An inspiring story can set us free, and a worn out tale can trap us. Storytelling is a powerful way to learn. Through story, we can also track our own personal growth and evolution. Who doesn’t love a good story?
I have learned over the years as a teacher that engagement in the learning process always skyrocketed if I started to tell a story. Well, at least most of the time! As human beings, we are intrigued by story and usually find this a more entertaining way to gather information and learn about something. It certainly beats being bombarded by technical information, data, and graphs.
There is something about Storytelling that helps us to make the information personally relevant and meaningful. As a means towards recognizing and embracing our personal growth and evolution, storytelling provides the opportunity for insight and revelation through the process of sharing our experience. That is, of course, as long as the story we are telling has us at the center of the action.
Have you ever had that experience of sitting with someone, sharing a story, when suddenly you are struck with a profound insight which is your version of a light bulb moment? Through talking it out and reviewing what happened, you were able to see something in a new light and embrace the emergence of a fresh perspective. Perhaps, you find yourself answering your own question.
The power of story has the potential to unite us, to help us find common ground with each other and make sense out of our experiences. Story takes information and makes it relatable. Story connects us.
Storytelling can also be used in a detrimental way when we find ourselves spinning the same old tale, yet again and forming an identity around what has already happened. This is where self-fulfilling prophecies are born and bred.
It is true that we all have a story. It is also true that we are the authors of that story. We have developed the plot, attracted the characters, and we have the opportunity to choose our own ending.
Storytelling in Service
For many of us in Vocations of Service, personal story is a central focus. We meet with people and learn about who they are and where they are at as they share their personal stories with us.
At times, the repetition of a story may be part of the process towards healing, releasing and integration. I think especially in terms of loss, trauma and tragedy. During times like these, telling the story can be a helpful way of working through grief and bewilderment. We need to hear ourselves speaking out loud about what actually happened so we can realize that it did. Being witnessed in that process can also help us to feel that we are honored in our experience and held in a safe place in which we can explore its meaning in our lives.
When the story stays stuck on a certain track and becomes a means of identifying ourselves, we have moved into a less helpful and potentially dangerous zone. It is in this place that people find themselves trapped inside a mental box, which may result in feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
“Well, this is just how I am.”
“This is the way it always turns out.”
“This is the story of my life.”
And I could go on and on. These expressions are laden with giving up and giving in and repeating those stories that uphold these beliefs can be very detrimental.
Making the connections between what happened before and what is happening now is one of the first steps we can take in re-writing the story. This is the point where the new chapter begins.
So, what’s your story? Are you sticking to it? You are holding the writing instrument to the inside of your own heart. What’s the first word?
In your Service to others, consider how you might act as a muse to the creation of their new story.
The next episode of Serving Consciously airs live at 12pm (PST) on Friday April 28, 2017 at www.ctrnetwork.com. Our theme that day will zero in on the fine art of Storytelling as a means for Self-Connection and the creation of Transformative Relationships. I am honored to introduce my guest for that episode, Gyda Chud.
Gyda Chud has near a 40 year commitment to the Early Childhood sector as former Co-coordinator of the ECE Program at Vancouver Community College and Dean of Continuing Studies. She also served as the chair of the Child Care Human Resource Sector Council
While partially retired, she remains as a faculty member with the Program and also as the chair of the ECE Faculty Forum, a pan- Canadian gathering of ECE Faculty.
Gyda is an author of several books on Diversity and Inclusion in Early Childhood and has also lead several BC Provincial Ministry guided Curriculum Development Initiatives.
And she is a Master Story Teller! Please plan to tune in.
Conscious Service in Mental Health
Nowadays, we are experiencing an almost epidemic of mental health challenges. Most of us will be touched by mental illness in some way, at some point in our lives. Whether this shows up as an experience with a loved one or a struggle that we encounter in our personal lives, the challenges of mental health are many.
We live in a fast-paced society with greater and greater demands on our time, attention and energy. This alone can lead to an imbalance in our lives that affects our basic self-care and eventually our overall sense of well-being.
Most of us can expect to be touched by loss and grief throughout our lifetime, which comes with its own unique type of mental and emotional challenge as we come to cope and heal from significant changes in our lives. When we are not in a state of balance to begin with, it is common that the process of loss and grief could potentially become complicated in nature.
