Image description: Across the top of the comic is the title Bridges and Boundaries.
In the first panel, a stick figure stands beside a box labeled Tools. There’s a little hammer and a few other items sticking up from the box.
The second panel is split horizontally. In the top panel, a stick figure stands on one end of a bridge, with a stick figure on the other end. The first stick figure says, “Do you want to come over?” In the bottom panel, a stick figure stands on one side of a double-dashed line (a permeable-at-will boundary), and a blurry figure stands on the other side. Text reads “Those feelings aren’t mine to manage.”
In the third panel, a stick figure stands with a double-dashed boundary on both sides and two bridges. Text reads “Connected AND Protected.”
2018 will be the first year that features all four core self-care courses – Emotional, Mental, and Physical Self-Care (which ran in 2017 with a focus on wholeness and will run in 2018 with a focus on hope), and, new for this year, Social Self-Care. I am so excited about the fourth and final piece in the quartet – it is one that I have struggled with personally, and the long process of planning and researching for this course has been such a valuable journey for me. I am excited to share what I’ve learned.
Social self-care is all of the self-care that we do around how we engage with other people.
It’s the self-care that happens at our points of connection (both wanted and unwanted) – those situations where our bubble bumps up against someone else’s bubble, voluntarily or not.
We engage with a lot of different people, and our self-care toolbox needs to be ready to handle them. The people who love us, and people who hate us. People who help us, and people who harm us. People who buoy us up, and people who weigh us down. People who sometimes are one, and sometimes are the other. People we wish we never had to speak to again, and people we wish we could speak to just one more time.
Social self-care is heckin’ hard.
Any of us with trauma histories, histories of abuse, or socialization to be the “good” whatever (the good girl, the good fat person, the good Black woman, the good crip, the good queer – any of us who have been socialized to shrink ourselves for the comfort of others) – we often struggle with boundaries.
It’s hard to know where we end and to advocate for what we need – to establish the boundaries that clearly outline where the other begins and where I end, and the boundaries that will keep us safe. Maybe we’ve been punished for trying to establish boundaries, or maybe we’ve learned to keep ourselves safe by keeping ourselves available. Maybe we’re afraid that nobody will love us if we establish boundaries. Maybe we’re afraid that nobody will be willing to help us.
And, similarly, we often struggle with bridges.
It’s hard to know how to reach out. If we’ve experienced abandonment, humiliation, abuse, or neglect, it’s hard to trust. It’s hard to let ourselves be vulnerable by reaching out, offering a connection that might be refused.
But it’s possible to learn how to build both boundaries and bridges. It’s possible to be connected and protected.
That’s what the winter online course is all about.
During the 6-week course, we’ll talk about:
- Self-awareness and self-compassion. Knowing ourselves, knowing our needs, naming our fears and desires. Before we set up boundaries and extend bridges, we’ll work on what we hope to accomplish with those two critical social self-care tools. We’ll also talk about attachment styles, and bring that lens to our social self-care work.
- Self-differentiation. We’ll talk about how to recognize where we end and others begin. Some of the challenges we run into in setting up boundaries and bridges have to do with differentiating ourselves from the people around us. Inner stories like, “they need me more than I need me,” “they probably hate me anyway,” “everyone feels the way I feel,” and “there’s no point, they won’t respect my boundaries/be interested in building a bridge” can stop us from even trying. We’ll talk about where we might be over-empathizing, projecting, or struggling to self-differentiate.
- Trust. We’ll talk about how to build (and rebuild) trust, earn trust, and determine trustworthiness. (We’ll be using a lot of Brené Brown, as well as the Gottman’s work!)
- Companionship. Finding it, caring for it, remaining whole within it.
- Isolation. When we choose it, when we feel trapped in it, how to challenge it.
- Involuntary social groups. Families of origin, workplaces, classmates, roommates, extended friend groups – sometimes they’re awesome, sometimes they’re not.
- Voluntary social groups. Chosen families, partnerships, collaborations – even when we choose it, we have to look after ourselves within it.
- Social self-care in crisis contexts. How to ask for help and how to offer help in an emergency.
Sounds great, right?!
When: January 22. 6-weeks.
Where: Entirely online! Work at your own pace, in your own space. Optional weekly Google Hangout.
How much: $150. $75 for Patreon supporters. Sliding scale available.
