#tenderyear: Troubling the Binary

#tenderyear: Troubling the Binary

This is a Year of Sacred Attendance | #tenderyear post. You can read the first in this series here, and you can sign up for the Tender Year email list here.

In Staying with the Trouble (2016), Donna Haraway writes:

Trouble is an interesting word. It derives from a thirteenth-century French verb meaning “to stir up,” “to make cloudy,” “to disturb.” We – all of us on Terra – live in disturbing times, mixed-up times, troubling and turbid times. The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, of response. Mixed-up times are overflowing with both pain and joy – with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with unnecessary killing of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence. The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places. In urgent times, many of us are tempted to address trouble in terms of making an imagined future safe, of stopping something from happening that looms in the future, of clearing away the present and the past in order to make futures for coming generations. Staying with the trouble not does require such a relationship to times called the future. In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.

Haraway’s work has been formative for me – her 1984 essay, “Cyborg Manifesto,” (link is to the PDF) was paradigm-shifting for me, and led me to Elizabeth Whitney’s 2008 essay, “Cyborgs Among Us,” which revolutionized my relationship with my bisexuality and opened up whole new worlds of liminality for me. Liminality – the threshold state, the betweenness, the selves and potentials that exist in the overlap, the between-and-beyond, the both/and, the identities that prove the binary wrong, the state that offers hope for new ways forward. Liminality – my heart. Liminality is where I find my way home to myself, and to the world.

Haraway’s writing is dense, thick, complicated and challenging. In Staying with the Trouble she discusses the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and the Chthulucene – and that tells you a lot about where the book comes from and how it goes. She discusses which stories tell stories and which thoughts think thoughts – which frames we use for generating new knowledge, which stories we use as roadmaps to new narratives. It’s rich work, and I can only read a page or two at a time. It speaks to me, but it speaks to me in ways that are not smooth or easy or comfortable. It is the perfect work to fit with the Sunday theme of the Tender Year.

It feels particularly fitting for this blog post because when I spoke with Stasha Huntingford about Venn Diagrams, her discussion of the rich and troubled/troubling/troublesome space between two binaries reminded me strongly of Haraway’s invitation to stay with the trouble. They are both troublemakers with deep insights.

The Year of Sacred Attendance, the Tender Year, started on a Sunday.

On Sundays, our prompt is to challenge a binary. To explore and expand a binary.

We use Venn Diagrams as a simple and accessible entry point into the prompt.

Venn Diagrams are great for this, because they invite both playful and silly engagement and more serious engagement. You can use this prompt to look for any area of overlap, and even that process of looking for overlap can be exciting and full of potential. You can engage with a Venn Diagram over the whole course of a day, diving deeper and deeper into what exists in either sphere, and what exists in the mingling between (as Nathan so beautifully), or you can approach it quickly, scurry up and scratch it down and then retreat to the rest of your day (like I did), or you can start with the diagram and expand it out into further self-awareness and even an affirmation about what you’re seeking for your life (like Stasha did). Each of these processes brought a different method to the prompt, and I think this will be true for everyone who participates. I am looking forward to that variety, and to the richness in the overlap. (Each of these Venn Diagrams are at the end of this post, to give you a sense of what’s possible and how the three of us have approached the topic so far.)

I think that the Tender Year, for me, will involve a lot of “staying with the trouble” and I appreciate the invitation and the encouragement to be troubled, and to find a way to be, as Haraway says, “truly present, not as a vanishing pivot… but as [a] mortal critter entwined in myriad unfinished configurations.” I have found myself lost in visions of the apocalyptic future lately, and have had trouble staying grounded in the present. This year is an invitation to attend my life as it happens (not as it will happen, or as it has happened), and to tend to the life I am living and the lives I intersect and overlap.

In this presence – this troubled and troubling, binary-challenging, playful and serious, liminal presence, there is so much potential for hope, for change, and for ways to intervene in the trouble.

How Being a Veggie Burger with Bacon Saved My Life

“If the responsibility for the most vulnerable citizens has been passed to communities, we have a lot of work to do remembering what community means. The idea of community is important because in addition to creating shame, I feel that binary thinking has led us to a fragmented world where we are lonely and isolated from each other. My goal is to put the world back into a coherent whole where we concentrate on how things are interrelated, and brave negotiating the grey instead of falsely compartmentalizing into black/white. The peer model allows us all to be integrated, dynamic and interrelated in our identities rather than being defined by one aspect of ourselves. We should all order a nice veggie burger with bacon—which we can share with someone who is different from us!” – Stasha Huntingford

The Sunday prompt, Venn Diagrams, was Stasha’s idea and came from previous work she had done on binaries and the potential in the middle spaces. We sat down to talk about the process, and about her hopes for this year of Sunday #challengethebinary prompts.

