Tending to Ourselves

Tending to Ourselves

What is this course?

This 3-week online course is an opportunity to work through Tim Desmond’s The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook with daily support and encouragement from a skilled self-care coach (that’s me!)

Together, we’ll learn each of Desmond’s self-compassion practices, and complete his “14-day day plan to transform your relationship with yourself.”

The holidays are often a challenging time, and the shame gremlins can be out in force during family dinners, office parties, and the forced merriment of the season. Spend 30-45 minutes a day for three weeks tending to your own needs and developing your self-compassion skills so that by the time we hit that difficult window at the end of the year, you’re feeling more stable, grounded, and able to respond to emotional overwhelm with calm and compassion.

Tending to Ourselves: A 3-week course in self-compassion

December 1 – 22, 2017


$50 for Patreon supporters and returning students

You will need to purchase the book The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook.

(Available at bookstores, or in e-book format.)

Email to register.

This course is entirely online, with an optional in-person chat for participants in Calgary.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is the ability to see ourselves as loveable and worthwhile regardless of what is happening in our lives – regardless of our failures and successes.

In times of joy and ease, self-compassion is the ability to celebrate and enjoy ourselves without worrying that we’re going to “jinx” it or that we don’t deserve it and it’s going to be taken away. Brené Brown refers to “fearful joy” in her work, and it’s the idea that we don’t let ourselves fully experience our joy because we’re afraid of how much it will hurt when the other shoe drops. But by embracing self-compassion, and allowing ourselves to feel our joy, we can actually build our resilience and strength.

When things are going poorly, self-compassion is the ability to treat ourselves with kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness, rather than blaming, shaming, or attacking ourselves.

Rather than ignoring, avoiding, dismissing, or rejecting our pain, a self-compassionate response acknowledges the pain and looks for ways to ease it. It is exactly the same as being compassionate with other people in our lives, though it often doesn’t come as easily.

Self-compassion means being an ally to ourselves – to our weakest, saddest, loneliest and most challenging selves. It means having a strong compassionate voice within ourselves that can counter the self-hate, self-blame, and internalized shame and guilt that so many of us live with on a daily basis.

Self-compassion means allowing ourselves to be fully human. Reclaiming the parts of ourselves that we have been cut off from, and welcoming them back.

It means welcoming back the parts of ourselves that have been rejected by colonial beauty standards, ableist expectations of physical and cognitive function, and by heteronormativity, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression that cut marginalized individuals and communities off from our own hearts and selves, histories and stories.

It’s a path to integration and wholeness. Wholeheartedness.

It’s pretty great.

And it’s pretty hard, too.

Let’s practice together.


#stickfiguresunday: Superhero Self-Care

#stickfiguresunday: Superhero Self-Care

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?

#tenderyear: Questioning Everything

#tenderyear: Questioning Everything

Image description: Two fall leaves are in focus. They are red, yellow, and green. Behind them is out of focus green. Photo credit: Stasha Huntingford.

This is a Year of Sacred Attendance | #tenderyear post. You can read the first in this series here, and you can sign up for the Tender Year email list here.

The Year of Sacred Attendance will run from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018.

Each day of the week has a unique focus. You can participate in all of them, or pick and choose the ones that resonate for you. We will be using #tenderyear for every post related to the project, with daily tags as well (to make it easier for folks to find each other on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).

Over the next while, I will be sharing a blog post for each day of the week.

You can read the post for Sunday’s Venn diagramming #challengethebinary prompt, and an interview with Stasha, here.

This post is about the Monday focus. In the welcome post about this year, this is how Monday was framed:


Attending to the Questions. #questioneverything

A significant focus of this project is inviting and facilitating compassionate self-awareness. You can ask yourself whatever questions feel right for you – the focus of Monday is simply to take time to ask yourself how things are going. If you’re not sure what to ask, here are some sample questions, and you can answer whichever feel right for you. Not everyone participating in this project will be working on creative projects, and not everyone will feel comfortable with a goal of presence – trauma is a real factor in many of our lives, and can make presence a real challenge. These are just a place to start:

What are you creating?

What do you need?

Do you feel present?

Could you try something different?

What are you wondering about?

