Storytelling As Healing/Self-care

Marcelle is a queer woman of colour, community worker and engaged artist trying to bridge gaps linked to accessibility, and voice unheard stories of courage and resilience. Based in Montreal with roots in North-Africa and Mexico, she is the proud daughter of brave migrants. She completed a degree at McGill in Anthropology and Education, and will further pursue academia with the intention to increase the well being of marginalized communities, especially foster youth through knowledge, love, music, dignity and humanity. 

A humble collection of healing processes for self-care

‘Watch my soul speak, you can let the meds talk’



Awareness, consciousness of elements at work

As a community worker, a human trying to be authentic and genuinely present in my exchanges, I have come to realize that people need a space to express their pain. In fact, the very expression of their aching is of great assistance to break from isolating patterns as well as a downward spiral of anxiety-inducing mental states. Working at Head and Hands an organization focusing on mental health, and the overall well-being of young people; I have also come to appreciate the special intimacy that comes with sharing sufferings. I would like to argue that this particular intimacy has to be developed within yourself first, and can be translated into concrete behaviours with (debatably overused) terms such as « self-care », or « self-love ». Sharing coping mechanisms or healing mechanisms takes a particular significance if you are a caretaker or carry a healing presence of some sorts. However, my hope is that anyone who cautions to read my findings and stories is reminded of the potency we hold within ourselves to restore the most broken pieces of our body, mind, and psyche. To do so, I will shortly deconstruct my definition of pain, hardships; along with some of the tricks the mind can play on you, and the ones in return you may learn to play back on it. These can be useful tools, partly because a doctor is hard to get by, but also understanding some of these mechanisms may prevent detrimental self-inflicted hardships, and encourage a deeper self-knowledge as you are living with yourself until death do us part. You might as well get comfortable with the intricacy of your mind, your body and your soul. In addition, if you are a parent, a caretaker, an empathetic soul these burdens may weigh you down, and wear you out much sooner than they need to. Awareness of your own limitations and resources becomes crucial in restorative, regenerative work.

I will share stories through the gaze of my inner works, some psychoanalytical accounts, but also by thinking through the experiences and stories of friends who gracefully, and lovingly allowed me to walk through complex mechanisms and the array of emotional, physical, psychological sufferings that often intersect and become hard to distinguish or isolate from one another.

Perception and awareness

One thing I was told to possess as a young teenager having gone through a significant amount of distress, precarious circumstances, grief, abandonment, and hardships, was to have a capacity to see past the present adversity and envision another reality for myself. I think reading and connecting to other realities through imagination has immensely helped me to take on that task, and to this day I find truth to this observation. All the same, at some instances I am also taken by the chaos and intensity of what I’m going through and lose sight “That this too shall pass”. My awareness at times may be clouded by a partial vision of larger issues, multiple biases, as well as my fluctuating capacity to hold my own level of depth.

The awareness of my awareness is necessary to my self-care, it’s the stepping stone of my own comprehension- it’s a powerful tool that I’d hope to think we all possess.  Let’s call it metacognition: the understanding of one’s own thought process.

Now let’s sit here for a while, peek through this world of cognition and psychoanalysis, to see what we might not know about what we do know. This takes a big importance to me when we are talking about pain, more specifically perceived pain, as you may have noticed yourself already: your brain does play tricks on you.

Dissociation, mind, body, and survival – and coping

Dissociation is a process that helps you detach from harmful environments when need be. In extreme cases, it can lead to multiple personality disorder, but on a routine basis it’s a simple detachment from immediate surroundings that can help you survive a lifetime of nightmarish memories. For instance, if you have lived an experience of abuse, or even a pain that was physically intolerable you may also have put yourself through a dissociative behaviour in order to keep going in your life.

I find it important to check in regularly with yourself to reassess, evaluate and moderate your state of mind. Hi, self, where you at? Are you dissociating, are you connected, are you numb?

Making a distinction between surviving and coping has also helped me take care of myself in times of hardship. Which healing level am I in? Can I map out my emotions and find myself in the maze? My conception of surviving is still being in the hole, whereas, a step further, coping is trying to mend the wound. Then, I can also go back to what I know and feel has really harmed me in the past, and gauge around that pain. How does this pain feel in comparison to that other one, can I assert now that this wound or this wound is healed?

