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?
Image description: A list with illustrations.
1. Something Uncomfortable (illustration of a stick figure in a small blue circle with a larger green circle surrounding, text reads “This comfort zone is getting small. Let’s grow!”)
2. Something to comfort you (illustration of a stick figure surrounded by hearts, text reads “What do I need? It’s okay to be kind to myself.”)
3. Something to comfort someone else (illustration of two stick figures, one sitting and one standing. There is a blue heart-shaped flower growing between them, and green roots reaching down and tangling between them. Text reads “How can I help? We share roots. We can grow together.”)
Along the bottom of the illustration, text reads #stickfiguresunday www.tiffanysostar.com and a small Tiffany Sostar logo.
Today’s Stick Figure Sunday is all about comfort.
It’s a self-care invitation – an open door into exploring comfort from multiple angles.
Some discomfort is healthy, and helps us grow. There are times when it’s worth leaning into an uncomfortable feeling – trying something new, or trying something again; taking a risk; staying in a difficult conversation or standing up for ourselves; setting a boundary or asking someone about their boundaries; making a change or making a plan. There are all kinds of uncomfortable things that are a valuable part of self-care.
And just because being the right kind of uncomfortable is a good thing, doesn’t mean that being comfortable is a bad thing. So when you make the choice to do something that makes you uncomfortable in that good, growing, gracious way, also give yourself permission to do something that is comforting. Cuddle up with a movie and some popcorn, go for a long walk, talk with your bestie or with your notebook. Being kind to yourself, and giving yourself the experiences and the physical, emotional, mental, and social resources that nourish you is also a valuable part of self-care.
And, finally, comforting each other is also a valuable part of self-care because community care is self-care. When we help each other, we build each other up and we also develop our own sense of agency and self-efficacy – our sense that our actions can positively influence our lives and the world around us. By reminding ourselves that we can make a positive difference in the world, it can become easier to do more of the things that make a difference. It’s hard to keep going when we can’t see the point, when we don’t have hope and we don’t feel like our actions matter. Helping each other is one way to rebuild our sense of hope and resilience, and to help foster hope and resilience in the people we care about.
How will you get comfortable, comforting, and uncomfortable this week?
Image description: A stick figure stands on a road labeled The Path. Small paths lead away, labeled Why?, Is there another way?, What do I want for my life?, Who drew this map?, Where does my heart want to go? In the bottom right is a small Tiffany Sostar logo and a link to www.tiffanysostar.com
The inspiration for today’s #stickfiguresunday came from a good friend sharing their life-changing experience of realizing that further grad school would not actually get them where they wanted to be, and that there were other paths to their goals that felt better, easier, and more wholehearted.
More grad school had seemed like the best, maybe even the only, path towards their goals. But when they started questioning what they wanted, why they wanted it, and how to get it, they realized that grad school was not only not the only answer – it wasn’t even the best answer.
In that same conversation, we talked about why I had gotten married. I was on The Path – date, fall in love, get married. What I wanted was to move out of my parents’ home, experience freedom and independence, and feel capable and supported. Marriage seemed like the best, and at the time only, option. I loved him, we had been dating for quite a while, it was the logical next step. But if I had been able to ask myself some of these questions with compassion and curiousity, I could have found other paths toward my goals – paths that may have ended up in less pain and heartbreak for myself and my ex-husband.
It doesn’t help to assign blame to past selves who didn’t know that questions were possible – we make the best choices that we can with the resources and information we have available.
But it is helpful to invite ourselves to question the paths we’re on now.
Why are we on this path?
If the answer is that the path is right for us, awesome! We can stay on it.
If not, then we can start exploring alternatives.
Is there another way to get what we need?
If the answer is yes, it can be worth exploring what those other paths might look like, and whether they feel like a better fit for us. This line of questioning is most helpful when we feel trapped or forced into a certain path. Exploring alternative options with creativity, compassion, and curiousity can help us feel more grounded in our agency and self-efficacy – if we explore the options and find that this path is, indeed, the best or only path that gets us to our goals, then we can make a choice to stay on the path. Rather than being passively pushed forward by inertia or external pressure, we can make choices about what we do with our time and energy.
