depression or suicidality. You can get involved by sending me a message. Our first in-person round table discussion is coming up on Saturday, and there will be a second in-person round table discussion later on. You can participate online (in text or skype interviews), in person (in one-on-one interviews or round table discussions), or some combination of these. I am particularly interested in talking with folks whose experience of extroversion has been impacted by cultural norms that don’t leave space for extroversion. (For example, autistic folks are assumed to be inherently introverted, and so are many Asian folks, while Black and Indigenous women are interpreted as “angry” or irrational if they’re extroverted, and women in general often find it difficult to be accepted as extroverts without being shamed for being “gossipy,” “loud,” or other unacceptable things.)
  • I’m collaborating with my brilliant sibling, Domini Packer, to create a resource for survivors and supporters following sexual assault, to help build and sustain networks of support following a crisis. You can get involved by sending me a message. We’re meeting with people one on one to chat, and also talking with folks online. This is going to turn into a zine (or similar), with stories, resources, and action plans for survivors and supporters following sexual assault. We noticed a pretty big gap in the available resources, and a lot of “lean on your community” without a lot of insight into what that looks like, how to ask for what you need, how to keep boundaries between yourself and your supporters. And for supporters, a lot of “believe them, be there for them” without a lot of information about how to do self-care during the crisis so you don’t end up burning out (or worse, turning around and leaning back on the person who has just been through a trauma), how to maintain boundaries with the person you’re supporting, how to reach out for your own support in safe and respectful ways. We’re going to attempt to fill that gap a bit. I’m also interested in talking with professionals who would like to contribute. (This one is coming up quickly, so get in touch asap if you want to be involved.)
  • I’m working on a resource to help folks navigate those “Bad Gender Feels” days. This project is in the germination stage, but I am starting to meet with folks to talk about what would be helpful and what they’d like to see included in a resource like this. This resource will also include information for parents and other supporters of trans and gender non-conforming kids who want to help them get through those dysphoric days.
  • Possibilities Calgary events are running on the third Tuesday of each month at Loft 112 in Calgary’s East Village, and are always free to attend. Every month has a theme, and our in-person discussion becomes the framework for a shareable, downloadable, free resource booklet. You can participate at the conversations, or by sending your ideas or suggestions once the monthly topic is announced. (January is Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers.)
  • The Self-Care Salons are running every month on the first or second Sunday at Loft 112 in the East Village. The cost is $50, sliding scale is available. Every month includes an in-depth conversation and a resource book. 10% of the profit from the Self-Care Salon goes to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge. (In January, Vincci Tsui, RD will be facilitating a discussion about food, health, and bodies that is size-inclusive, anti-diet, fatphobia-challenging – Self-Care Salon: Bodies, Food, and Health.)
  • Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care will be launching Jan 22. It’s a 6-week online course focusing on building tools for social self-care. The cost is $150, sliding scale is available, and it’s going to be awesome. You can sign up by sending me a message.
  • You can also get involved by supporting my Patreon. And at the $10/month level, I’ll write you a post on the self-care topic of your choice. My Patreon supporters are the reason I’m able to put so much time and effort into developing resources that are comprehensive, inclusive, and available for free.
  • And, lastly, my self-care and narrative coaching (for individuals and relationships) is on sale until the end of January. You can check out my services on my Facebook page (I’m in the process of updating this website to be up to date), or you can just send me an email! A single session ($150) is 10% off, a package of 3 ($400) is 15% off, and a package of 10 ($1200) is 20% off.

There are other projects coming up that aren’t collaborations or events, too. Blog posts and other plans for creating new work, mapping out my content focus for the year. 2017 focused on wholeness and integration, and 2018 will focus on hope. I’m in the process of figuring out what that means, and how to bring that focus into my various pieces of work.

I’m also working on pulling some of my work off of Facebook and making it accessible elsewhere. I’ll be shifting my Tender Year posts into a new blog (and cross-posting with Facebook), and once that’s up and running, I’ll share the link here. I’ll also be posting more of my self-care content onto my Tiffany Sostar blog so that people can read it without being on Facebook.

And, perhaps most exciting for me, two major projects are lurching up to speed:

  • the book I’ve been talking about and writing about and thinking about for ages is happening and I’ve started to pull the content together for it, so watch for updates on the 100 Love Letters book coming throughout this year, and,
  • I’m 83% certain I’ll be doing the Masters in Narrative Therapy and Community Work this year at the Dulwich Centre (I’ve been accepted into the program, and now I just need to sort out funding – yikes!)

And one major project is just starting to simmer more assertively:

  • I’m putting together my speaker event wish list, and starting to think about restarting the UnConference Series and bringing people in for events (Avery Alder is at the top of my wish list, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to bring her in for a weekend workshop on transformative gaming sometime this year).

