Building self-care kits

Building self-care kits

Image description: A grey-haired person (me!) holds up a card that says “You’re a Tea-rrific Friend!” and a box that is labeled “Letters to Myself” – these are items from the self-care kits described in this post.
I spent a bit of time today putting together the self-care kits for the Bridge-building Giveaway and the Boundary-setting Giveaway. I’m happy with how they’ve come together, and I think the winners will be getting something worthwhile.
 
But I found it interesting how much easier it was to put the bridge-building kit together and how few people entered that giveaway, in comparison to how difficult it was to put the boundary-setter kit together and how many people have entered (you can still enter until 9 am Sunday! Just poke through the pictures on my Facebook page to find the giveaway).
 
There is a lot of external support for bridge-building – card sections, books about friendship and the value of social support, gift books about friendship, a TON of books about romance, heaps of books about family connections. If you want to build bridges, it seems like there’s an almost infinite amount of support.
 
And although there are folks working on boundaries, and there are books about boundaries, there is just not the same range of material available. And most of the stuff that I would recommend is not easily packed up into a gift box.
 
I sincerely believe that the bridge side of social self-care is critically important – the willingness to be vulnerable, to ask for support and connection, to reach out after an absence, to recognize our own needs and honour them by seeking connection, to learn what meaningful connection means *for us* and work towards it.
 
I think this is just as important as the boundary side of social self-care – knowing our limits, recognizing and communicating where we end and others begin, allowing ourselves to step into the risky space of saying “no”, setting limits that allow the kind of expansiveness, spaciousness, and generosity that can only happen when we feel that we have agency and choice.
 
But I think that it is much easier to talk about building bridges than it is to talk about setting boundaries. I think that we sort of gloss over and ignore the sense of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection that we feel – it doesn’t feel as important to build bridges because, really, there ARE all those books out there, and anyway, what is the point of a bridge when our boundaries are being trampled every single day?
 
But as I put the kits together, and as I worked on the course content for Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care, which is starting on Monday, I felt sad about this.
 
I know that in my own life, both bridges AND boundaries are important. I spend so much time not knowing how to connect meaningfully to my communities while operating under the pressures of capitalism, the stress and pain of chronic illness, the fog of depression and anxiety. I do need boundaries, but I need bridges, too. And although there is a wealth of material available, so much of it feels trite, superficial, and steeped in ableism, heteronormativity, and the casual assumption that we are all part of the (vanishingly rare) middle class.
 
Bridge-building is a skill. Maintaining (and finding!) friendships and other meaningful connections takes effort, and has to happen in combination with boundary work, so that our bridges are safe and life-enhancing. It’s a skill that many of us struggle to learn, because as often as we walk past the card section, how often do we actually feel confident in reaching out to our communities, in being vulnerable, in establishing intimacy that is consensual and brave?
 
It’s harder to talk about boundaries much of the time, because boundaries are tangled up with feelings of shame, obligation, attachment, fear, and vulnerability. Some of us struggle more with boundaries than bridges. Some of us struggle more with bridges than boundaries. But I think they’re both so important for our social wellbeing, and I think that often when we struggle with one, we’re also struggling with the other.
 
Hopefully, the course will offer support for both!
If you want to sign up for the 6-week online course, the cost is $150 ($75 for Patreon supporters), and you can sign up by emailing me.
 
(Among the boundary supports I would recommend, which are not easily packed up but thankfully ARE easily shared –
Witch cabinet: a cauldron for radical femme magic‘s course Hawthorn Heart, and this blog post which is a masterpost of resource links and suggestions
Rest for Resistance‘s amazing article Washing the Salt Out of Shadow Wounds 
Jane Clapp – Body Intelligence for Trauma & Mental Health‘s post on Property Lines and Self-Care)

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.

Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care

Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care

Image description: Across the top of the comic is the title Bridges and Boundaries.
In the first panel, a stick figure stands beside a box labeled Tools. There’s a little hammer and a few other items sticking up from the box.
The second panel is split horizontally. In the top panel, a stick figure stands on one end of a bridge, with a stick figure on the other end. The first stick figure says, “Do you want to come over?” In the bottom panel, a stick figure stands on one side of a double-dashed line (a permeable-at-will boundary), and a blurry figure stands on the other side. Text reads “Those feelings aren’t mine to manage.”
In the third panel, a stick figure stands with a double-dashed boundary on both sides and two bridges. Text reads “Connected AND Protected.”

2018 will be the first year that features all four core self-care courses – Emotional, Mental, and Physical Self-Care (which ran in 2017 with a focus on wholeness and will run in 2018 with a focus on hope), and, new for this year, Social Self-Care. I am so excited about the fourth and final piece in the quartet – it is one that I have struggled with personally, and the long process of planning and researching for this course has been such a valuable journey for me. I am excited to share what I’ve learned.

Social self-care is all of the self-care that we do around how we engage with other people.

