A queer epic fantasy author I enjoy, KA Doore, recently asked on Twitter:
Tired of being discouraged.— K.A. Doore (@KA_Doore) March 31, 2020
How does one get recouraged?
They wrote from a place of radical vulnerability that gave me pause. It seems our feeds, currently the most important social connection many of us can have worldwide while honoring social distancing, are overwhelmed by panic and misdirected anger. People lash out at others for how we cope with the pandemic rather than building bridges across this impossible moment to carry each other through with creativity and hope. Many survivors will be acutely attuned to these groundswells of anxiety and outrage. Experiences of violence, especially sexual and relational violence, fine tune our very biology to pick up on and preemptively respond to signs of repeat threat, even if it’s scribbled across screens and shrouded in varying degrees of anonymity. This creates a contentious relationship for many survivors and social media.
On the one hand, they provide opportunities for really incredible skill sharing as we heal from trauma and learn how to build resilient and connected lives, perhaps for the first time. Many of us will find community online that eluded us elsewhere, like the one I have adored for years on Pandora’s Aquarium.
This can be especially vital for trans and nonbinary survivors, who may not be afforded safe welcome at local Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence agencies and support groups because of our identities. For us, online spaces allow skill sharing beyond survivorship: We can learn about everything from legal and medical procedures to trans-affirming kink. We can find people who steadfastly affirm who we are and what we’ve been through even if the people immediately around us refuse to, or local communities feel focused on things that don’t bring us empowerment.
On the other hand, what happens when our online communities become overwhelmed by grief? How do we return, again and again, to building resilient and courageous bridges when the odds seem so disarming from the start and petty divisions break out as a means of feeling in control?
Reading KA Doore’s vulnerable post got me thinking. It pushed back against the demoralization that I have naturally internalized in the face of this pandemic so that I could more powerfully question how we Recourage when the world has gone to shit. Surely there had to be more than cat pictures and prayer hands while we secretly stare at our own dark ceilings, more than survivors’ workbooks and doing the dishes, more than waiting. Where do we find courage and creativity in the midst of destruction so that our threat-attuned bodies can actually feel the pleasure that is their birthright?
After a long pause I didn’t know I needed, I took full advantage of my hundred-plus characters to reply:
I think Recouraging is slow, underground work. The culmination of little kindnesses and shared grief we give ourselves and each other over time. Slowly, things shift. The phone and pen are lighter. There's a little more color. We sing in the shower. We feel healed after crying.💜— ByQueerOstomation ♿⚑⚧ (@Queerstomations) March 31, 2020
Like healing from trauma and implementing effective social distancing, finding courage and community in a prolonged crisis takes time and the commitment of small, patient actions. These will vary between survivors throughout the day, but may include:
- Grounding in our bodies and communities
- Picking up the pen or brush in spite of how heavy fear and grief weigh
- Reading for healing, learning, and escape (I am a huge proponent of escapist reading because I believe it empowers us to imagine what other worlds, identities, and relationships are possible to build when the one that we’ve been handed feels oppressive and disconnecting. It encourages us to create change by dreaming outside of too small boxes and lines that cut.)
- Asking for help, knowing that we also have help to offer
- Sharing mindfully in each other’s grief work
- Participating in mutual aid however we can
- Taking our meds, staying hydrated, and allowing our bodies rest
- Finding safe sources of oxytocin through animals and laughter when human touch is discouraged– while reminding ourselves patiently that this does not mean that touch is bad, that we are undeserving, or that it is wrong to desire it
- Checking on friends, colleagues, and neighbors and answering the phone honestly when they check on us
- Keeping up with doctors appointments, work schedules, and school assignments online when possible
- Allowing designated time for ongoing healing work
- Committing to continue seeking and building community, which may require challenging old social media habits. For me, this included challenging my total avoidance of social media as a traumatic response. For others, it may mean blocking accounts or changing your media presence.
- Conscientious and compassionate news consumption
- Setting boundaries with people (including ourselves) whose demands for how we survive during the pandemic and moving forward put us or our loved ones at risk for physical and emotional harm
- Trying new hobbies and skills. Be vulnerable to being terrible at them
- Practice radical gratitude, not the fluffy kind
- Use imagery to go on vacation or even to the store. As someone whose chronic illness keeps me frequently homebound even without a pandemic, body-based imagery has been immensely useful in creating safer spaces for myself even in hostile external environments
- Play. Many survivors, myself included, will balk at this suggestion, but I’m assured by my therapist that it’s critical for Recouraging. We have to get vulnerable and silly in order to get through.
Whatever we choose, it’s going to need patience. This is underground work, but it’s unquestionably worth the effort. In a time when we may feel like we can’t do anything, Recouraging reminds us that we are enough and we are powerful as is. It reaffirms the strength and joy of our bodies and makes room for creativity and resilient community again.
How will you Recourage?