2018 is going to be about continuing to do what I love, learning how to do it more sustainably and effectively, and working with my communities to develop strategies and resources for resilience and hope. It’s going to be good.

Queerness and Physical Self-Care resource

Queerness and Physical Self-Care resource

Image description – A screenshot of the front cover of the PDF. Blue text reads “Queerness and Physical Self-Care: Gyms, Team Sports, and Gender.” Smaller text reads “A Document Generated Following the November 2017 Possibilities Calgary Bi+ Discussion Group.” There is a decorative orange line down the right side of the image.

The monthly Possibilities discussions are full of rich insights, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration from within our bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans-inclusive community.

One of my goals is to create resources that grow out of these generous and creative conversations, so that the work we do in those moments can extend out to join larger conversations about queerness and self-care. One reason for this is because when we are struggling, we have valuable insider knowledge that can help other people who are also struggling – it’s not true that the only people with answers are the “experts” or the ones who have it all figured out. To the contrary – it is often those of us who are actively grappling with an issue who have more direct insight and knowledge to share. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for experts or guides, but part of what I hope to accomplish with my work is consistently and intentionally centering the voices of marginalized individuals and communities, and creating resources that honour hard-won knowledge and skills.

In an effort to share these moments of community-generated wisdom from the Possibilities discussions, I’ll be creating a resource most months that documents and shares our collective insights. Anonymity, or naming, is at each participant’s discretion, and at the beginning of the discussion we talk about why I’m taking notes, what I’m planning to do with them, and how people can access the document before it goes public. Any participants who want to look over the document before it’s made public have that opportunity, and there’s a second check-in at the end of the discussion to make sure everyone is aware of what might be shared and has a chance to opt in or out. Confidentiality within supportive community spaces is so critical, and these documents will not contain identifying details (unless participants want to be named or identified).

This document is meant to extend the conversation and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.

This document was created following our November 21, 2017 meeting, and is meant to be a resource for the queer community that validates the challenges of physical self-care as a queer person, and offers potential ways forward.

The Key Points

• It can be difficult to access or maintain access to gyms and other fitness-focused spaces because of expectations of gender identity and sexuality, particularly expectations of hypermasculinity and heterosexuality.
• In spaces that are not explicitly queer-inclusive, performing an acceptable identity can keep us safe, but the emotional costs can be high.
• Solidarity – both within the community (going together to a space), and from allies (working to create safer spaces) – is one potential way forward.
• We have made significant progress as a society, but there is a lot more work to be done.
• Self-care is a complex and interconnected process – physical self-care is not distinct from emotional, mental, or social self-care. We need them all.

I’ll be creating a document like this for most of the future Possibilities discussions, so you can look forward to Queerness and Holiday Self-Care coming up next month!

Download the PDF here.

December Self-Care Salon: Narratives of Self-Care

December Self-Care Salon: Narratives of Self-Care

Image description – The green leaves of a succulent with a pink flower. Text reads Self-Care Salon: Narratives of Self-Care. Dec 10 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm, Loft 112. RSVP today.

Welcome to the Self-Care Salon!

Each month, we’ll meet for tea and snacks and discussion – an opportunity to take a deep dive into a specific self-care topic, with space for your questions and insights.

Each self-care salon will include a short presentation by a community expert – someone who can speak from their own experience about a self-care related topic. “Expertise” in this context is a broad and inclusive word, not limited to folks with letters after their names or professional designations, and recognizing the expertise that we each gain over the course of our lives. If you’re interested in presenting, get in touch!

For our inaugural Self-Care Salon we’ll be talking about “narratives of self-care” –  what the common perception of self-care is, how it’s discussed in mainstream culture and in activist circles, how marginalized communities can practice self-care and what our stories of self-care include, and what narratives of self-care we’d like to see more often.

Following the presentation by Tiffany Sostar, we’ll have an hour for discussion, including any questions you have about the topic (or about other self-care topics), and then time to chat, network, and work on our self-care plans. Each month you’ll get a resource pack with worksheets, suggestions for further reading, and a self-care plan for you to fill out for the coming month.

These workshops are intended to be as accessible as possible. The space is wheelchair accessible (through the back door), with a separate space for folks who are experiencing sensory overwhelm to chill out, and gluten-free and vegan snack options.

The cost for the workshop is $50 or pay-what-you-want. Nobody will be turned away for financial reasons. The first two workshops will be offered at a discount, because the holiday season is often a time of financial strain even for those of us who are not dealing with economic insecurity. Tickets are available here.