Turning to alcohol and other drugs as a coping strategy can make us vulnerable to developing more significant mental health challenges. If we are using substances to escape our lives and our feelings, we are on a slippery slope indeed. Most of us know this and yet, there are staggering statistics to indicate that the power of an addiction or addictive tendency can be highly seductive.
Quick fixes, avoidance, and the general resistance of discomfort in our society do not support the slowing down that is often most necessary when faced with mental health and emotional challenges.
Vocations of Service
For those of us involved in Vocations of Service, we might experience a susceptibility to the development of stress related imbalances, emotional exhaustion, and mental health challenges. We know that there is a high risk of burnout in any helping profession. But, let’s remember, high risk does not mean it’s inevitable.
How we care for our own mental health is just as important as being present for others who may be experiencing their own challenges.
There are also those individuals who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses that are not part of what any of us might expect to experience in our lifetime. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression are just a few examples of common mental illnesses that people are experiencing today. As Service Providers, it is up to us to learn about various mental health challenges while remaining open and curious to the personal and subjective experiences of those living with it. These people are our greatest teachers when it comes to learning what will most serve.
Resistance Creates Isolation and Suffering
Stigma about mental illness whether formally diagnosed or part of a natural response to something traumatic makes accessing support and services that much more challenging. Our resistance to talking openly about mental health creates a barrier to the very energy and support we all need in order to strengthen our emotional and mental capacity and open up to healing.
We tend to think that mental illness is all in someone’s head. They are crazy and insane ~ not living in the real world. And that in some way, there must be something inherently wrong with them to have this “condition.” Or better yet, maybe, they are being punished for something.
Mental illness makes us uncomfortable. We have made leaps and bounds with regard to opening the discussion and we still have a long way to go. I think the fact of the matter is that so many more people are experiencing mental illness and mental health challenges that we are forced to begin talking more about it. It is no longer the plight of those on the fringes of society ~ those people we can simply ignore so we fool ourselves into believing that we are somehow immune to it ourselves.
Suicide rates are on the rise in our society. People are choosing to take their lives in response to overwhelming pain. For a long time, suicide has been a taboo subject ~ one that we don’t really want to talk about. But, we must. We must make it acceptable to talk about the emotional and mental suffering that many experience with as much ease as we discuss the physical challenges that people live with.
No one is to blame when it comes to mental illness and at the same time, we can all take deep personal responsibility for our own health on a holistic level and for our capacity for compassion when it comes to serving those who find themselves in the thick of a mental health crisis.
Linda Stalters is a retired advanced practice registered nurse and CEO of Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA).
Linda has broad ranging experience as a clinical practitioner, educator, advocate, organizer, and speaker. She is committed to driving improved patient care through education, patient advocacy, and clinical practice.
Hearing Voice of Support is Linda’s latest initiative to promote acceptance, support, hope, treatment and recovery for the millions of people living with schizophrenia and related brain disorders.
Let’s talk about mental health. We all have a stake in this.
Your Service Signature: Creating Your Personal Style
What makes you stand out in the crowd? Is it about learning a new approach? Brushing up on best practices? Achieving another credential?
In the helping professions, we share similarities in our formal training with some variation, of course. We learn about relevant theories, best practices in our particular field, various techniques and strategies.
When we work for particular organizations and systems, we are governed by a mandate and a set of guiding values.
Specific programs and services within these organizations normally have a central purpose for a particular group of people who access them.
There are policies, procedures, and protocols all in place to make our job easier and to give a sense of continuity and uniformity.
Why Your Service Signature is Important
Let’s not forget about your unique way of making your contribution; your personal approach.
Learning about the foundational theoretical underpinnings and specific methods involved in any helping profession is an obviously crucial element of your future success.
Some of it is really concrete. I think of nurses who are trained in various health procedures that have specific steps and in many situations, a scientific process. There is a right way and a wrong way to draw blood. And yet, at the same time, there are other softer skills that go along with that type of interaction which can provide an opportunity to show your service signature.
There is an opportunity for engagement and presence that might help the person on the other end of the needle feel more comfortable. And at the same time, it might offer a sense of lightness for the nurse in that moment of connection. It is in these moments that we get glimpses of joy and fulfillment.
Navigating The Grey Area
In addition to these more “technical” skills, the helping professions are mired in a great deal of abstract concepts that require some time for digestion and integration on the part of the learner.
When we talk about things like “self-determination” and “empowerment,” we are delving into a more gray area in that there are countless ways in which these ideas can be understood and even more ways in which they might be expressed in service to others.
