Trauma-Informed Healthcare

wallpaper of different flowers and plants

By Hazelle Palmer

Health care is such an intricate part of everything that we do and I’ve always noticed how health care institutions interact with different populations and different communities, genders, people of different orientation, racialized groups… But some of those interactions are so systemically driven and in many ways very oppressive. I want to see that health care reflects what I think we all deserve, which is health care that is responsive to our needs, and that every individual needs to be a partner in their own health care.

Sherbourne has built a unique space which allows folks to feel comfortable and safe when receiving care. Being able to relate to experiences is really important. We hire staff who have similar lived experience, to exemplify the importance of culturally competent care. We highlight our focus on anti-racism, anti-oppression as being something that we do with all staff upon their hiring here. Being able to live those principles in the work that we do and how we do the work is so important.

At Sherbourne, we have quite a range of programs that speak to these different experiences of (lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-queer) LGBTQ communities and I think we’re starting now to do more around Indigenous and 2-Spirit communities, but I think that we have really tried to look at and create space for (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) BIPOC youth and for LGBT youth; and overall we’ve tried to address the issues of homelessness and substance use. We’ve looked at trying to create places where people can just meet because social connection is so important. We’ve created forums where we can listen and engage with folks to get a sense of how we can improve what we’re doing already.

We’ve also been an advocate. For example, through our province-wide Rainbow Health Ontario program, we underline the importance of Human Rights and the areas that we feel still are discriminatory or infringe on the rights of people from the LGBTQ communities… We are also training doctors across the province to be able to provide competent care. Access everywhere is important.

Looking to the future, Sherbourne is beginning to focus more on marginalized populations including BIPOC populations, and the intersections they face. We understand that people can be dealing with sexual orientation but also dealing with substance use, they may also be homeless, they may be a newcomer to Canada, they may be dealing with other forms of discrimination …  or trauma that deeply affects their ability to achieve health and wellness. We have staff teams who deal with under-housed folks and those experiencing homelessness, (lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-2 spirit-queer) LGBT2SQ, as well as newcomers to Canada, but mental health and trauma were key areas that really stood out as impacting every community.

At Sherbourne, we acknowledge the significance of trauma and so with our new mental health framework we’ve embedded trauma-informed approaches. It’s really acknowledging that many of us in some way have experienced trauma. And while that trauma differs along a continuum, when we hear stories about people’s experiences with stigma, discrimination, substance use, or even the conditions that make them have to leave home early, or the abuse they’ve suffered in their life which may result in PTSD, it tells us that trauma is really a significant factor in people’s lives.

I strongly believe that we, all have our own resilience. And organizations like Sherbourne are there to empower, to help people to find that resilience in themselves. What’s challenging about intersectionality is that the burden of all the issues we deal with is so great, that it can feel so overwhelming. … Sometimes we think about some of the systemic things that we can’t control, whether it’s within politics, whether it’s the justice system, policing, all of the things that make it really so overwhelming and so discouraging but on the other hand I always am so admiring of −, I’m a queer person myself −, I’m admiring of our communities because we’ve gone through so much, and yet we continue on. And that’s true of people who are from BIPOC communities who are also dealing with issues around race and discrimination and stigma every single day and yet we march on. And we know from our history and social justice movements that we are stronger together.

Hazelle is a seasoned senior executive with more than 18 years experience in the non-profit sector.  Before becoming the CEO of Sherbourne Health, she was Executive Director of the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) and previously Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Toronto. Hazelle holds a Master’s Certificate in Health Care Management as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Carleton University.

Our Constellation of Traumas

by Melisse Watson

Article and Artwork by Melisse Watson

 

When you feel sad, what does it taste like? I woke in the night with a bitter mouth and a dry throat from not caring enough to brush my teeth the evening before. That taste reminded me of sadness…not a memory; more of a familiar presence. With eyes cloudy, I watched the windows through which I imagined stars in a still night sky. No moon. Just the taste, the awareness, the reminder. The discouragement. I got up to drink it down, and as I swallowed, I couldn’t track the luke-warm temperature all the way down like you can with ice water. 

Ice water hurts my teeth I remember, so does hot tea. And I don’t like that all-the-way-down feeling anyway. I down another glass, tongue raw and upset with me. That reminder. Then I feel the water forming a new body inside of me, like a hard rain that pushes the edges of a creek to a lake, a swelling. It took with it the taste but not the feeling; I reconsider: Sadness doesn’t live as a taste on my tongue. I feel it in my stomach; that stillness, fullness, uncomfortable – that I could swallow and no longer give it a thought, even if sadness lead to my teeth falling out. I wanted to map other places that weren’t what they seemed. Other multi-dimensional, multi-verse maps to seeing myself better, like: anxiety in my hands, or the breaking of my own boundaries as an aching in the thighs deep as marrow.