Sustainable and ethical self-care is not possible without intentional and compassionate community care, and the Indigenous communities whose land we live on are often forgotten. These workshops take place on Treaty 7 land, and the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

10% of the proceeds from the December workshop will be given to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge.

Digital Self-Care: An Interview with Cynthia Khoo

Digital Self-Care: An Interview with Cynthia Khoo

Image description: A chai latte with the tea leaves visible in a strainer beside a laptop with a text document visible. Text reads “Digital self-care” and there is a small Tiffany Sostar logo in the bottom right.

This post is an interview with Cynthia Khoo, a Toronto-based lawyer who focuses on Internet policy and digital rights. Check out her website here – she’s amazing!

Back in April, Cynthia and I started talking about digital self-care, and harm reduction strategies for existing in our increasingly overwhelming digital spaces. She directed me to the Note to Self Infomagical boot-camp for “making information overload disappear,” and I completed that (you can read my review of the first day of the boot-camp on Patreon!)

This interview is long, and dense. It’s fairly link-heavy, and I’ve compiled each of the links into the resource section at the bottom, and embedded them in the text for context. We also tried to include supplemental resources for folks who want to dig deeper, and both Cynthia and I hope you find some help and inspiration for creating your digital self-care plan!

(Bolding added for emphasis after the conversation.)

Tiffany—First of all, thank you so much for making time to talk with me about this stuff. I know you are super busy. On which note, could you tell our fine readers who you are and what you do?

Cynthia—Sure, and thank you so much for having me! My name is Cynthia Khoo and I’m an Internet lawyer and digital rights advocate based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My practice is cross-disciplinary and involves working on law and policy reform in (tele)communications law, intellectual property law (specifically copyright), and a bit of privacy law.

Tiffany—I’ve learned so much from your posts about what’s happening at the intersection of digital and legal life, and about digital security. You pointed me in the direction of the Infomagical series, and it was really helpful.

I was hoping to talk about digital self-care today, which is a huge, and kind of confusing, topic.

When you’re online, what kind of self-care strategies do you rely on?

It seems different than practicing self-care offline, but there are similarities, too. And overlap! When we first started talking about this project, you brought up the physical self-care aspect of digital self-care, in terms of ergonomics, eye strain, and posture. That’s so relevant! And impacts our experience of the digital space. Emotional and mental self-care are also here in these digital spaces, especially if we haven’t set boundaries for ourselves. It can be difficult to practice self-awareness and intentional, compassionate action online, but it feels important.

Cynthia—I’m really glad to hear that my posts have been helpful! Especially with digital security, I think it can be intimidating or overwhelming to grapple with when you first get into it, and more so if you don’t normally work a lot with tech or live on the Internet. So, I’m very appreciative of people and groups who take the time to create guides and resources (such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defence toolkits and U.S. border device security guide, and resources from Tactical Tech) to make it a little more doable for people who aren’t necessarily thinking about this all the time or who don’t look through life through that lens (and for that matter, also more doable for those who are/do!).

The idea of digital self-care is fascinating, and I think an increasingly important one. I have to admit it’s not something I particularly thought a lot about in its own right until you brought it up with me, and so I’m looking forward to digging into this with you as well.

Tiffany—I hadn’t considered digital self-care as its own thing much either, despite the fact that we started talking about this collaboration months and months ago.

For me, the extent of my digital self-care has been limiting my engagement with trolls, and balancing my exposure to negative media with hopeful media (or pictures of small animals). I think those are valid parts of digital self-care, but I have a feeling that there is more we could be doing, and we could bring more awareness, intention, and compassion to our digital self-care. So, one goal for this conversation (and future conversations that this might spark) is to start digging into what that sort of sustainable digital self-care might look like.

Cynthia—I think that’s a good natural starting point, and probably a common one, that speaks to the considerable toll that both of those things take on you over time (engagement with trolls and onslaught of exclusively negative media). They are definitely valid ways to respond.

I agree that there is more to it than that as well, but it also depends on the context of your digital environment. So, there would be different strategies or approaches of bringing awareness, intention, and compassion to your online activities, and I think doing that is what I would consider digital self-care.

You asked earlier about what are some self-care strategies that I rely on when I’m online. I had to think about that because I think there are strategies that I do rely on, but they evolved organically in response to what I felt or realized I needed at the time, as opposed to my sitting down and going “I need to implement digital self-care.” They each address a different aspect of my “digital life” (quotation marks because I don’t believe it’s separable from “offline life,” but still a useful term in this context).

