the next step

This past week has been quite a milestone for us. Hosting our first ever SHARE group (and one of Canada’s first), reaching 100 Facebook likes, getting our first attendee, and having another awesome person join our team.

We also had the pleasure of attending this year’s UBC Student Leadership Conference: The Next Step. There were wonderful presentations, workshops and keynotes, which all gave us various perspectives as to how to take our next steps in our personal and professional lives.

Opening keynote Shaifali Puri asked us, basing her questions on one of Benjamin Franklin’s own, “What do I want to contribute, and what can I contribute? What do I want to learn, and what do I need to learn.” What jumped out to me here is the gap between the want, can and need. Just because we want something to happen, it does not mean that we have the capacity or ability to make that happen. However, even though we might not have these resources currently, that’s where we can reach out to others who do, to fill that gap, and together, contribute to a mutual goal. Her questions prompted us to reflect. Is this something you want? If it is, is it something you can? And is it something you need? In the past, the desire and need for creating and developing SHARE was very evident, in me, and also in our community. However, those could not be met with facility at the time. It reminded me of the importance of evaluating my own capacity, and recognizing that in order to contribute fully to anything, I must first look inwards and ensure that I have accounted for my own needs, so that I can then give my best to others.

One speaker, Logan Graham, an astounding human himself, validated my current compass of being a leader, by summarizing it into 3 steps: 1. Be weird, 2. Be bad, 3. Be reflective. It was quite validating to see that I was not the only person who seems to not only be weird, but also thrive on my weirdness. I think that makes me who I am today, and has played into many of my leadership and simply human roles in life. Being bad is extremely crucial: we cannot always be an expert and excel at everything, more so than not, the most growth happens when we do something poorly or make a mistake, and then from it revise our approach the next time. Lastly, being reflective of ourselves, knowing our headspace, being aware of situations, is also a key to leading successfully by not overwhelming ourselves beyond our ability.

The first SHARE meeting was extremely exciting, however, not as exciting as our second meeting, when we got our first attendee! Woohoo! Natasha and I took this opportunity to test out the structure of our meeting and ask for any feedback and suggestions. We started off the meeting by introducing ourselves, going through the guidelines and asking if there was anything else they wanted to add to create a safe space. Our guidelines were well received, and we moved onto the opening mindfulness activity. I used  a 10-minute guided meditation from Headspace, as that is a program that I’ve recently taken up and find to be quite useful (and can I say, his voice is sooo amazingly sexy?). Afterwards, we talked a bit about how we all felt about the activity. The rest of the meeting was allotted for check-ins, where we go around and talk about what’s on our mind, and we ended the meeting discussing the incredibly drastic differences found between mental health professionals. Our attendee suggested finding a shorter beginning activity, as 10 minutes seemed a bit too long for their liking, and also switching mindfulness activities up each week so it wouldn’t become repetitive. Some different ones we brainstormed were the number game, mental imagery adventures, and another game that involves getting up and moving around rather than the typical sitting and breathing activities. We will be trying those out in the following meetings to come.

Wednesday was also a great day because we met with our new team member, Katherine, and welcomed her. It was really nice to have new input and perspectives on SHARE, and we also focussed a lot on how we plan on promoting ourselves, make connections, and create sustainability. These conversations are to be continued, and we look forward to making more progress in those areas in the coming months.

As I finish writing, I recall what the SLC closing keynote Derreck Kayongo said to us, “Sometimes bad experiences happen so they lead us to a problem we need to solve”.

All in all, it’s been a busy two weeks full of baby steps.

Baby steps add up.

The Self-Hug and Guidelines

2014-11-23 15.19.03This past Sunday, I met up with Natasha at the Waves on Main and Broadway, seeking her creative help. I showed her some sketches I had made during a sleepless night back in April of 2013. To my pleasant surprise, she really liked the final idea that I had come up with, and took the liberty to sketch it out and refine it.

Our logo at first glance is a person hugging themself, and stands for having self compassion, which is integral self care and life. The embrace of the two arms, form an S in the center, again emphasizes the importance of the “self” in an individual’s journey of recovery, reflection and care. The act of a self hug, visually and literally counteract and take the place of self harm, with the word “hug” replacing “harm”. If you turn the logo upside down, you can also see that it forms an image of a fist, which symbolizes the incredible strength that everyone has inside them, which often is not acknowledged by either themselves or others, hence why an extra step needs to be taken to see the fist.

