Stepping Out of the Fire: A Year of Living in a Pandemic

This has been the longest year. The official anniversary of the global pandemic was this week. Where i live, while we heard of Covid19 before March, my own life changed when my kids started March Break last year and then never went back to school until September. During this year, we have experienced so much – it’s been a full catastrophe of living indeed.

Early on, i experienced a whirlwind of feelings, stories, and fears. I had to learn fast how to pivot so i could still do All The Things – parent my children who i never wanted to home school, work from home when i never wanted to do online therapy, be home all the time when access to nature and friends is a big part of my self-preservation and coping. Like many, my body went into fight/flight/freeze reaction.

I was one of the lucky ones – i never got sick nor did any of my family. I was able to continue working, and i am safe at home. There were a few weeks where i was not sure how to pivot and work from home and online. I love being in connection with people i support: As a somatic-based trauma therapist, i rely on being in a shared space to look for cues in people’s body language as well as a way to co-regulate. And yet, people started to meet me in my Zoom Room. More people came too: This past year was my busiest ever. More people needed support to take care of their mental health, nervous systems and trauma stories because of the added experience of the pandemic in their life now.

A big part of my practice is supporting people with tools for emotion regulation and nervous system psychoeducation. And yet, i struggled with sleep, loneliness, despair and overwhelm myself. As a therapist, i am not immune (tricky word these days) to feeling all the feels.

I am privileged in several ways as a working parent. I am white and able-bodied. I have my own business that was able to shift to online relatively easily. And yet, i did not plan to work from home exclusively. I continue to pay rent to a cute office i can call my own a day per week. In fact, after months of not leaving my house at all, I started going to it this summer as a way to get that luxury of luxuries – undivided focus on one thing – in this case, work.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being a parent. I chose to be one. More so, i wanted to be a working parent as work fulfills me and sustains me as a parent. I am a better parent BECAUSE i work. And yet there are days when i hate parenting, and the work of it. The pandemic both intensified the work as there was no break, nor community support. My body’s flight response to feeling overwhelmed was being challenged as there was NO place to GO. I felt like that caged animal in the zoo.

After a summer of no plans – no camps, no trips – we chose to have our own children go back to school in-person. It was better for all 4 of us; our mental health needed this time apart and we felt safe in this decision. It was a glorious rhythm of 3 months. I worked from home exclusively and my children were able to come home after school. We were happy to be reunited each day.

“My children cause me the most exquisite suffering of which i have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence; the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness sometimes i seem to myself, in. My feelings toward these tiny guiltless beings, a monster of selfishness and intolerance.” in Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich

After this past year, of basically no school, summer ‘break,’ in-person school, and then virtual school for 2 months, i have an idea what is best for mental health and resilience: Routine and Time Apart. What’s best for my kids is to go to school in-person. What’s best for my Worker Bee Part is for my kids to go to school. What’s best for the community is for my kids to stay home so we can all be safe. What’s best for my relationship with my partner is that he goes to work. What’s best for feminism and the workforce is for kids to go school. What’s best for my family is where i am still not sure.

I do not have a history of anxiety and yet as a therapist, i recognize the signs of anxiety and overwhelm in my body. It is just too much to bear. I have a fight/flight response that kicks in when i feel threatened or pushed to my breaking point. Being at home with my beloved family all these months has surely pushed me to no end.

I also see how my Inner Child is being activated in all sorts of ways. She shows up when my children are in conflict. She shows up when my children are defiant to me. She shows up when I’m lonely. Sometimes, she wants to to scream. Other times, she wants to flee. There are times she needs to confront the beast. And there are equal times she wants to dance – hello 80’s music mix that makes me want to dance and break free.

We need a break from each other.

But what is the answer?

One way i get breaks is to escape into a good book. I have been reading in abundance during the pandemic. While i have not been able to give myself time to do other passion projects, i have been able to push my reflective mind and critical thinking radar. One book that i read really resonated with me: Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers by Sady Doyle. The title (while awesome) is a bit misleading. It is more about how women and mothers are portrayed in film. And yet, the writer breaks down the societal assumptions and expectations of women as a way to prove how these stereotypes still persist today.

For instance, Sady researched historically accurate narratives of women alongside their fictionalized versions. She shows how women have always been kept at home and their power was something men feared. That’s why, in part, women were accused of witchcraft when they were healers or midwives. Women then (and today) were best seen in the homes working to contribute to the home as men worked in the public realm. All you need to look for evidence of this is to go to history books and see how men worked in the fields and women worked in the kitchen. The division of labour has a marked history tied to traditional gender roles. When women were called in the factories during war-time, they thrived and felt a new-found independence and pride. That too was taken from them.

