Mental Health in the Legal Profession

A blue digital illustration of two ambiguous books. One is open and laying on a pillow the other closed.

by Naomi Sayers

This piece was first written when Naomi was an articling student and under a good character investigation by the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”) as a result of her self-disclosures to the LSO. The LSO does not investigate all lawyer-licensee candidates. During that time, Naomi felt isolated and alienated from the legal profession given her experiences. To date, she stills feel isolated and alienated given the conversations around self-care and mental health fail to interrogate the ways in which colonialism and all of its misogyny and racism (and other isms) impact Indigenous law students to date. Naomi kept this piece in its original format, but she is now a lawyer. She still believes that LSO still has a lot of work to do in order to truly practice inclusivity. This represents Naomi’s views only and is not legal advice.

Self-care. It is one of those terms that seems to have been taken up by everyone and anyone. Sometimes it is used by people, organizations and institutions in an unintended way. One such way includes avoiding responsibility of systemic and institutional neglect over many years, decades even.

At the time I first drafted this piece, I was in Ontario’s lawyer licensing process. This means that I have graduated law school, applied to become a lawyer in Ontario, passed the lawyer licensing examinations, or as some of my friends have done, deferred the lawyer licensing examinations until after their articles. Completing your articles is the process of learning through doing. In laymen terms, it is like a co-op placement.

Throughout law school, I struggled. I struggled in the sense that I felt alienated and isolated from the discussions that were taking place in the classroom. This is not to say, however, that I did not do well. I felt alienated and isolated from the structure of law school. I did not see or hear about similar experiences that I went through within the classrooms. In one experience, where I enrolled in a course dedicated to social justice advocacy, I thought I would excel. I heard about how you could write an op-ed (an opinion piece that is either solicited by the editor of a major media outlet or that is pitched to a major media outlet by an individual who is not a regular contributor) or, if I recall correctly, how you could learn how to make submissions to parliamentary committees. In any event, it was a class where I already had done all the things in my advocacy work seeking to decriminalize sex work. It was also work that I continued to do throughout law school. The unique thing about this disclosure is in the fact that I went to a law school where many professors supported the complete abolition of prostitution all in an effort to save women like me, poor little indigenous women. But, I didn’t and I, most certainly, don’t need saving.

When I was articling, I was living in Toronto, completing my articles on Bay Street (almost every little middle-class white boy’s wet dream, chasing after his daddy’s footsteps) in a space that prioritizes health care, especially mental health care. However, for the profession as a whole, this does not always mean that they prioritize health care, despite saying otherwise.

When I was in law school, I kept hearing or seeing these self-care narratives literally everywhere. What was missing from these messages was the trauma-informed approach where self-care originates. For example, trauma-informed approaches acknowledge that each individual responds to their own experiences, including traumatic experiences, in unique ways. This means that sometimes your friend may prefer to be alone after expending their energy in negotiating a difficult conversation or another friend may require immediate support in the way of bonding over your choice of substance to alleviate the anxiety from a traumatic experience (Note: I am not encouraging different kinds of substance use; rather, it is about supporting an individual’s choice). Now that I am in the articling process, I see these same messages, “Practice self-care”. What is missing from these conversations, again, is the trauma-informed approach. Yet, this begs the question, can a profession support individuals from a trauma-informed approach when it has historically excluded (and arguably, presently excludes) individuals who have been regulated and policed out of the legal profession bylaws?

During the 1950s, the laws that prevented Indigenous people from hiring lawyers were repealed. This means that, throughout the time of Canada’s colonization (and continued colonization), entire generations of Indigenous communities were left without legal representation—at a moment in time when colonial Canada was passing laws that infringe on their rights. Yes, the concept of justice and the nature of Indigenous law does not always align with those of Canada’s views or concepts. However, the effects of these laws mean that an entire generation of people were literally erased, silenced and ignored during a critical point in the making and shaping of colonial Canada. This is not unintentional. While this article is not about the colonial context of Canada, it is important to understand parts of this history when talking about trauma-informed approaches to mental health care.

Mental health care and self-care discussions in predominantly white spaces translate to discussions about how a bubble bath can make you feel safe and warm. These conversations do not mean that we have conversations about how institutional racism and everyday microaggressions impact your physical health.

Trauma-informed practice is about embodying a range of principles that centre the needs, experiences and expertise of individuals who have experienced or continued to experience trauma in their lives. Trauma can range from a single occurrence to intergenerational trauma. A trauma-informed practice, ultimately, centers an individual’s control, choice and safety. It means that the individual attends to what will make them safe in that moment, by making the choices they can and in a way that they can.

When it comes to self-care, most institutions that have taken up these narratives inadvertently appropriating these terms in a way that, as I mentioned, avoids responsibility. First, institutions, like law schools or institutions who have a history of excluding racialized or Indigenous folks, that adopt a self-care approach without a trauma-informed approach tend to cause more harm. When I was law school, I reached out to a professor in law school after another professor stated that there were only two kinds of laws in Canada. This idea that there are only two kinds of law in Canada means that Indigenous legal traditions are never acknowledged. This erasure, again, means that Indigenous law students are left arguing their own existence. Then, when you have certain experiences being policed and regulated out of the profession, we have a different kind of conversation happening altogether. The question is no longer how much needs to be done to improve the diversity and inclusion of certain kinds of people. Rather, the question becomes what needs to change at an institutional and systemic level in order to address the barriers created by having honest conversations about institutional and systemic discrimination in the legal profession.

Recently, the regulator for Ontario’s lawyers mandated all lawyers to adopt a statement of principles. The statement of principles is one of many recommendations from the Racialized Licensees Report. This specific recommendation, along with the others named in the report, is meant to address the barriers faced by racialized licensees. However, the Report outlines that Indigenous licensees face “unique experiences” (The Racialized Licensees Report, p 8). The Law Society of Ontario (“Law Society”), as the Report states, “has a duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario and to protect the public interest” (The Racialized Licensees Report, p 11). In order to fulfill this duty, the Law Society must also ensure its policies, practices and programs live up to the values and principles of equality and diversity (The Racialized Licensees Report, p 11). One such policy and practice, however, includes their good character form.

While I agree with the rationale behind adhering to the good character standard, I question whether the Law Society’s policy and practice of adopting a form requirement across the board for all licensing candidates is truly an equality and diversity practice.

For example, when a licensing candidate applies to the Law Society, this candidate must disclose a range of things, including criminal convictions. However, question one on the good character form asks, whether the candidate has “been found guilty of, or convicted of, any offence under any statute” (Lawyer Licensing Process Policies, Part IV: Good Character). You must answer yes to question one if you have been found guilty or convicted under any statute. (Canadian Civil Liberties Association, p 1). The consequence of this question is that it has a wide reach for almost any person. For Indigenous people, this is troublesome.