For example, in terms of exposure to general media, news, politics, current events, and the overall milieu of what people refer to when they want to avoid the Internet/online media, something I’ve found useful is to identify what I will get out of reading something, and assess whether it will be worth it. During the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, I largely avoided all coverage of it entirely—*not* because it would “bring me down,” ruin my day, etc. (although it would), but because it would do those things AND there was nothing I could do about it. Not even vote.

When I first started reading news, politics, etc., to become a more “aware/politicized” person, it was because I thought it would make me a more informed and thus better person, that could contribute more to the world, etc.

But reading the latest terrible tweet and then a dozen run-of-the-mill takes on it will not help me do that or add anything in the way of value to my life or how I am as a person.

If it were a Canadian election, however, there is still a bit of news rationing I might want to implement, but it would be different because that’s something where I could have more impact or do something in response to what I’m reading, or where what I’m reading would directly inform and make me more effective at what I do or how I go through my parts of the world.

I think it’s important to distinguish between media that you will and won’t read, and identify what that rubric is, because if the criteria is “anything that makes me feel bad / depressed / angry / etc.”, then it seems dangerously easy to tip from self-care over into willful ignorance.

So, for example, I don’t find it valuable to read “plot” or “horse race” news—what happened, who said what, etc.—but I do find it valuable to read more thoughtful or analytical pieces that are more “what does this mean, what does this tell us, what insights can be drawn, what can we/you do, where do we go from here.” These pieces, regardless of the emotional impact, are still valuable because the insights are potentially transferrable beyond the particular event, and I can draw on or apply that insight in the future.

That was kind of a long answer and was just one example!

Tiffany—Yes, that idea of curating media consumption based on where we can affect change really resonates for me. I’ve been reading Jane McGonigal’s book SuperBetter, and she talks quite a bit about self-efficacy, or the confidence that our actions can positively impact our outcomes. I think that intersects with digital self-care.

Cynthia—Before going on, I would be really curious and interested to hear about your thoughts on the similarities between digital and “IRL self-care,” because the latter is also something I’ve mostly thought about passingly or when forced to, rather than a deliberate overarching strategy.

Tiffany—I agree that “online” and “offline” are not super relevant divisions, given the way we use technology at this point in time. I view it similarly to how I view mental, emotional, physical, and social self-care—they aren’t separate selves, but there are distinct strategies that I use in each type of self-care, and teasing them out into categories gives me language for weighing my choices.

Do I need the social self-care of going out with friends, or do I need the financial self-care of not spending any money?

Do I need the emotional self-care of a beloved movie and some popcorn, or do I need the physical self-care of a swim?

These things are not always compatible, and having language that pulls them apart makes it easier (for me) to prioritize. I think digital self-care is similar, and overlaps and intersects with each of the other types of self-care.

Cynthia—I think that’s a brilliant way to think of it, and makes complete sense to me.

Tiffany—And I absolutely agree that our self-care strategies often develop organically in response to growing self-awareness, situational context, or needs. The value that I see in making that invisible work visible, is that it can offer a bit of a map for folks who are struggling and may not yet have landed on the strategies that other folks have developed.

Cynthia—Exactly. Even identifying that it’s a need in the first place, I think for a lot of people would be revelatory.

Tiffany—One question I do have, and it’s something I struggle with personally, is how do you streamline the process of weeding out the stories and articles and tweets and listicles that will not benefit you, or, on the other side, how do you increase your chances of finding the thoughtful, meaningful, or useful articles that you want to read?

I have almost entirely stopped hate-sharing anything, for example, and I try not to hate-read much anymore either. The morbid curiousity, and the desire to share anger with my community has mostly left me, because I realized how much it was draining me. (I do make some exceptions for particularly egregious articles that hit me hard, though.)

But despite making that choice for myself, and seeing the benefits of it, I still sometimes find myself wading through many articles that are not enlightening or helpful, and it can get tiring. Do you have any strategies?

Cynthia—I definitely don’t hate-share or hate-read anything. That goes back to what I said earlier about value. I have friends or acquaintances for instance who will share things like “look how ridiculous this person is hahaha” because it was incredibly sexist, racist, or whatever.

I guess the value they get out of it is amusement. I don’t find it amusing though, I just wish it didn’t exist in the first place.

We saw a LOT of that during the US election. So much of that “amusement factor” shares and responses seemed directly tied to privilege, and came from seemingly liberal/progressive people who would not bear the brunt of the current presidency.

The other thing about hate-sharing—and this is definitely a result of the work I’ve done in digital rights advocacy—is that I simply don’t want to give that content and its views or perspectives more air time. I want it gone, and then going beyond that, I want in its place what I would rather see instead: an article done right, or that shows and teaches people what it means to be better and how to go about doing that (whether in the context of journalism and media coverage, or in the context of the situation being covered, i.e. police brutality, sexual assault, disability rights, and so forth). Attention only helps strengthen the message, and reifies it as a thing. When it comes to messaging, public discourse, influencing sociopolitical norms, etc., I don’t believe in fighting fire with fire, but starving it of oxygen. And then growing a tree there instead.That metaphor works, right?