Tiffany – To start with, I wanted to ask you about binaries and the breaking of them – the Sunday theme coalesced out of your discussion of both the “veggie burger with bacon” idea and the intersection of social workers and folks who access social work services. Can you tell me what it is about these two ideas that gets you excited, or that you want to explore in the Sunday “meditation on binaries” theme?

Stasha – Nothing makes me more excited than challenging binaries! Lots of dehumanizing oppression comes from the idea of ‘normal’ and ‘the other’.

This essay is where I explain the veggie burger with bacon concept further. It was written at a time when I was really lonely in the academy. I have used this idea to queer things that are presented as opposites.

Tiffany – How can Venn Diagrams help challenge these dehumanizing binaries?

Stasha – For example, being bisexual is one way that I have been exposed to a binary about being either gay or straight. This also reinforces a gender binary that presents two opposite options. So many people have done great work about challenging these binaries, and exploring what a spectrum view changes about two things that are framed as opposites

Tiffany – Totally. The radical binary-challenging potential within bisexuality is one reason I am so happy to be bisexual.

Stasha – Me too! And why I identify as queer instead of gay.

Binaries cause so much harm to people who exist in the middle of spectrums. I have many ways that I have experienced the tension of being a veggie burger with bacon, and I have been fortunate enough to have other people share some of their examples of the harms caused by binary thinking.

The idea of one way to do things or one truth, is part of the binary thinking, and crushes creativity.

Tiffany – I agree. But it’s also (at least for me) a very tempting way to view the world. If there is a “right” and a “wrong,” with no middle ground, then I can feel more confident about my choices – more confident that I won’t slide too far through that middle space and end up in wrongtown.

Stasha – I use venn diagrams to help me reflect deeply on the grey area between 2 binaries. This helps me to be more aware of my privileges and oppressions. It gives me points of intervention.

Tiffany – Oh, I love that! Can you talk more about points of intervention? How do you mean?

Stasha – I mostly use them to raise more questions

For example, if we explore a venn diagram between environmentalism and working for an oil company, this might help us to identify people who we know who may fit in the grey here and feel isolated from both the environmentalist and oil company employee communities.

Tiffany – Ah, yes. That makes sense. And, framing it like that, and thinking also of bisexuality, it occurs to me that the people in the grey area are often painted as “traitors” to both circles. That isolation is so real.

Stasha – Or if we explore the opposite of sacred in the dictionary, this can help us to understand the messages we may have received about what is sacred and how the opposite of this is defined.

Tiffany – Totally.

We have 52 weeks in this project, and although I am sure some binaries will warrant multiple Sundays of exploration, I am also looking forward to the invitation to look at a wide range. If someone wants to participate and isn’t sure where to start, what are some ideas that you’re excited about?

Stasha – I always say that veggie burgers with bacon are very powerful, and very lonely. In binary thinking, we are traitors because we expose that there are way waaaaaaaaay more than two options or ways to do things. What could be more dangerous and magic and lonely?

Tiffany – Yes. Absolutely.

Stasha – I’m excited to think about new binaries because I think that is difficult and magic. I am thinking about housed/homeless, the opposite of productive, the opposite of justice, rich/poor, the opposite of listening…

The opposite of connected, the opposite of fascism, the opposite of dyke

Tiffany – Those are great. Productivity is one that i want to explore, too. Also rest and whatever the opposite is, and forgiveness and all the circles that might overlap and complicate that.

Stasha – Oh my yes forgiveness, and the resulting diagrams could easily take us through to winter solstice!

Tiffany – Right?!

Stasha – Yes! If not the rest of our lives!

Tiffany – What else would you like someone to know about the Sunday theme?

Stasha – I think this is sacred work.

I think this because we are reclaiming a way of thinking that we used to have.

I cite Hans Christian Anderson’s story about the emperor who had no clothes, to explain the role of challenging binary.

Tiffany – Oooo, lovely! Can you explain how it applies here?

Stasha – We must have the strength to identify ways that we don’t belong in order to see what we are being told.

So it is scary to always be the one ruining social time by saying the emperor has no clothes.