It is important to my understanding to disengage from dissociative patterns when one wants to utterly heal, to scar. If we are going to talk about isolating mental and physical states, painful encounters of the mind, let us not beat around the bush. Let’s be real. Let’s be honest. With no depth, when performance of the thought only massages around a wound without picking up the needle and the thread, we only camouflage, we do not restore. Some pains need to be spoken into existence so they cease to exist, that implies getting our hands dirty. Ask anyone who has bled, they know. If you always sit down to talk about the thingness of the thing, by never tackling the thing, we will never mend.

Pain and pleasure, and the purity of vulnerability

Here I will share a story from my dear friend Chelsey Hicks, one of the strongest most resilient souls I know. Among many other titles, she is currently holding the role of a personal caregiver working in an institutionalized environment catering to physical and mental needs for residents in palliative care. One of her residents asked her the hard question, ‘What is love?’ In this moment of vulnerability, of deep pain, these two women met in strength. During the same exchange, the resident shared with Chelsey her deepest regret having birthed only one child, and had realized too late that you do not need to carry the children in your womb in order to be a mother. Love is enough. She also shared with Chelsey her sense of connection to her existence saying: ‘Sometimes life doesn’t give you what you want but what you can handle.’ Even in the most morbid of places, the depth of connection through pain may come with much pleasure.  And as she’s getting ready to die, Chelsey is caring for her, meeting all of her essential needs; there they find each other in a deeply rooted interconnectedness. Much like what pain is to pleasure and pleasure is to pain – a balance that is embedded in living, in the now, while accepting the continual renewal healing process, an endeavour we could all try to execute with care, in order to restore and maintain ourselves in a state of love.

In my darkest days, that is what I remind myself: not only do you release endorphins through pain, but also you live through pain; and, you grow through pain.  More often Chelsey ends up doing mental checkups, mental health first aid, and suicidal and behavioural interventions with her residents that do coincide with their physical pain. These are all habits we should take up for ourselves, without comparing every suffering soul to a terminally ill patient, I think we should be comfortable acknowledging our existential dread, as an integral part of the complex satire healing can be perceived as. ‘Why heal when we are going to die?’ is a thought that comes to my mind. But then again, finding purpose, acknowledging the power of cognitive framing, feeds my confidence in living this fragile life, and strengthens my sense of presence. Both pain and pleasure; trough honest, transparent vulnerability reshape my conception of hardships, and allow me to accept that we are not here to die, we are here to live.

Somatization and Transference

The line between physical, psychological, emotional pain can be very blurry, and at times even indistinguishable. There is a fancy term for this, it is called somatization: it consists in the tendency to experience and communicate psychological distress in the form of somatic (physical) symptoms-and seek medical help for them. Let me share a little anecdote that I still carry to this day: 10 years ago, at the annual school show I dislocated my knee and twisted a ligament during a dance performance which I pat myself on the back for having completed, despite the displacing pain. Yes: me, you, we- are such resilient beings. Nevertheless, to this day whenever I put a lot of pressure spending long hours dancing to African rhythms, and inflict a high impact stress on my poor knee; I feel pain. However, if I can map out my emotional state as my well as my somatic state, I can confidently observe through analytical lenses, that whenever I am emotionally exhausted- or psychologically wounded, I will feel more pain in my knee than when I periodically torture my body with 8 inch heels, and a heavy night of dancing debauchery. Transitions, break ups, when my feelings are being tampered and played with, times of depression (which coincidently end up being an alert, a planning period and an indicator of change for me) are so much more painful in my experience of what pain is, than any physical cut, bruise, or dislocation. Accepting that, allows me to nurture with integrity, firmness, love, and care the actual wounds that are made more apparent in hard circumstances.