Just read this powerful excerpt to get a sense of the book: “there’s a fire on the horizon. You can see it burning out in the edges of the world. The wind is hot and taste of ashes.… This is the fire that haunted the dreams [of women before us] and filled them with monsters. This is the light of the Furies too long forgotten coming to keep the end of the bargain. This is the fire at the end of the world and it will consume everything you know. But we are the fire. We are the apocalypse, the risen Furies, the Scarlet woman riding her red Dragon over the horizon because we know that the woman in the dragon are always one and the same. Dead blondes and bad mothers, harlots and abominations witches at the gate of light and darkness: we are the end of the world that was, and the first sign of the world to come in the age after patriarchy, and monsters rule the earth. Our blood holds magic and her stories do too. The violence we survived can be our guide to what needs to change. The fire that burned the witches can be the fire that lights our way. Our power is waiting for us out in forbidden places beyond the world of men. Step forward and claim it into the boundless and female dark.”

We are stepping forward into the fire…tenderly.

Enter the Mom-Cession:
In our current situation, it is mainly women in heteronormative-coupled families who have made sacrifices to their career, income, and life separate from childcare. Here’s a staggering number for you: 850,000 women left job force in Septin order to take care of kids. New statistics in January show even more angering numbers.

After the stats showed us the drastic number of women stepping back from the public realm, and back into the home, many of us were angry. Angry again for being put in the corner, for doing what was right, expected of us, and yet this martying and sacrifice is not sustainable. It is what keeps us in the fire.

We are not meant to do a 40-hour work week, it’s outdated as it was created when someone was home to do meals, clean, childcare. That someone was women who did not work outside the house because men felt that a woman’s place was in the home. That belief was also outdated as its history was based on hunter-gatherer lives centuries ago. Men went out to hunt, women worked in the home. It is also based on racist misuse of power and white supremacy, where the labour of Black slaves was prevalent.

Cynthia Eller shares this reminder in Gentlemen and Amazons: “The gender stereotypes upon which matriarchal myth rests persistently work to flatten out differences among women, to exaggerate differences between women and men, to hand women an identity that is symbolic, timeless and archetypal instead of giving them the freedom to craft identities that suit their individual temperaments, skills, preferences, and moral and political commitments”

I’ve read various views on the benefits of a matriarchal society. Some say we don’t want that either, as it just swings the pendulum to the other side: read Pedagogy of the Oppressed if you need more context. But maybe we do want more feminine energy? Matriarchal societies are more egalitarian and gender-equal communities where there is a seeking of peace and nurturing of the young,the old, and the marginalized. They are founded on the principles of gender balance and giving to the economy. “The markers of patriarchy or dominance, individualism, oppression, champion of individual success, rigid social roles, and aggressive tribal allegiances. Matriarchies don’t simply replace the major players of the system with women, they just change the game” writes Sam George Allen in her book Witches: What Women Do Together.

So, why the long post here and history reminder?

This is the time to reflect on your priorities. We carry many roles, titles and status labels. Some we choose, others are chosen for us. And with each are the values, dreams and priorities that hold the role in reverence. I saw a recent quote by Stephen King, who reminded editors that his wife is more than a wife – “wife is a relationship or status – it is not an identity.’

In my status as a mother, for example, i value raising my children as intersectional feminists, as embodied hope for our future to be better than it is. So we talk about things, i encourage them to come to me, i hold space for their feelings. All their feelings are valid, even the ones that are hard for me. As a partner (okay, ‘wife’), i value this relationship because it is the most secure attachment i have ever had and all of me is welcome to the table. As a working mom, the role may dictate some of my available time, and yet i am privileged in my self-employment to take time off each day to pick up the kids from school, go for walks at lunch with them, and have slower summers.

Motherload
And now that so many of us are home to work, we are reminded that the housework still needs to be done. Children need to be tended to. To-do lists and chores cannot be ignored. And yet, it is not up to women to do it. Sure, i like to bake cookies and go back-to-school shopping with my kids, but that is not because it is my job, but rather because i love this quality time, where i show i care about my kids, and I’m fostering their attachment to me. It is about what i prioritize or value, not the role itself that i do this for.

Doing domestic chores is not a MOTHER task (read this great article for another woman’s voice on the matter), nor a WOMAN task but rather an ADULT task. Baking sourdough bread or mending ripped jeans is an adult thing. The term ‘adulting’ is quite infuriating to me as it belittles the rite of passage into adulthood. A mature adult is anyone between 26-end of life. Any adult needs to know these life skills. It’s called LIFE after all, and not woman skills. The patriarchal nuclear family just doesn’t work anymore, if ever. (Don’t get me started on the term ‘lady’ where only certain women of status could even be called that). It only worked to oppress women by seeing their worth tied to relying on them for free labour at home.