This is important, because there are not always better options. Sometimes we are on a rocky path and it truly is the only path available. It can hurt to look that reality in the eye, but once we do, we can start making choices about how we move forward on the rocky path we’re walking. G. Willow Wilson said “There is not always a way out, but there is always a way forward,” and that motto informs so much of my personal philosophy. Questioning our path can help us find the way forward.
What do I want for my life?
Taking a more expansive view can help. We’re on this path – towards marriage, towards grad school, towards a career in the trades, towards a big move or a friend group or a hobby or a habit or whatever else – and this path is not the only one that we’re on. We live multi-storied lives, meaning that our lives are made up of a huge number of events, experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and situations that create the stories we tell and are told about ourselves. There are many paths we are walking simultaneously. What do want for our lives? What is the bigger picture, and how does this path fit into it?
Who drew this map?
Why did I believe that marriage was the only way I could successfully move out of my parents’ house? To my older self, that is very clearly a false belief. But there was Life Map that I was trying to follow, and marriage was the next stop. I wasn’t navigating from a place of self-awareness, compassion, and intention. And that’s okay! We all have maps that were drawn for us by our society, our families of origin, our communities, or our histories. Those maps are not bad or wrong. But it’s worth examining who drew the map we’re following, and making a choice about whether we want to keep using it.
Where does my heart want to go?
What makes me happy?
What helps me feel whole?
What daydreams or imaginary selves keep tugging at me?
It’s worth paying attention to those gut-and-heart knowledges, even if they seem to contradict or challenge what we know with our rational minds.
So, what path(s) are you on?
How did you get there, and do you want to stay there, and where do they lead?
Let yourself ask the questions gently, compassionately, and with as much curiousity as you can muster.
This process can feel overwhelming and scary – if we question our path, does that mean we’ll have to abandon everything we love? Does it mean we’ll end up ostracized, alone, and broke? Does it mean we’ll realize we have no choices? (The answer to all of those is “no” but I totally understand the fear!)
If nothing else, start looking for the small question marks that pop up. When you start asking yourself about your path, as my friend did about grad school, let the knowledge unfold. What do you want? It’s okay to ask. And you might love the answer!
Image description: A 3-panel comic titled Superhero Self-Care.
In the first panel, a stick figure is sitting while an angry cloud yells insults at them. Text reads “Sometimes the mean voices get so loud.”
In the second panel, text at the top reads “I need help to keep myself safe and I can summon my inner hero.” A small stick figure labeled “me” stands beside a larger stick figure with a cape labeled “me, but a hero.”
In the third panel, the hero stick figure says to the cloud, “Stop! These lies hurt! What do you need?” The cloud has wide eyes and a sad mouth in this panel, and says “I am sad and afraid.” Text at the bottom of the panel reads “My strength is bigger than my pain.”
In the bottom right is a link to www.tiffanysostar.com, and in the bottom left is a small Tiffany Sostar logo.
This is part of an ongoing series of stick figure self-care posts.
Today’s post was inspired by the work being done in my Feeling Towards Wholeness course, where we created alter egos for ourselves to help in our healing journeys, and by a post shared by my friend Samantha about her struggles with Depression Guy (a concept she found in the web series People Watching, in this episode, which is pretty emotionally heavy but also pretty awesome).
Creating a superhero self can be a valuable resiliency-building tool.
In the comic, I also wanted to show the superhero stick figure treating the mean inner voices with compassion, because although I do think that sometimes we need to shout our own inner bullies down, much more often we need to make space for the pain and fear that is being redirected into aggression. Holding compassionate space for ourselves, even when we are hurting and lashing inward, is a challenge.
But that’s why we have superheroes to call on!
Who is your inner superhero?
What skills and abilities do they have that makes them such a great ally to you?
Do you have certain times or places when you call on them for help?
Do they have any accessories or tools that help them be the hero you need them to be?
Do you find it easier to call on your inner superhero for yourself, or for others?