Tiffany – I totally agree about how scary it is. I hope that this project is able to offer some of the social support that will help more of us find ways to speak our awkward truths.

Stasha – What we are being told about ourselves, and who we are. Patricia Collins explains the revolutionary act of black women defining themselves as a way that they resist oppression.

Tiffany – Yes. Narrative healing.

Stasha – Yes, I am so excited because it is something that I don’t want to do by myself. It hurts much less when we start from a space of acceptance. And we can return there when it hurts. And we know that we will connect at the full moon. And we know how many days we have to make it through to get there.

Yes huzzah for narrative healing!!! Sacred work.

I’m doing all my venn diagrams in public because I want people to have so many examples of intervention points.

Tiffany – I love that. The ability for the project to be public is one of my favourite things about it.

Stasha – You and Nathan taught me that/gave me the courage!

I did my 100 love letters privately and then shared them a year later on social media. I loved the exponential generative nature of the love that you two demonstrated.

I noticed that other people felt permission to write themselves love letters after seeing yours. And then they shared theirs, and their friends felt better able to send themselves a love letter.

Tiffany – It has been a pretty amazing collaboration, and I love the way it has invited more people in, and has rippled out into little growing communities of radical self-love. I hope that the same thing happens with the Tender Year.

Stasha's Venn Diagram

It is the first day of the #tenderyear! We begin with a venn diagram, that compares ‘opposites’, and helps us reveal the grey in between. Welcome to Sundays, when we #challengethebinary!

For my first venn diagram, I wanted to explore what the opposite of sacred is. I started by looking up definitions, synonyms, and antonyms (words that we use to say the same or opposite things). I did this, keeping in mind that it is very important to inquire what is missing from the dictionary, for example colonialism and other kinds of racism are often reinforced through the appropriation of languages of resistance.

Under the sacred side of the two overlapping circles that I used in this venn diagram, I listed words that mean similar things: hallowed, pure, divine, solemn, guarded, immune, and secure.

Under the non-sacred side I found these words to describe the same concept: open, unprotected, vulnerable, profane, irreligious, ungodly, unholy, unsacred.

I then sat with my feelings with each of these words and concepts. One highlight of this meditation included reflections on my hatred of the concept of pure, since this is often used to oppress me, as a woman living in a patriarchy. I really love the word hallowed because it makes me think of my favorite holiday, the only one where the society that I am part of addresses the concept of death.

I was disappointed that the opposite of sacred is defined mostly as unsacred. I find this so interesting in terms of how we think about what is holy and what is not. I was surprised that sacred is linked with security; because in my life my most sacred moments have been the most perilous and chaotic. I think of sacredness as coming out of shit with your identity intact.

Next, I thought deeply about where the overlap is between sacred and unsacred, especially in how it applies to this project and our intent to practice sacred attention and tending. For me, vulnerability is sacred because you are reclaiming your true self. For me, the security in sacredness comes from being able to return home to yourself. Somberness and solemness are not required for my sacredness, as I think play is how we grow and interact in a genuine love. My sacredness is not guarded, it is found in the messy corners of tending your heart on your sleeve.

Finally, I created a definition of what I seek in terms of the sacred:

I seek the messy security of hallowed profane vulnerability. 

Nathan's Venn Diagram

Here we are. A beginning.

http://tiffanysostar.com/welcome-tenderyear/

Sunday’s #dailypractice is about challenging binaries. My brain says: this is easy for you NVF, given the nature of your being. But, in truth, I do have a lot of either/or thinking ruling my worldview. 

Because today is a beginning, I wanted to focus on parts of life that are working, but not necessarily working together. Things I’ve come to learn how much I need, especially during 100loveletters. But things that feel like they cancel each other out sometimes, in a way that gets in the way of my heart.

Spaciousness and Connectedness. I need them both in similar measure, but how to have them both at the same time?

I wordsed about each when this download arrived about a place for everyone/thing and everyone/thing in its place.

It got me thinking about ecology, about how we are connected in space and through it. Connected not crowded. Spaciousness not isolation. It got me to thinking about the collaboration that initiated this project. The collaborations that have initiated me and others.

I want to say there is a tender balance. But I think more accurately there is a robust dynamic, that can be disrupted. Keep an eye on the keystone populations. Keep an eye out for overgrowth. The algae bloom. The mineminemine of that.

Read the river. Bring curiosity to flow. There is a magic here to collect and study and work.

