Burnout

By Phillip

Most people have experienced symptoms of burnout before. Burnout can be defined, according to Maslach, Jackson, and Leiter (1996), as a psychological response often experienced in the human services profession and characterized by three things: 1) emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy.

Burnout may be the result of role conflicts and engagement in activities that exceeds current coping strategies and self-care. Some symptoms of burnout may include: chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, increased illness, loss of appetite, anxiety, anger, loss of enjoyment, isolation, increased irritability. Awareness of your personal signs of burnout may help with facilitating change so that you regain balance in your life.

I have recently read an article on “busyness”. The author (Omid Safi) talked about the disease of being busy; according to the author we are in dis-ease when we are not keeping ourselves occupied. Here are a few lines from their post.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?… How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

During our workshop on burnout in relationships we also discussed some coping strategies to protect ourselves from burnout within our relationships. We talked about taking stock on what we engage in on a daily basis. Each participant created their own pie chart of activities they do each day and reflected on the items that they enjoyed doing versus those they felt they “should do”. This reflection activity may assist you in recognizing what you want to do more of what you want to do less of. We also talked about setting boundaries and being intentional in what you want to engage in.

Finally we also talked about having hope and noticing the good things that are happening in the present. Celebrate your daily success and rejuvenate yourself.

Safi, O. (2017). The disease of being busy. retrieved from: https://onbeing.org/blog/the-disease-of-being-busy/#.WQNHW_h8Vvk.facebook

 

About Phillip 

Phillip is a Master’s of Counselling student with Athabasca University. He has previously volunteered with The Landing: A Safe Space for Sexual and Gender Diversity, as a Community Education Facilitator and co-facilitate the Queer/Trans Person of Color (Q/T POC) support group. He enjoys working with youth and adults and how everyone can bring forth their personal and community resiliency. Currently he is a co-facilitator at the Queer Space drop in group at Momentum. 

Why Do I Have Sex???

By Marc Colbourne

If you are like me, you have probably found yourself at one point or another asking yourself this very question. Perhaps it is as your breathing is slowing to normal  following the intensity of a climax, the next morning in the shower, or maybe even during a dry spell when you are trying to convince yourself it isn’t that important anyway.

The answers you give yourself as the warm water washes down your back are likely varied and dependent on the day.  “It is a way to express my love.” “It is a stress reducer.” “Because my partner wants to and I want to please her/him.” “It is fun.” “I’m horny and just want to get off.”

None of these answers are necessarily a problem or cause for concern. In fact, many of them are perfectly valid reasons for having sex.

Sex is a natural expression of our selves and whether we are having it with a partner, several people, or just ourselves, it can be a healthy aspect of our life; one that can lead to greater self-love.

The answer to this question only becomes a concern when the honesty and vulnerability of it causes us distress. If we feel we aren’t in control of the reasons we have sex, the type of sex we engage in, or with whom, it can be problematic. In this case, we may want to examine the reasons behind our sexual behaviour more closely and ask ourselves some additional questions:

  • Is the sex I am having negatively impacting my sense of self or how I feel about my body?
  • Is my behaviour impacting my relationships with others? How about my relationship with myself?
  • Am I putting myself at risk (either physically, emotionally, or spiritually)?
  • Do I feel I am in control of my sexual behaviour?
  • Do I spend an excessive amount of time searching for sex? Is it an obsession?

If the answer to either of these questions concerns you, you may want to find someone to talk to about your feelings. This may be a partner, trusted friend, or counsellor.  Being comfortable and confident in the reasons we have sex is a huge part of a satisfying – and enjoyable – sex life.

About Marc Colbourne 

Marc Colbourne, MSW, RSW, is a sex-positive therapist practicing in Edmonton. He can be reached at mcolbourneRSW@gmail.com

Notes from the Stress Management and Self-Care Workshop

This week’s workshop on self-care took a bit of a different approach to the topic.