After most of us worked mainly from home this past year, it’s time to see what is sustainable and how to pivot (a top 5 word of 2020 in my opinion) to having a more equitable division of labour at home. So many cishet new parents i support struggled as the new mother continued to carry the motherload while the male partner worked from home. Now both were home, which highlighted just how inequitable and gendered the division is. So many mothers continue to martyr themselves when they claim their partner partner can’t be tired for work. Instead of reminding colleagues and supervisors at work just how unfair it is to expect the mother to carry the load, families continue in this outdated way of life.

My family made a decision later in the year than I’d like to admit, but we did it honestly and organically. We started cleaning as a family. The kids are involved in the household tasks, and they see both of their parents sharing the labour. While i do more of the mental load and my partner does all of the grocery shopping, we are modelling a practice that is aligned with our values. To me, what is included in the definition of partner is the shared responsibility of household work and respect for each other. Good partners both do the housework.

So, what is your priority in your role as an adult, mother, parent, partner, wife? What is it that makes you the happiest version of you? How do you embody this role? And, now that we have completed one year around the Sun with the pandemic, what has been working for you, and not something you want to continue. The change is now.

I have started a new hobby: Collecting articles about how this pandemic is going to impact us in the long-term. As a trauma therapist, it is important for me to know. As a woman and mother, it is important to look into the future. As a feminsit who wants us to learn and unlearn from our mistakes, we can’t have this repeat. There has been a plethora of articles that share the impact of the pandemic on mothers. Mothers generally and working moms specifically. And yes, the wording is intentional – mothers more than fathers are being greatly impacted by this. We are experiencing a double impact of how we have had to adjust to life during a pandemic. I have been keeping a list of all the articles that come my way, via social media. I have quite the curated list. I’m not even looking for them, they find me based on my algorithms. Ironically, I’m considered the ideal audience – my own partner who does his share of house work and active parenting work has yet to see an article unless i am the one forwarding it to him. Why is that?

I’ll give you a hint…patriarchy is not dead yet.

Trauma-Informed Care put into Practice

A trauma-informed approach is defined as a strength-based program or system that realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery, the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, and others involved in the system; it then responds by integrating this knowledge into its practices and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization

I’m so glad that there has been a movement to implementing trauma-informed principles in all sorts of workplaces. Yoga classes, massage and physiotherapy, dental clinics, schools, and family lawyers have all made commitments to be more trauma-informed. While therapists may work with people who have experienced trauma, that does not always come with being trauma-informed. One would assume it’s part and parcel. That is not always the case, unfortunately. Further, sometimes the therapist is but their office or clinic does not work from a trauma-informed practice. Over the years of my work, I have both learned and implemented key principles and practices to ensure that my work is trauma-informed. For me, that includes doing what I can to help people I support feel safe and respected by me, that they are valued as the expert in their lives (versus me as a professional), their voice is empowered and have choices, as well as working from an intersectional anti-oppression framework: I work with compassion, collaboration and non-judgment. Being trauma-informed for me also includes knowing that everyone has a right to resilience and recovery/healing and trust is earned. I also know about the impact of trauma on people and have tools to assess for the symptoms.

As a Feminist Therapist for over 20 years, I strongly believe that being trauma-informed is deeply connected to my work: I’ve been a trauma-focused therapist for over 15 years. For instance, I know that people who identify as women (whether it is cis-gendered, trans or genderqueer, non-binary) experience gender-based violence at a far greater and disproportionate amount compared to their male peers. When I work with a new client, this informs my work – while she may be coming to me for support about adjusting to parenthood, she may have witnessed or experienced violence first-hand in her past. This may implicitly impact how she sees her role, workload, and role as a parent. Unresolved trauma lives and manifests in our bodies and lives in a way that keeps the trauma storied part of us activated.

Further, as a therapist who works with sexual violence, I also know that people who are giving birth who have a history of sexual assault may be very likely to experience triggers during pregnancy and birth – the birth process can be quite re-traumatizing in fact. This includes both the birth itself as well as the early postpartum period.

There are so many good models of trauma-informed care (TIC). I have put together this one with the 6 key principles that inform my work. For instance, I take the intake and assessment process slow. I don’t expect clients to share with me their history of trauma in the first 1-3 sessions (typically it’s seen as required information in order to get service). That disclosure should come with time, established trust and rapport, and the development of a relationship. I am a relational therapist – I value alchemy between us, I self-disclose my own lived experience at times (i.e my own miscarriage loss), and I am committed to work from a place of non-judgment and compassion. We build our work together on compassion and collaboration and they navigate how the sessions go – be it how and where they sit in the room, and what they want to talk about in session. As I’m trained in several therapy modalities, I also believe it’s important to use what is best for my clients, and would refer to someone else if it’s not the right fit.