Now that we are three weeks into the Year of Sacred Attendance, it is abundantly clear that Mondays (like every day in this Tender Year) are open to a wide range of potential interpretations.

This post is meant to be a brief introduction to some of the ways you can use this focus.

Choose a theme:

Do you feel like you’re disconnected? Maybe focusing on presence would help. Try questions like –

Have you felt present with yourself this week?

Do you feel present with yourself now?

What would help you feel present with yourself?

Or maybe you feel curious, and focusing on discovery would the right fit for you. Try questions like –

What do I want to know more about?

What have I learned in the last week?

What can I find in my environment that I’ve never noticed before?

Choose a type:

What would a series of “what” questions look like?

How would you structure a series of “how” questions?

Why* would you be interested in a series of “why” questions?

Who would benefit from a list of “who” questions?

When would there be value in a set of “when” questions?

Are you excited about hypothetical questions?

Will you find theoretical questions creative and energizing?

* A note on the “why” questions. Nathan Fawaz wisely pointed out that why questions can be harsh and judgemental,

After last week, I shared with the group that “both Mondays so far, I have had a FLOOD of “why” questions. It takes a significant amount of effort to get past the whys and into something more compassionate and generous, and even then, it’s so tight. I feel so much anger at the unfairness and injustice of things. It is getting in the way of feeling any tenderness, or even any true presence, in the moment. I’m not sure what to do about it, but it’s just something I’m noticing.”

Stasha calls this “the ‘anxiety wants to know’ part of my morning and mourning.”

Nathan echoed the experience of “The anxiety of the mo(u)rning.”

I think many of us have felt it.

This wanting to know, to understand the source and reason for the injustice, is such a deeply human and compassionate drive. Although we are grasping at control that isn’t ours to hold, the desire is valid and makes sense. It appears that if we can figure out why, then maybe we can fix it instead of feeling so helpless and in pain.

Quoting Stasha’s brilliance again, “It is about avoiding helplessness, or at least having the illusion that we can help.”

If your why questions are fueled by anxiety, fear, and anger – that is okay. Those are valid questions.

It might bring some additional tenderness to your Monday practice to add something gentler to the questioning, when you’re caught in the mourning why. But you may find that you need space for that grief and anger, and that is okay.

Let it be light:

Nathan suggested the following series of questions:

I would add some of these (with lots of cookies and love for all manner of answer. I think people might feel that the Monday questions have to be really weighty.  Sometimes the question is: and what else will I put on my delicious sandwich. And those questions are incredibly important):

In this moment, one of thousands in your day, what questions are arising?

In this moment, what is calling your attention? Something inside?  Something outside?  What questions are being asked by whatever is calling your attention?

In this moment, maybe your brain is being very loud and possibly unkind. If you could put a silly hat and rollerskates on that voice and interview it, what would be the top three questions you asked it?

In this moment, threaded throughout all of our layers of demand and terror there is a heartstring that asks generous questions of love and openness. What are these questions?

Let yourself follow whatever questioning path feels right for you:

Stasha identified one of the most powerful things about making space to ask questions when she said, “I think there is potential to make space to explore on Mondays. I find this liberating because many of my experiences with oppression have involved my questions being silenced, punished, or redirected.”

Allow yourself to ask the questions without being silenced by the old voices in your past.

You do not have to share the questions publicly, or even write them down. There is power in letting ourselves slide up to the side of an important question and just nudge it before retreating again. There is value in shouting the questions out. There is value in writing the questions down and burning them.

Allowing ourselves to question – to question everything – is a powerful process.

It doesn’t mean we’ll get rid of our old beliefs.

We can question something and still hold on to it. I think that a big part of why we’re afraid of questioning is because we feel that if we question something, we’ll always find out that it’s broken or bad. But this is not true.

You can question your faith, question your relationships, question your life goals, without jeopardizing them. The questions can make these things stronger. And they can empower you to bring your critical, playful, expansive, curious, amazing mind into the dynamic in new and loving ways.

Separate the question from the answer:

Sometimes you’ll want to answer the questions you ask – that’s awesome!