Tiffany—That metaphor works beautifully, and fits with a lot of what I’ve been thinking about in terms of my own emotional self-care in the current political, economic, and social climate.

Cynthia—Now to answer your actual question! [How do you streamline the process of choosing which articles you want to read?]

So, first, I should say that I do not have the most efficient or streamlined approach to media consumption, at all.

It’s actually quite haphazard and dissatisfactory, and I’ve been meaning to do something about it for a while now. I used to rely on RSS feeds, but time and the loss of my first RSS tool, then Google Reader, and not having found any satisfactory replacements (yes, including feedly!), meant I now basically rely on Facebook and Twitter for news. So I’ve come up with different strategies for each.

On Facebook, I’ve subscribed to the pages of a lot of media outlets, so there’s actual news to begin with and I’m not wholly reliant on what people in my feed post.

If I’ve noticed that someone in my feed tends to post good (thoughtful / insightful / informative) articles, or writes thoughtful / insightful /informative status posts, or their posts tend to attract good discussions, I will star them or use that feature where their posts always appear first.

I also use the “unfollow” button very liberally—thinking on it now though, I haven’t really had cause to unfollow people for political reasons, more that I just don’t care about their vacation photos or whatever.

I also rely on a tool called SocialFixer, which is a chrome plug-in for Facebook, that has too many features to describe here but I guarantee will make your experience on the site better. The idea is that I’ve filtered out the content that adds no value and just takes up space (mentally or literally on my screen), and tried to boost the content that does add value, whether relationship-wise, information-wise, or “becoming a better / more thoughtful person”-wise.This becomes more complex though if you stop to ask yourself whether you want Facebook to have such a clear read on your preferences.

As for Twitter, I didn’t use it for the longest time because it was such an overwhelming firehose in terms of reading content, and a void in terms of if I ever posted something myself. I really only became active on twitter for work, because pretty much everyone in my field is there. And there, it actually is helpful and sometimes necessary to have “horse race” news because I do need to know what has happened / what is happening to be effective at my job.

The trick to making Twitter manageable, for me, has been lists. It’s unfortunate that Twitter doesn’t seem to have optimized that feature, because it’s incredibly useful. I made one list of everyone who seemed immediately relevant to my work or if I simply wanted to encounter more of what they wrote or posted, and that one list is my Twitter homepage.

I ignore my general /overall Twitter feed and ignore all my other lists, unless I have an idle moment and then I’ll click in just to see what’s going on. And since that one curated list has a much more limited number of people, it makes for a more manageable amount of content to take in on a regular basis.

Tiffany—I love how much you curate your online experience. The firehose as a metaphor is so relatable, but the work of putting processes in place to curate has always felt daunting. It’s encouraging to read about your strategies because they feel more doable than…. I don’t know. Getting off social media entirely because it’s a disaster and only ever communicating via Slack.

Cynthia—One more note on curating online experience. This is such a small, almost trivial (but I think ultimately not trivial, for a variety of reasons) thing, but with such outsize impact that I have to recommend it. There’s a Chrome extension called “Make America Kittens Again,” and as you surf the Internet, it replaces all photos of the current US president with photos of kittens. Life-changing.

Tiffany—Ooooooh!!! You know, that actually is brilliant and would reduce so much stress. For multiple reasons! They have done studies (including this one specifically on kawaii and attentional focus) on the effect of seeing pictures of cute animals online, and it actually does calm you down. Win-win!

Cynthia—Exactly. It does double duty—not only removing the negative, which alone is already helpful, but puts something with actual positive impact in its place.

Tiffany—On a side note, I am so excited by this framework of actionable information being prioritized in digital self-care. I think that’s something I have already been leaning towards, but you’ve given it language and that is so valuable. Thank you!

Cynthia—You’re welcome! That’s a really interesting observation. I’m not sure if that framework is a result of the general environment of digital rights, technology, and the people generally found in these areas, or due to my own personality, which has become much more actionable solutions-oriented than I naturally was when younger. I think it is partly a result of legal practice and becoming a lawyer, combined with digital rights advocacy and what I’ve learned from working in that space.

I also have a side note.

At this point, I have to say I’m really wary of using words like “negative” and “positive” in generic terms outside of specific contexts, and especially as applied to media, because people can so easily twist that into “well articles about racism are / make me feel negative” and so they never read articles about the experience of racialized people, or never read articles about how they might be and could stop being racist, and then they think they’re just doing “self-care.”