Being a trauma therapist does not mean I expect to hear the trauma story itself. In fact, that may not happen at all. To me, being a trauma-informed trauma therapist means I work to help people access their resources (strategies that are physical, relational, spiritual, emotional and mental) so that they can find ways to integrate their trauma part (i.e traumatic birth experience) into their everyday life now, so that it doesn’t remain a fragmented part that still triggers them when it’s the anniversary/birthday. As trust is earned, it’s important to me that we build this connection slowly, and pace the trauma work so that people feel safe when they leave their session with me. While I don’t think anyone can guarantee a 100% safe place, I make it a practice to do my best to collaborate my clients.

Trauma-informed care for me also means that the person seeking my support is the expert in their own life – Clients are their own expert. I am just a guide that is there to support them. I don’t carry any expectations of my own. I also bear witness to the various social locations and how that can impact their healing i.e from birth trauma and the intersection if they are a racialized or otherwise marginalized person. I also overtly acknowledge my privilege as a white cis-gendered woman, who also has power as a psychotherapist. I make this intersection explicit in my work by naming the oppression for what it is, instead of minimizing. Making links to the systemic forms of discrimination is an important practice of TIC as it holds space for multiple truths instead of internalizing shame and guilt.

Working from a trauma-informed place also means that I am an advocate if the people i support need or request it. I share resources with you if part of your chosen healing journey includes taking legal action. There are great organizations and advocates that can support someone in their healing process. As big component of post-traumatic growth is when survivors advocate not only for themselves but others as well. That’s why movements like #metoo and Birth Monopoly are so powerful. It is inherently healing to feel interconnectedness with others who have similar stories. It’s part of my role and responsibility to share these resources with the people i support. I also bring it into my practice even when people don’t ask for it overtly – we don’t know what we don’t know is available as a resource.

Trauma-informed practice also includes how I take care of myself as I can be impacted by vicarious trauma. I have tools, activities, and regular practice of self-care. I also think it’s necessary to keep learning about my work, and push myself to be even better as a therapist. I seek out peer and clinical consultation and believe that all therapists need to do this, regardless of them being in practice for 5 or 25 years.

When you are seeking support from a therapist or practitioner, ask them what their definition of trauma-informed care is. If they don’t have one, that may be a sign that they are not thinking of the inherent impact and context of trauma. Not everyone works in a trauma-focused profession but if they are not at least trauma-informed in the practice, that means they are not keeping your safety and needs at their forefront of their work. Trauma does not have to be complex and Big T, but anyone who has lost a job, grieved the death of a loved one (including a pet), moved to a new city with no support, had a significant injury or illness have all experienced trauma that still lives in their body.

We deserve better. We deserve to get support that honours what our body knows. As Pat Ogden has so wisely shared, “the body always leads us home.”

We Marched


This Saturday, we joined the masses in the Women’s March. I definitely didn’t want to miss it and my daughter was happy to attend as she has learned already (at 4) that ‘Trump doesn’t like girls, and we’re girls mama!’ She made a sign, i knit pussyhats, and packed snacks.

More importantly, we had a good conversation with her and her older brother about what it means to be a feminist, an ally, what privilege means, and how to make our voice heard. My son joined us for the march too, as we have been talking about how language is powerful and about consent. As a white woman, who is currently able-bodied and partnered with a man, i know i have a lot of privilege. I work on being an ally and to unlearn the mis-truths i’ve been taught. I know it’s also my place to teach this to my children. We don’t know yet who they will love, but we do know that they need to learn more about being an ally and about consent.

Both my children know about consent and the correct words for their bodies. My daughter in fact used her knowledge of consent recently when she wanted to cut her long hair into a bob. I was suggesting just a trim, but she wanted more – ‘my body my choice mama’ is what i got. Of course i couldn’t challenge that. My daughter is also a hugger and a really good one at that. We are working on reminding her too about needing consent from others. It’s a continuous conversation surely.

My daughter decided against carrying a poster so she wore our Vagina Activist pin proudly. We have discussions about gender fluidity often. Miss M has a good understanding of this, so she wore the pin in reference to her own vagina and her rights. I appreciate that. We’ve been talking a lot about gender and labels, and my son is quick to remind us that he has pushed boundaries with his clothes in the past. In the context of my work, my kids know too that not all women are mothers, and not all parents who birth babies or chestfeed are mothers. This will be an on-going conversation too as they get older and unpack things more.

It was a peaceful march, a walk really. My son called it a ‘standstill’ at one point for all the standing we did too. They learned some powerful songs and chants, and read some great posters. My daughter took notice of all the other Pussyhats that looked like ours. For these reasons, i believe whole-heartedly that there is a place for children at marches. It teaches this new generation that change is possible, and that we can be at the centre of making change.

The people united will never be defeated.