But sometimes we don’t let ourselves ask a question because we don’t have the answer yet, and one of the most delightful and liberating things about the Monday focus is that you have explicit, enthusiastic permission to ask questions that don’t have answers.

Take a leaf from Stasha’s book:

On October 9, Stasha posted –

“Another chance to #questioneverything, joy! Today we explore why leaves turn different colors in the fall. This is a cool question because the chlorophyll green hides the colors underneath, and the red we see in the death of the leaves also appears when the leaves are new. I love how Mondays encourage our curiosity. I think curiosity is sacred. During my doctoral studies I would not have looked this up because I felt that I didn’t have time, now I feel that I don’t have the time to not look it up. What a wonderful #tenderyear so far!”

Or make a fruitful discovery, like Nathan had:

Nathan’s October 9 post was equally playful –

“Question: Can one remove the central sphere of a Concord grape from its delicious membranous sac, without rupturing it?

Answer: Yes. Reliably.

This was not the question I’d originally planned to ask today, but then a compassionate friend invited me to this question and I realized it was exactly the question I needed.

That and it’s follow-up: Wouldn’t this make a great bowl of eyeballs for Hallowe’en?

Somatic and fun. Also delicious.”

May we all have such delight, and such satisfying explorations, on our Tender Year Mondays.

You Are Not Alone: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day 2017

You Are Not Alone: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day 2017

Image description: A picture of a forest. Text below reads You Are Not Alone Stories, thoughts, and resources after the loss of a pregnancy or child Created for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day | 2017

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.

Ten days ago, one of my friends noted that the available resources were incredibly gendered, heteronormative, cisnormative, and overwhelmingly white.

Creating resources that help serve the margins is exactly the goal of my Patreon, and it’s why I do what I do, so we came up with a plan, reached out to contributors, and spent the last week and a half pulling together something that I am really proud of.

This resource is not perfect. It’s a first draft, and it’s not as inclusive as it needs to be. Our goal is to reissue the resource each year with an expanded selection of personal stories, and a refined resources section. If you would like to have your story included in the next issue, let me know.

You Are Not Alone

Stories, thoughts, and resources after the loss of a pregnancy or child

Created for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day | 2017


This document was created as a response to loss resources that are highly gendered, and that implicitly assume their readers are straight, white, and cisgender. It was also created to try and provide something free and easily accessible.

It is a first draft, and we hope to reissue this document yearly with more and better information and resources.

Although this resource attempts to be intentionally inclusive and anti-oppressive, the two primary collaborators – Tiffany Sostar and Flora – are both English-speaking white settler Canadians, with stable housing and strong social supports. Our privilege means that we are missing nuance, and we do not see what we’re not seeing. We are open to being corrected, and to hearing from people who do not see themselves represented in this document. You can reach Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com.

This document is designed to be a grief and loss resource, and we have included abortion stories and resources. However, we recognize that not every abortion is experienced as a loss or followed by grief. (This is true for miscarriages, too!) We also recognize that it is possible to feel grieve without feeling regret, and this is true for any pregnancy loss, whether it’s abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or adoption.

We are so thankful to the individuals who contributed to this document. Our call for contributors was met with courage and generosity by people who shared their stories despite the pain that telling the story brought up for them.

We are also thankful to Andi Johnson and Randi van Wiltenburg, both full-spectrum doulas in Calgary, Alberta, who contributed not only their personal stories but also a wealth of knowledge and information. Their professional contact information is listed in the resources section.

Parents we want to honour:

  • Those who have lost a child to miscarriage
  • Those who have lost a child to abortion
  • Those who have lost a child to stillbirth
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to medical illness
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to adoption
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to structural violence

This affects:

  • People of any gender identity
  • People of any sexual orientation
  • People of any relationship status and structure
  • People of any race or culture
  • People of any state of mental or physical health
  • People of any religious belief
  • People of any socioeconomic status

Download the 60-page PDF here.

World Mental Health Day reshare and reflection

World Mental Health Day reshare and reflection

Image description – Autumn leaves and berries on nearly bare twigs against a grey sky. Text reads #TenDaysOfGrey #Mental Health. There is a small Tiffany Sostar logo in the top right.