We all know the benefits of self-care, and most of us seem to have an idea of the kinds of things that would be nourishing for us, and yet we most of us still struggle when it comes to actually implementing a regular practice of care. So rather than just putting out one more list of “self care ideas”, we opened up a discussion of what gets in the way of self-care, and how we can navigate those obstacles. The group came up with a ton of obstacles to self care, including…

  • social expectations to always be “doing” something
  • a structural system that rewards “productivity” over nourishment
  • guilt around disappointing others
  • internal expectations for perfection
  • fear of judgment
  • shame
  • other people’s values have become internalized

…And so much more.  We encourage each of you to ask yourselves what gets in the way of really putting yourself as a priority. If it’s other people’s expectations, you might ask yourself if those expectations match your own values. If it’s about judgment, you might check in with yourself what the worst that could happen is. Sometimes, setting a boundary and putting ourselves as a priority is much harder for us than it is for the person hearing it. Other times, it means losing people in our life who we had once been close to, but aren’t able to respect our needs.

In this way, the first step to changing our relationship with ourselves is really about becoming mindful – mindful of what our body needs, mindful of what’s getting in the way, and mindful of what might support us to do something different. If you’re new to the idea of mindfulness, you might like this fun mindful eating exercise:

http://hfhc.ext.wvu.edu/r/download/114469

Notes from the Boundaries and Assertiveness Workshop

 

In therapeutic spaces, we used to talk about a boundary as something outside a person, a line that separates and protects them from others. But I’ve come to realize that boundaries aren’t something we create and then put in place. Instead, a boundary is something that’s already within us. It’s our sense of “what’s okay for me” and what isn’t. It’s our internal knowing of “what nourishes me?” and what doesn’t. So the work of boundaries is not in creating something artificial to place between us – on that side appropriate, on this side not. Instead, it’s about first listening to and second respecting our own limits or edges.

That said, if you find yourself acting very rigidly and walled off from situation to situation, or you find yourself unable to say no and put yourself as a priority, this may be an indicator its time to work on your relationship with your own boundaries.

Boundaries seem to land on a continuum. On the one end we have boundaries that are open (meaning we let quite a lot in), and on the other end are boundaries that are closed (meaning not much gets in at all).

On the more “open” side of the continuum, this end is characterized by taking on other people’s opinions of you and allowing that to alter how you feel about yourself. It also involves taking on other people’s feelings, so that their anxiety becomes your anxiety, their disappointment becomes your disappointment, and so on. People on this side may have a harder time standing up for themselves even when they’re feeling uncomfortable. It also might mean sharing a lot of personal information without the foundation of a trusting relationship within which to do that.

On the more “closed” side of the continuum, this end involves being protected, but not influence-able –nothing comes in. Walls can protect us at times, but when overused, tend to keep us isolated from others and closed to the healing potential of vulnerability. When you are behind a wall, you are not open, and you are not listening. There are several types of walls, including walls of anger, words, preoccupation, silence, worry, depression, humor, pleasantry, and seduction. When threatened, we learn to keep our boundary extended and convert it into a fortified wall. This allows us to feel safer but the consequence is that we become cut off from life and sometimes our selves. Many people relate to others from behind their walls, well defended and field dependent (the need to please and control others). This may seem appropriate for everyday interactions at work or in social situations. However, walls do not allow for self-awareness or intimacy (the desire to reveal oneself to another). Once created, walls imprison as much as they protect.

The activity that we engaged in was to reflect on our boundaries within different areas in our lives. Participants drew a line on a sheet a paper to represent the boundaries continuum with one end representing more open and the other end more closed. We then plotted how open or closed we are within our work environment, learning environment, close friends, acquaintances, partners, parents, children, extended family. What did you learn about yourself in terms of your boundaries?

You can also review some handouts on boundaries on Nicole’s website: http://www.feministcounselloredmonton.com/handouts.html

 

 

Notes from the Resourcing and Grounding Workshop

Hello Folks!