How to register: Send me an email!
Image description – A screenshot of the front cover of the PDF. Orange text reads “Queerness and Holiday Self-Care: Planning, Coping, Recovering, and Grief” Smaller text reads “A Document Generated Following the December 2017 Possibilities Calgary Bi+ Discussion Group.” There is a decorative red line down the right side of the image.
“What holidays are we talking about?
All of them!
This conversation happened around the Winter Holidays – that stretch of time that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Yule, Midwinter, Christmas, New Year’s, and Chinese New Year. But these strategies, suggestions, and situations are relevant to any holiday that includes social pressure to perform joyfulness, to spend time with extended social networks, and to perform a certain type of gender, orientation, or other identity. These pressures can be exacerbated by trauma, grief, or identity shifts. Other holidays that can be challenging in this way are birthdays, Valentine’s Day, the Spring Holidays, and any personally meaningful anniversary.
There can be shame attached to needing self-care around the holidays. These are “supposed” to be cheerful times, where we connect with our families and communities, give and receive gifts and support, remind ourselves of the goodness of humanity, feel loved and loving.
There is so much pressure to conform to these ideas of appropriate holiday cheer, and although we understand that the holidays can be challenging, it’s often difficult to extend compassion to ourselves when we are struggling. And it’s sometimes hard to ask other people to understand when we’re struggling, because they may be invested in having a “good holiday” that doesn’t have space for our struggle.
Depression spikes at the holidays, and we do not have robust “practices of anti-depression” (to borrow a term from Daria Kutuzova, whose work is linked in the resources section). These practices include things like mindfulness, self-care, self-compassion, creating and encouraging unique outcomes (meaning, outcomes that defy our internal expectation of despair and the external expectation of a certain performance of joy – unique outcomes are outcomes that allow us wholehearted, hopeful, and resilient stories without denying our struggle, pain, trauma, and fear). Other practices of anti-depression include creating inclusive spaces and a sense of belonging, and encouraging pleasure, fun, hope, anticipation, and resilience without pasting on a smile that hides our true feelings. This path is much more complicated and challenging, but also much more rewarding.”
Read the rest by downloading the PDF here.
The monthly Possibilities discussions are full of rich insights, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration from within our bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans-inclusive community.
One of my goals is to create resources that grow out of these generous and creative conversations, so that the work we do in those moments can extend out to join larger conversations about queerness and self-care. One reason for this is because when we are struggling, we have valuable insider knowledge that can help other people who are also struggling – it’s not true that the only people with answers are the “experts” or the ones who have it all figured out. To the contrary – it is often those of us who are actively grappling with an issue who have more direct insight and knowledge to share. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for experts or guides, but part of what I hope to accomplish with my work is consistently and intentionally centering the voices of marginalized individuals and communities, and creating resources that honour hard-won knowledge and skills.
In an effort to share these moments of community-generated wisdom from the Possibilities discussions, I’ll be creating a resource most months that documents and shares our collective insights. Anonymity, or naming, is at each participant’s discretion, and at the beginning of the discussion we talk about why I’m taking notes, what I’m planning to do with them, and how people can access the document before it goes public. Any participants who want to look over the document before it’s made public have that opportunity, and there’s a second check-in at the end of the discussion to make sure everyone is aware of what might be shared and has a chance to opt in or out. Confidentiality within supportive community spaces is so critical, and these documents will not contain identifying details (unless participants want to be named or identified).
This document is meant to extend the conversation and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at email@example.com if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.
This document was created following our December 19, 2017 meeting, and is meant to be a resource for the queer community that validates the challenges of holiday self-care as a queer person. There are a ton of coping strategies, resources, validations, and suggestions in here.
I’ll be creating a document like this for most of the future Possibilities discussions, so you can look forward to Winter Self-Care (Seasonal Affective Disorder, dealing with the cold, and winter for weary queers) coming up next month!
Image description: A screenshot of a text post. Text reads: In order to become the supreme adult, you must perform the seven wonders:
· Public speaking
· Not being afraid of teenagers
· Calling the doctor yourself
· Arguing without crying
· Having a normal sleep pattern
· Having an answer to the question ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
(This is a Patreon reward post for Dave. At the $10 per month support level, I’ll write you a yearly post on the topic of your choice, too! Patrons at any support level get access to many posts about a week early, and are able to offer comments and suggestions, and see my, sometimes meandering!, process in action.)
