Image description: A screenshot of a text post. Text reads: In order to become the supreme adult, you must perform the seven wonders:
· Public speaking
· Not being afraid of teenagers
· Calling the doctor yourself
· Arguing without crying
· Having a normal sleep pattern
· Having an answer to the question ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
(This is a Patreon reward post for Dave. At the $10 per month support level, I’ll write you a yearly post on the topic of your choice, too! Patrons at any support level get access to many posts about a week early, and are able to offer comments and suggestions, and see my, sometimes meandering!, process in action.)
This text post floated across my newsfeed again, and I laughed, as I always do when I see it, because it feels so true. But I didn’t share it, because it also feels deeply ableist. And, when thinking about it, isn’t Supreme Adulting an exercise in ableism, with its demand that adulting involves navigating capitalism and passing as neurotypical and normatively abled? The infantilizing of any of us who are neurodivergent or disabled certainly lends some weight to that theory.
The reason I saved the post today, rather than laughing and scrolling past, is because of the last point – in order to become the supreme adult, you must have an answer to the question ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
Months and months ago now, Dave said that the topic of his Patreon reward post should be “self-care and figuring out what you’re going to do with your life.”
Great, I thought!
“Great!” I said.
A month or so later, I sent him an email and told him it was going really slowly. I was running into internal friction. It’s a big topic! What you’re going to do with your life? HUGE! It had felt like a quick and easy topic, as these reward posts often do, but then I scratched the surface and got stuck.
He said not to worry. I kept thinking about it.
A month or so after that, I sent him another email with a proposal – how about “self-care and job hunting”? But he wasn’t feelin’ it, so I came back to this.
And every week when I wrote out my To Do list, “Dave’s Patreon post” showed up.
And every week, it didn’t get written.
This friction… I couldn’t quite figure it out. Was it friction because I worry about what I will do with my life? Was it shame or anxiety over the fact that I’m trying to build a new career for the third time in my life? Was it worry about giving directives to other people, taking on a role of expertise when I truly believe that we are each the experts in our own experience? All of those, but also not quite any of those. There was something else there, and all I knew was that I was stuck. I have learned (painfully and only with great effort) to trust the stuckness. When I’m stuck, there’s something there. It’s worth honouring the friction, even when I find it frustrating.
And then this text post floated across my newsfeed and, and the stickiness resolved, and I thought yes! Now I can write this thing, at long last.
Because what this post highlighted for me was the ableism and the individualism and the capitalist expectations buried within the question. That’s what I had been sticking on.
Because the struggle is not figuring out how to answer ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
We can often answer that.
If we let ourselves, we can often close our eyes and imagine a life that sounds good – maybe a life full of family? Maybe making art? Maybe gardening? Maybe building community? Maybe making music? A life of long walks, or mornings spent writing, or caring for younglings or oldsters? A life spent researching the Great Questions? A life of learning? A life of teaching? There is so much that we might want to do, and many of us can, if we let ourselves, answer that question.
If we let ourselves.
Which we often don’t, not past childhood, because that’s not actually the question being asked.
The question is usually not ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
The question is ‘what do you want to do with your life that will pay your bills, position you as a productive member of society, and fit into the (unreasonable) expectations of the society around you?’
And the reason I couldn’t write a post about how to answer that second question is because I think it’s a garbage question. It is inherently harmful and violent.
‘What part of yourself will you cut off in order to fit into this shoe?’
So, instead of offering suggestions for how to answer that question-within-question, I will offer this –
Yes, the pain you feel when the question is asked is real, and valid. Even if you know what you want to do, even if you have a vocation and a career in mind, the pain can still float up because of the uncertainty of our current economic climate. We are supposed to have aspirations, but not unrealistic aspirations. We are supposed to reach for success, but not overreach. It is an impossible balancing act. So, yes, the pain you feel is real, and valid.
Yes, it is unfair that the adultier adults in your life keep asking it.
Yes, you’re right that there is often something wounded behind the eyes of the people who ask the question. It is an unfair question for all of us, and the process of answering is often a process of self-negation.
Yes, your anger is justified.
Yes, your fear is valid.
Yes, your uncertainty is legitimate!
Of course that question hurts!
You are being asked not only to disclose (and decide) how you will fit your life into capitalism but also how you will devote your entire life to capitalism.
As my good friend put it, you are being asked to assimilate, to become Borg. And that threat of assimilation is hidden in what seems like an innocuous question – what do you want to do with your life? What a lovely question, what an expansive question, what a perfectly innocent question… except not.
Our current economic climate means that the idea of vocation, of career, of calling – the idea of one job that provides a stable base from which to launch your life – only exists for the very privileged few. And you’re probably not one of them. And some part of you knows it. And it hurts.
So, what do you want to do with your life? Choose, and then be prepared to choose again, and to choose again, and to choose again, and to be pitied and rejected when you’re between choices, and to feel yourself segmented into selves who inhabit jobs but not careers, and not jobs that feed your heart but jobs that feed your body, to choose between those selves, to always be fragmented and unintegrated. What violence!