Indigenous people who are convicted or found guilty of any offence under any statute (which does not seem to be slowing down at any rate) will have to answer yes to question one as outlined above, including those who have accessed the Gladue sentencing regime. The question, then, is not whether the Law Society is adopting equity and diversity principles in its policies, practices and programs. Rather, the question is whether the Law Society is engaging in systemic and/or institutional discrimination with its blanket form, applied across the board to anyone, especially regarding Indigenous people. Again, my issue is not the rationale behind the good character form; it is the practice of assuming that this form is applied equally in a fair manner. Sadly, the Law Society released a report on a review of its good character practices in early 2019 (Professional Regulation Committee, 2019). The facts for lawyer-licensee candidates from this report are as follows:

  1. Over a six-year period, the Law Society received 14,000+ applications from lawyer candidates with only two hundred candidates self-identifying as Indigenous.
  2. 10% of the non-Indigenous candidates answered yes to a good character question.
  3. 18% of the self-identified Indigenous candidates answered yes to a good character question.
  4. The report does not provide numbers for the Indigenous candidates who had their good character issues resolved at an initial step, at an investigation or at a hearing. The report does state that 80-90% candidates of those who did answer a good character question in the affirmative were resolved at the initial step and only 1-2% candidates went to a good character hearing.
  5. Presumably, 10-20% candidates went to a hearing.
  6. Since the number of self-identified Indigenous candidates who answer yes to a good character question is higher by 15-25% (5%-10% estimate based on item 3 above), it is safe to assume that 20-30% of self-identified Indigenous candidates went to a good character hearing.
  7. Based on the above assumption, it could be assumed that 40-60 self-identified Indigenous candidates out of 200 went to a good character hearing over a six-year period or approximately 10 self-identified Indigenous candidates went to a good character hearing each year over a six-year period.

With the conversation around the statement of principles taking place in Ontario, I cringe each time I hear or read about another lawyer impacted by racism trying to justify why this mandated recommendation is essential in ending barriers to racialized licensees. I also cringe when people assume that this is a free speech issue. Free speech for whom? It is most certainly not for the racialized or Indigenous licensees now almost being forced to write their stories, trying to convince everyone who doesn’t believe racism exists…. that racism exists!

It was only in the 1950s where laws that excluded Indigenous people from entering law school, practicing law or hiring lawyers were repealed (See Constance Backhouse, “Gender and Race in the Construction of ‘Legal Professionalism’: Historical Perspectives” in Adam Dodek & Alice Woolley, eds, In Search of the Ethical Lawyer (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2016) 126 at 133). Entire generations of Indigenous people were excluded from entering the profession. That is, people like my grandfathers and grandmothers prohibited from entering the profession—two generations ago. During that time, however, my community was surrounded by several residential schools. It is very unlikely that my ancestors would have even survived long enough, sadly, to enter law school. And, undoubtedly, Indigenous folks continue to be excluded from the profession for a range of other barriers.

But I survived and I am here.

I write this in the context of acknowledging this history of denying indigenous people the illusion of freedom to enter the profession. I also write to highlight the problems with the discussion around the statement of principles, as an alleged diversity and equity initiative.

These kinds of initiatives are a distraction from the issue of racism in the profession. Preventing people from having honest conversations about the real issue—racism—is how institutional and systemic discrimination works. They allow institutions and people to say, “Look at all the hard work we have done!” And, when you critique the initiative, you are the problem such as I have done in very public spaces and have been ostracized by more senior lawyers, including racialized lawyers.

As for the statement of principles, these initiatives are merely check box approaches to the problem. Perhaps, one day, we can all have a healthy conversation about institutional and systemic discrimination without racialized and Indigenous licensees and licensing candidates carrying the burden of retelling their stories.

Naomi Sayers is an Indigenous feminist and lawyer. She tweets under the moniker @kwetoday. Views are her own.

The Damages of Microagressions: How to Prevent and Heal

by Tina Zafreen Alam

While most of the literature on microaggressions discusses how to manage them in the moment, and what kinds of responses might communicate the inappropriateness of the behavior, few are devoted to the question of reversing the damage from stress that results from them. Chronic (ongoing) stress devastates wellness. It’s also cumulative in that the damage worsens with every microaggressive blow. Constant put downs, ridicule and denigrations, intended or not, have measurable adverse effects on your body, mind and self-definition.

Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions1 as the “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” Microaggressions can be racial, gender-based, hetero-patriarchal, religious, fat phobic, ageist, ableist or any other dynamic that marginalizes.

Microaggressions can invoke the stress reaction for those of us on the butt end of them. Hence I approach the question of healing and preventing them as primarily a matter of building resiliency. That is what this short article will focus on as I share some key ideas from my self-healing workshops.

In my framework of knowing, social justice and equity struggles benefit when every one of us is well, although not in the sense of some static state of perfect health where you can live forever. Healing is about the capacity to adjust, learn and grow in response to the ebb and flow of your dynamic relationships with the world. Your body, for example, is never static. If it were you’d be dead. In a healthy (or even unhealthy) body there are ongoing activities of self-regulation and self-repair in a process called homeostasis, which is the body’s tendency to maintain optimal functioning. Healing and wellness in this article are essentially about self-love, self-compassion, and cultivating meaningful, fulfilling relationships rather than obtaining perfection in any form. From this perspective acceptance, inner peace, fulfillment and a sense of purpose are intrinsic to wellbeing.

Most folks know from high school science or popular culture that stress is at the root of many illnesses. Instead of glossing over the impact of microaggressive stress, here are some facts you might like to be aware of:

  • When you are upset by a microaggression, high levels of cortisol and adrenaline flood your bloodstream, increasing your respiration and blood pressure.
  • Oxygen and blood are directed to your large muscles and physical senses (sight, hearing, etc.).
  • Digestive organs slow down their activities. Nutrients don’t get into the bloodstream and toxins don’t get out of the body at optimum speeds.
  • The immune reaction is put on hold.
  • Your cells and the DNA within them contract, making them less able to absorb nutrients and perform all their functions.
  • Your blood flow is diverted to the limbic/instinctive brain. The brain areas responsible for higher thinking get less blood, oxygen and nutrients. Your body does this as part of a stress reaction because you don’t need to be philosophizing or contemplating your next art project when you’re in a crisis or life-threatening situation.

This fight or flight state is exactly what you need if you’re in a situation where your life or the wellbeing of a loved one is at risk. You don’t, however, want to live in this state. Here are some other effects of chronic (long term) stress, which repeated exposure to microaggressions provokes:

  • Your body doesn’t care whether the experience is life-threatening or mildly annoying. Whether you have a gun pointed at you or your coworker uttered a careless remark, your body reacts the same way.
  • Furthermore, your body doesn’t care whether your stress is life-threatening at that moment, you are remembering stressful events from the past or imagining them in the future.
  • The more often or more prolonged the microaggression, the more your brain will physically restructure itself to accommodate the biochemistry and neural activity of chronic stress. For example, blood vessels, cellular growth and synaptic (communication) pathways in the brain will develop in ways that help you shift into the stress reaction quicker and allow you to stay there longer.
  • High levels of cortisol will dissolve connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Cortisol will also contribute to the accumulation of belly fat.
  • The adrenal gland will get tired of pumping adrenaline into your system. Adrenal exhaustion will set in and you will likely feel a sense of numbness and resignation to stressful events because you won’t have enough adrenaline in your system to generate useful responses. So when you’re faced with a real crisis you won’t have the juice to react appropriately.
  • Over the long term, stress makes you more sensitive to physical pain.
  • Your mental capacities will be compromised – particularly memory, learning, creativity and problem solving. Anyone who spends a lot of time in a context where microaggressions are rampant will have a brain that is very good at directing the biochemistry of stress; your thoughts become distrustful, self-involved, fearful, anxious and intolerant.
  • Your brain changes even further to accommodate what you think, say and do. If your attention remains on the multitude of microaggressions to which you are daily exposed your brain will accommodate and heighten the stress they cause.

