A post written by Women’s Center staff member, Daniel
This year’s Critical Social Justice Week’s theme is Brave Spaces and as the week quickly approaches, I’ve been thinking more and more about not only what a Brave Space is but what it means to be a Brave Space. The center has been implementing what we call Brave Space Guidelines as a way of creating a space that fosters learning, connecting, and understanding. There are some components of the Guidelines that are particularly salient to me as I start to consider my body and the relationship that I, and others, have to it– with the added challenge of navigating mental illness.
I have, and have always had, a complicated relationship with my body. Growing up as a fat girl and eventually coming out as trans has a way of messing with the way you see yourself and the way you regard your body. Add experiences with depersonalization and derealization to that and the simple task of being a body at all becomes nearly impossible. Becoming a safe place for myself has been a life-long challenge that I continue to struggle with. Feeling safe and secure in my own skin is a rare and wonderful feeling that I think a lot of us– mentally ill or not– have a hard time with. With all the images we see and all the expectations we have for how we’re supposed to look and move and be, being comfortable with one’s body is not easy. As I meet people with similar experiences to mine and I begin to exist in spaces that are purposeful in their missions, I find myself being encouraged to become not only a safe place but a Brave Space.
Recognize that your experiences, values, and perspectives are unique to you. Strive to learn about experiences other than your own, and seek permission to ask questions about other people’s experiences
Intent is important, but it does not trump impact. Recognize and own the impact of your words and actions. Also, practice forgiveness and generosity: remember that this is a space where we are all learning and growing.
Recognize and respect the range of emotions that you and others may experience...be thoughtful about how your emotions and behavior may impact others based on their experiences.
Recognizing the uniqueness and value of individual experiences has helped me see others as complex individuals who have stories and experiences that I can learn from. It helps me remember that trauma and mental illness looks different for everyone and allows me to be more open to these differences.
Intent over impact is incredibly important. While mental illness can be an explanation for behavior, it is never an excuse. The effects my actions have on others or the effects the actions of others have on me are valid and important and shouldn’t be dismissed because of mental illness.
Practicing forgiveness and generosity– for others and especially for myself– is the most difficult and most important lesson I am still struggling with. I am still learning and I will make mistakes. This does not make me a bad person nor does it decrease my value. Others will make mistakes and I need to acknowledge when they have made personal growth and change. People are inherently good and all people are capable of positive change.
Emotions can be difficult to deal with, especially when you’re constantly told that you’re overreacting or “just crazy.” The way I feel about something is true to me and important even if it is different from how someone else or even most people feel about it.
I can’t even begin to express how much these three guidelines have shaped the person I am now and the person I am still trying to be. Being a Brave Space for myself and for the people around me requires conscious effort and it’s not always easy, but it’s helped me be kinder to myself and others feel safer in my presence. I can trust my body to sustain and support me and it can trust me to be gentle and work towards positive change in return.