Our looming societal collapse means that many of us, Millenials and Xennials and later generations, are not planning much into the future. How can we? We are racking up student debt that we’ll never pay down. We are living with our parents and being slammed for it in article after article. We are eating too much avocado toast and we are failing at Supreme Adulting. And it is not our fault.
Truly, it is not our fault. The question is flawed. The system is hostile. There are rarely right answers because the answers that feel right don’t often answer the real question.
So, that’s not hugely helpful for those of us who need to answer the question.
(And, as I format this post to share publicly on my blog, I feel a flicker of anxiety about admitting that not only do I not have easy answers for anyone who comes to me for coaching help, I just straight up do not believe that the easy answers exist. What kind of coach am I, anyway?! The self-doubt is real, and it’s worth acknowledging. Here, and always, I lean on G. WIllow Wilson’s wisdom – “There is not always a way out, but there is always a way forward.” I am not the coach who will get you out of the struggle, I am the coach who will help you find ways forward through the struggle.)
The fact is, we do have to answer the question of how we will fit ourselves into capitalism, even though it’s a garbage question.
Even when we know the answer is not going to be right, because there are no longer any right answers, still we have to come up with it. We do have to find our way forward, because we have to eat, because we have to pay rent, because we have to make our way through this world even though the system is hostile, and it is often easier to move forward when that hostility is acknowledged and our struggle is honoured.
(And to support the idea of no right answers, look at burnout rates among doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, and other professional careers that were previously considered the adultiest of all. Who is more adult than a lawyer? Nobody! And so, then, why are so many young lawyers burning out? Maybe our ideas of what it means to be “adult” – where adult is code for “productive member of capitalist society” – are fundamentally flawed.)
Let’s detour for a moment.
For a moment, consider the surface question, the first question, the better question – ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
Consider answering it from your heart rather than from your fear. Imagine a future where that is possible.
Consider this section from Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble:
“Vinciane Despret thinks-with other beings, human and not. That is a rare and precious vocation. Vocation: calling, calling with, called by, calling as if the world mattered, calling out, going too far, going visiting. Despret listened to a singing blackbird one morning – a living blackbird outside her particular window – and that way learned what importance sounds like. She thinks in attunement with those she thinks with – recursively, inventively, relentlessly – with joy and verve. She studies how beings render each other capable in actual encounters, and she theorizes – makes cogently available – that kind of theory and method. … Her kind of thinking enlarges, even invents, the competencies of all the players, including herself, such that the domain of ways of being and knowing dilates, expands, adds both ontological and epistemological possibilities, proposed and enacts what was not there before.”
Vocation: calling, calling with, called by, calling as if the world mattered, calling out, going too far, going visiting.
Imagine, just imagine, if we could answer that question with our vocation, with our calling, with our calling out and calling in, with our calling as if the world mattered. If we could go visiting into various ways of being and doing, and if that could be a beautiful part of the process rather than a painful destabilization.
Just thinking about it opens me up in the way Haraway describes.
I want that kind of thinking.
I want to answer the question with that expansiveness, that generosity, and that space. Rather than an ableist question which demands that the answerer fit into a mold that is no longer (and honestly has never been) compassionate or helpful, I want to answer an anti-oppressive question that expands and creates competencies and potential, that brings curiousity, playfulness, and companionship to the table.
And then let’s come back to the question under the question – not ‘what do you want to do with your life,’ but rather ‘what will you do to fit your life into the system?’
Here are some self-care ideas for navigating that process:
First, allow yourself to answer the surface question. Let yourself answer, even if you know you won’t be able to act on the answer. Do you want to spend your life in service? Do you want to spend your life baking pastries? Do you want to spend your life in gardens and on nature trails? Do you want to spend your life writing? Raising children? Raising goats? Raising the roof in party after party after party? Raising awareness? Raising each other up? Answer. Don’t worry if there’s no way you’ll pay the rent with that answer.
(And for the record, although we do have the persistent cultural myth of the self-made person who “trusts their heart and the money follows,” I think that it is mostly bullshit. Especially in the current economic and political climate. Especially for those of us who are marginalized or multiply marginalized. So, it may happen. You may answer that question, find a vocation, follow it, survive. I hope that you do! That’s what I’m hoping for myself, too! But if you don’t, that is not your fault. It is not because you weren’t positive enough, passionate enough, persistent enough. It is because the system is hostile.)
Second, allow yourself to dodge the question. When people who expect you to #adult ask how you’re going to do it, avoid/subvert/challenge the assumptions. What are you going to do with your life, they ask, as you enter your final year of your undergrad degree, fully cognizant of the lack of jobs in your field? “Well, I was thinking I would bake a pie this weekend!” You don’t owe them your answer.
Third, allow yourself to answer the question-within-the-question with whatever emotions come up for you. Bitterness? Yeah, fucking definitely. Anger? Yes. Fear? Yes. Curiousity? Yes! Excitement? Absolutely. Apathy? For sure. Whatever comes up for you, comes up for you. You’re allowed to feel whatever you feel.
And finally, know that you’re not alone in not being able to answer the question. It is an impossible and hostile question. It is cruel. It is unfair. If you don’t have an answer, that is okay.
