This is a lesson from the Integration and Care module in An Unexpected Light. (Each of the six themes in An Unexpected Light includes a narrative therapy module, a curated reading module, a writing module, and an integration and care module. This lesson comes from the Kinship and Community theme.)

I thought that this exercise might be helpful for those of us who are in isolation or physical distancing, because it invites us to think about the connected histories of our self-care actions. When we’re feeling alone, and floating through our houses with a sense of detachment or powerlessness, it can help us narrate the history of the small actions of care that we are relying on, and can reconnect us to small actions of care that might sustain us through this hard time.

These videos were recorded months ago, and don’t directly reference COVID19. They also both reference inviting someone over for tea – obviously this isn’t accessible to many of us right now! But video calls, phone calls, or across-the-street teas might be.

The full transcripts for the videos are included at the end of this post. If you find these videos helpful and you’d like to sign up for the next round of the course, you can find that information here. (As of March 25, there are still 15 spots available in the upcoming session of An Unexpected Light. All scholarship spaces are filled, but sliding scale is always available.)

An Unexpected Light – Actions of Care

This video introduces the idea of “actions of care” – all of the actions that we take that care for ourselves and others. This video challenges the idea that “self-care” happens in isolation, and instead locates it within a history and a community of caretaking and caregiving actions. This is part one of the lesson.

From the video:

Drinking tea is sort of a trope when we talk about self-care: “Make yourself a cup of tea”. Tea and writing is also something we think of as going together. That’s one reason why I wanted to use London Fogs as the example. 

Even if making a cup of tea is what you do for self-care while you’re writing, sometimes it can be helpful to go through a process of mapping how you learned to use tea as a self-care strategy. 

Who taught you that? 

Do you remember the first time someone sat you down with a cup of tea? 

Do you remember seeing relatives or friends or strangers looking serene in a coffee shop and thinking ‘oh, maybe I could use that skill for myself’? 

Is there a way that you can take your actions of self-care that often happen on your own and link those to your community; link them to a history and a legacy of using those skills? 

What does it mean to be tied to many other people who also use this skill? 

Is that a way that you can feel connected, and are there ways that your self-care skills and tools can actually help integrate you into your communities? 

Are there ways that you can do those together? 

Even if that just means talking about them on social media? Or texting a friend and saying ‘hey, I’m gonna have a bath. I haven’t had a bath in a while, I was thinking maybe you would want one too’. That was a really weird example; I apologize for going off the rails there, but, maybe bathtime with friends is a thing? 

But, is there a way that you can take your self-care strategies and connect them so that it’s not about you as an island; an individual isolated person having to care for yourself in a way that cuts you off from other people, that puts your needs ahead of other people’s when actually we’re all working together. Or ideally, we can all be working together. 

There are lots of things that you are doing during this time of isolation and physical distancing, both for yourself and for others.

You may be limiting your time on social media – how? why? are you connected to other community members who have taught you the value of this, or who support you in this?

You may be doing drive-past visits and chatting across a safe distance – why? whose idea was this? who is involved? how does this make you feel? what does it make possible?

You may be baking, or brushing your teeth every morning, or setting timers to keep yourself focused – how? why? where did you learn it? who does it connect you to?

Any action, no matter how small, has a history and exists in a social context. Mapping that out can be a powerful antidote to feelings of powerlessness and loneliness.


If you really enjoyed that first video, this next one expands on it to offer a deeper-dive into the narrative practice behind this idea.

An Unexpected Light – Histories of Care

Part two of the lesson introduces the narrative therapy practice that will guide you through tracing the history of your own actions of care, and putting these into a social context.

Linking actions to histories

There is a foundation of skills, dreams, and values in your history.

Although this is a bonus narrative practice, it sets the foundation for the final month in An Unexpected Light, which focuses on legacies of action. Think of this as an invitation to start thinking about your own legacies of action!

Think of a circumstance in your life that has been challenging for you; something that has required you to access self-care or coping skills. Give the problem a name. (For many of us, this problem right now might be named coronavirus, or capitalism, or isolation. If the problem you’re facing is brand new, like coronavirus, you might want to think about times in the past that have some resonance with this experience – other times you’ve felt isolation, other times of scarcity, other times when you have worried for your or your community’s health.)

The actions that we’re connecting to here do not have to be big, impressive actions. For me, it was London Fogs! They can be small things – a letter, a practice of self-care that keeps you going. The idea is to connect to the history of these actions.

The action: creating a unique outcome

As you think about this problem, has there ever been a time when you faced this problem, or a similar problem, and you responded differently than usual? Think of a time when this resulted in a unique outcome. What did you do differently?

Where were you when you took this action? 

Were there other people supporting you? If yes, who were those other people? 