I want to upload the exercises we have completed in our first self-care workshop of our five weeks series. The first workshop focused on Resourcing and Grounding Techniques. The exercises we engaged in includes: the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise, Square Breathing, and the Safe Place and Container Exercise.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise (led by Simone):

Sit comfortably in a chair and ensuring that you are relaxed. Now,

  • Name 5 things you can see in the room with you
  • Name 4 things you can feel (i.e., the chair on your back, or your feet on the floor)
  • Name 3 things you can hear right now
  • Name 2 things you can smell in the room
  • Name 1 thing you can taste

You can also try extending the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise by focusing on 5 things you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste, followed by an additional 4 things you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. Keep on going until you reach 1 of each sensory.

Square Breathing (led by Phillip):

Once again sit comfortably in a chair and ensuring that you are feeling relaxed.

  • Begin by imagining a square. You can trace the square in the air with your finger as well.
  • Along one side of the square inhale through you nose on the count of 4-3-2-1.
  • Trace the horizontal line and hold your breath for a count of 4-3-2-1.
  • Trace the next vertical line and exhale through your nose on the count of 4-3-2-1.
  • Trace the next horizontal line and hold your breath for a count of 4-3-2-1.
  • Repeat the steps for 5 breathing cycles

Safe place and container (led by Nicole):

Nicole provided the group with a guided visualization of a safe/calm place exercise as well as a container exercise. You can practice related guided visualizations by going to YouTube and use search words such as “safe space guided visualization” and “container exercises”. Try to find one that works for you!

 

Self-care Guilt

By Phillip 

I often hear from friends and clients how they would feel guilty when they engage in self-care practices. Why would someone feel guilty to take some time to take care of themselves? The guilt appears to be stemming from the belief that if they take time for themselves they are being selfish. The thought then, is that they should be helping someone instead of caring for themselves.  Yet, care-taking roles are oftentimes one of the more stressful roles to be in. So would it not make more sense that they would take more time to care for them-self to ensure they can provide care for others?

It is also interesting how—in a related concept— in our society, we expect everyone to be “productive, contributing citizens”. Organizations push their staff to work hard and to “do more with less”. Yet, we are not machines. Similar to a car, without fuel it would not function. We need to take care of ourselves in order to be productive, contributing members. We need to nourish our bodies.

Self-care does not necessary mean that we should treat ourselves lavishly to spa every day (though that can be nice and we should be able to treat ourselves without feeling bad about it). Daily self-care reflects a healthy, balanced lifestyle (mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually). It can also be as simple as ensuring that we are eating properly, having enough sleep, and feeling energized. It is through these features that will enable us to be the best we can be in the activities that we engage in.

For those who have been on an airplane, they would have heard about the “oxygen mask” speech from the flight steward. Essentially the speech is as follow: if the oxygen mask is deployed, you put the mask on yourself first. Once you got your own oxygen mask on, then you can help your neighbor—be it a senior, child, or loved one—put on their oxygen mask.  The reason is that if you don’t have your own oxygen mask on, you would not be in a position to help others out. In fact, you would have had passed out, and be in no place to help those that you care. This practice relates well with self-care because if we do not care for ourselves first, we would not be in an optimal place to support others too.

So, take care of yourselves. You are important. Your own health matters. If you do not take care of yourself, you would not be in a place where you can help other out either.

 

About Phillip

Phillip is a Master’s of Counselling student with Athabasca University. He had previously volunteered with The Landing: A Safe Space for Sexual and Gender Diversity, as a Community Education Facilitator and co-facilitate the Queer/Trans Person of Color (Q/T POC) support group. He had also volunteered as a Camp Counsellor with Camp FYrefly. He enjoys working with youth and adults and how we can all bring forth personal and community resiliency. 

Self-compassion

By Nicole 

Those of you who read my post last week know a little bit about a difficult experience I had a few years ago when I was dealing with migraines. For those of you who haven’t read it, I shared that I had been in the habit of taking on more and more until my body finally said “stop”. The chronic stress I’d been dealing with over the years, along with the acute stress of a difficult work situation, was too much for my body to handle, and it progressed to a point where I was dealing with high intensity pain on a daily basis. And that went on for a year.