So again there’s a line there and I think it warrants a whole other discussion maybe some other time about how you distinguish what is “legitimate / valid” and what isn’t. (And I suspect there’s also potentially something that could become problematic about the idea of deeming someone’s self-care illegitimate / invalid, but that might just go to something similar to the paradox of tolerance. The line simply has to be drawn somewhere if anything is going to mean anything at all.)

Tiffany—That side note is so relevant. I am in a constant state of trying to find the right language these days—using words that won’t become weaponized against vulnerable groups, or that won’t be used to validate ignorance and further complicity in oppressive systems. Thank you for bringing that up!

And, yeah. Negative/positive, healthy/unhealthy, valid/invalid — so slippery.

Cynthia—Yes, exactly.

Especially when you combine it with how often more aware or politicized people are accused of “being negative,” and with how often “positive thinking” is used to obscure, erase, or derail the experiences of people going through objectively difficult or traumatizing experiences that it is imminently reasonable and even healthy at certain times for them to be allowed to be cynical, depressed, angry, etc., about.

Tiffany—Weaponized positivity is the bane of my self-care work. That sludge is eeeeeverywhere, and it harms so many people.

Also, yes yes yes to how “being negative” gets used against people (see also “being divisive” or “being just as bad as the people you’re fighting,” which all feel on a similar spectrum of “shut up and manifest your best life”).

That’s why I love the idea of using whether an idea or article will provide an actionable insight, and whether it will increase understanding about an issue (which then becomes actionable in its own way) as the metric.

And on that note, I wonder how people can find hope and a sense of their own agency, so that they can recognize where they can act. A lot of folks feel disempowered in the world as it is now.

Cynthia—YES, to all above re “positive/negative.”

Oh wait, I think I misunderstood your earlier question about prioritizing the actionable in digital self-care. With the media metric specifically, that’s just something I’ve instinctively done on my own for a long time, and have only articulated it as such to myself more recently.

Tiffany—It’s brilliant. ❤

And empowering! And it ties so beautifully in with other work around building self-efficacy, self-confidence, and our sense of agency (which ties directly into how resilient we feel).

Cynthia—I was going to say, in response to earlier question about hope and agency, that I’m not sure if that’s something you can just “do,” particularly not through the idea of digital self-care. You can’t “make” yourself feel hopeful, and you can’t just suddenly feel like you have agency. I think that goes more towards your life experiences overall, and whether they have led you to possess a sense of self-efficacy, self-confidence, and belief that you have agency to change things and impact the environment around you. I have been very lucky in that sense.

In terms of recognizing where folks can act, I think again, it depends on the context.

It’s much easier to answer that question if you have a specific issue or cause, than if you just want to “do something, anything” generally.

And then I think, as with everything in life, Google is your best friend (its search function anyway, if not the multinational monopolistic company with more power than some countries).

People do not give enough attention to the fact that other people spend a lot of time writing articles and explainers and lists that lay out clearly what any given person could do to help make the world better on any given issue.

If I want to do something about one of the recent hurricane disasters, for example, I will look up one of the many guides on that, from people who are on the ground there or work in the field or otherwise know what they’re talking about, and follow their advice.

If I want to act to make the world better for people with disabilities, I will look up the myriad articles and resources written by people with disabilities about how I can help do that.

I realize that a lot of that also starts from the prior assumption that I can act and can do something. And your question seems to be getting more at how to help someone to believe that in the first place.

In which case, I’m actually not that sure.

Perhaps something along the lines of starting small, e.g. donating to a marginalized writer you love, or engaging in mild snark so an oppressive comment at work doesn’t go past in peace, accepting those small wins for yourself, and then building upon that.

Tiffany—Those are great suggestions.

I also wanted to ask about digital security, and how that intersects with digital self-care. This is a topic that I really struggle with, and I mostly just ignore (which I know is not great self-care in any area!)

How would someone get started figuring out how to keep themselves safe online? How do you determine how much safety is enough, and how do you balance the social aspect of online life with the security risks of it?

Cynthia—First off, I am by no means an expert or anywhere near on digital security, at all. I am one of those people who are grateful for those who do work on digital security as a living and produce the guides and resources that I would also be completely lost without. So just to put that out there.

Next, I think that was three questions in one!

1) How would someone get started figuring out how to keep themselves safe online?

2) How do you determine how much safety is enough?

3) How do you balance the social aspect of online life with the security risks of it?

So I will address them in that order.

Tiffany—Awesome. And yes, it was. Sorry!!