What made it possible for you to respond differently in this way?

Why was it important for you to respond to the problem in this different way? What might it say about what you want for yourself and your life? 

What were you standing for when you responded differently? Can you give a name to what you are standing for, or to what you were valuing? 

The history

Have there been other times when you’ve done something similar to this?

Have these previous actions also reflected the hopes or values that allowed you to respond differently to the problem? 

When was the first time you took an action like this?

Where did you learn that this kind of action is possible?

If you’ve never taken an action like this before, can you see other times in your life when other actions have reflected your values? (For example, your action may have reflected a value of “community” or “integrity” or “caring for others” or “creativity” – are there other times when you’ve taken actions that reflected this value?)

The witness(es)

Out of all the people you’ve known, who might be most pleased to know that you’ve stood up to the problem in this way? 

Why would they be pleased? 

What might this say about their hopes for your life? 

Are there people who also hope for the things that you hope for yourself? 

Would this person say “I knew you could do this”? 

What might they know about you that inspires their confidence that you could do what you did? 

Would this person be surprised that you did this? If yes, what might they be learning about you that they didn’t know before? What might you be learning about yourself? 

The future

What are you taking with you from this exploration of what might be a very small thing? What are you going to take into the future from this exploration of one experience of responding to a problem differently? 

If you wrote up this takeaway and posted it in a place where you’d be reminded of it, what effect might that have on your future? 

If you had a way to remind yourself that you have these skills, that there are people who know you have these skills and who support you, that there’s a foundation in your history of these skills, what might that mean for you? 

(Adapted from work by Jill Freedman and Gene Combs.)


Transcription of An Unexpected Light – Actions of Care

Okay. This is a video about care-taking and care-giving and actions of care, and how our self-care is something that’s connected to our communities and to our histories.

In this course, I’d like to really challenge some of the ideas about self-care being something that we do in isolation, as little islands; making tea for ourselves, or having a bubble bath, and this being framed as somehow contrary to community care or meaning that we need to prioritize ourselves over our communities or our histories. I’d like to think about care as something that happens within our social context; something that we learn to do together; something that we do in community even when we’re doing it on our own. 

I’m going to use London Fogs as an example *gestures towards cup of tea on the table*. London Fogs are a tea beverage. They’re one of my most important self-care tools. A London Fog is basically strong Earl Grey tea. I use vanilla sugar and vanilla extract and some kind of frothed milky beverage. You can use milk, but you can also use coconut milk or almond milk; whatever, but that’s the basic recipe. 

I learned how to make London Fogs when I was in the year between my fibromyalgia symptoms becoming debilitating and when I got the diagnosis of fibromyalgia and started figuring out how to navigate that experience of chronic, ongoing pain that occasionally and at that time frequently flared into something that kept me basically in my house and on my couch. It was quite a socially isolating experience, and I found that London Fogs were something I could do even on a high pain day. I could usually bring a chair into the kitchen and go through those steps of making tea, frothing milk with a little battery-powered handheld thing and making something that was soothing. There was a ritual around it, and it was something that people would come over and we would have a London Fog together. It gave me a sense of my ability to still have value in my community despite what was at the time a new experience of disability that I’d found really challenged my sense of who I was. 

Drinking tea is sort of a trope when we talk about self-care: “Make yourself a cup of tea”. Tea and writing is also something we think of as going together. That’s one reason why I wanted to use London Fogs as the example. 

Even if making a cup of tea is what you do for self-care while you’re writing, sometimes it can be helpful to go through a process of mapping how you learned to use tea as a self-care strategy. 

Who taught you that? 

Do you remember the first time someone sat you down with a cup of tea? 

Do you remember seeing relatives or friends or strangers looking serene in a coffee shop and thinking ‘oh, maybe I could use that skill for myself’? 

Is there a way that you can take your actions of self-care that often happen on your own and link those to your community; link them to a history and a legacy of using those skills? 

What does it mean to be tied to many other people who also use this skill? 

Is that a way that you can feel connected, and are there ways that your self-care skills and tools can actually help integrate you into your communities? 

Are there ways that you can do those together? 

Even if that just means talking about them on social media? Or texting a friend and saying ‘hey, I’m gonna have a bath. I haven’t had a bath in a while, I was thinking maybe you would want one too’. That was a really weird example; I apologize for going off the rails there, but, maybe bathtime with friends is a thing? 

But, is there a way that you can take your self-care strategies and connect them so that it’s not about you as an island; an individual isolated person having to care for yourself in a way that cuts you off from other people, that puts your needs ahead of other people’s when actually we’re all working together. Or ideally, we can all be working together. 

I don’t know if this video turned out the way I was hoping it would, but that’s what I was wanting to talk about. 