The long-term effects of chronic and cumulative stress are not pretty. The Institute of HeartMath finds that a mere five minutes of being in a stressful state catalyzes six hours of depressed immunity, impaired healing and constrained mental capacity.

Microaggressions are potentially life-threatening because they produce the stress that causes illness and shortens lifespans.This is why educational and awareness-raising strategies are important to prevent them. However, these are not the only strategies that contribute to prevention.

The literature on countering or preventing harmful stress often focuses on how individuals can build resiliency to offset the negative health effects. Most of this is aimed at helping you transform your behaviours and thinking patterns; modifying your reaction to stressful events in a process of building resiliency. This works because it reshapes your body into a more expansive state (literally).

While social justice emphasizes working collectively to promote social change, there is still a role for building individual (and group) resilience. In fact, they are interdependent. Building resiliency is personally empowering, is the most effective method for transforming the impact of stress on your body, and enhances your capacity to sustain your participation in social change activities.

Resilient people are less likely to experience burnout, compassion fatigue or chronic stress symptoms. Obviously, social justice movements can benefit from resilient activists. That’s why I emphasize building resiliency in my work.

Briefly, here’s what happens to your body when you’re resilient; when you’re enjoying expansive states of love, compassion, generosity, gratitude and optimism.

  • The higher thinking parts of your brain get an optimal amount of blood supply, oxygen and nutrients. There are more cell growth and synaptic activity. Consequently, your memory, learning, problem-solving and creative abilities expand.
  • Biochemicals like DHEA, serotonin, oxytocin and nitrous oxide pour into your bloodstream. Combined these biochemicals promote feelings of connection, joy, openness, optimism, empathy, compassion, gratitude, generosity and a sense of peace. At their height, you experience wonder and awe.
  • These expansive states promote pro-social behaviours like cooperation, sharing, kindness, volunteering, giving and uplifting others. They fuel a thirst for social justice and equity.
  • The longer you’re in an expansive state, the more you produce biochemicals that heighten the effect and you can go into an upward spiral.
  • As an added bonus, some of the biochemicals produced in expansive states lower cortisol levels, reversing the stress reaction.
  • Your immune response becomes more efficient and tissue repair is accelerated. You also experience less physical pain.
  • Organs, cells and DNA expand and become optimized for their functions, including taking in and metabolizing nutrients.

The HeartMath on expansive states? Five minutes buys you five hours of all these positive mental and physical benefits. When you cultivate expansive feelings you take advantage of your body’s ability to restructure itself in the direction of building resiliency. This means you are less likely to be impacted by stressful events like microaggressions and, when you are, you can bounce back quicker.

Building resilience involves developing a daily practice of cultivating expansive mind, body and emotional states. This involves deliberately allocating time to focus on whatever puts you into an expansive mindset. Fortunately, as noted before your body doesn’t care whether you’re actually lying on that beach, remembering or fantasizing about it. The benefits are the same.

The most effective way to build resilience is to strengthen your internal resources. While there’s nothing wrong with experiencing pleasure from external sources, and these activities can definitely be fun, research increasingly shows they are not the most effective forms of building resiliency. Activities that help us feel connected, or provide opportunities to nurture life have deeper more lasting benefits than spa days, shopping sprees or getting that promotion. Do you want your happiness to depend on weather conditions, other people’s moods or stuff you can’t control? For Tips on Building Resiliency check out my website.

A note of caution on building resiliency to heal and prevent the stress of microaggressions: expecting to remain in a blissful state 24/7 is neither possible nor desirable. Anger, fear and grief, for instance, are appropriate responses to some life events. Ignoring, denying or suppressing them is as stressful as the event itself. Feel your feelings, explore and let them go. It’s a refusal to process uncomfortable emotions that contribute to illness and mental contractiveness. When you notice, accept and explore your feelings they eventually fade and you can shift your attention to something more expansive. Yes, contractive feelings will return because you’re interacting with life and challenge is part of the deal. However, resiliency will allow you to manage life’s challenges in a way that doesn’t compromise your wellness.

Since community wellness and social justice depend on the contributions of resilient individuals, it’s really about time that our movements, organizations and communities recognized resiliency-building as socially significant work. You might start out building resiliency for the sake of your own wellbeing but it will be the collective “us” that benefits.

Zainab Amadahy
Based in peri-apocalyptic Toronto, Zainab Amadahy is an author, screenwriter, self-empowerment facilitator, professional development consultant, researcher and educator. Her background in medical and photovoltaic technologies, as well as community service in the areas of Indigenous knowledge reclamation, curanderismo, non-profit housing, women’s services, migrant settlement and community arts, inform her work. Links to Zainab’s articles, essays and other literary work can be found on her website:

Repeat After Me: Care Collectives and the Practice of Community Based Care

an illustration of a woman it reads "repeat after me: i am worthy of care, its ok to ask for help, its okay to receive help, i have valuable care to offer"

by Jennie Duguay

Above: illustration by Heidi Cho

“I do this work in service of community. I tell my story with the knowing that our stories are tools for liberation.1

It took me fifteen years to ask for help,2 sixteen to submit, mind and body, to the amount of care that illness requires and seventeen to believe, in my heart, at least some of the time, that I deserve the care I receive. There is only one reason it took almost half my life to get here: ableism. Defined very simply, ableism is discrimination against people who are disabled, sick and/or chronically ill. A few days before my second nervous breakdown of 2014 a friend held me while I cried in my mostly silent gulping way and told me again and again that I needed help; that I couldn’t do it alone anymore; that they would help me organize a care collective 3 here on unceded Coast Salish territories in Vancouver. They had been talking about it for months: the care collective they were part of in Toronto and the self-described queer femmegimp—the amazing Loree Erickson4—who has, for over fifteen years, been organizing her own volunteer car.

Later we wrote up the first draft of a call-out for volunteers and the next day, alone at home, I lost it; screamed at the wall for an hour, pounded it so hard my fists were bruised. Six days later when I stopped shaking my dear friend had already sent the email, flown home and a dear friend of theirs, a casual acquaintance of mine, showed up at my door. I don’t remember what we talked about, how I behaved, or what she did for me. I know that she is still here now, one of my closest friends and someone I can’t imagine my life as it is now, without. I hit the wall because I didn’t want to need help, because I felt betrayed by my body and I didn’t know how to talk about it. I hit the wall because I was scared and I wanted to be in control. I hit it because I had failed to make myself better, or at the least, to stop myself from getting so sick.

1. Mia Mingus, “On Collaboration: Starting with Each Other,”, (August 3, 2012).  
2. “Help” and “care” are used interchangeably.
3. Care collective: community organized volunteer based care that supports the care needs of an individual.
4. “Loree’s Care Collective,”, (January 26, 2016).