Cynthia—1) How would someone get started figuring out how to keep themselves safe online?

I think the first and most useful thing, on a psychological level and to reduce frustration once you start the process, is to accept from the outset that digital security is not a quick errand you can run.

Think of it as an IKEA project, for your digital home. Imagine the frustration if you had to build an IKEA shelf or bed and assumed it’d be a quick task you could randomly fit in between things, and then it’s 4 hours later and you’re trying to find a missing nail and now you’re not sure the shelf even fits. At that point you’d probably throw up your hands and go, “You know what, being hacked and tracked doesn’t sound so bad.”

So give yourself the time and the space to learn and to do it right. The last thing you would want is to think you’ve secured yourself digitally when you really haven’t.

It is worth it to put aside a designated evening, afternoon, day, etc. to do it, especially if you’re coming at the whole idea of digital security from scratch. You could make an event of it if that helps, like people do with other self-care things. Or make it a date with a partner, or have a cryptoparty with friends or colleagues, where everyone learns and assists as you figure it out together.

Then, again, I would point to guides online, such as the ones listed in Martin Shelton’s Current Digital Security Resources Guide.

However, I would just start with ONE or it will be immediately overwhelming. Each guide is meant to be standalone, so it should not even matter which one. Start with that, forget the rest. Follow that one guide, and if you feel you have the energy or want to do more after, you can move on to another one and use any information in there that wasn’t already in the first.

It is kind of hard to answer this question in the abstract though, because of your second question: How do you determine how much safety is enough? 

Everyone has a different threat model. I believe there are guides out there that also help instruct how you figure out what yours is.

For example, if you are an environmental activist or political journalist who travels to the United States or abroad a lot, your digital threat model would likely be much higher than, say, a junior accountant who lives in the suburbs.

I should say, a hetero white male junior accountant who is not politically active nor engages in allyship, who lives in the suburbs or not.

Tiffany—The IKEA metaphor is good. And explains why I’ve found this so frustrating. I definitely was not viewing it as IKEA furniture.

Cynthia—In the spirit of actionable advice, here are some things off the top of my head people can start with:

1) Install Signal or Whatsapp for encrypted texting [easy and painless]

2) Install PGP if you think you should have encrypted email [not as easy or painless as expected]

3) Install 2-factor authentication on all important online accounts, if available [easy and painless, provided you always have your phone on you]

4) Learn / read about how to do passwords properly, and start doing that.

When I think of digital security, I think of it as two categories: The first is protection from other people: how to encrypt your data, prevent your data from being breached, falling into wrong hands, etc.

But the second is digital security in the sense of backing up my data: how can I access it if it’s lost somehow or my normal avenues to it are cut off (such as if someone confiscates my phone)?

For the latter, I would recommend an external hard-drive that you place in safekeeping somewhere, and/or cloud storage such as Dropbox.

And then the next step beyond is combining the two: protecting/encrypting your backups. There are apps that will integrate with various cloud storage services (e.g. Boxcryptor is encryption software that works with Dropbox), and there are mobile versions as well, so you can keep things encrypted and closed to others, but still accessible to you on your phone as well as computer.

3) How do you balance the social aspect of online life with the security risks of it?

This is a really good question, and a hard one. I remember seeing a series of tweets shortly after the 2016 US presidential election, along the lines of “now is the time when we have to lock down everything and know who your true friends are, and cut off sycophants and people you do not trust.”

And I more or less agreed with that, or in any case it strongly resonated with me, and I immediately thought of all these people I would not trust. But then the issue was… wouldn’t that just lead to complete balkanization, and the precise people who should be reading and learning, no longer being exposed to those most likely to post what (imho) they should be reading and learning?

Similarly, if I have a higher threat model than average, does that mean I have to cut off all online communications with friends (or family, or partners, or colleagues) who have a lower threat model, and who implement few or even zero digital security practices, or just never digitally communicate to them anything personal or sensitive?

I remember at a conference once, a speaker mentioned how male journalists in particular would display a lot of bravado around digital security, like “I don’t care what happens to me! I’ll do anything for the story!” And then she’d ask: “But what about your family? Or your sources?” Whose personal /sensitive information is also on that person’s phone. And they’d go, “…Oh.”

I think all of that is a very personal call, and may take both research into and identifying your own threat model first and what levels of risk you are comfortable with relative to that, and then maybe some conversations with people if necessary.

Tiffany—That makes sense. And I had never seriously considered how a security breach could ripple out—or in!

Cynthia—”Weakest link” is a very relevant term in this context.

Tiffany—Yeah. I can see that. That does make it so complicated.

Cynthia—Yes, very.

