Historical Reminiscents Podcast EP 71: Making Space Between Work And Home

Left side has scrabble piece reading work from home right side has podcast episode title

In today’s episode I’m chatting about boundaries between work and home life and the struggle to maintain those boundaries during the pandemic. I talk about my home office, strategies for disconnecting and challenges of the work at home life.

Mentioned in this episode:
– Wladislaw Rivkin, Working from home? Why detachment is crucial for mental health

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Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

Mental Health Awareness and Support

In the nine years I’ve had this blog I’ve started and deleted variations of a post on mental health many times.  I’ve written about self-care, historical trauma, or emotional labour in heritage fields.  These topics all relate to mental health but they also dance around some of the harder hitting closer to home issues associated with mental health.

Wednesday January 25, 2017 was #BellLetsTalk day which encourages Canadians to discuss mental health.  I have some problems with the commercialization of mental health though this initiative and the overwhelmingly middle-class white cis representation in the associated media campaign.  However, this is a huge awareness campaign that reaches many Canadians and the merits (or downsides) of this type of ‘end the stigma’ based campaign are worth of a separate discussion.

In addition to #BellLetsTalk, LIS Mental Health Week is January 30 – February 3, 2017.  This week aims raise awareness of mental health among library and archives workers.   On February 2, 2017 there will be a #lismentalhealth twitter chat at 5pm EST to talk about mental health in the LIS field. This advocacy week also encourages library and archive professionals to use the week as a time to facilitate discussions about mental health, share skills, reflect, and advocate for support.

I do think that sharing mental health experiences can be helpful in raising awareness, advocating for improved services, and supporting each other.  I think initiatives such as LIS Mental Health Week are particularly potent because of their sense of community and the resulting discussion of the intersection of the workplace and mental health. I also really like that LIS Mental Health week emphasizes the fact that you don’t need to disclose your personal mental health status to participate in a conversation about mental health. For many people some talking about their personal mental health experience can be victimizing and stressful.  I’ve suffered from depression on and off since I was a teenager and in the past year I’ve also been struggling with anxiety, however I don’t feel the need or desire to expand on that experience in this context.  We need to respect that fact that you can be an advocate and supportive without sharing all (or any) details of your mental health status.

For many people, myself included, mental health is a deeply personal topic that can be difficult to talk about.  For me, many of my interactions relating to mental health have often been directly connected to my gender and sexual identity. Gender based social stereotypes about mental health and gender bias in diagnosis/treatment can greatly impact a person’s experience when seeking support for a mental health concern. I know many female presenting folks that are genuinely afraid to talk about mental health in their place of work because they are already battling equality issues related to their gender. This concern is amplified for WOC, queer women, and trans-women who often face discrimination on all sides.  Conversations about mental health can be difficult and emotionally draining but they are important and it’s worth considering how we frame our workplace dialogues about mental health.

How do you help support conversations about mental health in your workplace or professional circles?

Self Care Revisited

A few months ago I wrote about working in a field that involves historical trauma and the need for self care.  The topic of self care and the mental toll of working on emotionally charged topics came to the forefront for me earlier this week.  I spent a few hours digitizing records and cross referencing the information in these records with our research files.  This isn’t an unusual activity for me.

However the set of records I was digitizing were burial permits relating to residential schools. Working in a small archives or conducting historical research can be a very isolating and solo experience.  There aren’t always built in support networks for mental health.  Maybe there should be.  Particularly for those working with topics that deal with historical trauma.

In this instance when I finished this task I took a walk and spent the rest of the day engaged in positive work — planning for a gathering of former residential school students and working on education pieces relating to residential schools.  But it’s very easy to get bogged down by work that deals with such an emotionally charged topic.  I love the work I’ve been able to do and I am constantly inspired by the resilience of the residential survivors I work with.  But there are occasionally difficult days that require reflection and support.

I’d be interested to hear about what self care techniques or mental health support other researchers and historians practice.

Historical Trauma and Self Care

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Energy.  What gave you energy this year? What took away your energy?

Recently on twitter a few historians were discussing the personal impacts of working on projects involving historical trauma.  Working on emotionally charged historical topics can be emotionally draining.  In the past four years while being actively engaged with residential school archives and survivors I have seen and experienced the toll of working with archives relating to historical trauma. 

Archival material relating to residential schools can be triggering and cause emotional distress.  The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archives is overseen by the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and this group of survivors is actively involved in the management of the archives.  The CSAA also serve as health support for the staff, researchers, survivors, and community members who use the archives.  

 Having this type of health support available to visitors has been invaluable.  I’ve seen people from all walks of life be emotionally touched by residential schools. Having built in mental health supports is essential in creating safe spaces to discuss historical trauma. It is also important to teach front line archival staff how they can support visitors who may be triggered by material they are viewing.  Creating a supportive environment for viewing material relating to historical trauma needs include training staff to spot emotional distress and how to provide assistance when needed.
I’ve been lucky to be part of a workplace and community that is supportive of self-care.  The emotional impact of working on topics related to historical trauma is something that isn’t often discussed amongst historians, archivists, and other heritage professionals.  But talking about the toll of working with emotionally draining material is crucial.  Personally, I’ve found taking a step back from the material, focusing on the importance of truth telling and the positive impact of connecting communities with their past helpful.