I also talked about how I had to make some drastic shifts in my life in terms of what would actually be nurturing for my body. What I didn’t share is how vital self-compassion was to the healing I went through.

When I was struggling the most with migraines, I would say things to myself like “I should be able to handle this amount of stress without feeling pain” “I should be able to work more than 10 hours a week” – but I couldn’t.

It felt like my body was my enemy, and it was doing this terrible thing to me.

So each time I felt the early signs of a migraine coming on, I braced against it, thinking “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”.  And what happens when you brace against something? Your muscles tense. And so the pain would get worse.

The other trap I got into is that when it came to self care options like working less, or go home early from social outings when I was in pain, I told myself “I should be able to do this” or “it’s not okay for me let anyone know that I’m struggling”, and I ended up avoiding the things that might have actually helped me.

This may seem all really obvious but when I finally admitted to myself “this is a chronic pain issue” I – first of all cried a lot – and then possibilities opened up. Healing possibilities that I literally did not see before.

But again – it took a real shift in perspective.

First I stopped seeing my body as the enemy, and starting seeing it as a PART of me that was in pain, and needed help. (Yes that’s right – your body is a part of you).

I also stopped with the constant barrage of what I should be capable of and accepted what IS – or what was, at least in that moment.

And I want to say that’s not the same as giving up on the possibility that things will change. Instead, it was about allowing the reality of the situation – and the grief of that – in. And from that place, I was able to start healing.

 

About Nicole 

Nicole is a Registered Psychologist with a general private practice in the Garneau area of Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She believe in seeing problems within their context and in being a non-judgmental advocate and support. She integrate a variety of other therapy approaches, including mindfulness-based therapy, Somatic Experiencing, and group therapy. She identify as an ally and have been working with the LGBTQ* community in therapeutic settings from the beginning, including being on the counselling team at Camp Fyrefly.

Self-Care

By Nicole

So I don’t know how many of you have seen a counselor, or if you ever wonder what goes on in the world of a psychologist OUTSIDE the therapy room (“do they really do all the meditating they’re telling me is so beneficial?”) but I’ve got a little bit of insight that I’d like to share with you. I have noticed that in psychology, self care gets talked about a lot… but similar to other helping fields, the actual practice of putting ourselves as a priority is not so good. There’s a lot of TALK about work-life balance, but the structural systems within the workplace – be it nonprofit or private practice – make it really hard to actually have balance. Now, in my early 20s, I was excited enough about the work, and energetic enough, that I could “buckle down and push through”. But by the time I turned 27 – not that old – the effect of “pushing through” was starting to wear on me.

Just to give you an idea, I have worked overnights, shift work, several jobs at once, and I often took on the hardest cases with the people facing the most barriers, with little or no structural support.

I was in the process of dealing with a particularly difficult situation when my body finally said “stop”.  And I knew the signs of burnout, so I listened.

Unfortunately, the signs of stress I was noticing didn’t go away as soon as I exited stressful environment. The chronic stress I’d been dealing with over the years, along with the acute stress of the situation, was too much for my body to handle. I started getting migraines more and more often, even on days when I was trying to take care of myself. It progressed to a point where I was dealing with high intensity pain on a daily basis. And that went on for a year.

So for those of you who’ve ever had a migraine, I probably need to say no more, but for those of you who haven’t, I can tell you that the constant brace against and managing of chronic pain is so consuming that it doesn’t take long before despair and hopelessness start to flood in.

The only thing I could do at that point was drastically change my life. And I did. I significantly decreased my working hours, I changed the hours I was in the office, and I began a practice of ongoing health care including yoga, meditation, mindfulness, biofeedback, walking, and therapeutic massage. I was very selective about what I did take on, because I knew that I might only have a few hours each day to focus on something other than managing my pain.

Now, fast forward a couple years and my health is much better, but I know that I will never be able or willing to take on as much as I used to. And this is different than just tacking on a yoga class at the end of each hectic week. Life had to change.