5. Community based care: covers all forms of community care, such as meal trains, childcare swaps or care collectives.

When I agreed to the care collective I wanted to take the burden off my friends and partner (at the time) who were doing so much for me—not because I believed I deserved the care. I worried that I was burning them out and that they would come to resent me. Limiting how much friends cared for me became the focus of the collective—not getting care for myself. At the time I believed any other choice would result in abandonment. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t remember when it officially became “Jennie’s Community Care Collective” or when I started posting volunteer call-outs on Facebook and hearing from people I didn’t even know or when my calendar began to fill up with “care shifts.” What I remember is shame. All that first year I would tidy the house before people came to clean it. I would try to have snacks for people. To be attentive, engaging, to seem ok—at least emotionally—even though I wasn’t. (Sometimes I still do these things.) It was embarrassing: to be so sick, to need so much help, to not be able to do it on my own. But I also remember moments of relief: when my freezer was full and there were clean sheets on my bed and clothes in my closet. I could finally try to manage symptoms instead of aggravating them. And most of all, I could put time, energy and focus into writing which, for me, is the same as healing.

What came up in my writing was an immense grief and sadness: my life and body had been transformed; I had lost my career and hobbies; many of my relationships were struggling; I was homebound and isolated but what devastated me, I see now, was ableism. It had me believing that my worth was relative to my “ableness” and the “productivity” and (so-called) independence that “health” afforded me—it had me questioning if my life was worth living (I continue to struggle with this at times). I’m not exaggerating when I credit the intervention of community based care5 in the form of the Care Collective with my survival. It functions not only to physically support me, but to strengthen me emotionally and spiritually: to validate my experiences, remind me of my inherent worth, and acknowledge all that I do offer—simply, to love and care for me.

Peggy Munson writes that “imagining a care system based on friendship and activist ideals is hard for me though I may wish for it. A radical revision of care is certainly possible, but only if the survival panic of the disabled is truly, deeply felt.”6

6. Peggy Munson, “Seeking Asylum: On Intimate Partner Violence & Disability,” in The Revolution Starts at Hom, ed. Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Chico: AK Press, 2011), 119. 

I have felt the survival panic of financial and housing crises, of not being able to shower or cook for myself and I have felt the impacts of my panic on those closest to me—a panic of their own, from which some recover, and some do not; ableism or pain, who knows, too much for them.

The Care Collective allows me to say, that at least in some ways, my story is the best case scenario: a radical revision of care. But it’s not a common one. It’s much more common for people living with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses—in particular those for whom disability intersects with gender, race, class, immigration or refugee status, addiction and mental illness—to experience harrowing survival panic: isolation and poverty, intimate partner violence and other abuses, while also experiencing the physical, emotional and spiritual impacts of ableism, transmisogyny, racism and other forms of oppression. Patty Berne, co-founder of the Disability Justice movement—itself created and led by trans, gender non-conforming, Black, Indigenous and People of Color—asserts that “…able-bodied supremacy has been formed in relation to intersecting systems of domination and exploitation.

We cannot comprehend ableism without grasping its interrelations with hetero-patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism…”7 We make these connections because any work towards building community based care suffers when these interrelations go unrecognized and unaddressed. It has been said many times: doing dishes can be a radical action. Building relationships based on care can be a radical action. Learning (and teaching) how ask, offer and receive care are radical actions. “A radical social re-visioning of care must include the willingness to take radical action,” 8 in other words, community can’t transform us and we can’t transform community if care is not politicized.

Disabled people need care—reliable, safe, transformative care—right now. Participation in care collectives is one way for people to get “radicalized around care and disability,”9 in the sense that spending time with disabled folks “functions as anti-ableism training.”

7. Petty Berne, “Disability Justice- A Working Draft.” pages 4-6 of this issue 

8. Munson, Seeking Asylum: On Intimate Partner Violence & Disability, 133.

9. Loree Erickson quoted by Mary Jean Hande and Muna Mire, ““The Pace we Need to Go”: Creating Care Culture,” Action Speaks Louder, Fall 2013, 10-11,
10. Erikson in Hande and Mire, ““The Pace we Need to Go”: Creating Care Culture.”

11. This interpretation of ableism is limited as I’m speaking from a North American context as a white person. Across the world, ableism will manifest in similar, contradictory and different way

10 I’ve certainly found this to be true. Previously abstract concepts like “mutuality” and “interdependence” develop embodied meaning with people as they learn, in a sense, to “see through” the myth of independence, the value system assigned to certain labours over others, the ways ableism defines what is “able”/“normal” and what isn’t—all while chopping veggies or cleaning. People have epiphanies: sick and disabled people are everywhere! Anyone can become sick or disabled! We all need care! Last year I made an agreement with myself: I would accept offers of help that I sensed (and hoped) was offered without pity or obligation or risk of harm and I would do so with grace and, importantly, with pride. I would not apologize for needing help in the first place. I would not apologize for being disabled. This is a radical action, and I fail frequently. 

I fail because ableism11 normalizes feelings of guilt and embarrassment for needing help. It normalizes a belief that asking for help is shameful and weak. That saying no to help is polite. That there is only so much care to go around and that we don’t deserve it.

Repeat after me: I am worthy of care. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to receive help. I have valuable care to offer. Well? How does it feel to say them? You don’t have to believe them but I want you to practice saying them. And you don’t get to excuse yourself by saying “but so-and-so has it so much harder than me,” (which is by the way totally ableist)! I promise you that these are skills that can be learned with practice: asking for help clearly, with respect and thoughtful consideration of our privileges; receiving help with grace and gratitude; offering help that is sincere, help that we can actually follow-up on, help that doesn’t make us sick in turn. If helping me hurts you then it’s not help, it’s harm. One of the great lessons of disability justice that is foundational to a re-visioning of care is that care is as much for you it is for me. We just need different amounts of care and/or for different things and/or more or less often. It changes. It’s a spectrum—don’t judge the spectrum. My point is: whether or not you are sick or disabled, we are all caught up in this mess and we are all responsible for cleaning it up. Getting involved in community based care can mean changing someone’s life, but they will change yours too. Never forget that.

I’d like to end with some questions: How do we build communities that include people who are homebound? What safety and accountability practices are needed when organizing care collectives? What are the options besides a care collective? How do we promote and build care systems that address the interrelationship between ableism, capitalism and white supremacy? How can men and masculine of centre people get more involved in caring? How can caregivers take care of themselves? How is ableism stopping us from taking radical action?

Heidi Cho
Heidi Cho is an emerging multi-disciplinary artist that works in a variety of mediums such as silk-screening, animation and drawing. As a queer youth of colour, art has been an important outlet to share her experiences around queerness, family and mental health. You can check out Heidi’s work at

Jennie Duguay is a queer disabled femme and white settler living on Coast Salish territories in Vancouver, Canada. She has been published in GUTS and is forthcoming in CV2.

Activism and Self-Care

by Gloria Swain

‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ ~ Audre Lorde

Conversations surrounding disability justice are very important because it puts people with disabilities at the center of the discussion and looks at inclusivity and support systems for disabled people. The disability justice movement targets the rights of disabled people through empowerment and liberation. This movement challenges abled bodied activists and society to create a more inclusive and social justice-based movement that addresses how issues such as race, class, gender and sexuality impact the experience of being disabled. As a Black feminist artist and social justice activist with a disability, I write this article to focus on the importance of self-care practices when doing this work.

As disabled activists, social justice organizers and community members, life can be exhausting sometimes. Activists can sometimes take on too much and burn out entirely and that’s why self care is an important part of activism, especially for people with disabilities. Self care means taking the time to nurture and support yourself. The impact of my own disability has affected my life in various ways, such as debilitating chronic pain, chronic fatigue and anxiety which can sometimes become isolating. My attempts to appear normal and disguise my pain with humor and my anxieties with unlimited energy represents a problem all activists experience. As I reflect on 2016, I am guilty of ignoring my mental and physical self.

