This is the first part of a Patreon reward post series for Dylan. At the $10/month support level, I’ll write you a post on the topic of your choice for your birthday, too! Blog posts are available one week early for patrons at any support level.
I met Dylan in one of the first courses I took in my university career. They were smart, insightful, and hella intimidating. It has been an honour to get to know them over the last eight years, and I consider them one of my best friends. We are working on an ongoing project this year – a duoethnography on the topic of the experience of being non-binary in binary-gendered contexts. It’s pretty cool, and we even presenting a paper on one segment of our research at the Society for the Study of Social Problems conference in August! (I’ll be posting the presentation on my Patreon later this month.)
When I asked Dylan what topic they would like me to tackle for their birthday month post this year, this is what they said:
“I’m so tired and stretched thin across multiple projects so I apologize if this is not helpful. It’s kind of hilarious that this is about self-care and I’m not really doing awesome on that front atm. I was thinking about self-care as it relates to quitting because I’ve made a number of difficult changes over the past couple of years that required working through these ideas. I gave up on many hobbies as a kid because I didn’t want to face the horrible anxiety that came with pursuing hobbies: fear of public failure or embarrassment, fear and awkwardness of interacting with new people… I started to think of myself negatively as a quitter and that has nagged at me as an adult such that I have a difficult time quitting or changing directions once I set myself onto a path. But quitting can be such a vital part of self-care because sometimes we do need to change directions or leave to protect ourselves.”
They sent me the topic on August 9th. In the time since, I’ve sent them multiple messages apologizing for the fact that it’s not done yet. We’re now halfway through September, and their birthday month is in August, and the post is still not up.
I started, restarted, outlined, re-outlined, mind-mapped, doodled, wrote, erased, rewrote, gave up on, came back to, gave up on again, and finally sat down to actually write this post in earnest. And then stopped again. And then came back.
It was an interesting intersection of content and context – writing about quitting, and constantly experiencing the overwhelming urge to quit.
There were lessons for me in both the content and the context, and that is one of the most exciting and encouraging things about this process. Even in a topic that I feel deeply familiar with (the concept of quitting and self-care is one I’ve already given a lot of thought to, particularly as it relates to my divorce and to the times when quitting has been the best self-care available to me), I found that there are new layers to explore and new learnings to uncover.
It was also interesting to realize that my own hang-ups about quitting – my fear and shame, the narratives I’ve internalized – are still so real, so visceral, and such strong influences on my behaviour.
And, maybe most interesting for my self-care practice and my work as a self-care coach, I started to learn how to recognize when the urge to quit in one area is actually an indicator of unmet needs in other areas. Although my challenges and new learnings in the area of “quitting and self-care” were real, I have also realized that I just need time for posts to marinate. The pressure I was putting on myself to generate the post in a short amount of time – I didn’t get back from presenting at a conference in Montreal until August 21, and I planned to leave for Costa Rica on the 27th – contributed significantly to my anxiety and my strong desire to quit. I didn’t actually want to quit – I love writing these posts! – but I needed more time. That unmet need was felt as a desire to quit.
As a result of this learning, I’m going to change the wording of this reward tier on Patreon, and have these posts written within six weeks of receiving a patron’s birthday-month topic.
(Image description: ‘Quit’ in the centre of the page.
Text around reads:
Who: ‘quitters’, survivors, boundary-respecters (internal/external), people ready to move on, people forced to change paths, ‘weak’ people
When: ‘too soon’, ‘too late’, just right, when continuing hurts, when pressure builds, when resources are gone, when told
Why: burn out, self-care, lack of resources (internal/external/social), hopelessness, trauma, new opportunities, new knowledges (self/situation)
How: reluctantly, regretfully, joyfully, shamefully, spitefully, with relief, with anger, resignedly, respectfully, resentfully
Why not: shame, fear, resilience, hope, expectations, community, strength, resources, support, obligations)
I initially approached the topic by making a mind-map about quitting. I was interested in who quits, how they quit, what they quit, why they quit, and why they don’t quit. I’ve taken that original work and expanded on it in specific categories. Narratives of Quitting addresses Who and How, Factors Influencing Quitting addresses How and Why and Why Not, The Things We Quit addresses What, and Self-Care for Quitters addresses the self-care part of the post. A final section of Reflections caps it off. Since this post turned into a bit of a monster, I’m breaking it into multiple posts. (Part two, Factors Influencing Quitting, is up on the Patreon today.)