This text post floated across my newsfeed again, and I laughed, as I always do when I see it, because it feels so true. But I didn’t share it, because it also feels deeply ableist. And, when thinking about it, isn’t Supreme Adulting an exercise in ableism, with its demand that adulting involves navigating capitalism and passing as neurotypical and normatively abled? The infantilizing of any of us who are neurodivergent or disabled certainly lends some weight to that theory.
The reason I saved the post today, rather than laughing and scrolling past, is because of the last point – in order to become the supreme adult, you must have an answer to the question ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
Months and months ago now, Dave said that the topic of his Patreon reward post should be “self-care and figuring out what you’re going to do with your life.”
Great, I thought!
“Great!” I said.
A month or so later, I sent him an email and told him it was going really slowly. I was running into internal friction. It’s a big topic! What you’re going to do with your life? HUGE! It had felt like a quick and easy topic, as these reward posts often do, but then I scratched the surface and got stuck.
He said not to worry. I kept thinking about it.
A month or so after that, I sent him another email with a proposal – how about “self-care and job hunting”? But he wasn’t feelin’ it, so I came back to this.
And every week when I wrote out my To Do list, “Dave’s Patreon post” showed up.
And every week, it didn’t get written.
This friction… I couldn’t quite figure it out. Was it friction because I worry about what I will do with my life? Was it shame or anxiety over the fact that I’m trying to build a new career for the third time in my life? Was it worry about giving directives to other people, taking on a role of expertise when I truly believe that we are each the experts in our own experience? All of those, but also not quite any of those. There was something else there, and all I knew was that I was stuck. I have learned (painfully and only with great effort) to trust the stuckness. When I’m stuck, there’s something there. It’s worth honouring the friction, even when I find it frustrating.
And then this text post floated across my newsfeed and, and the stickiness resolved, and I thought yes! Now I can write this thing, at long last.
Because what this post highlighted for me was the ableism and the individualism and the capitalist expectations buried within the question. That’s what I had been sticking on.
Because the struggle is not figuring out how to answer ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
We can often answer that.
If we let ourselves, we can often close our eyes and imagine a life that sounds good – maybe a life full of family? Maybe making art? Maybe gardening? Maybe building community? Maybe making music? A life of long walks, or mornings spent writing, or caring for younglings or oldsters? A life spent researching the Great Questions? A life of learning? A life of teaching? There is so much that we might want to do, and many of us can, if we let ourselves, answer that question.
If we let ourselves.
Which we often don’t, not past childhood, because that’s not actually the question being asked.
The question is usually not ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
The question is ‘what do you want to do with your life that will pay your bills, position you as a productive member of society, and fit into the (unreasonable) expectations of the society around you?’
And the reason I couldn’t write a post about how to answer that second question is because I think it’s a garbage question. It is inherently harmful and violent.
‘What part of yourself will you cut off in order to fit into this shoe?’
So, instead of offering suggestions for how to answer that question-within-question, I will offer this –
Yes, the pain you feel when the question is asked is real, and valid. Even if you know what you want to do, even if you have a vocation and a career in mind, the pain can still float up because of the uncertainty of our current economic climate. We are supposed to have aspirations, but not unrealistic aspirations. We are supposed to reach for success, but not overreach. It is an impossible balancing act. So, yes, the pain you feel is real, and valid.
Yes, it is unfair that the adultier adults in your life keep asking it.
Yes, you’re right that there is often something wounded behind the eyes of the people who ask the question. It is an unfair question for all of us, and the process of answering is often a process of self-negation.
Yes, your anger is justified.
Yes, your fear is valid.
Yes, your uncertainty is legitimate!
Of course that question hurts!
You are being asked not only to disclose (and decide) how you will fit your life into capitalism but also how you will devote your entire life to capitalism.
As my good friend put it, you are being asked to assimilate, to become Borg. And that threat of assimilation is hidden in what seems like an innocuous question – what do you want to do with your life? What a lovely question, what an expansive question, what a perfectly innocent question… except not.
Our current economic climate means that the idea of vocation, of career, of calling – the idea of one job that provides a stable base from which to launch your life – only exists for the very privileged few. And you’re probably not one of them. And some part of you knows it. And it hurts.