In March, I took part in the fifteen day Black Lives Matter (BLM) Toronto occupation of the Toronto police headquarters at 40 College Street. This was in response to a lack of criminal charges against the police officer who shot and killed Andrew Loku in 2015, a Black man living with mental illness and in response to the refusal of Ontario Special Investigations Unit to release the name of that officer. On the final day, the crowd was preparing to march to Queen’s Park to meet with Premier Wynne to discuss systematic racism within the police department. As chronic pain and anxiety begin to affect my ability to walk, I was given the choice to ride in the back of the truck where I assumed the responsibility of dropping red roses along the route from police headquarters to Queens Park.

With very little time to rest, three weeks later, I was standing in solidarity with Occupy INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) at the Toronto office of Indigenous and Northern Affairs office. This occupation, in response to the inaction of INAC in response to the Attawapiskat youth suicides, lasted for nine days and again I ignored my chronic pain. As an elder, I was well taken care of with hot beverages and adequate warm blankets during the chilled night. During the Pride parade, in July, riding aboard Black Lives Matter – Toronto float, enabled me to take part in the historical halting of the Pride Parade where a list of demands from BLM was presented and agreed to by the Pride organizers.

July continued to be a busy time for me where I was moderator at York University for the Black Futures Now Toronto Conference, a gathering of Black women, femmes & gender nonconforming people who came together for a discussion about the identities we hold close to us as disabled/chronically ill/mad/spoonie Black folks. I ended the month talking as a speaker for the Girl Crush conference where I shared my experience of emotional labour and discussed the intersections of race, gender, disability and art.

The month of September saw me creating and curating a Black Lives Matter photo exhibit in the Crossroads Gallery at York University documenting my time at tent city. I also took part in a performance at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), curated by artist and activist Anique Jordan titled “Mas’ at 94 Chestnut Street”, an envision of what Black history would have looked like in Toronto if it had been documented from the early 1990s. With the year ending, in November, I facilitated a series of workshops, Own Your Sexy, at the Theatre Centre where participants created works that represented the best of their sensual side. My artwork and photographs were part of Ryerson University Social Justice Week where I was also spoke about art and disability activism.

My solo art exhibit, Mad Room, at Tangled Art & Disability, was met with critical acclaim and closed the first week in December after a three-month run. The exhibition on Black women’s mental health had successfully raised awareness, opened conversation, and promoted effective self-care through art. With over fifty art pieces, installations and a filmed artist statement, the exhibit symbolized institutionalization, forced medication, domestic abuse and the stigmas that come with Black depression and disability.

I finally realized that the year’s activities had consumed me physically and mentally and in the end, I found myself alone and completely exhausted. As a disabled activist and sufferer of depression, my activism had taken a toll on my mental health. I now realize how easy it had been for me to forget to take care of myself and I was suffered through the pain.

By mid December, during the Christmas holidays, anxiety and chronic pain had completely exhausted me. I was in dire need of self-care and disappeared inside my tiny one-bedroom apartment for the remainder of the year to rest and regroup mentally.

In the new year, after three weeks of self-care, I was back in full force and successfully launched an online #BellLetsActuallyTalk campaign which successfully became one of the most shared posts on social media. The faces of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign are wealthy white people who are not able to speak for people of colour or people who live in poverty and experience mental health issues. Every year, the Bell Let’s Talk campaign puts up billboards encouraging people to talk about mental health but these billboards are far from inclusive. It’s difficult to talk about mental health when you don’t see yourself represented in these conversations. I am hopeful that Bell will respond by including people of colour in their future mental health campaigns. Back in full protest mode, I took part in the Toronto Water is Life protest at Trump Tower in solidarity with Standing Rock and in February, I marched in the #NoBanOnStolenLand protest that occurred in response to the American travel ban, that saw thousands of people take to the streets, chanting in support of refugees and migrants, and against Islamophobia.

During this hectic and emotional time at the hands of a greedy, racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic Trump government that has clearly made a negative impact in Canada, it is easy to get caught up in moments where you neglect your own needs. As an activist with an unseen disability, I had to learn to take time to rest which helped me to be a better activist and a healthier person. I am fortunate to work with organizers, protesters and allies who are sensitive and accommodating. My advice to other disabled activists and artists is to take care of yourselves and find people/movements that do not discriminate against people with disabilities and who are willing to assist and find ways to include disabled activists in movements.

Gloria Swain
Gloria Swain is a visual storyteller and multidisciplinary artist whose work stimulates an understanding of mental illness. She was 2016 Artist in Residence at Tangled Art & Disability and has shown throughout Toronto and is currently completing her Masters at York University. Her practice also includes work as a community arts facilitator and coordinator of art making spaces. She uses art to explore inter-generational trauma and healing.

Can the Work Heal Us

grahpic of black plants with red flower buds on yellow background

By Lynx Sainte-Marie

    I still remember how it feels to dash through the hallways of my old college, high-fiving first years and shouting affirmations at my second year peers. Nine hours of lectures ahead, my chest is tight and my breathing worries me. I haven’t eaten and I’ve barely slept. But I run anyway, down the corridor and up the stairs. We’re all frantic, taking classes and attending practicums in social service agencies across the city. 

Though self-care is the unofficial byword for the program, most of us – lecturers and administrative staff included – are doing everything but taking care of ourselves. The self-care article that I write for the newspaper during that time is as well-written as it is ableist.

I remember there being so much shame attached to those words for some of us (many of us broke, racialized and crazy). Even now, years and much self-forgiveness later, I can’t help but feel that familiar pang of guilt when I think about how little I cared for my body, exhausted and trekking home in the winter three bus rides later, having spent several hours in classrooms and libraries. I graduated, tender and anxious, as if I had been cooked from the inside. And so profoundly lonely. It was then I decided to take a year off, hoping for some peace of body before I transferred to university. Ten months later, the pain came. I lay in bed for months, scared and swollen. A year passes and I watch as my circle of chosen family members dwindle. Most of them consist of care and community workers with different professional and academic backgrounds. And as hurt as I am, I realize that most of them are unable to hold themselves together, much less negotiate holding space for me.

I think of the capacity I have as a sick and disabled person and how the Medical Industrial Complex describes it as “limited.” But when we are centring disability, our limitations become endless care strategies and possibilities.

One of the most common questions I get from students is how they can get into activism like I did. I usually laugh when I am asked this, though sometimes I don’t. They paint me broadly-stroked pictures of how they would support these people whose stories they’ve mostly only read about in textbooks and scholarly journals. To them, activism means travelling to different cities and engaging in common rituals of “allyship” like awareness campaigns and protests. They didn’t hear the classmate who nervously spoke about their chronic fatigue after my lecture. Just like they don’t see the ways this work is hard on the body; that most of us find ourselves circling around the globe not for the ‘gram, but because of job scarcity. That most of us are disabled and poor and find it impossible to work 9-5s because our bodies would be too hurt, too over-stimulated, too flared, too swollen and/or too tired to co-operate for that long. To them, Activism is a big ticket item. The public gestures, co-signed by co-curricular reports and resumes. I am ashamed to say I was taught and believed similarly.

