Embracing the Forever Student in Me…

Through this pandemic, I’ve learned a few things about myself. First, there is always time to do the things I want, even though it seems like there is not enough time in the day. Second, in difficult times, it’s important to find “silver linings”. And if there doesn’t seem to be any, make them for yourself.

So, while my children return to the virtual classroom this Fall, I have decided to join them! I have just enrolled in two certificate programs to help me learn more about myself, as well as, help meet the needs of my clients. I am super excited about this new venture because, for all of those who know me, I love learning new things.

I am holding myself accountable with this entry, but putting it out there in the universe and committing myself to follow through and achieve my goal. So hopefully by Spring of 2021, I will be certified in “Children’s Grief and Bereavement” through Sick Kids Hospital and Hincks-Dellcrest and “Foundations of Applied Mindfulness Meditation” through the University of Toronto. Let’s do this…

To Send or Not to Send Your Kids to School During this Pandemic…

One of the common themes of my sessions these days seem to be the difficult decision ahead of many parents of young children and youth: Should I send my child(ren) back to school or keep him/her/them home in the Fall? For some, it is not really a difficult decision at all – we have work to return to and a need for normalcy for our little ones. For others, it’s a waxing and waning back and forth between one and the other.

There seems to be an ongoing script going on in our minds consisting of thoughts like:

I worry about my child’s mental health if he or she stays home. My child needs social interactions and misses his or her friends. I don’t trust that other parents will send their children to school healthy. Will there be a second wave and will I have to take time off work again? Can my child stay safe without my supervision and in a classroom with large sizes? I won’t be able to get any work done if my child is home and needs help.

And now many parents are facing an upcoming deadline to make this decision…

Continue reading “To Send or Not to Send Your Kids to School During this Pandemic…”

When the topic of Systemic Racism makes you feel uncomfortable…

One of the common themes of my most recent sessions with clients has surrounded the topic of “systemic racism”. There are so many reminders in our local and international communities that have been present in our newsfeeds. It seems that everywhere we turn, whether or not it’s in the news or on all social media platforms, people are talking about the tragedy of race-based violence, particularly the lives of the black community in the United States. What happened to George Floyd was horrific. And he is one person among SO MANY. He has become a symbol and representation of a systemic problem that has been present for longer than a few months or years.

I have talked to clients of different races and ethnicities about how this issue has impacted them and their worldviews. I continue to talk to my two boys, who are both beautiful children of colour about privilege, racism and discrimination. I have talked to friends and family members about this issue, at great length. And throughout all of these discussions, one thing has stayed constant. People are angry. And uncomfortable.

So what wonderful words of wisdom and life-altering advice have I given my clients during this time?

The honest answer is this: “Feel angry. Feel uncomfortable. Feel whatever emotions surface because of what is happening in the world.”

You don’t have to a person of colour (POC) to have a moral compass that dictates that we treat people humanely and without undeserved hatred. Here is my confession: I have not always been this passionate about this topic. Sure, I grew up as a POC and experienced comments and looks from others that were a reflection of the stereotyped thoughts that they had about people of my racial background. But I never looked at it past my own experiences or those of my peers and family. It was only within the last decade of my life that I acknowledged that this is not fair – the fact that people of colour all over the world are subject to differential treatment, expectations, and rights through the inheritance of a system that marginalizes them. So I educated myself and continue to educate myself. I learned to empathize and not sympathize. I recognized my own privilege. And here I am, ready to talk to anyone who wants to talk about this issue – for however long they want to. This is my penance for my years of disregard and avoidance.