It’s the self-care that happens at our points of connection (both wanted and unwanted) – those situations where our bubble bumps up against someone else’s bubble, voluntarily or not.

We engage with a lot of different people, and our self-care toolbox needs to be ready to handle them. The people who love us, and people who hate us. People who help us, and people who harm us. People who buoy us up, and people who weigh us down. People who sometimes are one, and sometimes are the other. People we wish we never had to speak to again, and people we wish we could speak to just one more time.

Social self-care is heckin’ hard.

Any of us with trauma histories, histories of abuse, or socialization to be the “good” whatever (the good girl, the good fat person, the good Black woman, the good crip, the good queer – any of us who have been socialized to shrink ourselves for the comfort of others) – we often struggle with boundaries.

It’s hard to know where we end and to advocate for what we need – to establish the boundaries that clearly outline where the other begins and where I end, and the boundaries that will keep us safe. Maybe we’ve been punished for trying to establish boundaries, or maybe we’ve learned to keep ourselves safe by keeping ourselves available. Maybe we’re afraid that nobody will love us if we establish boundaries. Maybe we’re afraid that nobody will be willing to help us.

And, similarly, we often struggle with bridges.

It’s hard to know how to reach out. If we’ve experienced abandonment, humiliation, abuse, or neglect, it’s hard to trust. It’s hard to let ourselves be vulnerable by reaching out, offering a connection that might be refused.

But it’s possible to learn how to build both boundaries and bridges. It’s possible to be connected and protected.

That’s what the winter online course is all about.

During the 6-week course, we’ll talk about:

  • Self-awareness and self-compassion. Knowing ourselves, knowing our needs, naming our fears and desires. Before we set up boundaries and extend bridges, we’ll work on what we hope to accomplish with those two critical social self-care tools. We’ll also talk about attachment styles, and bring that lens to our social self-care work.
  • Self-differentiation. We’ll talk about how to recognize where we end and others begin. Some of the challenges we run into in setting up boundaries and bridges have to do with differentiating ourselves from the people around us. Inner stories like, “they need me more than I need me,” “they probably hate me anyway,” “everyone feels the way I feel,” and “there’s no point, they won’t respect my boundaries/be interested in building a bridge” can stop us from even trying. We’ll talk about where we might be over-empathizing, projecting, or struggling to self-differentiate.
  • Trust. We’ll talk about how to build (and rebuild) trust, earn trust, and determine trustworthiness. (We’ll be using a lot of Brené Brown, as well as the Gottman’s work!)
  • Companionship. Finding it, caring for it, remaining whole within it.
  • Isolation. When we choose it, when we feel trapped in it, how to challenge it.
  • Involuntary social groups. Families of origin, workplaces, classmates, roommates, extended friend groups – sometimes they’re awesome, sometimes they’re not.
  • Voluntary social groups. Chosen families, partnerships, collaborations – even when we choose it, we have to look after ourselves within it.
  • Social self-care in crisis contexts. How to ask for help and how to offer help in an emergency.

Sounds great, right?!

Sign up!

When: January 22. 6-weeks.
Where: Entirely online! Work at your own pace, in your own space. Optional weekly Google Hangout.
How much: $150. $75 for Patreon supporters. Sliding scale available.
How to register: Send me an email!

Tending to Ourselves

Tending to Ourselves

What is this course?

This 3-week online course is an opportunity to work through Tim Desmond’s The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook with daily support and encouragement from a skilled self-care coach (that’s me!)

Together, we’ll learn each of Desmond’s self-compassion practices, and complete his “14-day day plan to transform your relationship with yourself.”

The holidays are often a challenging time, and the shame gremlins can be out in force during family dinners, office parties, and the forced merriment of the season. Spend 30-45 minutes a day for three weeks tending to your own needs and developing your self-compassion skills so that by the time we hit that difficult window at the end of the year, you’re feeling more stable, grounded, and able to respond to emotional overwhelm with calm and compassion.

Tending to Ourselves: A 3-week course in self-compassion

December 1 – 22, 2017

$75

$50 for Patreon supporters and returning students

You will need to purchase the book The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook.

(Available at bookstores, or in e-book format.)

Email to register.

This course is entirely online, with an optional in-person chat for participants in Calgary.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is the ability to see ourselves as loveable and worthwhile regardless of what is happening in our lives – regardless of our failures and successes.

In times of joy and ease, self-compassion is the ability to celebrate and enjoy ourselves without worrying that we’re going to “jinx” it or that we don’t deserve it and it’s going to be taken away. Brené Brown refers to “fearful joy” in her work, and it’s the idea that we don’t let ourselves fully experience our joy because we’re afraid of how much it will hurt when the other shoe drops. But by embracing self-compassion, and allowing ourselves to feel our joy, we can actually build our resilience and strength.

When things are going poorly, self-compassion is the ability to treat ourselves with kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness, rather than blaming, shaming, or attacking ourselves.