Take a deep breath.
Keep looking for ways to tether yourself to yourself despite all of the alienation and distance that capitalism enforces.
I believe in you.
You will do so much with your life, and not all of it will be Supreme Adulting, and all of it will be yours.
Image description – A stick figure stands beside a table with a small green potted plant. There’s a blue swirl on the pot. Text below reads “You are allowed to love the small things that bring you joy.” There is a little blue and green swirl beside the text. There is a small Tiffany Sostar logo and a link to www.tiffanysostar.com.
Today’s #stickfiguresunday had two separate inspirations.
The first was a moment of realizing that I don’t need to go out to the mountains or the forest in order to connect with nature. Small things are okay. My houseplants are just as much “nature” as the forest, and it is okay that I love their generous greening, their hope-building growth. I wanted to honour that small love that acts as such a welcome source of grounding and connection for me. (I had been feeling guilty about how rarely I spend substantial time outside lately, and how unmotivated I am to go out anywhere when it’s cold and I’m achy.)
The second was a series of conversations with people in my communities who are currently struggling (self included) to keep up with self-care while dealing with external pressures.
For myself, I am still recovering from jet lag and from three weeks that were just non-stop – the first week of November spent cramming two weeks of work into one week (while step-parenting), then 10 days of travel (seven days in Australia for a Narrative Therapy intensive!), then a week of trying to recover (while step-parenting). It was too long without a break, and I’m feeling the effects of it. Even with all the skills, knowledges, and tools I have available, I’m still feeling it.
These long periods of over-extension and overexposure – months that seem to fly past without a single break, that leave us off-balance and feeling frayed and overwhelmed – can make self-care incredibly difficult. We feel like we don’t even have time for self-care, but we know that if we don’t make time for self-care, we’re going to be in worse shape.
So then we are dealing with the exhaustion, the overwhelm, and the guilt and shame.
We’re doing it to ourselves, say the shame gremlins!
If only we were organized enough to do meal planning and prep while barely managing to keep our heads above water!
If only we were disciplined enough to keep up a daily yoga routine in the midst of work and home crises!
If only we were dedicated enough to show up to our journals every morning, yes, even those mornings we can barely manage to crawl out of bed.
Then, then, we would be strong. Then we would be doing a good job. Then we would be thriving.
But the kind of self-care we think we need in those moments of overwhelm is often out of reach.
A good night’s sleep? Good luck! Anxiety taps us on the shoulder, asks if we wouldn’t mind sitting down for a long chat at 1 am.
A good meal? Great idea! The budget coughs delicately, and anyway the grocery store will take at least an hour.
Showing up to the page? Yes! I am so here for that plan!! The toddler wakes up early, the kitchen is a disaster, the stories you need to write demand quiet and space.
So in these moments, what can we do?
If we can’t do the big things we’re supposed to do, and it’s all our own fault, where does that leave us?
That’s where this Stick Figure Sunday comes in, because even in these days, weeks, months of overwhelm, there are still small moments of joy. It can be difficult to give ourselves permission to really feel those moments of joy when we feel like we’re “failing” at self-care in general. It can be difficult to let ourselves fully embrace the delight of hearing a favourite song, tasting a favourite treat, watering our plants, putting on our favourite outfit. It doesn’t feel like the right kind of self-care because it’s so fleeting and we know that we need something bigger.
So today’s post is official permission to love those small moments and small joys even if you do need something else, and something bigger.
You can love the small moments without betraying your need for a bigger change.
You can hold onto the small joys even in the middle of the huge overwhelm.
Find the small things.
Let yourself love them.
Image description – Autumn leaves and berries on nearly bare twigs against a grey sky. Text reads #TenDaysOfGrey #Mental Health. There is a small Tiffany Sostar logo in the top right.
Content warning for discussion of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidality.
Today is World Mental Health Day. This is my final post for Bryan McLean’s #TenDaysOfGrey mental health awareness project. You can read my interview with Bryan here. Rather than writing something new for today, I’m sharing a post I wrote four years ago that detailed my mental health journey up to that point. The reason I’m sharing it at the end of the Ten Days of Grey is because when I wrote this post I was in the grey. I am in the colour now, and I appreciate that.
I wrote the post shared here in 2013. Now I am 36, it’s four years later and many things have changed and many things have stayed the same. I am thankful for my 32 year old self writing this. I am thankful for my 28 year old self making it through, for all those younger selves who made it through. I have spent so many years in the grey.
At 36, I am not depressed. (I am often anxious, I am in the middle of a three-months-and-counting fibro flare, and I am experiencing regular existential dread over the state of the world, but miraculously, I am not depressed. Wow!)
It is sort of amazing to reflect on that, because there is a lot going on in my life that would is difficult, stressful, and overwhelming. I am thankful for the resilience I have developed, and I am also conscious of the truth that these sorts of things are not always “overcomeable” and these monsters will visit again. I’ll make them tea, cry with them, and continue surviving. I am thankful for that confidence.