Here are few things I’ve learned through my own personal and professional journey:

  1. Knowledge is Power. Educate yourself about the history of the movements that you hear about and see on television and social media. They weren’t formed a few months ago. There is a rich history behind advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter. A history that is tragic and disturbing. But necessary to know about in order to understand where the anger and frustration is stemming from. (I recommend the 13th and Time: The Kalief Browder Story on Netflix.
  2. Embrace the discomfort. If you feel angry, feel angry. If you feel uncomfortable, feel uncomfortable. The atrocities that have happened in the past and continue to occur now should not give you the “warm and fuzzies”. If we avoid these feelings when they are present, we are ignoring the issue. We are saying to ourselves and to others that it does not concern me and therefore does not require my attention. But it should be concerning because it’s unfair and inhumane.
  3. Recognize your own privilege. Part of the process is to recognize where you sit on the spectrum of privilege. I may be a POC, but I am educated, employed, heterosexual and married. I have a house to live in and healthy children. I have family and friends and a supportive community. Acknowledging my privilege acknowledges my responsibility to those who may not be as privileged to speak for them when necessary. If I deny my privilege, I deny the fact that there are people in the world who work as hard as they can but are still not afforded the same rights and opportunities as I have. I deny the systems put in place that may help me but not help others.
  4. Curb the defensiveness. It is very easy to feel like people’s responses are personal attacks to your privilege. But that it not what it happening. It doesn’t have to be about you. It’s about a flawed and unjust system that you are part of. Defensiveness is adding the “but” to your statement of alliance. As in, “Yes, it’s totally unfair, but…” Drop the “but”. Leave it as “It’s totally fair”. No need for further elaboration. Just let people know that you are hearing their frustrations. Don’t change the narrative.
  5. Practice empathy not sympathy. I am not black and I would NEVER attempt to believe that I understand fully the experience of systemic racism, particularly against the black community. But I can imagine that it’s terrible to live a life, knowing that because of the colour of my skin, I will be treated unfairly or seen in a negative light regardless of who I am as a person. A fellow human being. But I can also respect that the black community would not want me feeling sorry for them. I hope they they would appreciate me feeling angry for them. When I have spoken to some of my white clients, I hear their fears of being labelled “racist”, just because they are white. But I am also confident enough to draw the parallels to their feelings and those who are labelled “criminal” or “violent” just because they are black. That’s what empathy is – recognizing how someone feels, seeing the world through their eyes.
  6. Continue the discussion. To not talk about it means to avoid it. And avoiding it means that we are not giving the topic enough respect to acknowledge it. Keep talking about it. Contribute to the dialogue by talking about it with others about how change is needed. Reach out to your black friends and family to let them know that you stand with them. Listen to and learn from their experiences and feelings. Challenge those who may not be aware of the history, of their privilege or don’t want to sit with their own discomfort.

I know that these lessons are probably self-explanatory and, maybe even, obvious. I am fully aware that my journey is ongoing. And I also know that the more I continue on my journey, the more I will be able to use my voice and my privilege with confidence, passion and conviction to stand up for change.

Relationship Survival: We’re in this pandemic together

Let’s rewind a couple of months for a moment: You may recall you and your partner in a different type of routine. Work may have been outside of the house for most of the day. Kids (if any) were in school for most of the day. Then, at some point in the evening, you all get together, say hello, maybe eat dinner together, talk about your day and hopefully spend some quality time together before you pass out for the night. Only to repeat the same routine the next day. Sound somewhat familiar? The point is that before this pandemic, we all seemed to have our own time and space for some part of the day. Now, let’s fast forward to present day: You and your partner (and kids, if any) are with each other all the time. Every day. For the rest of eternity, it seems. Remember any of those nature documentaries about wild animals living in captivity? You know the ones where we see these poor, trapped creatures wanting to scratch and break their way out of the cage. Hamsters are known to gnaw off their own hands, for crying out loud. Even Mother Nature tells us that we don’t like being isolated and contained.

Continue reading “Relationship Survival: We’re in this pandemic together”

Distance Learning: What I’ve Learned After I’ve Survived the First Week

I survived the first week of distance learning…did you?

Last week, I was asked to participate in an interview for a local paper about the impact of distance learning on children and working families, and more importantly, the barriers that may interfere with success. To read the article, please click here.

Preparing for this interview encouraged me to reflect on this issue from both lenses: that of a parent and that of a Social Worker. I thought for this week’s blog, I would share my personal experience with distance learning, as well as, my professional advice to families.