We are often told as disabled/mad/Deaf/chronically ill people that our bodies are not good enough. You can see this in the horde of us who turn to care professions and community work for solace, in the hopes that our work will be inherently healing. We believe that by supporting our future clients, we will feel less worthless, or by advocating on behalf of this-or-that person, our lives will be seen as indispensable. The long hours are just a small price to pay for the chance of “making a difference.”

 So we shove our bodies into cubicles in the hopes of recognition and praise while continuing to shame those of us too marginalized for the squeeze. All the while, the oppressive systems of our society are embedded in these spaces, feeding on our pain. We breathe their waste; capitalist, ableist soot in our lungs. It chokes us but we carry their shame as our own all the same.

 I’ve spent the last several years presenting, performing, facilitating, lecturing and consulting in spaces all over this colonized land commonly known as Canada. Recently, my focus has been healing justice and disability justice, challenging individuals and organizations to move away from self-care as an absolute rule – which puts the onus of care on the individual – towards a community care practice and politic. Healing justice takes much of its teachings from disability justice: borne of sick and disabled, queer, trans, gender non-conforming, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour communities (BIPOC); prioritizing the bodies, leadership and genius of the most marginalized. Both of these intersectionality-centred frameworks ask questions like, how can we move towards liberation together? Or are we not only giving, but asking our communities for what we need and holding them accountable? Communities that heal together resist better together. And sustainability is key. The imperialist white supremacist capitalist cishetereopatriarchy knows it runs more efficiently when we’re separated, out-numbered and alone.

 What these oppressive systems teach us about the kind of support we should value is poisonous and insidious. It means that people are reluctant to see the everyday, practical things they do as care work. As if, like building muscle, when you’re not wincing from the tearing of tissue, you’re probably not doing it right. Disabled activists who organize online feel the brunt of these ableist narratives everyday, even if our arthritic fingers hurt with every hashtag. BIPOC care and cultural workers, particularly those of us with multiple intersections of oppression, are paid less than our white/white-passing/lighter-skinned peers, and are often asked to work for free or not asked at all. Many of us struggle to take care of ourselves, while those of us with more privilege and resources are taught that the people we should be supporting are out there somewhere. So we volunteer at crisis lines four hours a week while the emotional labour we engage in with loved ones is scarce. We work with disabled youth, yet the struggles of our chronically ill friends go unnoticed. Couple this with all the self-care we should be doing but aren’t because the world needs saving, and it’s no wonder so many of us deal with burnout and compassion fatigue.

 But the ways we can and do take care of ourselves and each other, with whatever we have at our disposal, are valuable. Now when I think about the care I want to cultivate with others, I think of the range of things we are able to do for ourselves with the support of our folks. I think about celebrating our self-determination and striving for interdependency. I think of the time they moved carefully beside me down the street, without questions and accusations, watching me as I cautiously took my first neighbourhood walk in a year. And that crowdfunder he, she and they created on my behalf for the medical device I currently use for my pain. Or when we promised to check in with one another and spoke about boundary-setting as intentional pathways to each other’s hearts. I think of the capacity I have as a sick and disabled person and how the Medical Industrial Complex describes it as “limited.” But when we are centring disability, our limitations become endless care strategies and possibilities. We’re powerful on our own, no doubt, but working together, all of us as multi-issue people with complex bodies, histories, relationships to this land and stories, holding our most marginalized while still getting the care that we need, that is the kind of care I believe will set us free.

 When I ask the class what they think of when I say community care, they say soup kitchens. Soup kitchens and food banks and shelters. I tell them to think more “micro”, to not rely on the buildings around them for support. Offices close. Access needs shift and change, particularly after business hours – especially after 5pm on Sundays (“Besides, the buildings weren’t made for most of us, anyway.”) Who do we consider our communities? What can care in our spaces look like outside of our professions and non-profit agencies? Who is healing our healers and how are we supporting each other’s self-worth? Can our work heal us and what would that healing look like? They speak about their busyness, supervisory hours and learning contract deadlines; barely seeing their families. I think about the ones who haven’t spoken; the ones who might never tell their friends and teachers they are struggling to keep up. The ones who might never see the ableist parts they play in the very systems they are seeking to change; in the relationships with the marginalized people they will leave behind. And I breathe deep.

 Postscript: I owe so much of my current knowledge of disability justice and healing justice to the wisdom and genius of Black, Indigenous, women, femmes and non-binary people of colour I’ve encountered URL and IRL, including but not limited to Spectra Speaks, Esther Armah, adrienne maree brown, Yashna Maya Padamsee, Mia Mingus, Ciel Sainte-Marie, melannie monoceros, Jassie Justice and Danielle Stevens. May our brilliance always light the way through the darkness.

Lynx Sainte-Marie
Lynx Sainte-Marie, Afro+Goth Poet, is a multimedium artist, activist, educator of the Jamaican diaspora, with ancestral roots indigenous to Africa and the British Isles. A disabled/chronically ill, non-binary/genderfluid person, they currently reside in what’s commonly known as the Greater Toronto Area, stolen land of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississaugas of New Credit, Petun and Seneca peoples. They identify within queer and trans, femme, boi, gender non-conforming, crip and spoonie communities, as well as a survivor of abuse and intergenerational trauma.

Creative Resistance: A Healer’s Guide to the Next Four Years

illustration of mason jar

By Karen L. Culpepper

Greetings and much love coming to you from the Washington, DC metropolitan area (also known as the DMV). As you may have heard, we have a new president in town and my, my, my what a time it is to be a healer. At Freed Bodyworks, a space committed to radical inclusion for every body, my schedule is usually fully committed and I am holding space for more and more folks these days as both an herbalist and a bodyworker. On the one hand, there is a general sense of clarity and solidarity amongst communities that I am affiliated with as a healer. However, from the practitioner perspective, I am witnessing a great deal of grief, anxiety and uncertainty as I continue to do my work in the world.

Here are a few pearls and concepts that I have harvested from holding space for folks since the election in November and how I plan on tending to myself as a heart centered healer.

Tend to all of your bodies

In my role as a bodyworker, I am very appreciative that I am able to take my time and have a conversation with each client about how they are feeling in their bodies. Yes, that’s correct. We have multiple bodies, which include: the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual body. In my observation, what shows up in the physical body is usually the result of an upset in one of the other bodies.

For example, the other day I worked with a client that came in with discomfort in their shoulder, which had shown up previously from overuse. When they came in, they were guarding the shoulder to prevent further injury by limiting the range of motion. Towards the end of our intake, they casually mentioned that they had a heated discussion with a family member that had created some upset mentally and emotionally. I decided to include cupping during the session, specifically on the back and around both shoulders. At the end of the session, they felt very relaxed and I mentioned that the gallbladder can have referred pain around the shoulder and part of the gall bladder meridian runs near the shoulder. The next day upon check in, they felt better in their body, their shoulder felt relief with less discomfort upon movement and they had a larger than normal bowel movement that morning. I was impressed at the results of the cupping and thankful that their body decided to let some things go.

How do you tend to all of your bodies? Here are a few ideas on how to tend to each essential layer.

Physical body: Mineral dense food to feed your cells and higher self. Schedule a massage. Try energy work. Sensual touch. Hydrate with clean water, fresh juices and mineral rich teas like nettles and red raspberry leaf.