I am also amazed at how strategies shift. When I wrote this original post, I had a few coping skills that I leaned on daily – my extensive lip balm collection is a testament to that. I used lip balm application as an alternative behaviour to self-harming, and it was life-saving for me. But these days, I have only even felt the urge to self-harm once or twice in the last couple years, and I only use lip balm when my lips are chapped. Self-care is such a responsive process – we are always responding, and the act of self-care is an act of presence and awareness. It becomes habitual, but it can never be only habitual. I love (and hate) that iterative, never-ending process. (I also really miss my Patchwork writers! If I ran another six-week poetry writing course, would you be interested? Let me know!)
Here is my 2013 post, edited to remove some ableism (we are always learning!) and to update links.
I’m sitting in Vendome, one of my favourite cafès in Calgary. I just sent out the writing prompt to my Patchwork writers, posted it on the Facebook page, shared it on my personal Facebook, tweeted it, posted it on the Writing in the Margins blog. Most of the time I respond to writing prompts privately, in a longhand journal. If I share the writing later (which I rarely do, outside of workshops where I read my just-written work with the group), I type it up and polish it a bit.
But the prompt today is to write about mental health.
And I am a mental health advocate. So I am typing this response directly into my “add new post” screen, and I am going to hit “publish” when I’m finished. And then I’ll post a link to it on Facebook and on all of my Twitter accounts, and here’s why –
At 13, I went through my first serious depression. I did not know what was happening to me. (If you suspect that you may be going through a depression or other mental health concern, here is a free screening tool. It’s not perfect, and symptoms are not so cut-and-dried for many people – it is a place to start, but not a final word.)
Suddenly everything was awful. There was a pain in my body/brain/heart/soul. I cried a lot. I self-harmed. I scratched my neck and shoulders and hips and belly until I was cross-hatched, red and scabbing. I smashed my head into walls, sometimes until I was dizzy. I didn’t know who to talk to. The only person who knew I was self-harming, the only person I confided in, was my 9 year old sister. It was terrible for both of us, a weight far too heavy for her small shoulders (or my own).
Writing about this time, I feel my chest tighten and my breath shorten, the muscles in my neck knot up – these are the first physical manifestations of anxiety in my body and I am aware enough now, at 32, to recognize them for what they are. I take a deep breath, roll my shoulders, take a sip of water, continue.
In high school, at around 16 or 17, I went through a second (or perhaps just a worsening of my ongoing) depression. This was complicated by the arrival of Sadisty – a very angry, very vicious voice in my head. I do not seem to have a split or multiple personality disorder – Sadisty was just (“just”) my mind’s way of externalizing the intense self-loathing that I was experiencing. Though I feel a deep shame about what feels, to me, like one of the lowest points in my mental health journey, I am also amazed and grateful for whatever it was in me that did choose to externalize rather than internalize those feelings. Sadisty wanted me to die, and I had many moments of suicidality, but I didn’t want me to die. I put all of that negativity into Sadisty, to get it out of my own head, to make those nasty comments come in a voice that wasn’t my own.
I am lucky to have survived high school, to have survived Sadisty and that second/ongoing depression.
(Breathe again, breathe again.)
At 18, I started volunteering at the Calgary Humane Society. I adopted a dog, my soul mate. Tasha. She had separation anxiety and dog-dog aggression. She was anxious, fearful, aggressive. Helping her helped me. Things got better. Sadisty was gone, and she has never come back.
I got married, I got divorced.
My mental health stayed at a consistently low-grade level of self-loathing. Low self-esteem. An at-that-time undiagnosed anxiety disorder. The impact of early trauma, unacknowledged anxiety and low self-esteem on my sex drive led me to believe I was “sexually dysfunctional” (a whole other thing, related but tangential to this post).
(Breathe, breathe. Roll shoulders, stretch wrists, refill water. In my body right now – tightness, tension. Shame, anxiety, fear.)
After my divorce, I went through a third severe depression. Again, I was self-harming. Again, I was suicidal.
I was 28.
I was ashamed.
I felt foolish – this was supposed to be done, part of the horror of adolescence. How could it follow me into adulthood? How could it threaten to destroy the new life I was trying to build for myself? How could I?! Shame, anxiety, self-loathing – there was a toxic mix of emotions and beliefs at play. Fortunately, I was seeing a counsellor and had her support, and the support of my anchor partner. I had started seeing a counsellor when I was trying to get past the sexual dysfunction, and continued seeing her through my divorce and into the depression that followed it. I still see her, and will continue to do so. I recognize now that my neurodivergence is not something I will ever “overcome” – it is part of who I am. It has taught me invaluable lessons, and has helped me become the advocate that I am. At 32, I recognize the value that this neurodivergence has brought to my life.
But at 28, I climbed halfway over my 28th floor balcony, intending to make strawberry jam on the pavement below.
After that, my counsellor helped me come up with an emergency plan.
I made the painful call to my sister, my mom, my dad.
I said, “I am currently depressed. Sometimes I feel suicidal. I am calling to ask if you would be willing to be part of my emergency plan. What that would mean is that if I call and tell you that I am feeling suicidal, you will be available to come and be with me, or take me to the hospital if necessary.”