Who and how blended into a series of Narratives of Quitting. These are foundational stories that help organize our understanding of what it means to quit something, and to be someone who quits something. Which of these narratives fit us at any given time, and regarding any particular act of quitting, can shift and change according to the other narratives we’re working within. For example, it’s hard to maintain a Triumphant Quitter narrative when we’re dealing with depression or ongoing anxiety, even if that narrative would otherwise fit. And we reject some narratives out of fear of the consequences – for example, many of us would deny a Resentful Quitter narrative because of the shame attached to it, even if it more accurately reflects our experience.
Here is my incomplete list of Narratives of Quitting.
The Triumphant Quitter
This is the most acceptable narrative of quitting. In this story, the protagonist (the quitter) realizes that something is not working in their lives – particularly something big, like a relationship, or a career – and they quit. Quitting solves the problem, and after they quit, they are happier, more wholehearted, and more fulfilled.
This doesn’t mean it’s always easy for the Triumphant Quitter. Often the Triumphant Quitter is an Ambivalent Quitter who has made it through to some stability after the transition following whatever they quit. And it often takes time to get to the awareness and confidence to make the choice to quit.
The Repentant Quitter
This narrative is also fairly well-accepted. In this story, the protagonist realizes that something is not working in their lives, but misidentifies the cause. They thought it was the job, or the relationship, but really is was something else – usually themselves. The repentant quitter regrets their decision to quit, and goes through a process of reflection, growth, and learning, often having to make amends (internally or externally) for having quit.
The Repentant Quitter may be performing, rather than actually feeling, repentance – especially in instances where what they’ve quit doesn’t make sense to the people around them. Leaving the “perfect” job (because it was burning them out), leaving the “perfect” relationship (despite toxic dynamics not visible to people outside the relationship) or getting divorced as a religious person, abandoning a “beloved” hobby (that has ceased to be nourishing and has become anxiety-provoking) – all of these instances of quitting can be met with skepticism and criticism, and an “appropriate” amount of repentance and self-blame can mitigate some of that social pressure.
Other times, the Repentant Quitter really does go through a process of reflection, learning, and growth. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes – quitting too soon, quitting the wrong thing – and there is nothing shameful or bad about realizing it and owning that part of our story.
The Ambivalent Quitter
This narrative is much less accepted, even though I think it is the most common. We don’t know what to do with ambivalent quitters, and stories of ambivalent quitting are often silenced and pressured into more acceptable narratives of triumph or repentance. In this story, the protagonist either doesn’t know exactly what’s wrong but quits anyway, or they don’t end up feeling happier, more wholehearted, or fulfilled after they quit.
They quit the relationship, for example, and it was the right choice for them but now they are experiencing financial hardship. They may regret the fallout of their decision without regretting the decision. The ambivalent quitter highlights the ways in which individual choices exist within larger structural frameworks, and their ambivalence challenges the individualist ideals of contemporary neoliberal late capitalism.
They took control of their lives and made a choice to quit, but it didn’t fix everything. Their narrative introduces uncomfortable tension into our understandings of personal agency, self-awareness, even self-care.
The Reluctant Quitter
There are a few different versions of the Reluctant Quitter, and in each of them, the protagonist resists or hesitates before quitting.
In one story, the protagonist is afraid to quit despite their discomfort with the situation. The outcome is unknown, and the protagonist is worried about what will happen if they quit, or they are maintaining hope that the situation will improve and they won’t need to quit. A lot of us spend a lot of time in this story, weighing our options, feeling uncomfortable but not being able to take the step and actually quit.
In another story, the protagonist doesn’t want to quit but does not have the resources to keep going – internal, external, or social.