 

About Nicole 

Nicole is a Registered Psychologist with a general private practice in the Garneau area of Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She believe in seeing problems within their context and in being a non-judgmental advocate and support. She integrate a variety of other therapy approaches, including mindfulness-based therapy, Somatic Experiencing, and group therapy. She identify as an ally and have been working with the LGBTQ* community in therapeutic settings from the beginning, including being on the counselling team at Camp Fyrefly.

The Ambiguity of Abuse

By Emily

A few years back, I thought I might have been in an abusive relationship, or at the very least, in a relationship where incidents of abuse had occurred.

The only problem was that I didn’t know who was doing the abuse.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what happened in that relationship, and I’ve had the privilege of being able to receive counselling for it. Therapy and research have clarified that some pretty ugly things happened, that both myself and my then-partner behaved in hurtful ways, but that none of it ultimately fit any definition of abuse*.

Though a relief in many ways, this conclusion has also been greatly troubling. It bothers me that I found myself in a position where the lines between an unhealthy relationship and outright abuse became so blurred. It bothers me that I was able to confuse my situation with something more serious. More than anything, it bothers me that it could have been the other way around, and that a situation of abuse could have just as easily been mistaken for normal behavior.

And I guess that’s the thing – abuse isn’t always obvious.

When we think of abuse, typically we think of the physical. We think of bruises, of broken dishes, and holes punched through walls. In a lot of ways, we think of the most extreme signs that something is wrong. The reality is that abuse can start out in much more subtle ways, and that these early stages can often go unrecognized even by the partner(s) experiencing the abuse.

Beyond the physical, there are emotional and psychological tactics that abusers will use to control, intimidate, and isolate their partner(s). Although not limited to, this can include:

  • Verbal abuse: constant put downs, insults, humiliation or ridicule of partner(s) at home and/or in public
  • Emotional abuse: constant criticism, blame, lying and deception, gaslighting, and extreme emotional swings (happy one moment, outraged the next)
  • Financial abuse: stealing money or making financial decisions without consulting the partner(s) or gaining their permission, controlling all finances without letting the partner(s) have access to financial information, trying to make the partner(s) financially dependent, or trying to make the partner(s) solely responsible for all finances
  • Sexual abuse: forcing or pressuring to have sex or have sex in a particular way, insisting on unsafe sexual practices, refusing sex and/or affection as a way to punish the partner(s), constant criticism or ridicule of the partner(s)’s sexual performance
  • Threats & Intimidation: destroying or threatening to destroy partner(s)’s property/possessions, threatening to harm or kill the partner(s), outing or threatening to out the partner(s)
  • Isolation & Control: restricting the partner(s)’s freedom, controlling or limiting the partner(s)’s contact with friends and relatives, controlling or limiting the partner(s)’s access to external support and resources (constantly checking partner(s)’s phone and/or computer)

The longer that an abusive relationship goes on, the more frequent and severe the abuse tends to become. But that means that an abusive relationship can go on for a very long time before any of these behaviours become obvious, and the abuser will have done all they can in order to make their partner(s) unable to leave.

Though threats and intimidation are a component of this, one of the most powerful weapons an abuser can use against their partner(s) is self-esteem. If an abuser can succeed in making their partner(s) feel worthless, or that the abusive behaviour is normal or even deserved, then it becomes much more difficult for the partner(s) to seek out or accept support.

Unfortunately, our own societal biases can contribute to this normalization of abuse. Just as we typically jump to the physical indicators of abuse, we frequently subscribe to the notion that abusers and victims can only look like or be certain people. While there are statistics that indicate higher rates of violence committed by certain groups, the reality is that abuse can occur regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical attributes, and stature.

Abuse can occur within queer and same sex relationships just as much as within heterosexual relationships. Men can be victims of abuse just as much as women. A small, femme individual can abuse a large, masculine individual. Just because an abuser or victim does not fall into “the usual” demographic does not mean that the abuse is any less real.