I had to euthanize Tasha.
My mom was hit by a truck, she almost died.
I experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. The depression got worse. The self-harming escalated.
My best friend stopped taking my calls. Months later, she told me that it had just gotten to be too much – there was something wrong every time we spoke.
Depression, anxiety, other mental health concerns… they can be like bombs, decimating at the point of impact, shrapnel flying everywhere. Relationships can be fundamentally altered or destroyed. Partnerships suffer. The ripple effects of a mental health issue can make the isolation and loneliness, the shame and fear and pain so much worse. Among the conversations that we do not have regarding mental health, this conversation about self-care for caregivers, and balancing the various and sometimes conflicting needs for support is both absent and necessary. It is possible to remain friends with a depressed person, but because we do not ever have this conversation, many people don’t know how.
I came out of that depression.
I became an activist.
I developed an amazing, diverse, wide-ranging social circle.
I learned new coping skills. I breathe more intentionally now. I pay attention to tension in my body. I rarely allow an anxiety attack to escalate to the point where I feel the urge to self-harm. I use lip balm and apply it when I start to feel anxious – I pay attention to the feel, the smell, the taste. I take supplements and get exercise. I see my counsellor every other week, more frequently when things get bad.
I am 32 now.
I am currently depressed.
I wake up in the morning and I feel sad. I feel hopeless. I feel discouraged.
I haven’t reconciled with the addition of fibromyalgia to my life. I miss my dad. I miss my dogs. I am financially unstable, and frustrated by my ongoing mental health concerns. I am immobilized by anxiety on a regular basis.
But I have help. And I have a purpose. I believe that my weakness is one of my superpowers, that my willingness to speak openly about my struggles is part of my activism.
So I am depressed.
I am waiting for it to be over (for now).
I use all my new coping skills. I lean on my friends, as much as I can allow myself, and I breathe. I stretch. I take my supplements and drink my water and have epsom salt baths to help with the physical pain.
It is World Mental Health Day.
And this is my mental health story.
(This post was available on my Patreon last week. If you’d like to get access to posts early, consider supporting me!)
In August, I asked my Facebook community – Where do you find hope in media lately?
I asked the question because hope has been on my mind. Or rather, the lack of hope. The need for hope. The challenge and pain of trying to hope in a world that seems so soaked in dystopia and pain and fear and hate.
Hope, hopefulness, hopelessness. What hope is, and what it isn’t, and what it does and doesn’t do for us.
I’ve been thinking about reading Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone’s Active Hope but so far it remains just a thought. Hope feels like a necessary and dangerous topic, an exposed nerve for so many of us in the current political, social, and economic climate. (On this note, I am considering attending this retreat in October, recommended by the same person who recommended the book to me. I haven’t figured out the finances, but if you have $250 and can be in Alberta and want to attend, let me know and we can do a retreat together!)
For a while now, I have felt deeply hopeless, hopeless down to my bones. I have been swimming in existential dread. I struggle to see a way forward for humanity – at all times, I think we’ve overstepped and overstayed, embraced a political and economic framework that is fundamentally unsustainable, and supported it with a social framework that isolates and harms so many people, and in the dark times, I think there’s no way back. I have felt, for a while now, that the end of the road is close.
I have handled that deep hopelessness by holding onto smaller hopes. I’ve found a metaphor that works for me, based on that idea of the road – I think that there’s value in walking to the end of the road together. Doing it intentionally. Doing it with self-awareness and with compassion. I think that there is something powerful and meaningful and hopeful about the idea that we can offer whatever comfort and self-care and community care and survival strategies we can, despite the end of the road looming. I feel sad for the world and for all our unmeetable potential, crushed under a drive towards hierarchy and violence and exploitation. But I also think that we can do what we can, with what we have, for as long as we are able, and that’s worth continuing on for. That’s the safety net that keeps me from falling off the cliff.
I am also wary of any self-help advice that includes weaponized positivity – the idea that if you aren’t positive enough, don’t look for the positive, don’t find the silver lining, then you’re at fault for your situation – and I think hope falls into that category all too often. I don’t want to contribute to that body of work that constitutes a vast and crushing arsenal of weaponized positivity. I am not here to tell you that you just need to hope – just need to vibe higher, think brighter, seek the light. Nope. In my heart of hearts, I think we’re screwed. And even if we aren’t, the fear and the pain and the hopelessness – it’s real. It’s so real.
And I also believe that when the car is spinning out, it helps to look for the clear road rather than the trees. I think that we will have better luck taking on the role of death doula for a dying species if we find some way to hope within that. If we find some clear road to aim for – some awareness, some intention, some compassion, to bring to this critical work of loving ourselves and each other through this time.
So, I do believe that there is value in curating our thoughts, words, and media intake. Not in demanding that we always ‘think positive’ or find the silver lining, but in recognizing when we need an infusion of hope, joy, humour, or encouragement and when we notice the need, seeking those things out.