We can also talk about another psychoanalytic mechanism to be mindful of, when taking care of yourself; let’s call it transference neurosis. Transference is the unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. This may happen after a break-up with a partner with whom lingering feelings can no longer be acknowledged, or after the loss of a cherished being for instance. However, I don’t think this mechanism (like any) has to be systematically decoded into a pathology; rather I perceive it as an exit strategy for the un-mended pain. If you catch yourself in those moments of somatization, or transference, ask the good and hard questions: what are the messages being sent to you? Messages sent by your psyche, your community, and your environment as well; as these elements cannot always be dissociated. After all we are social beings! Take and make the time to silence the interference, the noise, and truly listen by containing the depth you are able to reach, and open up an introspective healing space between your own wholeness, essence, and integrity to harvest your learning within your mind, psyche, and body. Actively listen to yourself. What pain have you internalized? Inhale. How is it being manifested? Pause. Can you name it? Let go. Or even simply feel it? Exhale. In sum, what do you need to heal it? Breathe, please do not forget to breathe.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Here is one of the many venues you can look into to engage in behaviour change and psychological governance.

CBT works by changing people’s attitudes and their behaviour by focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that are held (a person’s cognitive processes) and how these processes relate to the way a person behaves, as a way of dealing with emotional problems.

An important advantage of cognitive behavioural therapy is that it tends to be short, taking five to ten months for most emotional problems. Clients attend one session per week, each session lasting approximately 50 minutes. During this time, the client and therapist work together to understand what the problems are and develop new strategies for tackling them.

Balance and movement

Striving for balance, and stillness is pretty much my every day goal: to reach peace through chaos – and dancing, singing, painting, feeling, engaging in intercourse, crying, eating, loving, and working are all movements I consider part of the vector to access balance. Dancing is my thing (you should find your thing too!) as it targets more specifically the zones that need attention in my body, and helps me shed the weight that holds me back from balance.

Music for me really does it, on a somatic, biochemical level, I feel music in ways that allow my emotions, my states of mind to be embodied, and engage in a cathartic exercise. Music liberates me by allowing me to speak my truth into existence without some of the limiting boundaries I experience in other realms. It encompasses the knowing of all vibrations, frequencies that perhaps through a strong placebo effect, perhaps through bio-communication, fix me, and put me back into place. Music is the voice that resonates the images I do not know how to confine in words. My movements fight the discomfort and soreness of my psyche through my body. Taking care of myself, in my terms, means that it doesn’t matter whether this healing process comes through the hardwired work of a mind blowing placebo effect, or a biochemical response to the magnetic field, sound waves, and echo chambers I’m an integral part of. What matters, is that it works. It allows me to take the hurt, the anger, while acting as a healing agent of transformation, of change with movements that elevate me to a blissful, and pure state of love.. All in openness, within the limits of my constantly redefined, flexible boundaries that happen to be rooted in trust, respect, and love- for myself first, and then for you all. This freedom I induce myself into is married to the undying hope to reach a remedy to the chronic illness life is. I think it’s important to keep the hope, keep the joy alive.

Again, in times of hardship it is through balance that I try to remind myself of how wonderful life can feel. How good a moment of truth, of warmth, of wisdom, of love truly feels. How sincerely lovely it feels to be whole, integral, and connected. I try to remain kind to myself, while still expecting the best that I can offer, and deserve. I enjoy and appreciate the bias of time, as a friend, a confident, and a witness: each step has its shape, its importance. Paces are instances hammered by the now and the experience of the now; and movements are the fine equilibrium between dreams and reality; like a door ajar, opening up to a world where possibilities and realities meet. The beauty I find in possibilities fuels me, because they are endless. In the case of looping horror stories creeping up my mind, these possibilities allow for a creative power to generate new stories, and take different roads, change the circuit and mental rituals with poise, and equanimity.

Grounding work

Do I need to bask in the waters of my emotions? Or do I need to fold my laundry?

