Image description: A stick figure braces themselves against a wall. From the left, a grey and black cloud approaches and is labeled “Incoming…!!!”. The cloud is filled with the words depression, anxiety, trauma, fear, isolation. The wall is labeled “Brace yourself!” and is backed by the colourful words resilience, connection, self-care, community, compassion, self-awareness, breathing.
Sometimes the fog bearing down on us can feel overwhelming, isolating, petrifying.
There’s so much shame that can come with the cloud – depression, anxiety, trauma, fear, isolation, or whatever else it might be.
So if you’re seeing that cloud bearing down on you, brace yourself.
Find the solid wall to lean against – find your community, find your connection, your awareness, your resilience, your breath. Find whatever you can brace against while the cloud descends and lean on until it dissipates.
You are not alone.
If this is your first time in the cloud, know that many of us have been here and will be here again.
If it’s not your first time, know that you have survived the cloud before.
Find your wall, brace yourself, let yourself be supported.
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?!
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!
Image description: Title reads – Social Self-Care Part One. The first panel reads, “It’s okay to be anxious if it’s been a while.” A stick figure stands, saying, “I miss my friend! Do they miss me? It’s my fault. I feel bad. What if they hate me now?” The second panel reads, “It’s okay to reach out anyway.” Two stick figures greet each other with “Hi!” and “Hey friend!” There is a small tiffanysostar.com link in the bottom right corner.
Today’s Stick Figure Sunday was inspired by my own sense of isolation and anxiety about reaching out to people that I’ve dropped out of contact with over the last while. Sometimes a week can feel like too long, sometimes it’s months, or even years.
The anxiety can be overwhelming – what if our friends have forgotten us, or hate us now? What if we abandoned our friends during times when they needed us, and we either didn’t know, or didn’t feel we had a choice? What if our self-care was really selfishness and we’ve been horrible people in our inward turn? What if we’re traitors, making new friends or exploring new projects?
For those of us with certain mental health diagnoses – things like AHDH, bipolar, or borderline especially – any periods of falling off the social map come with a whole weight of stigma, and we can feel like we’re confirming the stereotype and deserve the stigma.
It is okay to feel anxious about all of this.
Those feelings are normal.
You are not weird or bad for worrying!
And the second panel is just as true. You can reach out even if it’s been a while. You can reach out even if you’re worried. You don’t have to punish yourself with social isolation.
Relationships elastic closer and further apart even without neurodivergence being a factor, but when neurodivergence is a factor, the shame level can be intense. So can the anxiety.
You can, if it feels right for you, reach out to those friends. Even if it’s been a while, even if you’re anxious.
And your friend might reach back, or they might not. Part of social self-care is honouring our needs for connection while also honouring other people’s ability to respond in whatever way is right for them. Assessing your needs, being honest with yourself, taking the risk, being vulnerable enough to send out a hello. In these moments of vulnerability, we risk loss. There’s no way around that, and it’s not a bad thing inherently. We have more skills than we often give ourselves credit for, and we can often bring enough resilience to handle the answer.
That’s not always true, though, and part of this self-care is knowing when you can only handle a yes, and not asking in those moments – reaching out to someone where the connection is strong first, rather than reaching out where there is distance and anxiety. That’s why it’s phrased as “it is okay to reach out anyway”, rather than “reach out anyway.”
The invitation is there, but the directive isn’t. You’re the expert. You know if you want to, or are able to, reach out.
The other inspiration for this post is the fact that I’ve started putting together the content for the next online course. We’ve done mental, physical, and emotional self-care – in January, we’ll be introducing social self-care. If boundaries, communication, trust, and vulnerability in relationships are challenging for you, keep an eye out for an announcement with dates and details.
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.
Today’s #stickfiguresunday is all about the complexity of self-care and the many factors that have to be considered. Self-care is so much more than any one action, or set of actions.
Self-care includes long-term, short-term, and emergency actions. It includes individual, communal, and structural action. It is soft and easy, *and* hard and demanding.
Self-care is always dependent on our available resources – social, emotional, financial, physical. Self-care also depends on our histories and our particular intersections of trauma, oppression, and privilege.
We are always practicing self-care – people are *always* responding to their struggles and challenges, even when those responses are not socially acceptable or recognizable as self-care.
One definition of self-care, the one that I use, is that self-care is any action that honours our needs. This includes actions that may not be sustainable long-term and that may not be socially sanctioned – self-harm, addiction, dissociation, and others.
One definition of sustainable self-care, which I use, is that sustainable self-care happens when we bring awareness, compassion, and intention to these actions.
Many of the ways we talk about self-care are geared towards financially privileged cisgender white women, and these exclusions and erasures can be so hurtful. Our conversations need to expand, our definitions need to develop depth and nuance.
Community care is a critical part of self-care – so we need to keep asking, which communities are being left out of these discussions? How can we deepen and extend the conversations? How can we honour and acknowledge the self-care that is being practiced by poor, fat, neurodivergent, racialized, traumatized, and otherwise marginalized folks?
Image description: A stick figure stands. A thought bubble reads, in colourful text – social? emotional? physical? financial? mental? creative? trauma? spiritual? collaborative?
Below the thought bubble in various shades of green – What IS self-care? How can we practice self-care? How do we talk about self-care?