And so, for those moments when you need to find some hope, here are a whole bunch of suggestions from fellow travelers, in some cases paraphrased and edited. (With additional links added by me in the brackets, in case you’re like me and like to read reviews before you invest in any media.)
Where do you find hope in media lately?
Jim: Muppet movies. The theme of pretty much all the old Muppet movies is, “we can achieve our dreams, if we work together.”
(I enjoyed this essay from Bitch Media about feminism in the Muppets, and if you’re an academic nerd like me, you might enjoy knowing that Kermit Culture: Critical Perspectives on Jim Henson’s Muppets exists.)
Samantha: Steven Universe. It validates and celebrates everyone. Poly, straight, Bi-Gender, people with trauma…everyone. And everyone gets to be a hero.
Bob’s Burgers. It’s a show about good people and while they’re weird and the world can be cruel to them, they are ultimately resilient because they have each other.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – It’s just madcap fun. With a diverse cast and some serious heart. It’s not a new way forward for the medium but it never fails to make me smile.
Ms Marvel – Teenage Muslim-American gets super powers and then has to balance heroics with family life? It’s basically the end point of the Spider-Man formula. Really, really good.
The Adventure Zone – a D&D podcast about three adventurers. It’s a humour-based show but grows into so much more. And while the early goings can be rough, they get very good at representation and combatting problematic tropes.
Rose Buddies – a Bachelor Fancast. While I will never ever watch The Bachelor family of products, there’s something about two people who love it and love each other that is oddly fulfilling. They engage with the problematic elements and it might not be for everyone but it’s my second favourite podcast.
(There are lots of articles about why Steven Universe is rad, but I like this one from i09, this one from Liverpool Geek Girls, and this very thoughtful essay about POC-coded Pearl from Black Nerd Problems.
There are also lots of articles about why Bob’s Burgers is brilliant, but I love this one from Decider about why Tina, Gene and Louise are the feminist role models we need.
Samantha’s picks are all, honestly, really fantastic and I had a great time finding articles about them.
This one about Squirrel Girl shares the same enthusiasm I had for the comic when I first discovered it.
And G. Willow Wilson, who created the new Ms. Marvel, is my hero. I saw her speak at Mount Royal in Calgary, and her quote “There is not always a way out, but there is always a way forward” became the cornerstone of my coaching practice. This article about Kamala Khan is fantastic.
This post about why Adventure Zone is fantastic is also great, but watch out for spoilers!)
Katie: Not conventional media, but ASMR roleplay videos on YouTube have been an effective way for me to escape the existential dread.
Rick and Morty for helping me laugh through the fear and pain.
(According to The Nerdist, the opening premise of Rick and Morty is “like Sliders but good” and that’s some high praise in my secret Sliders-loving heart.)
Richelle: Dogspotting and We Rate Dogs. So many good doggos, and the fact that there are beings on this planet that are beacons of joy and love and floof who continue to be happy gives me hope. Even if I’m ready to give up on the human race, there are adorable dogs who will never bring about the apocalypse.
(This post about how doggo memes can teach us about consent and inclusion is one of the most hopeful and encouraging I’ve read in a while.)
Jon: Video games can be a source of hope too (depending on the game). Often the stories can be hopeful (like a lot of the Lego games, games about rebuilding after an apocalypse, some of the final fantasy games). Even just the concept of games can build hope, though. You are presented with a challenge. To get over the challenge you have to have hope that it’s possible. You work at it and eventually you make it through.
Video games are often overlooked when it comes to media; they’re written off as a quark of a particular sub-culture that a lot of us shy away from (sometimes for good reason). I’m really glad to see some of the most recent game designers come out to make games important to them (and us), though. They’re definitely artists and sometimes they create truly hope-inspiring pieces.
Seeing the work that some game designers pull off despite the general toxic nature of gamer-culture also gives me a lot of hope.
(Jon suggests Never Alone as one of his favourite examples of hopeful games. And I have been reading SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, which is all about how game playing can increase resilience. I recommend both the book and the app. I’ve also been tinkering with a blog post about videogames and self-care for about six months, so, someday that’ll happen. Someday. Haha. *headdesk*)
Andrea: Body positive Instagram. Tess Holiday, queenkim_nyakimm, fat women of colour, curvy_curvy_cosplayers, curvycampbell, and gabifresh. I haven’t seen a lot of disability inclusivity in these BUT most are on their game with racial and body shape diversity. Using Instagram for body positivity is a very new thing for me, tbh. It was mostly food, travel, and protesting. Not by any rule but I think mine started with Tess Holiday and I was like “oooohhhh this is such an emotionally productive way to use Instagram.”
And I find hope in radical books that destabilize systems of oppression. I’m currently reading “Mongrel Cities” by Leonie Sandercock. It was written in 2003 so it is dated but it was already addressing the fear and the Othering inspired by 9/11. I’m not that far in but already it’s talking about planning for communities that acknowledge differences as strengths. The author actually says about herself that she remains a hopeful theorist even when our visions of urban Utopia fail endlessly, that she seeks to keep going and try new things. She looks largely at the age of migration in the western world and shares her criticism and hopes of what our cities and societies can be. She’s a professor at UBC who leads the Indigenous planning concentration and she focuses on storytelling and narrative in planning practice. I fangirl over her (this is the planning program I’m trying to get into).
