This is a post about struggling and reaching out and being met with care. I’m writing it up because sometimes these moments of collective care pass quickly, and I want to document this. Not only to remember that I, personally and specifically, was met with so much wisdom and care but also to share some of the wisdom with anyone else finding themselves in a tough spot. Maybe there is something here that will help you. Maybe you will add to this list of ideas. Maybe you will send it to someone else who needs it.
Sometimes it is nice to know that even in the hard moments, even when we are really struggling, out there in the world there are other people who have also struggled and who have gotten through. There are a few things that I hold onto when I am at my lowest, and this is one of them – no matter what is happening, someone, somewhere, at some point, has struggled like this. No matter what is happening and no matter how hard it is, I am not truly alone in it. There is a way through. People have made their way through. Maybe that means I can get through, too.
Last month, in the week after Father’s Day, I had a couple of really tough days*.
In the middle of the worst of it, when I couldn’t get my body to calm, and my chest hurt and my head hurt and I couldn’t catch my breath, I came to facebook and posted. I said, Alright pals, I had some Hard Emotions and now my chest hurts and my head hurts and I can’t make it stop. Hit me with your best tools for soothing that inner “something is hurting me and I can’t make it stop” thing.
My community met me with care.
Here is an expanded list of the tools people shared (anonymized and consolidated):
Jump into the shower (this was shared by lots of folks, and it is one thing that I did for myself that day!)
Tap the bone behind your ear
Put heat or cool on the back of your neck
Use white noise, like ambient starship or forest noises or rain
Remember that you will fuck up, like we all do, but you get up and keep trying and that’s all we can ask. You are already making a personalized microverse around you of a just and right and kind and soft world.
A purring kitty. Belly rubs.
Connection with someone – coffee, walk, dinner… something in person
Connect with a therapist
Listen to a soundtrack or playlist that has been created for these times, maybe something you can sing along to, or something that brings specific feelings or memories
Asking someone to hold you close and tight
Going for a walk (with yourself, a person, or a furbeast)
Videos! Many folks suggested this, and the suggestions included otter videos, videos of tiny edible food being made on tiny functional kitchen sets, the f*ck that meditation video, puppies vs kittens, Great British Baking Show or Nailed It (season 1 episode 6 for cry-laughing),
Havening or TRE. (These are both somatic or psychosensory therapies. Here is some info on havening and here is some info on TRE.)
Know that it is useful/helpful to know that you are doing badly. Seeing the hardness is useful.
Stop what feels ‘important’ because your own self deserves to be ‘most important’ right now
Make some tea
Light a candle and wrap yourself in a blanket and spend some time with your little self. Have a conversation asking what you can do to help them feel safe and loved.
Roll up in a blanket like a burrito and lay on your stomach on the floor
Video games, because you can control those and empower yourself
Cosplay (this one reminded me of the Gloom Fairy costumes I used to put on when things were very bad)
Write it down and turn it into a poem. Then look through your photos and find one that makes, and if not, take one that could match.
Let go in a temporary way if you’re not ready to let go all the way. Give yourself permission to return to the feelings as needed.
Going under your bed
Saying yes to the hurt, not to the hurting. As in: yes, hurt is visiting. Then host it for a little while. What sort of tea does this hurt like to drink? Is it cold? Would a shower or blanket help? Remember that you are bigger than the hurt. You are the home it is visiting, and there are lots of tools within you to make it as cozy as possible for its stay within you. (Someone else responded to this wisdom by sharing this quote – “You need to try to master the ability to feel sad without actually being sad.” Mingyur Rinpoche)
Impulse buy something (with a note that the person who shared this isn’t always happy with this strategy – I appreciate being able to share the ‘less preferable’ strategies as well, because sometimes that’s what’s available!)
Message a close friend and ask why they are your friend
Talk with someone who will listen and care without trying to solve the issue
Downward dog or child’s pose, with as much intentional breath as possible
And there was a whole category of strategies related to ‘releasing the energy’. Some ideas for releasing that energy included:
connecting with someone else
crying (maybe in the shower)
shaking your body
breaking something that can be broken
grabbing some clay and smashing it (it is the earth and can hold all the feels, be destroyed and come back)
feeling something beneath you and knowing that what is solid can hold you and when you are ready you will hold onto yourself again
keening (a low sound with each exhale through loosely pursed lips, like the sound of the wind through a partially open window, or blowing over the top of a pop bottle, changing the pitch up and down as the emotions move through)
Is there anything you would add to this list?
Has anything on this list been helpful to you in the past?
For myself, I got into the shower and cried a lot while listening to Regina Spektor very loud on my phone. It helped.
Would you like to see this list turned into a zine? I was thinking about making a few more illustrations and printing it, and then I could mail it out to folks who want it. But even if it never gets to paper, it is a great list to have access to. I am thankful.
* This post isn’t about those tough days, but patrons got that little story. You can support my patreon here.
The image is of a cloudy night and forested hills, with lots of little stick figures and a dog saying Awoooooo. Text at the bottom reads “Through the Halloween gloom, the stick figures returned!!!”
I have been thinking about endings and beginnings and restarts and projects, lately.