My Personal experience with distance learning

Prior to the distance learning curriculum being launched this past week, I was one of those parents who tried to “homeschool” my kids in the mornings in order to give them something to do other than playing on their video games and watching television (yes, I totally added the ” “). I bought the curriculum books online and went through “lessons” with both my sons, who are in grade 7 and grade 3. For the most part, I tried to be flexible: let them pick the subjects they wanted to do, start the day whenever we were finished breakfast, let them take breaks whenever they wanted. “Homeschool” went pretty smoothly and the boys both actually seemed to like it. Last week, when the distance learning curriculum launched, several observations came to light, like a gigantic beacon in the dead of night (yes, I’m aware that rhymed).

First, homeschooling” by my standards is not the same as distance learning. Distance learning consists of designed lessons in a structured order with deadlines and processes to submit or turn in assignments. It does not consist of one worksheet with a short paragraph at the top of the page with directions and then a brief exercise – only to move onto a new concept on the next page. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a formalized education setting, and you would think, grade 3 and grade 7 concepts should come naturally. So untrue. I have had to give myself permission to learn (or re-learn, I mean) concepts with my boys and be okay with telling them that I don’t know something. Sometimes, I will ask them to teach it to me. That seems to work.

Second, distance learning is not the same as regular school. As I had to explain to my eldest son during his brief episode of frustration at the beginning, I am not a certified teacher and am going through each lesson the way it is outlined by his real, certified teachers. The workload is significantly less but seems like more to the kids because there are not used to this. They have been out of school for a month. Real school, I mean. But our kids are being given, at most, two hours of work per day, as opposed to 6 hours per day. It should be manageable, user-friendly, and, most importantly, not considered a replacement of their formalized education. That’s too much pressure for any parent.

Third, as technologically capable I believe myself to be, learning the new platform to access their lessons, utilize electronic textbooks, submit work and communicate with teachers is foreign territory. For the most part, I am fascinated by the ease of information being shared and am grateful that there are avenues that are available to make this learning process somewhat easier. But I am learning as I go along and I have had to remind myself to be patient with my process and ask for help from the teachers whenever I need it.

My advice to families from the lens of a social worker

The advice that I gave the reporter last week was really a combination of my personal and professional experiences. In theory, I have to remind parents and families that anxiety, as a basic emotion, tends to show itself in times of uncertainty and unpredictably. We like to know what to expect and we like it even more when we feel like we have some control over what it happening in our lives. This can be helpful to remind us all that the overwhelming feeling that you may be experiencing or your children may be experiencing is understandable – it’s coming from somewhere…more specifically, the unpredictable pandemic that is currently impacting the entire world and restricting our day-to-day civil liberties.

I think I’ve said this in pretty much all of my blogs during this pandemic because it is so important: Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best that you can. You are not a teacher. And if you are a teacher and you’re teaching your children, they may still not see you as a teacher, they see you as a parent. When I think about the lessons and struggles that I experienced last week (and this week) as a parent, I couldn’t help but think of the systemic issues that could serve as barriers for some families. Those include: poor internet connection in rural areas; working parents who still have to work a full shift from home and may not have the time to go through each lesson with their children; single parents and/or parents of multiple children at different grade levels who may or may not have access to more than one electronic device; families who cannot afford strong internet services or electronic devices needed to complete distance learning; families whose first language may not be English and may have difficulty understanding some of the lesson plans; families whose educational training may find it difficult to understand some of the concepts being taught; students who may struggle with learning disabilities or require additional support that may not be able to be provided through this distance learning method; parents or other caregivers who may not be technologically knowledgeable; etc. I know I am missing more, but those are just a few, at the top of my head.

We can only do the best we can. We need to modify our expectations and be okay with not knowing how to do some of this. We need to use our resources and ask for help when we need it. We can still be flexible. The teachers don’t expect you to be teachers either. I commend all educators for the work that they have had to put in to help our children continuing to learn and I understand that some of the teachers may also be facing some systemic barriers too. We are all in unfamiliar territory and we are in survival mode, meaning that our main focus is to get through each day healthy and safe. If something is not finished today because you and your child(ren) are about to throw the laptop out the window out of pure frustration, put the laptop down gently and carefully walk away. It will be there tomorrow. Because unfortunately, this is our reality, our normal, for now. Our children will likely not be as prepared for the next school year as we would want them to be. That’s okay. We have been put in the position to be creative in continuing the education of our children, and I am referring to both families and educators.