Transcription of An Unexpected Light – Histories of Care

Okay. So, let’s say you watched my earlier video about linking your self-care strategies to a history and community, and you think that sounds exciting but you don’t know how to do it. This video is a bonus narrative therapy practice for you. I’m going to walk you through the same questions that I would ask someone in a narrative therapy session, and the questions that were asked of me when I was in my Master’s program that actually helped me recognize my connection to London Fogs for being as complex and nuanced and beautiful as it is. I will also write these up in a handout for you, but I thought a video might be kind of fun. 

Think of a circumstance in your life that has been challenging for you; something that has required you to access self-care or coping skills. 

Do you have a name for it? You can name it whatever you want. It might be “depression”, it might be “anxiety”, it might be “interacting with a challenging family member”, or whatever. It could be a feeling or relationship variable, or a cultural or social problem like racism, or heterosexism, or fatphobia, or ableism. Or, it could be a unique metaphor that has meaning for you. It might be, you know, “the gloom”, or “the blues”, or “the zoomies” if you have that sense of frenetic energy that becomes problematic for you. 

As you think about this challenging context, has there ever been a unique outcome? A time when whatever it is could’ve taken you over, but you managed to get the upper hand or you managed to escape from it, or you managed to shrink it down to a manageable size. Where were you when this happened? Were there other people around? If yes, who were those other people? 

So, really think in some detail about a time when that problem has been managed in a unique way. What do you think made it possible for that to happen? 

When I was asked this question, I was thinking about pain as the problem. My unique outcome was a very specific memory of inviting someone over to my house that I really cared about; that I actually had quite a significant crush on, and making that person a London Fog, and knowing in that moment, even though the pain was still present, I had an experience of feeling myself having a little bit of control and agency in my life. 

You want to make sure that the unique outcome represents a preferred experience. It is valuable to talk about times when the unique outcome has been uniquely terrible, but that’s not what we’re looking for here. We are looking for times when it’s gone unexpectedly well. And then, we want to give that some meaning. 

So, why was it important for you to respond to the problem in this different way? What might this say about what you want for yourself and your life. What does it say you stand for? Can you give a name for what you are standing for? 

For me, when I was talking about London Fogs it was important to me because I was feeling really isolated. And in that moment of making a choice to invite someone into my space and to offer to share this new skill with them, I was valuing community and connection. I was also valuing reciprocal care. I think of all those things as being connected to a really strong value of community. 

So then, once you’ve kind of mapped out this unique outcome and what it says about you, think about a past time that has something in common with that unique outcome. Were there other times when you’ve done something that reflected these hopes, values, or commitments? Describe one of those times. It might not be connected to the problem; now we’re thinking about how it connects to the skills or values or commitments that you used in responding to the problem. 

Then, you try and link that unique outcome (for me that was when I invited this person over for a London Fog and had an experience of feeling like despite the presence of the pain, I was able to act in ways that brought community into my life) to past experiences where I was also valuing community. I was able to think about the fact that I’ve been a community organizer for quite a few years before the pain showed up in the same way that it had. That means that my value of community and connection has a foundation that predates the pain in my life. Then we link that unique outcome and those skills and the foundation to significant other people in your life. 

Out of all the people you’ve known, who might be most pleased to know that you’ve stood up to the problem in this way? Who would be pleased that you are standing for whatever it is. For me that would be community. Why would he/she/they be pleased? What might this say about their hopes for your life? Are there people who also hope for the things that you hope for yourself? Would this person say “I knew you could do this”? What might they know about you that inspires their confidence that you could do what you did? 

When I was thinking about this in relation to the London Fogs, I was thinking about that, at the time I had two partners, and they had both been very confident that I would figure out what was happening. They never wavered in their support for me. And, although I don’t think either of them would’ve said: “London Fogs are gonna be the key to this unique outcome”, I know they believed in me. 

Would this person be surprised that you did this? If yes, what might they be learning about you that they didn’t know before? That can be really important, too. If you were doing something; if your skill or your foundation is something that cherished people in your life might not expect, what are they learning about you? What might you be learning about yourself? 

And then you can bring this into the future. What are you taking with you from this exploration of what might be a very small thing? Making a fancy cup of tea is quite a small thing, but it connects me to a whole history, and maybe it will connect you to a whole history as well. What are you going to take into the future from that conversation? 

And, importantly, if you wrote up this takeaway and posted it in a place where you’d be reminded of it, what effect might that have on your future? If you had a way to remind yourself that you have these skills, that there are people who know you have these skills and who support you, that there’s a foundation in your history of these skills, what might that mean for you? 

So, yeah! That comes from my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work documentation from the Dulwich Centre. It’s adapted from work by Jill Freedman and Gene Combs, who are fantastic. I will include a link to that with this video.