One of the hardest things to do in a disconnected and isolating world is to be present. What I find helpful here is to distinguish the markers that mean something to you, they help you validate your experience and encourage your personal growth. Please do so in a real, earnest, honest way without assigning too much agency to them. If orchids bring joy to your life and remind you of the exquisite orgasm life can be, get yourself some orchids! You are the agent, you have agency on your surrounding elements. The boundaries you create are important to remain sane and rooted; but remember it is only a fine membrane that is delimiting the symbiotic interdependence you share on this earth, with this earth.  Whether things are intensely good, bad, or lukewarm: you get to choose your attitude, and stay grounded. Take a yoga class, masturbate, meditate, eat some healthy overpriced organic broccoli, drink some water, purge, sweat, and go through the process of defecation. Breath through it, connect to your senses, hear, see, feel, taste, touch, allow the continual work of transformation to occur in all of your cells. Stay connected to your community; they are here for and with you.

And at times, self-care is getting out of bed, putting panties on, and doing something with someone. Or even better: doing something for someone. See I spent most of my childhood (until age 11) in hospitals, my mother was terminally ill for years and we took care of her with my siblings like little angels do. This probably shaped why I want to share a few grounding tips with you all. Spending nights in hospitals, changing oxygen tanks, learning hundreds of medical terminology. This may sound ‘traumatic’ at a stage where you should be taken care of yourself, but in fact, this learning constituted in one of the most helpful healing process that I possess: to know how to care for others. When you learn to give injections safely, you also conceive that you can harm, you can bruise your patient-sometimes you hurt them, and that’s ok. You are allowed to make mistakes-in healing and in life, I find it to be useful to remember as we do tend to be hard on ourselves, when we should probably be patient, and try again. To care for a loved one teaches you to be attentive, to listen to people’s presence by encompassing their pains, their love, and their joys. To care for others is a great way to care for yourself and vice versa. Understanding the depth and extent of your care is one of the crucial ingredients to healing. And now that you hold that knowledge you kinda have to, partly because you can, but mostly because it feels pretty good. To fully share my opinion: caring for everyone wouldn’t be all that hard if we were more grounded and connected to one another.

So please, by all means, give a helping hand and see how fluffy you feel. For real. I honestly don’t care if you do it for a vain self-fulfillment, or with objective to partake in virtue signalling. Just do it. Do some good around you because it is needed. Do it inside of yourself because it is vital. Check in with yourself, ask what’s going on, ask your homies, your family what they need; trust me, trust you, and watch some of your deepest wounds be swallowed by the fairness and integrity of care, and love.

Social contagion and chronic wellbeing

What is the intellect without love?

Self-love is simultaneously overused, and underrated…it is so hard to actually have to face yourself. Accept your shortcomings, the insecurities that prevent you from leaping into the representation you would want to evolve into. Loneliness is real, and can be translated into a never satisfied hunger inside of your soul. So please, my dear, when you are in a place of wellbeing STAY THERE. If your libido is alive, your appetite is going, you desire to breath is there: good, sit down, breathe that in. Take care of your heart, the cardiovascular rhythm, the respiratory cycle, the oxygen flowing.

My conception of self-love is the nurturing connection you share when you eat from the same body, in the same water… I get that feeling from my creative juices as they allow my soul to speak. See, I was fortunate enough to have the most loving of creatures as a mother. I also get that feeling when I allow her to live through my memory. My mother loved me so deeply I can still feel the smell of her touch, of her sight from the abyss of the tomb. She died, 14 years ago, and my heart still beats for that dream. I can now also acknowledge that feeling the pain of her loss permits me to celebrate what I had, and to do so with lightness in every interaction I encounter. I want you to find that feeling and share it. You may connect with the love you have with a parent, a friend, a lover, a pet, a passion, I know you can and will connect to one; after all we are made from one of those nurturing energies.

And for the sceptic cynics: even despite your will, I sincerely think you care. We care as a species; we just need to be reminded of how to love, how well we can hold space for one another. We must remind ourselves of the mutual happiness we share; we need to; if we are ever going to break from isolating patterns. I see myself, and see you all as magical beings: we dream fantasies into existence, and with every remedy we put out for each other, we cooperatively heal one another through multidimensional processes. When you smile I smile. When you cry I cry, comparable to a spell cast through a heavenly concoction of chemical components, and neuropharmacological variant attachments.

We are each other’s favourite drugs.

Marcelle Partouche Gutierrez


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