So, what do you want to do with your life? Choose, and then be prepared to choose again, and to choose again, and to choose again, and to be pitied and rejected when you’re between choices, and to feel yourself segmented into selves who inhabit jobs but not careers, and not jobs that feed your heart but jobs that feed your body, to choose between those selves, to always be fragmented and unintegrated. What violence!
Our looming societal collapse means that many of us, Millenials and Xennials and later generations, are not planning much into the future. How can we? We are racking up student debt that we’ll never pay down. We are living with our parents and being slammed for it in article after article. We are eating too much avocado toast and we are failing at Supreme Adulting. And it is not our fault.
Truly, it is not our fault. The question is flawed. The system is hostile. There are rarely right answers because the answers that feel right don’t often answer the real question.
So, that’s not hugely helpful for those of us who need to answer the question.
(And, as I format this post to share publicly on my blog, I feel a flicker of anxiety about admitting that not only do I not have easy answers for anyone who comes to me for coaching help, I just straight up do not believe that the easy answers exist. What kind of coach am I, anyway?! The self-doubt is real, and it’s worth acknowledging. Here, and always, I lean on G. WIllow Wilson’s wisdom – “There is not always a way out, but there is always a way forward.” I am not the coach who will get you out of the struggle, I am the coach who will help you find ways forward through the struggle.)
The fact is, we do have to answer the question of how we will fit ourselves into capitalism, even though it’s a garbage question.
Even when we know the answer is not going to be right, because there are no longer any right answers, still we have to come up with it. We do have to find our way forward, because we have to eat, because we have to pay rent, because we have to make our way through this world even though the system is hostile, and it is often easier to move forward when that hostility is acknowledged and our struggle is honoured.
(And to support the idea of no right answers, look at burnout rates among doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, and other professional careers that were previously considered the adultiest of all. Who is more adult than a lawyer? Nobody! And so, then, why are so many young lawyers burning out? Maybe our ideas of what it means to be “adult” – where adult is code for “productive member of capitalist society” – are fundamentally flawed.)
Let’s detour for a moment.
For a moment, consider the surface question, the first question, the better question – ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
Consider answering it from your heart rather than from your fear. Imagine a future where that is possible.
Consider this section from Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble:
“Vinciane Despret thinks-with other beings, human and not. That is a rare and precious vocation. Vocation: calling, calling with, called by, calling as if the world mattered, calling out, going too far, going visiting. Despret listened to a singing blackbird one morning – a living blackbird outside her particular window – and that way learned what importance sounds like. She thinks in attunement with those she thinks with – recursively, inventively, relentlessly – with joy and verve. She studies how beings render each other capable in actual encounters, and she theorizes – makes cogently available – that kind of theory and method. … Her kind of thinking enlarges, even invents, the competencies of all the players, including herself, such that the domain of ways of being and knowing dilates, expands, adds both ontological and epistemological possibilities, proposed and enacts what was not there before.”
Vocation: calling, calling with, called by, calling as if the world mattered, calling out, going too far, going visiting.
Imagine, just imagine, if we could answer that question with our vocation, with our calling, with our calling out and calling in, with our calling as if the world mattered. If we could go visiting into various ways of being and doing, and if that could be a beautiful part of the process rather than a painful destabilization.
Just thinking about it opens me up in the way Haraway describes.
I want that kind of thinking.
I want to answer the question with that expansiveness, that generosity, and that space. Rather than an ableist question which demands that the answerer fit into a mold that is no longer (and honestly has never been) compassionate or helpful, I want to answer an anti-oppressive question that expands and creates competencies and potential, that brings curiousity, playfulness, and companionship to the table.
And then let’s come back to the question under the question – not ‘what do you want to do with your life,’ but rather ‘what will you do to fit your life into the system?’
Here are some self-care ideas for navigating that process:
First, allow yourself to answer the surface question. Let yourself answer, even if you know you won’t be able to act on the answer. Do you want to spend your life in service? Do you want to spend your life baking pastries? Do you want to spend your life in gardens and on nature trails? Do you want to spend your life writing? Raising children? Raising goats? Raising the roof in party after party after party? Raising awareness? Raising each other up? Answer. Don’t worry if there’s no way you’ll pay the rent with that answer.