Mental body: Unplug from the electronics. Sit in silence. Create healthy boundaries. Schedule a talk therapy session, if it serves. Purchase a coloring book and a nice set of markers and embrace your inner child. Perform self scalp massage with warm sesame oil.

Emotional body: Laugh until your belly shakes. Design your mood every day by choosing it. Ask for help and check in with folks if you are in breakdown. Dance. Connect with plants and nature. Breathe deeply. Purchase a few essential oils that resonate with you to reset your mood and clear the energy in your spaces.

Spiritual body: Design and practice self care rituals. Remove yourself from the presence of toxic people, places and things. Discover crystals that resonate with you and have them on you for protection or rejuvenation. Soak in healing spiritual baths.

Do YOUR work

I am blessed to work with an amazing team of activists and practitioners. I also have the honor of holding space for clients in the social justice realm, which includes: artists, activists, educators and healers, who are actively and tirelessly showing up in their prospective movements. I am saddened when I hear about a lack of vitality and the health breakdowns in this population as a result of not putting their own oxygen masks on first. Some folks are so invested in the movement, yet are emotionally unavailable for their loved ones or can brilliantly strategize a plan of action, yet cannot work through personal issues. Liberate yourself FIRST. Take the time to work through those unresolved challenges at home and in the personal realm. Trust and believe, it will rear its head. I have a wonderful colleague who held space as a facilitator for a group to work through their organizational challenges. The main source of the upset: personal matters were showing up and getting in the way of an entire local movement. Get off the ego stuff and do the shadow work for the sake of those closest to you and your movement.

The mind creates the clutter

Be aware of your thoughts and words. In graduate school I learned the following two concepts, which I still use with clients today: “we word our worlds into being” and “there is what is so, and the story you make up around what is so.” When we speak into someone’s listening, we are creating our reality. Be mindful of statements such as “this headache is killing me” and the infamous “I can’t” because my response is usually “ok you just decided you won’t, now what?” With your speaking, are you choosing to design a small world with limitations or a large world full of possibility? What is so is this: in November 2016, a new president was elected into office in the United States. Now you pick a story about what is so because there are so many to choose from at this point. My request is to use your word medicine wisely.

Note to Self: stay in formation

In the words of Erykah Badu “who gave you permission to rearrange me? Certainly not me.” Do NOT join in on the suffering of others. That is not your game plan and that is not your battle to fight. As a practitioner, I will not create the capacity to join in on the suffering of others. As a bodyworker, I trust my guides to lead me to the places in the body where there is holding and resistance and create space for the client to just be; perfect, whole and complete as they are. As an herbalist, my intention is for spirit to guide me to the plants that will best serve in the moment and create ease and transformation for the client. My gifting is to hold space for your highest self to come through and express itself in the biggest way possible.

Pleasure and self care as acts of resistance

Guess what I did for the first time ever this year? I created the fiercest, juiciest sex goals with sex educator Lisa Swinney of Afrosexual. She introduced a concept that blew my mind away: pleasure as an act of resistance. Many of our ancestors did not have a say about aspects of their bodies, specifically in the realm of reproduction. As a result, I am choosing to invite more fun into my life (and bedroom). My high school sweetheart and I have 24 years of beautiful partnership and the thought of creating space for higher vibrations, more spontaneity, healing and deeper connection in the form of sex majick brings healing, joy and pleasure into all of my bodies.

Self care is an integral part of my practice. When I neglect self care, I do not feel well in my bodies at all. I created a clearing spray and a protection spray for use on clients and in between each session to shift the energy in the treatment room. I have personal clearing rituals at the beginning and end of my work shifts. I create boundaries and cutoff times for communication with the outside world once I get home. I do head to toe spiritual baths, which include salts, herbs and my home made florida water. Please take any of these sacred steps (and create your own) and apply them to protect and preserve your energy so that you may come to the table more fully.

My movement is in mason jars

The two things that have never let me down are my spirit guides and plant spirit medicine. I set the intention to drink quarts of herbal tea every day because it literally sustains my vitality. Tea is an ancient and very simple ritual. It helps create pause and invites patience and beauty into the day. I currently have two different tea blends in rotation. First is my heart space tea, which is a combination of organic red rose petals, holy basil, hawthorn leaf and flowers and damiana and it helps me stay grounded in and connected to compassion. My other favorite blend is my holy basil chai, which is a combination of holy basil, cinnamon chips, dried ginger root, cardamom pods and ground cloves and is a source of wonderful, warm aromatics that help me stay focused on the tasks for the day.

In the face of change and uncertainty, let us not forget the sacrifices of our ancestors, the strength of community and the wisdom and resilience of the spirit. Right after the election I got so clear and connected with my work in the world: I am space holder for healers to heal and do their work in the world. That is my offering, medicine and movement. What is your medicine? What is your balm that will bring soothing and healing to your communities? Create space to figure it out and do it with all your heart. We need you. Right now. In this moment.

Karen L. Culpepper
Karen L. Culpepper is a clinical herbalist and licensed massage therapist in the Washington DC Metropolitan area.  She can be reached at

Herbal Honeys

blue illustration of two bees hovering over a honeycomb

Herbal Honeys

by Joanne Kewageshig

Honey itself is a wonderful health enhancing food! Adding herbs to honey enhances both the health benefits of honey, as well as the taste. Honey makes an excellent dressing for wounds and has been used throughout history on open wounds and ulcers on the surface of the skin. You do not need to use a herb infused honey for this. It has also been shown that honey can help soothe coughs in young children and even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving honey to children to soothe coughs. By carefully selecting herbs suited to you, your child or whoever is taking the herb honey, you can enhance the benefits of taking honey.

So how do you make a herbal honey at home? It’s really simple! Before we proceed, however, a word about what kind of honey to use. A lot of commercial honey that you can purchase in stores has been pasteurised. This means it has been heated to kill bacteria. Although this may sound like a good thing, the pasteurization process also kills or removes many of the healthy, natural compounds found in honey – the good bacteria, enzymes, micronutrients and small amounts of pollen which can help alleviate allergy symptoms. To get the full health benefits of honey you want to use raw, unpasteurized honey. Also you don’t want to boil it or raise the heat too high when making syrup. If you do, you will be pasteurizing the honey and looking the health benefits. In Canada, any honey that you see in a store that says “Pasteurized” has been, well, pasteurized. If it doesn’t say pasteurized on the label then you have raw honey!



Dried herbs in the pan.

Here we have White Pine (Pinus Strobus) and Cherry Bark (Prunus virginiana)

What you need:

2oz dried herbs or 3-6oz fresh herbs

4 cups water

2 cups honey

A pot

A strainer basket

Cheesecloth or other cloth to line the strainer

Coffee filter (optional)

Your imagination!



Put your herb mix in a pot and cover with 3 to 4 cups of cool water. Cover with a lid and turn heat to medium low. When the water and herbs just begin to boil, you can the turn the heat down – and take the lid off- and allow it to simmer at a very low heat. Now we want to let the herb and water mixture simmer or steam very gently until about half or more of the water has boiled off.