And in another story of the Reluctant Quitter, the protagonist is doing something that harms or makes someone else uncomfortable but they don’t want to stop it even after being told about the impacts of their actions. Many of us have been in this story, and the shame of it often causes us to reject this story and deny that it happened. We rewrite our stories to either erase our reluctance, or deny the discomfort of the other person.
The Resentful Quitter
In this story, the protagonist is forced to quit. This is often due to a lack of resources – quitting school because of lack of funding, quitting a beloved hobby because of lack of time or money, quitting a relationship because of lack of reciprocity, quitting a job or hobby because of a lack of energy after chronic illness or disability. There are so many different types of resources and any scarcity can force us to quit something we love or are committed to.
Like the Ambivalent Quitter, the Resentful Quitter is not a particularly welcome narrative. The Resentful Quitter challenges the idea that if we think positively, we can manifest the resources we need. The Resentful Quitter challenges the idea that “everything happens for a reason” and that our lives inevitably move in an upward spiral. Resentful Quitters also challenge the idea of the ever-effective bootstrapping out of hardship.
The Resentful Quitter makes people uncomfortable.
There is another Resentful Quitter story, where the protagonist is forced to quit because their actions are causing harm and they are stopped. When they have access to power, they can try (or succeed) in retaliating against the people who forced them to quit what they were doing before. This version of the Resentful Quitter also makes people uncomfortable.
The Preemptive Quitter
This is the story that we socially love to hate. In this story, the protagonist quits before it gets awful. They’re afraid – of failure, of mockery, of pain, of missed chances. They’re lonely, or isolated, or they see the potential for a negative outcome and they bail before it happens. There is a lot of shame attached to this story, and the Preemptive Quitter is rarely praised for having foresight and self-awareness, or comforted and met with empathy for dealing with fear and anxiety. Instead, the Preemptive Quitter is criticized for “giving up too easily.” Find yourself in the Preemptive Quitter story too often (and sometimes once is all it takes) and suddenly your story becomes that of…
The Weak-Willed Quitter
In this story, the protagonist is too “weak” or “lazy” to keep going. I don’t actually believe that this story is often true, because it doesn’t have nearly enough compassion or awareness. In this story, quitting is not a factor of circumstance, or access to resources, or self-awareness – no. In this story, quitting is a personal failing, a character flaw, a punishable offence.
The spectre of the Weak-Willed Quitter looms behind every other quitter narrative. Even the Triumphant Quitter can be tripped up by this narrative. When something goes wrong, even if it’s unrelated to what we quit, there is the temptation to look back at paths we’ve abandoned, imagine them going in more productive directions than where we find ourselves now, and retroactively label ourselves too weak or lazy or foolish for having quit.
Because late capitalism values labour and productivity over everything other than profit, quitting – ceasing our labour and changing our productive focus – is always fraught. Even when it’s the right choice, it’s a choice loaded with the potential to fall off into this hurtful, harmful Weak-Willed Quitter narrative.
Part Two will continue this exploration of quitting, examining the factors that influence when/how/why/whether we quit something.
(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 post is part of the #100loveletters challenge, which started June 21. The challenge is open to anyone, at no cost! It’s really easy, and really hard – for 100 days, from June 21 to September 29, or 100 days from whenever you start, 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. It can be written down, or it can be an act of love. Share your pictures, comments, thoughts, and stories in the hashtag #100loveletters on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in your blog, and find a community of people practicing a summer of daily self-love, or participate offline. You can also enter to win a hand-written letter by emailing me. I’ll be drawing a random name every twenty days over the course of the challenge. You can also join the email list to receive writing prompts, encouragement, and success stories.)
I interviewed Stasha at the beginning of the 100 Love Letters challenge, since she was the inspiration for the challenge.
Now, three weeks into the challenge, I was lucky enough to interview her again on the topic of writing ourselves love letters when we’re in the middle of feeling shame, anger, fear, or self-hate. This is a topic that has come up again and again for challenge participants, and it’s worth digging into. So, here we go.