Rather than ignoring, avoiding, dismissing, or rejecting our pain, a self-compassionate response acknowledges the pain and looks for ways to ease it. It is exactly the same as being compassionate with other people in our lives, though it often doesn’t come as easily.

Self-compassion means being an ally to ourselves – to our weakest, saddest, loneliest and most challenging selves. It means having a strong compassionate voice within ourselves that can counter the self-hate, self-blame, and internalized shame and guilt that so many of us live with on a daily basis.

Self-compassion means allowing ourselves to be fully human. Reclaiming the parts of ourselves that we have been cut off from, and welcoming them back.

It means welcoming back the parts of ourselves that have been rejected by colonial beauty standards, ableist expectations of physical and cognitive function, and by heteronormativity, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression that cut marginalized individuals and communities off from our own hearts and selves, histories and stories.

It’s a path to integration and wholeness. Wholeheartedness.

It’s pretty great.

And it’s pretty hard, too.

Let’s practice together.

 

Feeling Towards Wholeness

Feeling Towards Wholeness

October 23 – December 4

$125 / $60 for Patreon supporters or returning participants (sliding scale available)

Online course – all content delivered in PDF and email format, with an optional weekly Google Hangout and a closed Facebook group for participants.

Email me, comment here, or message me through Facebook to register.

This course is for the heartbroken, the burnt out, the sad and the afraid. It is a course for bruised and bleeding hearts. It was not originally supposed to be – when I mapped out year of content, Autumn was always going to be emotional self-care, but I had intended a more lighthearted course. But the world, in the 10 months between designing the year of courses and running this course, has turned more overtly and explicitly brutal. There are a lot of broken hearts in my community.

We are grieving, collectively, for what feels like the loss of our future. Climate change, far-right ideologies, economic instability, and the chaos that existential dread can create within relationships – so many of us are dealing with so much. Loss, and the loss of hope, and the loss of joy, and the loss of stable ground under our feet.

Six weeks is not long enough to heal a broken heart, transform a trauma into something bearable, refill the cup or relight the candle that’s been burned out. Six weeks is certainly not long enough to address the great grief of climate change, political upheaval, economic collapse. So this course is not about healing our collective, or our individual, grief.

Instead, this course is about feeling our way into the grief, loss, trauma, and heartbreak so that we can do the long work of healing individually and collectively over the next months and years. The goal of this course is to offer tools and skills and a safe space for talking about how we begin to recover. How we find our way back to ourselves, so that we can find our way back to community, so that we can find our way back to hope.

This world needs us.

Those of us who have broken open and broken down in response to the pain in the world and to the losses in our own lives – our empathy and sensitivity is needed. Self-care and community care and deeply linked, and sustainable self-care is only ever the result of awareness, compassion, and intention in our actions. Those of us who feel deeply and who are struggling right now have already been practicing emergency self-care. That’s how we got here, searching for tools and answers and skills. We already have the ability to bring awareness and compassion and intention to the self-care that we practice individually and that we model and share within our communities.

My goal for this course is to help foster that awareness, compassion, and intentionality in your self-care practice. To give you a few new tools and a solid base of support and scaffolding to continue healing, growing, and renewing yourself.

The course has two sections.

In the first three weeks, we will work on mapping out our current emotional state, identifying our emotional needs, and finding the edges of our remaining positive emotions. For many of us, heartbreak, trauma, and burnout cut us off from our feelings of joy, hope, and self-efficacy (our belief that we can make positive changes within our own lives). The first three weeks will focus on connecting back to those feelings, without demanding that we “stay positive” or find the “silver lining.”

In the second three weeks, once we’ve established a thread of connection back to our joy, hope, and self-efficacy, we’ll start working on recognizing and responding to the needs that originate in our feelings of loss, heartbreak, trauma, and grief.

The course will use three core strategies:

Narrative – If you’ve taken any of my previous courses, worked with me one-on-one, attended my workshops, or read my writing, this one won’t come as a shock. Narrative therapy is my jam. I believe that using narrative – understanding our lives through metaphors of story, seeing ourselves as the protagonists of our own stories, and giving ourselves the space to tell our own stories – can be life changing. We will definitely be talking about narratives of loss, grief, heartbreak, and healing in this course.

Mindfulness – The self-awareness and compassion piece of the self-care puzzle requires that we spend some time being present with ourselves, observing what’s happening and what we’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing, without judging ourselves for it. In order to tell our stories effectively, we need to know what we’re trying to tell. That’s the mindfulness piece.

Gamefulness – This one is new to my courses, and I’m excited about it. We’ll be using some of Jane McGonigal’s research into how “living gamefully” can facilitate healing and growth, and trying out some of the games, challenges, and exercises from her book SuperBetter.

Over the six weeks, you’ll develop stronger self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-care skills.

It’s going to be great.