(And for the record, although we do have the persistent cultural myth of the self-made person who “trusts their heart and the money follows,” I think that it is mostly bullshit. Especially in the current economic and political climate. Especially for those of us who are marginalized or multiply marginalized. So, it may happen. You may answer that question, find a vocation, follow it, survive. I hope that you do! That’s what I’m hoping for myself, too! But if you don’t, that is not your fault. It is not because you weren’t positive enough, passionate enough, persistent enough. It is because the system is hostile.)
Second, allow yourself to dodge the question. When people who expect you to #adult ask how you’re going to do it, avoid/subvert/challenge the assumptions. What are you going to do with your life, they ask, as you enter your final year of your undergrad degree, fully cognizant of the lack of jobs in your field? “Well, I was thinking I would bake a pie this weekend!” You don’t owe them your answer.
Third, allow yourself to answer the question-within-the-question with whatever emotions come up for you. Bitterness? Yeah, fucking definitely. Anger? Yes. Fear? Yes. Curiousity? Yes! Excitement? Absolutely. Apathy? For sure. Whatever comes up for you, comes up for you. You’re allowed to feel whatever you feel.
And finally, know that you’re not alone in not being able to answer the question. It is an impossible and hostile question. It is cruel. It is unfair. If you don’t have an answer, that is okay.
Take a deep breath.
Keep looking for ways to tether yourself to yourself despite all of the alienation and distance that capitalism enforces.
I believe in you.
You will do so much with your life, and not all of it will be Supreme Adulting, and all of it will be yours.
Image description: Title reads – Social Self-Care Part One. The first panel reads, “It’s okay to be anxious if it’s been a while.” A stick figure stands, saying, “I miss my friend! Do they miss me? It’s my fault. I feel bad. What if they hate me now?” The second panel reads, “It’s okay to reach out anyway.” Two stick figures greet each other with “Hi!” and “Hey friend!” There is a small tiffanysostar.com link in the bottom right corner.
Today’s Stick Figure Sunday was inspired by my own sense of isolation and anxiety about reaching out to people that I’ve dropped out of contact with over the last while. Sometimes a week can feel like too long, sometimes it’s months, or even years.
The anxiety can be overwhelming – what if our friends have forgotten us, or hate us now? What if we abandoned our friends during times when they needed us, and we either didn’t know, or didn’t feel we had a choice? What if our self-care was really selfishness and we’ve been horrible people in our inward turn? What if we’re traitors, making new friends or exploring new projects?
For those of us with certain mental health diagnoses – things like AHDH, bipolar, or borderline especially – any periods of falling off the social map come with a whole weight of stigma, and we can feel like we’re confirming the stereotype and deserve the stigma.
It is okay to feel anxious about all of this.
Those feelings are normal.
You are not weird or bad for worrying!
And the second panel is just as true. You can reach out even if it’s been a while. You can reach out even if you’re worried. You don’t have to punish yourself with social isolation.
Relationships elastic closer and further apart even without neurodivergence being a factor, but when neurodivergence is a factor, the shame level can be intense. So can the anxiety.
You can, if it feels right for you, reach out to those friends. Even if it’s been a while, even if you’re anxious.
And your friend might reach back, or they might not. Part of social self-care is honouring our needs for connection while also honouring other people’s ability to respond in whatever way is right for them. Assessing your needs, being honest with yourself, taking the risk, being vulnerable enough to send out a hello. In these moments of vulnerability, we risk loss. There’s no way around that, and it’s not a bad thing inherently. We have more skills than we often give ourselves credit for, and we can often bring enough resilience to handle the answer.
That’s not always true, though, and part of this self-care is knowing when you can only handle a yes, and not asking in those moments – reaching out to someone where the connection is strong first, rather than reaching out where there is distance and anxiety. That’s why it’s phrased as “it is okay to reach out anyway”, rather than “reach out anyway.”
The invitation is there, but the directive isn’t. You’re the expert. You know if you want to, or are able to, reach out.
The other inspiration for this post is the fact that I’ve started putting together the content for the next online course. We’ve done mental, physical, and emotional self-care – in January, we’ll be introducing social self-care. If boundaries, communication, trust, and vulnerability in relationships are challenging for you, keep an eye out for an announcement with dates and details.