It is important, however, to be able to distinguish between abusive and unhealthy relationships. A disagreement or an unintentionally hurtful comment are not the same as abuse. Recognizing the difference was where I struggled in my previous relationship.

To help with this distinction, I have included a link to a document with further information on abuse in LGBTQA+ relationships. Regrettably, the document includes some outdated terms for trans individuals, but the information and resources are nonetheless useful for identifying whether or not a relationship is abusive, and what to do if it is.
http://www.humanservices.alberta.ca/documents/NCN1375-abuse-in-same-sex-LGBTQ-relationships-booklets.pdf

If you feel that you may be in an abusive relationship, there are supports available.

  • Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Trans Youthline – offers free support for youth aged 26 and under Call: (1-800-268-9688) Text: (647-694-4375) or Chat: http://www.youthline.ca/
  • Family Violence Info Line – 24 hour support toll-free (310-1818) or via Chat:

http://www.humanservices.alberta.ca/abuse-bullying/15666.html

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.

If you feel that you may be committing acts of abuse in your relationship, there are also supports available. Talking to a counsellor and seeking professional help are important first steps to stopping the abusive behaviour.

_________________________________________________________________

*This is only my experience. I cannot speak to how my former partner may have felt about things while they were happening or how they may feel about things now. Though we each contributed to it, their experience was nonetheless different from my own.

 

About Emily 

Emily is an honours graduate with a Bachelor of Education, Secondary from the University of Alberta. She identifies as a queer woman somewhere along the asexual spectrum, and has amassed a considerable number of resources over the years pertaining to education, queer youth, and sexual health. She hopes to one day be a community sexual health educator, and is currently working on a book of poetry just in case.

Trans Health

By Rafiki

When we say trans health, we mean a variety of experiences and unique influences.

As a trans masculine person, I am slowly learning that our health and healing can be an ongoing process. Trans folks may be focussing on binding safely, hormone levels, surgeries, as well as the additional stressors of coming out to friends, family and at work in a cisnormative society (see appendix.). Trans folks may also experience various stressors regarding being misgendered in everyday life, gender presentation, accessing transphobic spaces, and dysphoria which is the anxiety and disconnect between one’s body and the way one understands their identity.

This on top of everyday physical and emotional demands such as family (who may not be accepting), workplace demands as well as other relationships is a lot to deal with. Some trans folks also lie on other intersections – for example, trans folks may be people of color and therefore more prone to experience racism, some people may be of a lower socioeconomic status (as workplaces may discriminate against them), some trans femme/feminine and non binary folks experience sexism, and some may be abled in unique ways which create more barriers for these folks to navigate the world.

This sounds like a lot right now, but by acknowledging some of the ways trans people think about health, cisgender people (see appendix) have a better chance of understanding trans experiences and what thinking about trans health really looks like.

For myself, I often have a hard time explaining why I am shutting down or why I am feeling the way I am.  But as a trans person of color, I am starting to learn that these stressors affect me even when I am not consciously aware of what is going on. This does not mean it’s all doom and gloom however. The more we are aware of these issues, (by listening to trans folks communicating what they need), the more we can provide support to the trans folks in our communities.

For myself, healing and health are continuous as I am constantly healing from a society that does not accept my identity. This is just my unique understanding, however.

It is important to remember that not all these experiences apply to all trans people.

The best way to hear peoples’ stories is to listen openly without judgement, and acknowledge that trans health is not always stagnant or linear, but can also be an ongoing journey.

 

Appendix 1: cisnormative — a society that is predominantly cisgender. (identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. )

Appendix 2: cisgender : people wh identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, if someone is born and the doctor says they are a girl, and they also identify as a girl, they are cisgender.

 

About Rafiki

Rafiki is a 24 year old masters student in Counselling at City University. He is also the volunteer coordinator at the Landing: A community space for gender and sexual minority folks to find supports. Rafiki identifies as a trans masculine and gender fluid individual!