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Who the F* is responsible?

I figured I’d end 2022 with something that has been churning in my head all year. As I hear people (myself included) fatigued, tired, blah’d (can someone add this word to the dictionary already?), wondering WTF is going on, and seeking more mental health supports from the world around them, I keep fearing a decline in personal investment – something I’ve always been a huge advocate for. So here goes. My parting attempted wisdom for the year.

I am often approached by colleagues and peers and friends in leadership positions, looking for advice on what they can do to better support their employees. I share with them what we do at Narratives Inc. – including how it has evolved and why, and almost always add, ‘but make sure your team knows that there are 24 hours in a day – and you are only partially responsible for a third of that’. I realize this may sound harsh, but ultimately what I’m getting at is fostering personal responsibility for mental health. Now, before I ramble on too much about this (and invite hate-mail), I’m just going to say straight up that I am not a mental health professional. I bring lived experience (managing my own C-PTSD, some days/hours/minutes better than others) and acquired experience and knowledge through leading multiple teams that frequently navigate trauma exposure, and working on the frontlines with many racialized communities that carry multiple layers and types of traumas.

So what do I mean by taking personal responsibility? I’ll speak in “I” here – for obvious reasons. Here goes:

  1. I know my experience best – While I may be surrounded by the wisest, most qualified professionals who may be able to retain every word I have said, deep deep down, only I know in all earnest my experience. I know what my triggers are (and yes I regularly add to the list), and I know how to best manage them, how best to regulate myself. I know most of the times what brings on the gloom (and yes, sometimes I don’t, and that’s okay). I know when I’m hitting a slump. And I know for the most part what I think I need to do to manage it.
  2. I know when I’m skimpin’ on my self-care – I know I need to hit the gym four times a week to keep my night terrors at check. Do I do that every week? Nope. Do I know that if I skimp, it’ll take endless cycles of not sleeping, getting more tired, having less energy for the gym, getting grouchier….well…yes I do know that. Whose fault is this? Sure, some weeks at work are more intense than others, but there honestly are days when I have no excuse. I choose to just sit and scroll through dumb (yet super funny and kind of perfect for self-care) TikTok videos of dogs being hilarious. Recently, I even bought a SAD lamp because I found myself regularly blaming gloomy winter days in Winnipeg for not hitting the gym. Now that the lamp is here, firing away real intense light on my face, I’m wondering if its Winnipeg that is the problem and not winter…my point is, this is on me.
  3. I know when I’m not practicing – When I check-in with my clinical psychologist (who is a friggin’ rockstar, btw), they’ll coach me through some behavioral adjustments. I commit to applying what they are training me to do and reporting back. Some things work, others don’t. And we talk about why what worked and why something didn’t. It is entirely my responsibility to at least apply them. Is that easy? Heck no! I hate it. It is painfully uncomfortable at best. But if I don’t, I don’t think I can say in earnest that I am working on myself. Expecting someone to wave a magic wand and take all my discomfort away would be pretty sweet, yes, but not a reasonable expectation of the world I’m in. Same applies to learning concepts in training – for example, Psychological First Aid through the Canadian Red Cross (great training, btw – I definitely recommend it). I learnt some great things in that training, its up to me to put them into action. Do I remember them all? Nope. Do I have the handbook they gave me at the training to thumb through that is now collecting dust? Why yes I do! Can I grab it and thumb through? I sure could. Will I though? Hmmmmmmmm….denial – See how that happened?

So, if its all on me, then what is my workplace responsible for? Before ya’lls start typing up that hate mail, I think a workplace is still responsible for lots. One’s workplace could and I’d say should:

  1. Provide cultural safety, psychological safety, and physical safety, and address issues proactively.
  2. Provide space to have some ebbs and flows in our mental health, including reasonable time and space to bounce back when needed (example, paid wellness/sick days, or just recognizing that so-and-so is just not in a good space today, lets give them some time).
  3. Normalize conversations about mental health and wellness – going to see your dentist or a counselor should carry the same excitement or anguish, depending on how your feel about your dentist (just kidding – I do get along with my dentist).
  4. Provide some resources to make mental health professionals more financially accessible (individual health benefits, or group access to mental health professionals).
  5. Provide training courses and development in mental health and wellness (and create accountability for application of that training – to state the obvious here – training is useless if not applied).
  6. Encourage self reflection and self regulation to promote individual responsibility for mental wellbeing.

Ultimately, I cannot expect society to do all the work to create space for me. I need to put in work to create, sustain, and beautify my space. For me, that is how I have built pride and agency for myself. Its how I’ve carved space for my voice. One gym-free day at a time (just kidding – I really need to turn this around). Plus I like taking credit for stuff I’ve done – especially when I’ve worked hard to get there. Taking responsibility for one’s mental wellness helps build that self-reliance and resilience. Self awareness is great, but its just a start. For me, owning my mental health helps me maintain some semblance of control over my circumstances. It allows me to regulate my world instead of the world regulating me.

So there you have it. My response to who the F* is responsible? We all are.

On that note, happy 2023 everyone. Hope the break leading up to it is restful, helps you recharge, and walk into 2023 with a decent amount of fuel.

Somia Sadiq
Founder of Narratives Inc.