After agreeing on how awesome the logo is, we looked over the preliminary meeting guidelines that I had brainstormed. We were pretty much on the same page with all of them. The only one that we were not too sure about was the one with regards to graphic details of self-harm. After a lot of thinking and discussion, we wanted to make sure that there should be a happy medium between maintaining a safe and comfortable environment for all and also allowing the space for people to talk about things and ask questions that they otherwise wouldn’t. Natasha said that we shouldn’t be tiptoeing around the topic anymore, and restricting attendees’ ability to share graphic details would go against with what SHARE is trying to achieve. However, we still need to be aware of the group as a whole, and know that people may be in various headspaces in meeting, and certain descriptions may trigger them and create an unsafe environment. In the end, we decided on the guidelines below, however, since our type of meetings are almost unprecedented in North America, we have to be willing to learn as we go, through trial and error.

What we are:

  • Support group for individuals who are struggling with/have struggled with self harm
  • Confidential – what is said in group stays in group
  • Peer-to-peer
  • Recovery oriented
  • Safe Space
  • Positive Space

What we are not:

  • Treatment Replacement
  • Professionals
  • Advice-giving

Community Agreement:

  • You can share as much or as little as you want
  • There is no obligation to share, you can simply “exist”
  • Speak from personal experience, we cannot recommend one method of recovery over another
  • Respect that everyone brings unique experiences
  • Be aware that your peers may be at a different stage of recovery than you
  • If you have fresh injuries (cuts/burns etc.), please do cover those up as they can be triggering, scars are okay, because they are part of who we are
  • Please do not share pictures of your injury as that may be a trigger for other members
  • If you need to share graphic descriptions, please always warn that it may be triggering beforehand, be mindful of your own headspace and others
  • Bringing weapons to group will not be tolerated, you will be asked to leave
  • Zero tolerance policy – if you attend under the influence of substances (alcohol and illicit drugs), you will be asked to leave

And so it begins…

Three Sundays ago, Natasha and I had our first SHARE planning meeting. We tucked ourselves in a corner window seat at Prado Cafe on Commercial; the window panes were dressed in a veil of condensation and rain was falling heavily. We each got drinks and then delved into passionate discussion with the accompaniment of the sweet smell of roast coffee and low chatter of other customers in the background.

We decided to start with tertiary support, as that is a good starting point and can build a good foundation for future expansion to more generalized support and education. Natasha encouraged us to brainstorm what sorts of things people would critisize us about and to make sure that we are protecting ourselves while trying our best to provide support for others. One thing is that we must make it clear that we are peers, and are simply providing a space for people who have used similar negative coping mechanisms to find support, and that we are not an alternative to treatment. It would be essential to have a set guideline for meetings in order to maintain an environment that is safe and inclusive for everyone. In addition of being mindful of the guidelines, Natasha and I as facilitators would need to be cognizant of our own capabilities and the scope of SHARE meetings and have a list of resources that we could refer to in the case that an attendee may benefit more from professional support. On this topic, we considered the need for our facilitators to have some sort of structured training. It could either be that we would take part in pre-existing mental health related training (eg. PeerNet, QPR, MHFA etc.), or we could develop a training/workshop ourselves that is more specific to the peers that we would be working with.

For naming, we agreed that SHARE is perfect. The acronym stands for Self Harm Anonymous Recovery and Empowerment, which says exactly what we are: an organization that provides anonymous, confidential peer support for people seeking recovery from self harm, by empowering everyone through relating to one another and sharing our own experiences. Before parting ways and going with the rest of our days, we came up with a few actions items: come up with group guidelines, logo ideas, and booking the room for SHARE meetings.

Only a couple weeks after our meeting, I stumbled upon this article, which at first made me feel really upset, but I realized briefly after my emotional frustration, that this is exactly why I am doing what I am doing, and the more reason for SHARE meetings to exist, to change the this heartbreaking tide.

We’ve talked about homosexuality, we’ve talked about addictions and substance abuse, we’ve talked about mental illness and its fatal consequences. Why do we keep brushing the topic of self-harm under the rug? It’s time to have this conversation… yesterday.