It’s good to be back.

A Year of Sacred Attendance
(link in bio)
1/365
#tenderyear
#challengethebinary
#tenderyearfortenderqueers #100loveletters

Tiffany's Venn Diagram

This is my first post in the #tenderyear, and my first#challengethebinary Sunday post. You can read more about the project here –http://tiffanysostar.com/welcome-tenderyear/

I have a long list of binaries I’d like to explore over this year of Sundays. As I tried to figure out which would be *just right* for this first post, I realized that the pressure I was putting on myself to get it right, to make the right first impression, to say something profound, to make some kind of meaningful art, to have a perfect first post – that pressure was squishing the joy out of the project for me.

I had a busy day, have had a busy weekend, have had a busy week, have had a busy summer. This Tender Year / Year of Attendance work feels so important to me, and I am so excited about it, but my own internalized ideas about what “good work” means is in conflict with my sense of tiredness and general overwhelm, and what happens in the middle is not the productive, profound, generative new space that Venn Diagrams can highlight. It is, instead, a squished, cramped, claustrophobic place.

I think that this is actually a perfect start to this project, because what I need from the Tender Year is not just more work. What I need is better work, more holistic work, more wholehearted work. I need tenderness. I need to attend to the tiredness. I need to find a way to feel less cramped and squished in the creation of project-focused work.

This is a perfect diagram for where I’m at today, and an indication of where I can focus my energy to change this pattern. Or, at least, an indication of the pattern. And identifying the pattern is a great first step.

Even if you’re identifying a pattern you’ve identified a dozen times before, it’s still a good step.

Image description: On the left, a stick figure labeled ‘My tiredness and general overwhelm’ pushes a red ball labeled ‘Something.’ On the right, a stick figure labeled “My desire to do good work’ pushes a blue ball labeled ‘Something Else.’ In the middle, a purple area of overlap is labeled ‘Some other thing’ and a small stick figure it caught between the balls and labeled ‘My sense of enthusiasm and agency being squished.’ There is a text box on the bottom left that says ‘#tenderyear’ and a small Tiffany Sostar logo on the bottom right.

#stickfiguresunday

Ten Days of Grey

Ten Days of Grey

(Image description: A large tree in front of a house, the image is in black and white. Text reads: #TenDaysOfGrey Help promote Mental Health Awareness this October 1st-0th. Post Photos in Grey HELP Share Facts, Stories, Resources, and Donations. Create Awareness for World Mental Health Day October 10th. Use hashtags #TenDaysOfGrey and #MentalHealth)

This October, I’m participating in a new project to increase mental health awareness. The project was launched on Instagram this year by Bryan J. McLean, a Canadian multimedia artist. His music, poetry, fiction, paintings, and web published works include writing such as poetry from The Syndrome Papers, and (1)ne Night Stand, and more recently a Tumblr scifi-poetry project titled, #100days The Open Air : a dark urban fantasy about the light.

His newest project is Ten Days of Grey, which starts on October 1st and runs until World Mental Health Day on October 10th. You can find posts for the project under #TenDaysOfGrey, and you can participate by posting a black and white picture with the hashtags #TenDaysOfGrey and #MentalHealth. If you use these posts to share stories, resources, or support about mental health, you’ll make Bryan’s day.

I saw Bryan’s posts about the project in the days before October 1, and decided to participate. Mental health is such a complex and stigmatized subject, and there is a huge amount of victim-blaming and differential access to resources that complicated how and whether people can access supports.

Bryan generously agreed to an interview about the project.

Tiffany – What inspired the project? 

Bryan – You know, I never thought that hard about it. I was upset with some recent career failures and was struggling with health and depression (yet again) this past summer, and then I saw World Mental Health Day was coming up. I started thinking “what can I do to bring awareness with the least amount of effort.” It’s funny to say that, I know, but I had a break down and it takes too much energy right now to pump out creative-anything.

Tiffany – Ableism in activism is so real, and so prevalent. I’m glad you gave yourself permission to do what you could with the resources you have available. I think that self-awareness about limited energy is such a critical part of self-care.

Bryan – I wanted to find something people do every day to share stories and facts. Clearly, the easiest answer was social media, memes, and picture-filters on phone apps. Selfies, food, cat or dog photos, whatever, wherever we are. We’re all addicted, but it’s such a beautiful way sometimes to share how you see the world. And then I considered how much of how I feel just turns to grey when I’m going through a depressive episode. It becomes the lens I see through. I ‘know’ all the good things are over there in the colour, but I’m cold and wet, trapped here in the grey. It’s all you see sometimes, it’s out of your control. (If you’ve ever seen the movie Pleasantville, it feels a lot like being trapped in the ignorant b&w.)