Alexis: The bible. The concept of a higher purpose and God is the only thing that gives me hope.
I’m part of a fundamental religious group. So we adhere to the bible. It’s our source of guidance. And everyone who bashes alternative lifestyles and hides behind the bible to justify their hate – they’re not acting like the Christ I know.
I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. I have gay friends. I have trans friends. I am friends with recovering addicts and people who choose to work in prostitution.
I believe in harm reduction and the freedom to do what you want/need to be happy.
If that includes God/the bible – great.
If not. That’s great too. I aim to imitate Jesus and his love (yup I know that sounds hokey). But he was kind and he showed love and didn’t condemn people.
I can tell you that if I didn’t believe in God, I would be an awful person who was extremely hopeless. Whether what I believe comes true or not, I’m kinder and happier. I feel hope. I’m not overwhelmed by what is in the media. It’s scary out there. But I would rather live and die with hope in my heart than believe that the world is going to implode at any minute.
Michelle: APTN, Aboriginal People’s Television Network – they aren’t perfect but at least give us a voice without colonial talking points
Patricia: Pod Save America. It’s written by Obama’s writers and communications team. I feel like they are intelligent, well informed, experienced voices who are able to read and critique what occurs in the media very logically. Also, they are sweary sometimes, which is necessary and awesome.
(Another) Katie: Not really hopeful per se and definitely not perfect, but I find when I’m overcome with existential dread that revisiting media from my childhood helps calm me down and cradle me. The Harry Potter franchise has been good in that regard – it’s like comfort food in book form for me.
(I have really enjoyed Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a social justice-informed podcast that explores the Harry Potter books. And there’s research to support Katie’s love of returning to cherished media, as this Mary Sue article outlines. I won’t link to the study directly, because it’s called “The Temporal and Focal Dynamics of Volitional Reconsumption: A Phenomenological Investigation of Repeated Hedonic Experiences” and that sounds pretty dry, even to me. Okay, fine, I will. Here it is.)
Jess: I have songs I wrote to sing to myself when I’m full of existential dread. One of them is actually on soundcloud, I hope it’s helpful to someone else!
Justine: Lately, I’ve been fascinated with Jay Z’s 4:44 roll out and the videos and footnotes he’s released. They’re beautifully made and really fascinating.
It gives me hope because a central theme throughout is that artists need to be in control of the process involving their artwork, which is really cool thinking that Tidal might operate more as an (elite) artist collective and inspire other streaming services to organize along similar lines.
Other than that, comedy is a still big one for me. Political comedy has been really great lately in calling bullshit, which is really validating. Personally, I recommend:
1) Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
2) Late Show with Stephen Colbert
3) The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
4) Late Night with Seth Meyers (Amber’s segments are SUPER good)
Lastly, for a feel good, hope for the future feeling, I recommend “Homecoming King” by Hasan Mihnaj (Netflix). It’s a really well done stand up that talks about his experiences growing up as an Indian American Muslim, and it’s really well done, and I found it really powerful.
(This New Yorker article agrees with Justine’s assessment of Homecoming King.)
Sierra: The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, a very interesting book by Sarah Lewis. The author explores pushing past and learning from our mistakes and failures. It is also very well written. Sarah Lewis does an incredible job of highlighting the deeper fiber of perseverance and positive humanity.
Stasha: This page called Just Ravens on here. This lovely lady lives up north and shares photos and stories of her relationships with a group of ravens. Most recent one I liked was a raven waiting on her car for her to get off work, so the raven can hitch a ride on her side mirror and get some snacks. There are some treaty 7 people in the group talking about ravens that I know irl. So, everything about it just gives me hope and joy.
(Ravens are amazing, as GrrlScientist attests.)
This is a Patreon reward post, and the first draft of this post was available to patrons last week. At the $10 support level, I’ll write a self-care post on the topic of your choice during your birthday month. And at any level of support, you’ll get access to these (and other) posts early.
This post is for Shannon, who is one of the strongest and most courageous people I know. She deals with chronic anxiety and other health issues, and yet is always doing as much as she can with the tools and resources she has available. She is an inspiration to me. Her requested topic was sensory overwhelm – what it is and how to handle it.
I decided to take this prompt in a different direction than my usual, and drew a comic for her rather than writing a post. There’s a longer post on the Patreon in the first draft, so if you want my long and slightly incoherent ramblings about what sensory overwhelm feels like for me, you can check that out as a patron.
After thinking about it, though, I think the comic is better without the explanations. I realized that one of the ways I try to process and mitigate sensory overwhelm is by over-thinking it, analyzing it into the ground, intellectualizing it, because being present with it is just so effing uncomfortable. But that over-analyzing, over-thinking, over-intellectualizing gets in the way of getting through the experience.