Stasha – Question the first?
Tiffany – Yes! Excellent. In our first interview, we talked a lot about the beginnings of the project, and what it offered you in terms of that deep well of self-loving actions and accumulated evidence – I loved the image you shared of having that big stack of love letters to look back on.
We’re into the #100loveletters challenge now, and quite a few people have sent me messages asking about how to write a love letter when you’re hating yourself. My answers have mostly been “just start with whatever you have available, even if it’s just a walk or a post-it note or a mug of tea” but I wondered if you had wisdom about this, since you’ve been through the full 100 days.
How do you write – WHAT do you write – when you’re feeling self-hate?
Stasha – I’m just looking through my letters because I felt a lot of self-hate during the process…
One example, I was feeling really rejected, which is a feeling that I can get easily stuck in. So, I tried to think of the opposite of rejection and wrote those words around my heart. Another time I did the same about interrupting, because I was trying to listen better.
Tiffany – Oh, I like that a lot. That fits with the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy skills I’ve been working on in my own life – looking for opposites, and intentionally choosing an opposite and incompatible word/thought/action.
Stasha – Oooo yes dbt forever! I love the story of dbt creation and I try to fight the professionalization of the system of dbt. (Tiffany’s note: The New York Times recently ran a profile on Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT. Her work is particularly important because it came out of her own experiences of borderline personality disorder – still such a stigmatized condition – and extreme self-harm. If “nothing about us without us” is your rallying cry, her work is worth exploring.)
Stasha – I externalize things like anger monsters for my coping/healing work all the time, so I used that to try and remind myself of good. Example: I get to be in the same world as this tree. One externalizing technique about love letters is that even if you were really disappointed in someone you loved, you could probably still summon a love letter for them. I kept going because I wanted to show myself the same care.
Tiffany – One thing I’m thinking about, that I’m not sure how to talk about… So, forgive the awkwardness/uncertainty of this.
Stasha – Uncomfortable is required to learn, so I’m ready.
Tiffany – But I have had times in my life when a project like this would have hurt so much, because I just could not summon anything resembling a love letter for myself. I think that some of the people who have been watching the project develop, and have been wanting to participate, may be in that space. Right now, I can do this challenge. I have spent years working on self-compassion and on being able to act with love even when I don’t feel love.
The reason I find this so tough to talk about is because I want this to be a tool that is accessible to everyone – we can all show ourselves care even when we don’t feel it! We can all invest this time in ourselves! – but as I speak with people, and as I think through my own history, I am recognizing that there are times when this really isn’t possible. And I want to acknowledge that, without framing it as failure, and also offer some hope or some alternatives.
Do you have any insight or thoughts for people who maybe want to do this now but are really struggling with it?
Stasha – Yes. This is so important. Me too.
One thing that I do, that many professionals define as a symptom of trauma, is pick up treasure like a crow. Bits of glass or rusty things or worm-eaten wood.
Tiffany – I love that image. Corvids forever.
Stasha – In my love letters the symbol of the crow is recurring and was a way for me to have this as a positive image while I gathered that summer’s treasures together in a copper pot.
Nowadays I get rid of the treasures by giving them to the river in the fall, before I kept them. I knew that I was going to reengage this coping mechanism, even though I had not done it for awhile. So, I summoned my corvid power and listed the pros of crows when I couldn’t list them about myself.
Tiffany – Oh, I really love that. Having something you associate with yourself (like the crow for you, for me it would be fae folk), that you can list beloved or positive traits about even when you can’t list them about yourself.
Using your patronus / alter-ego / animal friends in your love letters
- What do you associate with yourself? If could be an animal, a character, an idea, an object. Think of the Patronus idea from Harry Potter – something powerful, associated with who you are as a person, that can be summoned to protect you.
- What are your favourite things about the animal/object/idea you associate with yourself?
- What makes that creature/concept/thing so cool?
- What is one story or myth or memory associated with that animal/object/idea that you treasure?