There are two big projects waiting to launch:
Relaunching An Unexpected Light in a new, easier-to-access format. This means reworking the existing content to break it into 7 smaller courses which can each be taken on their own, or stacked together for the full experience. It was already built in chapters, so this isn’t impossible, but it is going to require a few big blocks of time to sit and focus and rewrite and think through the logistics of costs and textbooks, and record some new video content.
Ending Possibilities in a good way. This means scheduling a series of community conversations and individual conversations to document what we did and learned together and what continues on despite the group formally ending. This will be a significant project and I’m going to give it at least six months from when it launches (which was meant to be in September, but that didn’t happen). Then the results of these conversations will be turned into a digital archive of our work together. My hope is that this will offer some encouragement and a sense of connecting to legacies of bi+ activism and community building for future bi+ activists.
A significant ending (which is also the beginning of a project), and a significant restarting. Both of these projects are important to me, and also really daunting.
I’m tired these days (aren’t we all?). I haven’t really recovered (will I ever?) from my health crashing hard in the spring. So, Stick Figure Sunday.
This project is small, playful, and the stakes are lower.
It’s also a reminder that I can come back to a project whenever I want to – even though it’s been years since the last Stick Figure Sunday, I can still come back to it. This means that my other projects, too, will be waiting for me when I return to them.
There is something hopeful about this.
Hopeful and also ghostly, of course! After all, the stick figures are rising from their slumber on this eeriest of days.
Watching some roll away and knowing that if we try and stop them, we’ll just drop even more.
There’s so much joy in the experience of finding that balance and maintaining the movement – shifting smoothly between projects and priorities, knowing that the next time you need to touch that ball, you’ll be ready. Being busy, being a juggler, being your own perpetual motion machine – it can be delightful!
But it can also be overwhelming, especially when some (or many) of the balls aren’t ones you would choose to be juggling. Navigating an ableist system with disabilities or neurodivergences, or navigating a racist and colonialist system as a person of colour, or navigating a sizeist system in a large body – it means juggling all kinds of bullshit and the balls that fall and break are often the ones you care about most. Your own self-care. Your hobbies. Your friends. The things that bring you joy.
Juggling is just like anything else – it can be a delight when it’s chosen and it can be soul-crushing when it’s forced.
So, if you’re juggling today, this is for you!
I have no answers – I’m a juggler, too.
What I *do* have is intense appreciation for the way we do what we have to do, and for the way we move into moments of delicious kinetic flow sometimes.
I know that life doesn’t give us the option to stop and start from scratch. But if you have the chance to pick one of those cherished balls back up (or ask a friend to toss it to you), it can be worth it. We often end up juggling everyone else’s priorities before our own, and that can get heavy.
Image description: A stick figure stands, hair on end, surrounded by a field of static electricity. Text reads: “Sometimes, I am a ball of staticky, chaotic, uncomfortable energy. It makes it hard to connect!” A second stick figure stands, with roots growing out of their feet, watery wiggles over their legs, torso, and arms, and leaves growing out of their hands and head. Text reads: “Sometimes, I am a plant (in my mind) and all teh static energy is gone, and I connect to the ground, and feeling myself growing and nurtured.” There is a small Tiffany Sostar logo in the bottom left and a tiffanysostar.com link in the bottom right.
Today’s #stickfiguresunday was inspired by the chat we had this morning in the Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care course. We were talking about how social self-care, particularly the bridge-building side of social self-care (those actions that invite connection, or that reach out from us-as-individuals towards us-as-community-members), requires resources and favourable contexts. Anxiety, depression, inner narratives around rejection, lack of time, energy, or money – these all create barriers to connection and can contribute to our feelings of isolation, loneliness, and helplessness.
One of the barriers that we might run into is the feeling of being “bad” at connection. Incoherent, unfocused, frazzled, no-fun. The metaphor we generated during the discussion was feeling like our entire energy body was staticky – every part of us feeling the way your hair looks when you rub it with a balloon.
We imagined ways to manage this – to ground the staticky energy, or to find the metaphorical dryer sheet we could rub on ourselves to calm down the static. That’s an important step because when we’re staticky like this, not only are we uncomfortable, but we’re also conscious of the risk that we might shock other people if we try to connect. Yikes!!
For this Stick Figure Sunday, I realized that one of my own “dryer sheet” skills is thinking about myself as a plant. Grounded, growing, and full of life and deeply connected roots.
Can you relate to the feeling of being staticked up?
What do you use to help dissipate, calm, or ground that staticky energy?
Image description: A stick figure braces themselves against a wall. From the left, a grey and black cloud approaches and is labeled “Incoming…!!!”. The cloud is filled with the words depression, anxiety, trauma, fear, isolation. The wall is labeled “Brace yourself!” and is backed by the colourful words resilience, connection, self-care, community, compassion, self-awareness, breathing.
Sometimes the fog bearing down on us can feel overwhelming, isolating, petrifying.
There’s so much shame that can come with the cloud – depression, anxiety, trauma, fear, isolation, or whatever else it might be.
So if you’re seeing that cloud bearing down on you, brace yourself.
Find the solid wall to lean against – find your community, find your connection, your awareness, your resilience, your breath. Find whatever you can brace against while the cloud descends and lean on until it dissipates.
You are not alone.
If this is your first time in the cloud, know that many of us have been here and will be here again.
If it’s not your first time, know that you have survived the cloud before.
Find your wall, brace yourself, let yourself be supported.
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!