So be kind to yourself. You are doing a great job. Be grateful that in the current mode of survival, you have succeeded one more day. Your home is not a school, and it’s not meant to be. Your children will be fine. They are resilient. They will learn to adapt to new environments and unpredictable changes. Everything after this will hopefully be more manageable. Just think, one day in our future, we will be able to say, “You think that’s bad? It’s not a pandemic, remember??”

Online Counselling Sessions: How Technology has Made Support (Somewhat) Accessible to Clients During the Covid-19 Pandemic

This global pandemic has forced many of us to be creative and flexible with the way in which we complete our work. With most of us being asked to work from home, we are experiencing the challenges and conveniences of technology on a full-time basis – teleconferences, online training sessions, and, in my case, telemedicine or telehealth. Don’t get me wrong – this is not the first time that I have done online counselling. I’ve been doing video and telephone sessions for a while now, but it has not been a predominant aspect of my services. I consider myself grateful for being able to still provide support to my clients during this time, even if it is not the most ideal way of connecting with people.

After completing a little over two weeks doing video and telephone sessions, I thought it would be helpful to review the good and the not-so-good aspects of these methods, as well as, strategies that may help make this process less uncomfortable.

Continue reading “Online Counselling Sessions: How Technology has Made Support (Somewhat) Accessible to Clients During the Covid-19 Pandemic”

Today, Be Kind to Yourself.

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Buddha

It is so easy to be hard on ourselves for not coping the way we think we “should” cope with these changes. In many of my sessions this week, the message that I have been consistently delivering is this: Be Kind to Yourself.

There is no formula or protocol that we have been formally or informally trained to practice during a global pandemic. We have no idea what to expect. We are in survival mode at this point. So what do we do now?

Continue reading “Today, Be Kind to Yourself.”

Accepting Our Anxiety: Coping with Uncertainty in an Unpredictable World

I returned to work this week – the first time since the global pandemic was announced. I was able to connect with my clients online and on the telephone, for which I was grateful.

One thing is for sure: we are all stressed.

And it makes sense, right? In a short period of time, the entire world has been infiltrated by an invisible predator. Countries all over the world are locking down and we are bombarded by dismal and tragic updates on a daily basis and on an international stage. We have lost our sense of normalcy and routine in all of our systems. Our work and school environments. Our extra-curricular activities and social events. Our freedom to utilize public spaces. All taken away or drastically changing.

So, yes, it makes sense that we are stressed. Because anxiety if fueled by uncertainty. When we do not have predictability and routine, we can feel unsafe – physically and emotionally. Every day, we see different systemic changes and restrictions. We hear the phrase “day to day” all the time and there cannot be any commitment to any timeframes. We have no control over the trajectory that this virus is going to have on the world, other than our own personal choices to socially and physically distance from others and self-quarantine if we are sick. We don’t know what to expect on any given day. And when our anxiety rises, we see all of our other negative feelings surface more readily. We are more irritable. Angry. Sad. Lonely. Guilty.

Is it hopeless? Is it inevitable that we will feel this way forever? It certainly feels that way. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We will have to be creative and flexible. We will have to let go of expectations to a certain degree. But there are things that we can control that we can try while we are at home.