Stasha – When I felt broken or as if I had a giant hole in my spirit I would weave paper and fabric into a letter. I learned that one year at Equinox Vigil, a really neat Calgary event about the need for public mourning of grief of all kinds.
Tiffany – That sounds like a valuable tool, too. (And I am thinking a lot about sensory stuff as I build the summer course – registration is still open for one more week! – I love how that practice of weaving a bandaging or healing letter would blend tactile and visual senses with fine motor skills – bridging left and right brain selves, and helping both from a narrative perspective and also from a physical perspective.)
Stasha – Yes to mind melding our own minds!
I used the metaphor of growing A LOT. And home. I wanted to be home and safe when I was with myself. Big difference between with myself and by myself. That meant confronting the shit.
One love letter was a rock with a hole through it from persistent water drops.
Tiffany – Oh, that is lovely. And I love how fluid and flexible your definition of love letter is. I think that’s something I could definitely improve for myself. Or, maybe to put it more gently, that could be an invitation to more flexibility in my own thinking.
How much time did you spend on this project per day? Did you find the time commitment overwhelming? How did you carve out and protect the space for that?
Stasha – Ha! Gentle is good. I usually would write the love letter in the morning, so it could be based on what I needed for that day, and then at night I wrote 3 things that weren’t terrible about that day. I love structure for my healing, so those bookends really helped me to accomplish my other goals.
Tiffany – I like that idea. I might try that for myself, because the last-thing-at-night love letters don’t feel so good for me – they feel like avoidance and dismissal, you know? And it’s funny – even though I feel that, I haven’t shifted it. But I like your idea of bookends and of the love letter giving you what you need for the day.
Stasha – I showed myself evidence that other people loved me, when I felt less able to do it myself. I drew stick figure me and cut out my name from birthday cards to show myself that I was surrounded by love.
Dear Tiffany, If you need some material for your love letters you can look into concepts such as Radical Hope, which you demonstrate every single day. You could interview someone who loves you about your great qualities, even though it is scary. – Stasha
Tiffany – I love that so much. Thank you!
I have been struggling with that concept of “deserving” all week. I have been avoiding writing my letters – I usually write them ten minutes before bed, long after my brain wants to be done, and if I weren’t running this challenge publicly, I don’t think I would be doing them. They feel indulgent and … “bad” – selfish, ridiculous, foolish, arrogant.
Stasha – So write them to the fairies and fae. Write them to the crows and elf leaders.
Tiffany – Yes. I love that idea! And maybe we can invite others to help us see ourselves through a loving mirror, when we’re not able to do that for ourselves.
Interview Questions to ask someone who loves you when you’re struggling to write your own love letter (you can use this template as-is, or adapt it):
Hi, I would like to ask you some questions. It’s totally okay if you’re not able or don’t have time to answer. This is challenging for me to ask, because I’m struggling with not liking myself a lot right now. I’m asking you because I trust you, and I trust your insight and your ability to see me clearly. I know that you love me. I appreciate you taking the time to answer these for me.
- What comes to mind when you think about me?
- What is your favourite memory involving me?
- Can you think of a time when I did something well?
- Can you share a story that demonstrates something you admire or enjoy about me?
Tiffany – Do you have any other thoughts on the topic of doing this project while experiencing self-hate?
Stasha – I do all my projects while experiencing self-hate. I think a shocking number of us do. I think I drew brick walls 3 times in my letters, not as barriers but as symbols of the cumulative effort required to get that shit voice* to also listen to compassion.
Tiffany – It is so common. So, so common. I think you’re right
Stasha – My 100th letter I painted a life size tree, while naked. I took lots of pictures of that PROCESS, because that was the gift to myself: the wonderful process of fucking up, exhibiting symptoms, lying to myself about my worth, and listing 1-3 non-crap things per day. Otherwise known as messy healing, the most sacred of love spells.
Now this process of seeing other people struggle within this same process, is so validating and healing. Because sometimes I forget how awesome I am or the amazingness of the things that I have tried. Just like you and you and you. It is really nice to try stuff together.