Donald Schon referred to these as “soft skills.” Soft maybe; not less important or valuable. And not always easy to fully integrate into practice.
At the end of the day, there is a process involved in taking theoretical approaches and best practices from our heads to our hearts to eventually demonstrate it through our actions. These approaches and practices inform our personal service signature. They are a part of it, yet ultimately, it is you as the person who expresses it in your own unique way with the people you serve.
And it is the embodiment of that in your work that will create the space for connection with others.
It’s About How You Do What You Do
Focus on how you do what you do. What frame of reference do you come from in your work? What matters the most to you when you interact with someone? How do you wish to feel as you begin your day, go through it, and end it?
Your personal service signature will develop and evolve over the course of your career so check in with yourself for upgrades. And don’t be surprised if you completely change your mind about certain things along the way!
Your service signature is most legible and accessible to others when it is most natural to you. And this takes time and energy. It takes conscious awareness. You will know you have reached clarity when you can say it, feel it, and be it. So pay attention to that. It can be a really wonderful moment!
Let’s get started! I would love to hear about your process!
Start with identifying the foundational elements that inform your service signature including theories, practices, approaches, beliefs, and philosophies.
How do you describe your Service Signature?
The Capacity for Resilience
How would you rate your bounce-backability? When life hits you hard and you find yourself on your knees, how quick are you to stand back up?
It can be tempting to stay down there, face buried in the dirt, hands over our heads, wishing it would all go away. And sometimes, that is necessary for awhile. Some blows in life require a withdrawal from all that was previously considered “normal” long enough for the weight of what has happened to settle in on a level that you can get in touch with. Sometimes, we just need to catch our breath.
After the surrender, what’s next?
That’s where resilience steps in. Resilience is where our hope lives even when we can’t necessarily feel it. It is where courage has its roots ~ where we have that sense that we are grounded in something that will sustain us as we take our next steps into the unknown. All the resources that have the potential to support us in the process are stored in the chest of resilience just waiting for us to call it all forth. The very essence of our desire to re-engage in life is at the heart of resilience. It moves us beyond our capacity to survive and straight into our divine right to thrive.
So, what’s the catch?
Well, in order to recognize your capacity for resilience, you have to come face to face with some kind of adversity. You can’t bounce back from something unless there is first some contact with it.
But you don’t have to wait for life to knock the wind out of you to nurture your capacity for resilience. Everything you do to support yourself in your day to day life can become the foundation for greater stores of resilience when you need it.
Foundational self-care includes attending to your physical health and well-being ~ like how you feed yourself, how you move your body, how you rest, and how you respond to the needs of your heart and spirit. Because when the rug gets pulled out from beneath you, these are often the first things to go. When your foundation is naturally strong, you will be sustained for awhile before you start notice that your health is crumbling.
As you care for yourself in this manner as a regular practice, you are communicating self-love. You are letting yourself know that you matter to you, that you are present for you, that you care about yourself. And that may sound silly at first and that’s okay. But ask yourself how well you are present to you, to your own needs, to your heart’s desires and to the messages from your body.
Many… maybe, most, Service Providers I have known over the years are much more comfortable with giving than receiving and that includes the capacity for self-compassion. So, try to sit with this idea for a bit before you write it off. How well do you love you?
As someone who has chosen a Vocation of Service, it is part of your role to assist others as they connect to their personal sense of resiliency. You will be a much more efficient navigator in this process if you have discovered your own personal source of resilience along the way.
Jean-Paul Bédard is an author, advocate, and elite endurance athlete. Named one of the “50 Most Influential Canadians” by Huffington Post, Jean-Paul has used his profile as a public figure to speak candidly about being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and of his battles with addiction and mental health issues. A veteran of over 140 marathons and ultra marathons, Jean-Paul received the “Golden Shoe Award” as the 2015 Canadian Runner of the Year.
You can read more about Jean-Paul’s incredible journey of resiliency by following his popular blog “Breathe Through This” (breathethroughthis.com) which has over 5 million reader/subscribers. A sought-after public speaker, Jean-Paul is known for his ability to infuse humor in his talks as he speaks candidly about coming to terms with serious issues such as addiction, depression, and trauma. Jean-Paul passionately believes life is not about “what happens to us”, but about “what we do with what happens to us.” His, is a message of hope, strength, and resiliency.
How have you developed resilience in your life?
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