To explain how I got to this point – I’ve been trying to gain a specific full-time professional role for five years, and I’ve been maintaining two skillsets at my job and I’ve essentially been two people at work for five years. It finally caught up with me as I had pushed too long, and ended up essentially in adrenal fatigue. This exacerbated the depression & anxiety that I’ve been managing my whole adult life. I found that the self-care tools I’d developed were no longer working for me.

I collapsed emotionally. It’s embarrassing to say it out loud. It’s embarrassing to say that I was trying so hard & so long that I was exhausted, slept on breaks & at lunchtime, literally crying from exhaustion at work some days, overwhelmed after several months of living like this daily, I finally broke. I mean my brain did. I couldn’t multitask. I couldn’t wash dishes and have a conversation at the same time for months, the focus I required would just break. I couldn’t do complex math / excel formulas in my head any more, which used to be like making a sandwich for me. I couldn’t remember a conversation that just happened… or even what groceries I was supposed to pick up. Things you take for granted just remembering them. And it was very much like I was locked in a room full of doors and I knew the information I needed was just on the other side and I couldn’t get there. It was out of reach.

I’m slowly leaving my current career to restart my undergraduate & Masters work in fine arts (painting) with a minor in psychology, so I can move to work in art therapy. It’s hard, but not as much as the pain I realized I would feel spending another twenty-five something years doing something that isn’t going to help people the way I need to help them. I have the gifts (creativity & compassion) and I should use them to help adult learners.

Tiffany – Congratulations on making the choice to change your career. That’s hard (speaking from personal experience!) The experience of your burnout sounds so difficult. I know that losing executive function was one of the most challenging things about my early fibromyalgia journey – it felt like such a personal failing. And it definitely pushed me into a depressive episode that was resistant to all of my previously-effective tools. Since then, or even before then, what has your mental health journey looked like?

Bryan – I’ll try to sum that up. It’s difficult to condense the ups and downs. Since I was a teenager, I was melancholy. Just sad, not suicidal. I didn’t know it was depression. People get sad, they have regrets, lament over things, feel lonely. It didn’t feel special. I moved away for college so I spent a lot of time just alone in a new city where I knew very few people. You get lonely, but I’ve always been introverted, I like my own company. But, I’d be irrationality sad for days… a down feeling that wouldn’t leave.

Over time, I moved cities & provinces, had relationships & friendships, breakups, makeups. All the while, I just had dark days. It wasn’t like the world was ending, but I’d feel heavy or in pain. I’d keep going though, it’s what you do. Everyone feels like this, right? Also, I used to think I had insomnia but it’s actually something called bi-modal (sleep a few hours, wake up for 2-4 hours, and go back to sleep). So, I’d struggle with sleeping, overthinking, but usually I’d feel rested. I’d say my depression grew overtime though. I got more tired.

One time I set my kitchen on fire, overthinking & distracted, I’d left the plastic kettle on the stove burner. It wasn’t all that dramatic but prompted me to see my physician and I went on meds for a year, because of anxiety, depression and cognitive issues. Side effects were the worst sometimes, but it helped me get focused and back on track.

I spent a lot of time trying to avoid having to return to medications though; it’s the right thing for some people, but I wanted to do all the right things, if at all possible, to never need them again. I took up mild running, tried yoga, stopped eating a lot of take out and just cooked at home. I studied meditation and things on psychology. I’ve seen several naturopathic doctors and psychologists over the years when I needed direction and a neutral person to talk to. I wanted to stay grounded. It took a lot of work, but it’s help me be balanced. It’s a struggle to act or feel normal sometimes.

I don’t know if all of that really helped the way I thought it would, but I put in the effort of doing the self-care I needed for pretty much my adult life. I’ve been on meds again. Had another rough year. Saw my doctor, my psychologist. Was again diagnosed with anxiety & depression. I’m usually a funny, intelligent, thoughtful, and friendly person. I’m not faking that part of me, however some days it takes a lot out of me to just ‘be myself.’

Tiffany – You’ve taken that struggle and used it as motivation to start this project, which I think has the potential to reach a lot of people. What do you hope the project will inspire or accomplish?