Tiffany – One thing that comes up repeatedly in the narrative therapy training that I’m doing, is the idea that people need to know that their experiences and knowledges can help others. Maybe one motivation for getting through the 100 Love Letters challenge is so that in a year or two years or ten years, when we have someone else in our life struggling, we can draw on these experiences and offer them hope and help.
Just like you are doing now, because you ARE amazing and badass and wise and resilient!
Stasha – Awwww thanks friend. Pulling knowledge out of pain is the original chocolate chips* out of shit! Just like YOU are doing now. Part of my 100 love letters process was to do it for me instead of for other people.
Tiffany – One thing that I did a few years ago was to give myself stickers for every positive or useful thing that happened or I did in the day. I think it was a similar process. It helped me start to see myself as competent and worthy, at a time when I did not experience myself as either of those things. I don’t even know where I got that I idea, but I used it to claw myself up out of one of the darkest holes I’ve been in.
I think that we are often so much more resilient, and so much more wily in our survival strategies, than we give ourselves credit for.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom about this! And for sharing this project. It’s a good one!
Stasha – Wily af! Thank you for building on it, there has been so much learning, and it is early still in the process!!
Tiffany – I know!! We are not even a fifth of the way through, and already so much wisdom and generosity has been shared. I’m excited to see the project continue!
Stasha – Way to grow!
* Stasha’s Chocolate Chip Wisdom (note on this section for discussion of eating shit)
Stasha – Now. Everyone loves chocolate chips.
Ok not everyone, but many do.
I describe this process [of finding self-love in the middle of self-hate] as picking chocolate chips out of a pile of shit.
It has been my direct experience that kids who are coping with abuse from primary caregivers, particularly neglect – are really, really good at picking chocolate chips out of piles of shit.
So we like chocolate. But when you are picking your chocolate out of shit, you are going to also eat a lot of shit.
And this shit will get inside you. And this shit will give you a mean belittling voice that will tell you that you are no good.
Sometimes this shit will destroy you or tell you to destroy yourself. It will always tell you that you are no good. That you don’t deserve 100 love letters.
I think though that I found a loop hole here, because the shit will never tell you not to write 100 love letters, only to not write them to yourself!
It is sad because everyone except us knows that we deserve this love. That shit gets in the way.
(Running the #100loveletters challenge is possible because of the amazing support of my community, especially my Patreon patrons. If you’d like to keep this work going, consider checking out my Patreon, or liking my Facebook page, or following me on Instagram.)
(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!
The #100loveletters challenge has officially started, and the first few posts have been amazing. I am so excited about the next 100 days, and honoured to be facilitating the challenge. To participate, just write yourself a love letter every day for 100 days. You can participate online by tagging your photo or post with the #100loveletters hashtag, or you can participate offline. Either way, I’ll be sending out 5 hand-written letters to randomly selected winners. Just email me to enter! You can also join the email list to receive weekly prompts, encouragement, and success stories!
I can’t take credit for the idea, though, and I was lucky enough to be able to interview my friend Stasha about her experience with the 100 love letters project when she designed and undertook it for herself last summer.
Tiffany – First of all, thank you so much for posting about your own experience of sending yourself love letters every day for 100 days. This project wouldn’t exist without you! How did you come up with the idea?
Stasha – Well, I had just broken up with my best friends, one of which was my partner. I was in the most difficult part of my phd dissertation, where I was trying to not lose myself in the formula of academic writing. I had just been safe enough to realize that I was never going to be a front-line youth worker any more, and this broke my heart. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to belong, not be tolerated. I wanted to survive my phd with my soul intact. Both of these people who I had broke up with had told me that I should take medication because of the symtoms that I have from feeling feelings very deeply. This hurt me. I agreed that I needed an intervention of love, in addition to my normal methods of coping and healing.
I wanted this love to come from me and be all about showing myself that it is a joy to love me, not a burden!
Tiffany – That piece about wanting to be loved, wanting to belong, wanting to survive… that really resonates for me.
Stasha – I combined the daily love letters with listing three things that I was thankful for.
Tiffany – I love that approach.