  • We can control when and how long we watch the news or check social media and internet sites, as abysmal as they are. Are you the type that has to know everything in order to feel less anxious? Or does knowing too much make you more anxious? Whichever one fits, do what makes your anxiety less.
  • We can make time every day to use our social outlets to connect with people. Create group chats on Facebook or WhatsApp and schedule video chats with your loved ones. Go through your contact list and create a list of people that you want to check in on every day and send them a text or call them. We are in a technological world, people. Let’s make use of it.
  • We can set small goals for each day to give ourselves those small victories. That closet that you always wanted to organize but never had the time? Now you do! Go around the house with a recycling and garbage bag and start throwing stuff out. It feels powerful and freeing to purge! Those lonely socks that seem to accumulate with no pair in sight? Throw them out or find their partners.
  • We can enjoy the moments we have our family members. You know who those people are, right? The ones that are we hardly see during the week because of work and soccer practice and dance class and commuting. Start a movie marathon, play a board game, play a video game, put on some music and just dance.
  • We can be kind to ourselves and recognize that are anxiety makes sense. We can accept it for now and label it as such. It’s a stressful time for all of us.

Even though it feels like there will be no end to this pandemic, it will end. It has to. And our lives will return to the regular chaos that we have learned to accept as normal. So, we have the ability to enjoy the moment the best way we can. We are being given the opportunity to slow down.

This situation is can be everlasting or fleeting – it just depends on the lens from which we are seeing it.

Changes to Counselling Services in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic

It was a very difficult decision for me to make; however, effectively immediately, I will be discontinuing in-person sessions until further notice. I have to do my part to practice social responsibility and distancing. But I understand that this is a very sensitive time with heightened anxiety.

Therefore, I am in the process of finding the best way to provide virtual services to my clients, either by video or telephone calls or live chats for a reduced cost. I know that this is the not the most ideal way to provide services and some of my clients may not be comfortable with this method of communication; however, due to the current social climate, I feel that I am making the most responsible decision I can make at this time.

More details to come before I return to the office next week…

Pandemic Panic: The importance of exercising social responsibility and compassion during the Covid-19 Outbreak

Global Pandemic. Social Distancing. Panic Buying. State of Emergency.

It seems like every time we turn on the television or visit social media and internet sites, we are bombarded with terms like these and daily statistics of cases and fatalities all over the world. How do we not panic, right? There are no subtleties to these terms – intentionally, of course – in order to illustrate the seriousness of the world’s current health crisis. But is it enough?

People still have to work, especially those in essential services (Thank Goodness for Them). There are elderly and other vulnerable people who need to be checked up on. Kids are out of school but still have the same amount of energy that they are not able to expend.

It’s times like this that I have to remind myself that I only have control over what I choose to do for myself and my family during this difficult time. It’s very easy to get angry with “those people” who appear to be disregarding the multitudes of warnings given by the authorities, hoarding essentials that take away from people who have little or nothing, and considering strong urges to self-isolate as gentle suggestions. But how is judging other people’s behaviours helping our own mental health, other than adding unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation? There will always be someone who is going to do things differently from what we would do.

All we can do is make personal choices to be socially responsible. I agree that socially distancing is not the absolute solution but it’s something that we can do to reduce the spread of the virus. I know this poses a challenge to people who have jobs they have to go to and kids that they have to entertain, but we all have to make sacrifices in order to protect the greater population. You know, the greater population that have the right to use all of the same resources that are available to us – the hospitals that are overcrowded, the grocery stores that are meant to feed everyone and not just a select few, and the freedom to walk down the streets and buildings without fearing the breath of the person standing or walking next to us.

This is not about living in fear or rebelling against the universe by not being allowing ourselves to be held hostage. This is about trying to end a pandemic that can ultimately touch you, your family, your loved ones, and your community at some point in the near future. Stay home if you are sick. Work from home if you can. Isolate or quarantine if you have been out of the country. Wash your hands. Share the supplies with those who also need them. Talk to your kids about covid-19 in a realistic and productive way that does not instill fear or anxiety. Take care of the elderly and immuno-compromised. Screw our conspiracy theories and political views. It doesn’t matter anymore. Don’t worry about the actions of others and exercise your own power and choice. Lead by example and know that you did the right thing during a time of crisis.

Tell people with words and actions that you care about them by doing your part. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that at any given day or hour, our lives and liberties can significantly change. Tables can be turned in an instant. And I don’t know about you, but I would want to be able to trust in others that they would care about me and family and all of our futures.