When I lose myself in sensory overwhelm, it’s often in those moments of trying to think myself out of my body. Sometimes it works better to just try to stay grounded while the overwhelm overwhelms, to let it happen and trust that there’s another side to come out on, to breathe even when the sound of the breathe is too much, to push my shoulders down from my ears even when the movement is too much, to close my eyes and know that I am alive, I am okay, I will be okay, even when everything is coming at me amplified and awful.
So, here’s my comic. This is how I experience sensory overwhelm.
Panel One: A disjointed stick figure, with none of the limbs connected. “I feel disconnected and out of sync.”
Panel Two: A stick figure stands and covers their ears. Yellow and red lines and wiggles surround their head. “Sound are overwhelming.”
Panel Three: A stick figure stands. The sun is in the top left corner of the panel. Red and yellow starbursts cover the stick figure’s head. “Light hurts my eyes.”
Panel Four: A stick figure stands. Green wiggly lines surround them. “Smells are so strong and bad.”
Panel Five: A stick figure stands, surrounded by a spiky red field. “I feel like one giant exposed nerve.”
Panel Six: No image. “Sometimes I lose myself for a while.”
Panel Seven: A stick figure sits cross-legged. Blue and green concentric circles radiate out from their torso. “Eventually I can breathe and centre.”
Panel Eight: A stick figure stands. “And then I am back in sync.”
(This post is part of the #100loveletters challenge, which started June 21, and is open to anyone, at no charge! The challenge is really easy, and really hard – for 100 days, from June 21 to September 29, write yourself a love letter. It can be short, it can be long, it can be a stick figure or a sonnet or a flower or a song. Share your pictures, comments, thoughts, and stories in the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in your blog, and find a community of people practicing a summer of daily self-love.
You can join the email list to receive writing prompts, encouragement, and success stories.)
Yesterday, just a week into the 100 Love Letters Challenge, I didn’t write myself a love letter.
I thought about it. I almost wrote it. I almost wrote about ten different versions of it. There were multiple points in the day where I thought “I did that well, I love that about myself,” or “that was really challenging, I could use some gentleness and love around that issue.”
(Like every day, there were moments of confidence, moments of doubt, moments of anger, moments of joy. Once you start noticing your experience, the complex and varying texture of each day becomes so much more apparent.)
I even pulled out my box of greeting cards* and flipped through, looking for the right card for what I was feeling.
I thought about writing my love letter in another Facebook post – I’ve done that most days so far.
I thought about taking some more pictures and turning one of them into a meme to go with the love letter – I’ve been enjoying the nudge towards more creativity.
I thought about scrawling a stick figure on a post-it note, as midnight approached, and I started to feel more anxious about missing the deadline.
But the stick figure on a post-it note would have been purely performance – that wasn’t the love letter I wanted. It would have just been for show, to prove that I’m doing the challenge successfully. So, I didn’t do it. It didn’t really feel loving.
I’m not sure why I didn’t write myself a letter yesterday. I could have – I had the time, I had the content, I had the motivation. I wasn’t hating myself, or particularly disappointed in myself, or feeling ashamed of myself. I had moments of self-awareness and self-compassion that could easily have become a love letter.
But I also had a significant reluctance to write. To write anything. Anything at all.
My reluctance was both internal and external.
On the one hand, I felt anxious about being visibly self-loving. What if I love myself too much, too openly, too loudly, too visibly? What if it makes people hate me? And, also, what if I love myself visibly, but I do it wrong, and people are disappointed in me? Visibility is risky. That’s the external reluctance – the fear of what people will think about what I write to myself.
But then, the internal resistance.
It’s just hard, my friends.
Writing myself a love letter every day is hard.
I don’t like it.
I like self-care that focuses on my flaws, my anxieties, my failings. I like looking at my failures and then forgiving myself for those. I like paying attention to the sadness, the fear, the wounds that still hurt. It keeps the focus where I’m comfortable.
Love letters are different.
Romance is different.
Different, and hard.
I can do love letters to others, and romance for others, easily. But not so much for myself. I might do it wrong. I might do it wrong.
And so, yesterday I didn’t write.
Because I am running this #100loveletters challenge, that unwritten letter is, in some ways, as visible as any of the written letters. And it’s worth acknowledging the lack of a letter. It’s worth talking about the resistance.
Every one of us in this challenge will run into resistance. There will be so much resistance. And we will get through it, whatever it is. Fear of “doing it wrong,” anger at ourselves, shame, discomfort, embarrassment.
When you hit that wall, if you haven’t hit it yet, know that you’re not alone.
We are here together, floating on the glow of self-love and dragging with the weight of self-hate.
There will be days with no letter, and that doesn’t invalidate your participation in the challenge, and it doesn’t diminish the love you are cultivating for yourself.
We can look into the parts of ourselves that are less comfortable, and we will be okay. That loving abyss is gazing back, and yeah, it’s terrifying, but, you know, it’s also really great. I’m pretty sure it’s really great.
Here we go, onward!
* I have a phenomenal collection of greeting cards, and I’ll be sending a hand written letter to five challenge participants over the course of the hundred days. I’ll be randomly selecting one challenge participant every twenty days of the challenge. To enter, just send me an email and let me know that you’re participating in the challenge and you’d like to be entered for the hand-written letter!