Stasha – Right? Intense livin’! For me belonging is spiritual, how we belong to something larger than ourselves, like community or nature.
Tiffany – Yes! I’m hoping a community will develop around this challenge.
One thing I felt anxious about as I was trying to figure out how to put your beautiful idea into a format I could share widely was not wanting to participate in weaponized positivity – all that really brutal messaging around “you have to love yourself first or nobody can love you” and “you have to find the silver lining.” I think it’s possible to work on loving yourself without also becoming complicit with that victim-blaming, aggressively positive-at-the-expense-of-all-else stuff, but how did you navigate that in your journey?
Stasha – Ooooooo yes, I like this question. Writing love letters to yourself is so romantic because I know what Stasha likes, I know all her symbols, I know that if I write ‘think positive’ when she is feeling suicidal, that she will get super mad at me invalidating her experience. I said things I was thankful for not grateful for because the idea of gratitude has been ruined for me by the charity model.
It has been my experience that only privileged people demand positivity, and that this positivity erases oppression. Some of the things I was thankful for were ‘cats exist’ or ‘I listened to the river today.’ Fuck positivity, there is research that pessimists are happier because wehave our assumptions validated more! Joy transcending sorrow, because the sorrow is part of it.
Tiffany – Totally! I think that for myself, developing a concept of self-love and self-care that *included* my gloom, my sadness, my trauma (separated from the topic of healing – I am often working towards healing, but allowing myself to love myself and care for myself *regardless* of whether I “healed” or not was a turning point) – that inclusive shift felt a lot healthier and more sustainable for me than the idea that I had to fix myself first, or that the love would fix me.
Stasha – Yes! I recognize the Gloom Fairy as a way of recognizing this concept!
A lot of my love letters were about confronting things I do that are destructive to relationships. I did lots of art about how I could be a better listener and interupt less. I focused on what could help me with the feelings behind my interupting.
Tiffany – Confrontational love letters – yes! Love that is self-aware, and that holds us to the standard we want to meet (not the standard others have set for us). That feels like an important thing to bring into this project, and to the challenge.
Stasha – I did a lot of weaving (of paper and ribbons) and a lot of fairies stitching my automical heart back together. A lot of vines growing out of letters, roots and such.
Best kind of love, working on a never ending self-healing project.
Tiffany – Connective imagery in the art. I like that. Finding roots, finding new growth, finding healing. And fairies. ❤ ❤ ❤
Shiri Eisner, who is one of my favourite authors and bisexual activists and academics, has been posting recently about the problems with validation culture, and how not all behaviours should be validated – some of them need to be confronted. What you say above about lovingly coaching yourself into more constructive relationship patterns fits with what Shiri’s been posting recently.
Did you find it difficult to stick with the love letters over a long period of time?
Stasha – I wanted a role model for this kind of love. Love with great intension. One letter, I tried to draw myself with long flowing turquoise sea foam hair. Because my art skills are stick people, it ended up looking like a beard, so I went with it and wrote a poem about being a queer mermaid with a beautiful sea foam beard! When you write to yourself, you know about the ‘mistakes’ and if the acceptance and sentiments expressed in the letters are real! It’s high stakes!
Tiffany – I hadn’t considered that aspect of “mistakes” before. I think that’s really relevant. You’re right about it being high stakes!
Stasha – I was so fucking anxious that I was going to let myself down by not following through. It got worse when I told other people about the idea and they were shocked at the commitment. This feedback helped me see the fierce way I love though, because I have totally done things like this for other people.
It was a great grounding experience to create the letters and it was really fucking nice to get a love letter every day!!! If I was really sad one day, I would write something that I had to look forward to, like visiting a dog or hiking or a great breakfast. It was so nice to be able to respond IN THE NOW because I needed love to get through that summer. Now it is wonderful to be able to look through a stack of love if I forget how much I love me.
Part of what I was/am working on is self-regulation or ways that I calm myself. So this was great for that.
Some letters were just lists of things I didn’t hate. Like cake. And rivers.