Content warning for discussion of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidality.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This is my final post for Bryan McLean’s #TenDaysOfGrey mental health awareness project. You can read my interview with Bryan here. Rather than writing something new for today, I’m sharing a post I wrote four years ago that detailed my mental health journey up to that point. The reason I’m sharing it at the end of the Ten Days of Grey is because when I wrote this post I was in the grey. I am in the colour now, and I appreciate that.

I wrote the post shared here in 2013. Now I am 36, it’s four years later and many things have changed and many things have stayed the same. I am thankful for my 32 year old self writing this. I am thankful for my 28 year old self making it through, for all those younger selves who made it through. I have spent so many years in the grey.

At 36, I am not depressed. (I am often anxious, I am in the middle of a three-months-and-counting fibro flare, and I am experiencing regular existential dread over the state of the world, but miraculously, I am not depressed. Wow!)

It is sort of amazing to reflect on that, because there is a lot going on in my life that would is difficult, stressful, and overwhelming. I am thankful for the resilience I have developed, and I am also conscious of the truth that these sorts of things are not always “overcomeable” and these monsters will visit again. I’ll make them tea, cry with them, and continue surviving. I am thankful for that confidence.

I am also amazed at how strategies shift. When I wrote this original post, I had a few coping skills that I leaned on daily – my extensive lip balm collection is a testament to that. I used lip balm application as an alternative behaviour to self-harming, and it was life-saving for me. But these days, I have only even felt the urge to self-harm once or twice in the last couple years, and I only use lip balm when my lips are chapped. Self-care is such a responsive process – we are always responding, and the act of self-care is an act of presence and awareness. It becomes habitual, but it can never be only habitual. I love (and hate) that iterative, never-ending process. (I also really miss my Patchwork writers! If I ran another six-week poetry writing course, would you be interested? Let me know!)

Here is my 2013 post, edited to remove some ableism (we are always learning!) and to update links.

I’m sitting in Vendome, one of my favourite cafès in Calgary. I just sent out the writing prompt to my Patchwork writers, posted it on the Facebook page, shared it on my personal Facebook, tweeted it, posted it on the Writing in the Margins blog. Most of the time I respond to writing prompts privately, in a longhand journal. If I share the writing later (which I rarely do, outside of workshops where I read my just-written work with the group), I type it up and polish it a bit.

But the prompt today is to write about mental health.

And I am a mental health advocate. So I am typing this response directly into my “add new post” screen, and I am going to hit “publish” when I’m finished. And then I’ll post a link to it on Facebook and on all of my Twitter accounts, and here’s why –

At 13, I went through my first serious depression. I did not know what was happening to me. (If you suspect that you may be going through a depression or other mental health concern, here is a free screening tool. It’s not perfect, and symptoms are not so cut-and-dried for many people – it is a place to start, but not a final word.)

Suddenly everything was awful. There was a pain in my body/brain/heart/soul. I cried a lot. I self-harmed. I scratched my neck and shoulders and hips and belly until I was cross-hatched, red and scabbing. I smashed my head into walls, sometimes until I was dizzy. I didn’t know who to talk to. The only person who knew I was self-harming, the only person I confided in, was my 9 year old sister. It was terrible for both of us, a weight far too heavy for her small shoulders (or my own).

Writing about this time, I feel my chest tighten and my breath shorten, the muscles in my neck knot up – these are the first physical manifestations of anxiety in my body and I am aware enough now, at 32, to recognize them for what they are. I take a deep breath, roll my shoulders, take a sip of water, continue.

In high school, at around 16 or 17, I went through a second (or perhaps just a worsening of my ongoing) depression. This was complicated by the arrival of Sadisty – a very angry, very vicious voice in my head. I do not seem to have a split or multiple personality disorder – Sadisty was just (“just”) my mind’s way of externalizing the intense self-loathing that I was experiencing. Though I feel a deep shame about what feels, to me, like one of the lowest points in my mental health journey, I am also amazed and grateful for whatever it was in me that did choose to externalize rather than internalize those feelings. Sadisty wanted me to die, and I had many moments of suicidality, but I didn’t want me to die. I put all of that negativity into Sadisty, to get it out of my own head, to make those nasty comments come in a voice that wasn’t my own.