Bryan – The worst thing someone recently said to me was, ‘everyone has anxiety, everyone gets depressed.’

It was the most unkind thing you can possibly say to someone in crisis. It makes me sick to think that is the message being shared by the public. These types of words end lives. We are all people and we all deserve kindness.

Yes, people get sad, people get worried. Yet they don’t get diagnosed with an illness by a physician and feel irrationally worried and suffer prolonged sadness for days on end.

Not everyone has high functioning depression like I have managed; I can mask my symptoms and just ‘deal with it’ but sucking it up for years, is like watching a plane that you’re flying slowly head into a mountain. You will crash, it’s just a question how badly.

So, I guess I am hoping this project will inspire awareness. Most people are lucky and don’t have to live with being sad or worried too often, or deal with the mania that bipolar people experience, or deal with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other cognitive issues that plague their quality of life. Yet these issues happen. Almost no one is trained to deal with the situation when mental health issues arise, especially when they happen to us personally, or in our close relationships.

No one really wants to talk about it, because what is there to say? Often mental health is a silent kind of disease, the myth is that it is ‘best ignored and left for doctors to decide how to deal with it.’ Issues like this though, they fester when ignored. Patience, kindness, compassion, are skills that many people don’t have, and no one really knows what to say. They don’t see it is a part of your health, they don’t see it like a broken arm – they act like you are weak or lazy, they don’t believe you… Yet those are the moments we need to be listening to each other more compassionately, not less. We need to be open to solutions. Sometimes it’s a matter of talking to the right counsellor or health professional.

Not everyone needs help, but no one should go through these things alone, and there are so many local resources & people out there that can help and are properly trained to help.

If you don’t know what to say,

be kind.

If you don’t know what to do,

find a professional.

Hopefully sharing facts and sharing stories will keep giving some exposure to mental health. Even just knowing that one in three Canadians will be diagnosed with mental health problems in their lifetime, will maybe ease the pressures of doing things all alone, and seeking help.

Tiffany – That’s great. You’ve talked about different groups of people – the people who experience mental health issues, the people who don’t (and often don’t know what to say), and the professionals who might be able to help. Who do you hope will get involved in the project?

Bryan – I don’t really want to ‘own’ this idea, it’s meant for others to pick it up, so even if it’s small, I’m hoping it speaks to people to slow down and know it’s okay to seek help. Dealing with mental health is not something you have to do alone.

I was really just doing this thing for myself, it’s something I needed to hear so many times in my life, I forget sometimes that even if a small voice speaks out, maybe that idea can help others understand or seek help.

You don’t have to be in a massive crisis to talk something out. We get to being in a crisis by not talking about and not listening/believing, not finding the right professional to connect with, not having that one person say, ‘hey why don’t we talk this through.’ No one wants to be a burden, but problems like these don’t go away. They almost get stronger if you set out to ignore them.

Tiffany – What else feels important about the project?

Bryan – The simplicity. Just imagining the world in Grey for a few days might help people find a way back to the colour.

Tiffany – You talked about the tools that you used to use suddenly not working when you experienced burn out and depression. Have you found new tools that work?

Bryan – It’s been a long journey, so I want people to know, I didn’t wake up one day and have it all figured out. I’m saying that because I think it’s important to know that you will struggle trying to find out what works best for you and what fits your lifestyle; you will grow and change, and growth always hurts in some way.

I studied a lot of things, experimented a lot, talked to a lot of people & professionals. I sought help and I didn’t expect someone to magically ‘fix me.’ Sometimes I felt I was doing this workout / yoga wrong… eating the wrong vegan things…  or doing that spiritual technique badly… felt confused about certain concepts… but the truth of the matter is that it was (and continues to be) a journey of the internal self.

What helps me:

  • Ask for help. Ask anyone. It’s so hard when you don’t know what you need. But talk about it with a trusted advisor/friend and then a professional.
  • Learn to sit quietly, to sit with yourself, and to quiet the noisy mind. Don’t worry. This takes practice, but every bit helps. So, doing Zazen (seated meditation) at minimum five minutes a day, but best 20mins when you wake up & 20mins before bed. Rhythmic breathing.
  • Studying Shamanic meditation helped me. Learning to see different perspectives and ‘journey’ to discover goals, problem solving, and energetic healing.
  • Studying Buddhism & Quantum Physics. I love complex patterns and how things connect, quantum mechanics tells that story. I wanted to study the nature of things, understand myself or my place in the universe or something like that, so I was looking at ethics & science. I guess I was trying to stay grounded, because spiritually is the inner path, the self… It seemed very selfish to only look inside knowing there is an outside world to experience. You can get a big head full of delusions when looking at the true nature of what being a person means, thinking you know all the answers, how everything is connected… so, I guess I wanted follow a good base set of rules of investigation. Science is a quest for truth and testing those facts. And then I read this book, The Quantum & the Lotus. It’s a conversation worth having and it took a good look at where Buddhism & Science meet. They are both the quest for truth and testing that truth, incorporating new findings and accepting that maybe what we think is true can change. It’s important to be open when you’re on any kind of journey, so these were good lessons to learn.
  • Free Weights. Yoga. Spin. Dance. Being active with intent is meditative – it distracts the mind. It’s ironic when depression hits, it becomes this huge wet blanket in your life, stopping the desire to be active. Literally everything is harder & heavier. You shouldn’t force it if you need a rest day, but I try really hard to be active at least once a week, preferably five times a week. (Recent research supports this.) But even 15 mins of workout is literally better than nothing. I am an introverted person, I don’t like exercising in public or classes, but finding that sport or workout thing that makes you motivated can help a lot.
  • If I can’t sleep, I do pushups or planks, downward facing dog, until I am tired, which frankly won’t take long. You can also look up breathing techniques for helping sleep, like the 7 second method.
  • If something is stopping my brain from getting sleep, I get up and deal with it. I try not to lay there grinding my brain. Get up, clean the house, write down the issue, and try to come up solutions. You’ll never get to sleep just lying awake. It only gets worse. You might not solve a problem but it’s better than lying in the dark hating yourself or others. I try to take action the next day on those problems to solve by making a list and making deadlines to fix what is bothering me.
  • I cook for myself. I reduced / stopped eating take out, and reduced my salt & sugar intake, and my alcohol intake (it’s also sugar). Learning nutrition from a Naturopathic Doctor, Nutritionist, or your personal doctor can also help – getting help to make a plan for your physiological needs. Single. Person. Is. Different.We all have different needs. For me, it was important to move towards being vegan/vegetarian. Requiring animal protein is a myth, it’s not the only way to get protein, not the only thing a body needs, and there are healthy ways to incorporate both your current lifestyle and what your body needs together. Listen to your body. Listen to a real doctor, not what the internet thinks you should do. Drink water, your body needs it.
  • Camping, Hiking, Canoe/Kayak, & Sit with Nature. Turn off the noise. Sit at a river. Stare at some trees. Walk your dog or someone else’s dog, but be outside without your headphones in. Listen to the tress talking. Mindfully acknowledge the Now that is all around you. This helps me a lot.
  • Write poetry or short stories. Paint. Draw. Craft. Bake. Sing. Make music, make things, and share them. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad, it doesn’t matter if no one ever sees it. The act of expression is the most important exercise, because there are things that words cannot express and stories that need telling.
  • I also use a sleeping mask all the time, and a full-spectrum light panel in the winter.

Bryan’s Recommended Resources:  

  • Zazen (Seated meditation) I have studied soto zen Buddhism for a long time, the best resource you can find is a very very short book called Buddha in Blue Jeans by Tai Sheridan
  • My top two fave books on Buddhism are
    • Sit Down and Shut Up by punkrock buddhist Brad Warner
    • Peace is Every Breath by Thich Nhat Hahn, an activist and Vietnamese Buddhist Master
  • Shamanic Studies: Secrets of Shamanism by Jose Stevens, a practical guide to journeying & goal setting
  • Finding Ultra & Plant Powered Way by Rich Roll, on athleticism & become vegan with his researched cookbook
  • Wil Wheaton’s video about his mental health
  • This video is really helpful – I had a Black Dog, his name was Depression

Tiffany’s Further Reading List:

  • For folks who want to explore shamanism but are concerned about cultural appropriation, this article goes into quite a bit of depth.
  • Accessing professional care can be difficult for people of colour, but this list of podcasts by therapists of colour is a small step towards meeting that need.
  • Rest for Resistance is another great resource written by QTPOC.
  • 7 Cups is a free therapy resource for folks who can’t afford professional help.
  • Exercise and physical activity can be challenging if you’re dealing with chronic pain, and chronic pain can exacerbate mental health issues. This post includes some tips (and also cute cat gifs).