Tiffany – That’s really inspiring, and encouraging. And I think you’re right about the way that we often love fiercely when we’re loving someone else, but we don’t often bring the same intention and joyful generosity to ourselves. A long project like this (100 days is a lot!) allows for ups and downs, sad days and happy days, long letters and post-it notes. It’s a different project than a week would be. (Not that a week isn’t valuable – just different.)
Stasha – That is me being positive! Yes I wanted to turn that love inwards for a bit. The phd really messes with your sense of time, 6 years doing a project! I think the scale was partly about that and partly about the scale of my losses and grief from the five years proceeding the break ups.
Also I am a huge research nerd and I love a huge pile of data!
Tiffany – Yes. I can relate to that.
I do relationship coaching, and one thing that I often think as I read the books or take the courses, is how applicable many of the strategies can be to our relationship with ourselves – offering charitable interpretation, maintaining clear and compassionate boundaries, meeting needs, bringing awareness, intention, and compassion to the relationship. But we rarely talk about our relationship with ourselves in those nuanced terms. At least not in the spaces I’ve encountered.
I also know, for myself, that I am a slow and cyclical learner. I need time with a project before it sinks in. I need to be able to circle around it many times before I feel safe with it, let alone anything resembling comfortable.
Stasha – Yes, that is one part of your work that I really admire, turn this strategies towards self! I wish I had done this project when I was 15 years old. I plan to do it several more times before I die.
Tiffany – This does seem like a project that has value in repetition. I am also curious (because I’m a research nerd too!) about how it would feel in each different season. (Maybe I will run the challenge once a year over the next four years, in each season.)
Did you run into negative reactions to the project?
Stasha – It is very meta with the levels of awareness. Every one was encouraging. It made me sad how many people said they wanted to do it for themselves but didn’t. Makes me sad because I think a huge part of oppression and abuse is the messages about how we don’t deserve that/are unlovable. So it is a revolution at many levels. Some people wanted me to share them publicly, and I was like ‘f off’ this is between me and me. We need our privacy!
I was afraid that people would think I was selfish, and I worried about that less and less as the love rained down on me!
Tiffany – Yes! That part about privacy is huge, and is another thing that I felt/feel some anxiety about with turning this into a social media thing. I’ll make a point of finding ways to make it clear that this challenge is open to anyone, even if they don’t share anything publicly. Thank you for that reminder.
I have been thinking about Feminista Jones’ recent tweet thread about how angry men get when women accept compliments, and I wondered if any of that would land on a project like this. But I think your point about the level of fucks given dropping as the love rains down is really relevant, and lovely. (But it is another reason to make it clear that participation does not have to be public to be valid.)
I’m doing a little give-away as part of the challenge – I’ll select five random entries from folks who self-select into the contest, and send them hand-written letters. I had originally set it up so that the way you enter was by emailing me a link to your tweet/post/blog/instagram/whatever. But I’m going to change that, and you can enter just by emailing me with or without a link/public sharing.
I wanted to be loved. I wanted to belong, not be tolerated.
I wanted this love to come from me and be all about showing myself that it is a joy to love me, not a burden!
Joy transcending sorrow, because the sorrow is part of it.
When you write to yourself, you know about the ‘mistakes’ and if the acceptance and sentiments expressed in the letters are real! It’s high stakes!
It made me sad how many people said they wanted to do it for themselves but didn’t. … I think a huge part of oppression and abuse is the messages about how we don’t deserve that/are unlovable. So it is a revolution at many levels.
This post is part of the #100loveletters challenge.
The challenge runs from June 21 to September 29, and you are welcome to join at any time. You can join the mailing list to receive prompts, links, encouragement, and success stories, and you can participate whether you share publicly or not.
Every summer, attendance at my Writing in the Margins workshops dwindles as people head out on vacation or hide from the heat. This year, like most years, the workshops will be on hiatus for the summer.
This year, unlike every previous year, I’ve got something planned to keep us writing through the summer.
The #100loveletters challenge starts June 21, and is open to anyone, at no charge!
It’s 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.