I am lucky to have survived high school, to have survived Sadisty and that second/ongoing depression.

(Breathe again, breathe again.)

At 18, I started volunteering at the Calgary Humane Society. I adopted a dog, my soul mate. Tasha. She had separation anxiety and dog-dog aggression. She was anxious, fearful, aggressive. Helping her helped me. Things got better. Sadisty was gone, and she has never come back.

I got married, I got divorced.

My mental health stayed at a consistently low-grade level of self-loathing. Low self-esteem. An at-that-time undiagnosed anxiety disorder. The impact of early trauma, unacknowledged anxiety and low self-esteem on my sex drive led me to believe I was “sexually dysfunctional” (a whole other thing, related but tangential to this post).

(Breathe, breathe. Roll shoulders, stretch wrists, refill water. In my body right now – tightness, tension. Shame, anxiety, fear.)

After my divorce, I went through a third severe depression. Again, I was self-harming. Again, I was suicidal.

I was 28.

I was ashamed.

I felt foolish – this was supposed to be done, part of the horror of adolescence. How could it follow me into adulthood? How could it threaten to destroy the new life I was trying to build for myself? How could I?! Shame, anxiety, self-loathing – there was a toxic mix of emotions and beliefs at play. Fortunately, I was seeing a counsellor and had her support, and the support of my anchor partner. I had started seeing a counsellor when I was trying to get past the sexual dysfunction, and continued seeing her through my divorce and into the depression that followed it. I still see her, and will continue to do so. I recognize now that my neurodivergence is not something I will ever “overcome” – it is part of who I am. It has taught me invaluable lessons, and has helped me become the advocate that I am. At 32, I recognize the value that this neurodivergence has brought to my life.

But at 28, I climbed halfway over my 28th floor balcony, intending to make strawberry jam on the pavement below.

After that, my counsellor helped me come up with an emergency plan.

I made the painful call to my sister, my mom, my dad.

I said, “I am currently depressed. Sometimes I feel suicidal. I am calling to ask if you would be willing to be part of my emergency plan. What that would mean is that if I call and tell you that I am feeling suicidal, you will be available to come and be with me, or take me to the hospital if necessary.”

I had to euthanize Tasha.

My mom was hit by a truck, she almost died.

I experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. The depression got worse. The self-harming escalated.

My best friend stopped taking my calls. Months later, she told me that it had just gotten to be too much – there was something wrong every time we spoke.

Depression, anxiety, other mental health concerns… they can be like bombs, decimating at the point of impact, shrapnel flying everywhere. Relationships can be fundamentally altered or destroyed. Partnerships suffer. The ripple effects of a mental health issue can make the isolation and loneliness, the shame and fear and pain so much worse. Among the conversations that we do not have regarding mental health, this conversation about self-care for caregivers, and balancing the various and sometimes conflicting needs for support is both absent and necessary. It is possible to remain friends with a depressed person, but because we do not ever have this conversation, many people don’t know how.

I came out of that depression.

I became an activist.

I developed an amazing, diverse, wide-ranging social circle.

I learned new coping skills. I breathe more intentionally now. I pay attention to tension in my body. I rarely allow an anxiety attack to escalate to the point where I feel the urge to self-harm. I use lip balm and apply it when I start to feel anxious – I pay attention to the feel, the smell, the taste. I take supplements and get exercise. I see my counsellor every other week, more frequently when things get bad.

I am 32 now.

I am currently depressed.

I wake up in the morning and I feel sad. I feel hopeless. I feel discouraged.

I haven’t reconciled with the addition of fibromyalgia to my life. I miss my dad. I miss my dogs. I am financially unstable, and frustrated by my ongoing mental health concerns. I am immobilized by anxiety on a regular basis.

But I have help. And I have a purpose. I believe that my weakness is one of my superpowers, that my willingness to speak openly about my struggles is part of my activism.

So I am depressed.

I am waiting for it to be over (for now).

I use all my new coping skills. I lean on my friends, as much as I can allow myself, and I breathe. I stretch. I take my supplements and drink my water and have epsom salt baths to help with the physical pain.

It is World Mental Health Day.

And this is my mental health story.