Here the herbs and water have come to a boil. At this stage I will turn the heat down, take the lid off and allow it to gently simmer for an hour or so minutes. After simmering, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes. Next, strain the herbs out through a strainer lined with cheesecloth or other light material. I strain the tea a second time through a coffee filter. This ensures that you have removed all the tiny herb particles, but is not necessary if you are making syrup for your own or your family’s use. The herbs have been strained out, the tea simmered down and now to add the honey

Next, pour the tea back into a clean pot and put it on a burner over low heat. In this step you want to evaporate some of the water until you have approximately one cup of tea left. This will give you a really concentrated herbal tea. Turn off the heat and allow the tea to cool again for a few minutes. Now you can add 2 cups of honey to the tea in the pot and stir gently until the honey and tea are completely mixed together. Turn off heat and pour the honey into a jar or bottle. Melting and mixing the honey and strained tea over low heat. So now that you know how to make a syrup, what herbs should you use? That depends on what you want to use your syrup for. Herbal honey’s are great to sweeten and flavour tea. One of my favourites to use this way is a syrup made with Ginger, Cinnamon and Elecampagne.

The possibilities for herb combinations for syrups is really only limited by your imagination and what you have on hand, so go ahead and be adventurous! Elderberries (Sambucus sps) are very popular for making syrups and Elderberry Syrup is excellent to have on hand during cold and flu season. Other popular herbs for treating coughs and colds include: Mullein (Verbascum Thapsis), Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), Ginger (Zingiber officinalis), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus virginiana, P.serotina), New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae,) Evergreen species and more. You can always research what herbs may be suitable for your situation or look up the individual herbs. There are different kinds of coughs, and different herbs are suited to treat each individual person and their own particular circumstances.



Joanne Kewageshig
My name is Joanne Kewageshig. I am a settler in Anishnaabe Territories and live with my husband and four children at Stoney Point First Nation, aka Aazhoodena. I have studied and worked with herbs for over 20 years, completing the Dominion Herbal College course, “Chartered Herbalist” in 2000. Our family seeks to live a traditional Anishnaabe way of life; we hunt, fish, gather and grow food and medicine and attend powwows and ceremony. We run our family herbal business- Honey Pot Herbals- from home.

Community Care is Self Care

by jay bird

I would like to acknowledge the position I am speaking and living from. I am a white european settler living in the occupied territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Neutral nations. The privilege that I hold because of the color of my skin impacts how I am received in spaces, how I access resources, and how others view me. I recognize that my experience as a white, queer, trans/non-binary person shapes my experience and perceptions of community care.

Community is a fairly new concept to me. In fact, it wasn’t even until recently that I acknowledged the importance of one. I moved around a lot as a kid. Twelve times before grade ten to be exact. I lived in three different provinces, five different towns (seven now), and went to eight different schools. This was partly because of work (there’s not a lot of options in Newfoundland, and most people leave to find money somewhere on the mainland) and partly because of finances, and inability to pay rent, and the “on again off again” relationship between my parents.

I got pretty skilled at making friends fast, but not getting attached and didn’t get along with my family much. My brother was physically and verbally abusive, my mom was emotionally abusive, and my dad mostly worked out west and would be home for a couple weeks at a time. When he was, he would also be verbally and physically abuse – although he seemed to exclude me from those actions. I had very little else to compare it to so I figured it was just how families functioned.   I don’t remember much about my childhood. If I think extensively about it, I can get glimpses. But most of it is clouded and blurry, if not missing entirely. I’ve been told by many books written by and/or for survivors that this is a pretty common defense mechanism. Something that I didn’t know until this past year as I started to have memories appear – seemingly – out of nowhere. I went from thinking that I experienced one assault when I was 11 years-old to realizing that I was working through flashbacks, memories, and feelings from what I believe to be a two to three year long assault by a family member (I say “believe to be” because the edges are blurry and time and dissociation makes it hard to remember when things actually started).

I attempted to work through them alone, spending long nights reading and re-reading entire chapters from The Courage to Heal, dissociating for hours if not days at a time, and coming back to it again. Confused as to why I wasn’t “getting anywhere” (I had this uncomfortably common idea that the only form of progress was forward movement – whatever that looked like). I played scenes on repeat in my mind, trying to figure out if they actually happened or if I was making them up. It’s funny (in a very non-funny way) how easily we write off traumatic situations as over exaggeration or imagination. And for almost a year I couldn’t separate who I was from the jumbled, out of order and fragmented memories I was trying to sift through. Honestly, most days I still don’t think I can.

And of course – as with many other intersections – being queer and trans complicates these thought processes even more. It’s not uncommon to hear folks say that people are queer because of their assault and subsequent distrust of men. Or that one doesn’t want to associate with the gender they were assigned because of the assault. Inherently I know these things are false, at least for me (if your experience of trauma has influenced your preference in partners – that’s super fucking valid too!) But it made me question who I was and if any of it was real. Especially when the thoughts of queerness and gender surfaced around the same time as the assault.

It wasn’t until I began to feel truly lost in these thoughts that I realized I needed a community. I needed to say words out loud, tell stories so I could make more sense of them, and have someone validate that I wasn’t entirely breaking apart at the seams. And even if I was – that it was okay. I give an endless amount of credit to my partner and best friend – who was there for me from the beginning, but it’s hard to not still feel isolated when you only confide in one other person.

But even when I started to build a community of survivors around me, I was missing out on people who shared my story. Queer folks who struggled for years thinking that the only reason they were queer was because of what happened to them as a kid. Trans folks who thought that same thing. Folks who were willingly handed over to their assaulters by their family members almost on a daily basis because they (through no fault of their own) trusted them. Folks who don’t remember their stories because they were too young, and folks who spent years struggling with addiction and reckless behaviour – no regard for a body that felt more comfortable when it was high. I don’t say this to invalidate anyone else’s story. All of our trauma is real and valid. But when I look at the statistics and realize I’m not alone, that queer and trans youth are more likely to be assaulted, that substance abuse and distorted senses of reality are common reactions, I wonder where the countless other survivors like me are.

Lately I’ve been throwing myself out on a very long, very breakable limb and have been sharing my story with more people. It surprised me how quickly I began to connect with folks and build what are still new but mind-blowingly supportive relationships. I’ve found validation in their passion to do whatever is within their power to help themselves and other survivors to heal.

I’m not writing this as someone who has found any sort of closure or sustained peace. But instead as someone who has only just come to terms with the fact that there is no healing in isolation. That I need to trust the ideas that I have been supporting for years. That community is what builds us, what sustains us, and the constant that we can fall back on when we need some extra support and love.

All of these ideas have terrified me for as long as I can remember. They still do. But I’m also recognizing the medicine in it, the healing that it can provide, and the potential it creates. These are hard times. And a lot of us are facing harsh realities, have been facing harsh realities for a very long time. And isolation makes these realities harder to carry. Healing and recovery are not linear, and every day is going to be different from the one before. But we can start to build something consistent. Hold space for each other, hold space for love, care, reflection, laughter, depression, anger, anxiety, confusion, acceptance, and for whatever else we need. It’s not about putting our problems off on another person, but holding a space that’s safe enough for us to feel comfortable setting down the weight we’re carrying for a while.

Jay is a white settler residing on the illegally occupied traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Neutral nations (as well as on the Haldimand Tract). They are a queer, trans non-binary person who is passionate about a range of social justice and environmental issues; including prison abolition, trans and queer justice, and the protection of the land and water.