At this point, I want to give some word of reassurance but also not in a way that undermines everything said above or the point of this discussion. I mean, at some level it is a matter of “do your best,” and yet at another level, if your best wasn’t actually adequate, then that’s not helpful.

Tiffany—Yes. I think in that way it’s a lot like any self-care or security protocols. We can only do so much, and shaming ourselves for what we can’t do is not helpful. And also we need to do as much as we can, without shaming ourselves or victim-blaming if it isn’t enough. We have to hold those difficult and sometimes incompatible truths together at the same time, which is difficult.

It’s important, AND limitations are real, AND outcomes can be serious if we don’t take care of ourselves.

Cynthia—Yes.

I think that part can also be complicated, especially if it ended up impacting other people or if digital security is a part of the person’s professional responsibilities, for instance.

Although digital self-care is a fairly new topic of discussion, and an evolving issue, it’s an important one! Hopefully this conversation offers a start in your own digital self-care planning and practice. Share your digital self-care tips or concerns, and maybe this will evolve into a more comprehensive resource over time!

The Link List

Cynthia Khoo’s website

Note to Self’s Infomagical Bootcamp

EFF Surveillance Self-Defence toolkit

EFF U.S. Border Security Guide

Social Fixer

Make America Kittens Again

An article from psychologicalsciences.org about the “cuteness is good for mental health” study, and the study itself on PLoSONE

The Big Think on the Paradox of Tolerance

Albert Bandura’s paper on Self-Efficacy (our belief in our ability to affect positive change in our lives)

Martin Shelton’s Current Digital Security Resources Guide

The Security in a Box guide to assessing digital threat. This guide was designed for LGBTI individuals in the Middle East and North Africa, and is more comprehensive, with step by step instructions and matrixes to fill out, than others I found.

Signal and WhatsApp for encrypted communication, and PGP for email, Boxcryptor for encrypting cloud files

Securing Your Digital Life Like a Normal Person

Guide to Assessing Digital Risks

Violet Blue has been writing about digital life for years, and her Patreon features a weekly Info Security round-up on Tuesdays.

You Are Not Alone: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day 2017

You Are Not Alone: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day 2017

Image description: A picture of a forest. Text below reads You Are Not Alone Stories, thoughts, and resources after the loss of a pregnancy or child Created for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day | 2017

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.

Ten days ago, one of my friends noted that the available resources were incredibly gendered, heteronormative, cisnormative, and overwhelmingly white.

Creating resources that help serve the margins is exactly the goal of my Patreon, and it’s why I do what I do, so we came up with a plan, reached out to contributors, and spent the last week and a half pulling together something that I am really proud of.

This resource is not perfect. It’s a first draft, and it’s not as inclusive as it needs to be. Our goal is to reissue the resource each year with an expanded selection of personal stories, and a refined resources section. If you would like to have your story included in the next issue, let me know.

You Are Not Alone

Stories, thoughts, and resources after the loss of a pregnancy or child

Created for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day | 2017

Introduction

This document was created as a response to loss resources that are highly gendered, and that implicitly assume their readers are straight, white, and cisgender. It was also created to try and provide something free and easily accessible.

It is a first draft, and we hope to reissue this document yearly with more and better information and resources.

Although this resource attempts to be intentionally inclusive and anti-oppressive, the two primary collaborators – Tiffany Sostar and Flora – are both English-speaking white settler Canadians, with stable housing and strong social supports. Our privilege means that we are missing nuance, and we do not see what we’re not seeing. We are open to being corrected, and to hearing from people who do not see themselves represented in this document. You can reach Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com.

This document is designed to be a grief and loss resource, and we have included abortion stories and resources. However, we recognize that not every abortion is experienced as a loss or followed by grief. (This is true for miscarriages, too!) We also recognize that it is possible to feel grieve without feeling regret, and this is true for any pregnancy loss, whether it’s abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or adoption.

We are so thankful to the individuals who contributed to this document. Our call for contributors was met with courage and generosity by people who shared their stories despite the pain that telling the story brought up for them.

We are also thankful to Andi Johnson and Randi van Wiltenburg, both full-spectrum doulas in Calgary, Alberta, who contributed not only their personal stories but also a wealth of knowledge and information. Their professional contact information is listed in the resources section.

Parents we want to honour:

  • Those who have lost a child to miscarriage
  • Those who have lost a child to abortion
  • Those who have lost a child to stillbirth
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to medical illness
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to adoption
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to structural violence

This affects:

  • People of any gender identity
  • People of any sexual orientation
  • People of any relationship status and structure
  • People of any race or culture
  • People of any state of mental or physical health
  • People of any religious belief
  • People of any socioeconomic status

Download the 60-page PDF here.