In sharing many conversations with community around trauma; whether in passing or in disguise, reflection or in overflowings, I have heard and witnessed the anchors and burrows that trauma creates in our bodies, in some of our disconnect with spirit, and our quality of emotional and mental wellbeing. When I sat that night and asked myself what I would reclaim, what came to me was a map of sorts. Similar to the way I imagine a surgeon has a map of the inside of a body in their mind’s’ eye, or a chiropractor with a map of one’s bones, a cartographer or astrologer or traditional knowledge keeper – a map of the stars. A father, a map of the most certain way to keep his daughter safe – ‘map’ does not hold with it enough substance to describe the reclamation I imagined. I reconsider: not a map at all. Not drawn with elevation or terrain or roadways – but sets of places that connected and intersected one another, unmarked, without a legend for anyone else to see but yourself. I watch myself draw a line from my lack of self-esteem to my arched posture, with another pause between the two to name my fear. As the lines join points in pencil from my organs to my bones to my joints to the space around me and to each other. I reconsider; ‘constellation’ is much fuller and is responsible for reaching to hold the condensed light to the vast darkness. The ways we may reclaim our trauma and with it, ourselves, lies in the design and existence of the universe, and the patterns and connections that have lead those who migrate and journey home since the beginning – whenever and however we began.

Another reminder comes forward;

It has been two nights in a row without sleep, listening to and willfully feeding my addictions, leaning out the window to watch the night and to feel out these new body parts and transplants and fusions. Parts and connections that can reside outside of oneself, at any length and distance. Parts of oneself that can transform and shapeshift and awareness points like stars that sometimes take hundreds of moments to realize. A reconsideration of responsibility to oneself, and to others – two, four, six legs and more. Imagine, if you felt fear in all one hundred of your legs and they still carried you-you’ve got to have respect for that. And as a respectful gesture to ourselves – to the selves that battle patriarchy, phobias, ‘isms and skisms. Even with the capacity to be harmful to others (and we all have that capacity), we swallow the first stones. Always carrying them for miles before spitting them up. I see you. I see us.
I reconsider; maps have been made to tell a means by which we will find what we are looking for if we follow it’s guidance.

The whereabouts of people, places, elevation, dead ends.

Maps in textbooks that make the south smaller in scale so as to teach more than geology

Maps of our bones and body systems that are either able-bodied, or sick — no intersections, no autonomy

Maps of our genetic code, what washroom to use and how to have sex.

Maps of where our families came from except for the maps that they burned or buried with us.

And maps that tell us how to get to happiness, stability, how to put pieces together, fix what is broken, maps of manuals and each individual critical washer and bolt that are only manufactured in scarce, inconsistent, inaccessible amounts.

And if you do not have the map, then you will be lost.

I am tired,
I am tired,

I am tired,

I have been up for two nights now, and two days,
Exhausted for well longer than what the map of good self-care would say

What about when we don’t have access to these directions?
What about when we experience harm and there are no roads marked to bring us back from them?

What happens when I don’t feel love in my heart when I really reconsider love,

What if I feel love in my fingertips because they have such sensitivity, and reach, and motion?

And in my kidneys, because they are so unprotected.

I reclaim the ability to feel, name and indicate with a point and line with no legend for anyone. So that I may understand myself better. So that I may treat myself better. So that I may care to brush my teeth and not wait until I’m so thirsty to have water. And go to bed. Go ahead and design the constellations of your being; of yourself entirely, not just the weight. Reconsider all the ways we are told our trauma has to be designed to be valid. I consider that boundary crossing.

I keep tracing those points with my fingers, counting steps so I can see when complexities push up against them, maybe see them coming. What is the texture of being compassionate to yourself? In my case, reaching to feel for it (fingertips or kidneys) would reveal to myself enough. That, and not having such an obscenely dry mouth.

Note to self:

Draw a kidney, instead of a heart, on all letters and thank you notes from now on.


Melisse Watson
Melisse (Coyote) Watson is a polyracial Black-Cherokee identified queer artist driven by the capacity for art to provoke and contribute to social justice, community building and healing within systematically oppressed populations. Melisse is a multi-disciplinary artist and transformative justice community animator who began their arts practice in visual arts and poetry. Since, they have mounted an award-winning piece “I Was Born White” in the Toronto Fringe Festival, performed with Ballet Creole, Ill Na Na Dance Company and Drawing With Knives Co. Melisse has been inspired and determined to build a culture of rehabilitation, community restoration and shifting a paradigm of oppression through the arts.