Breaking Free - January 2022

From the editor

Welcome to 2022, the start of a new year and for many of us, an opportunity to continue on our journey of hope and healing.  The new year also sees us continue to face the challenges of COVID-19. The impact of having to manage this over the last two years has been far reaching.  It has changed the way we’ve led our lives, interacted with our family and friends, and our work and social interactions.  For these reasons it is more important than ever to have strategies in place to help navigate our way through.

Our lead article focusses on having the right strategies in place to safeguard our wellbeing, as well as ideas on how to stay grounded and what to do if things become overwhelming.  We’ve also included links to a number of resources that can help support you, and we encourage you to share these with family and friends who might also find them useful.

If you’re looking for something to read we’ve included a book review, The Art of Doing Nothing, by Veronique Vienne (1998), who shares some great ideas on how to ‘cajole your mind to let go and find some serenity’.  In these challenging times when we need to take proactive steps for our own self-care, Veronique has some very simple and refreshing activities that anyone can try.

We also acknowledge that Australia Day has just passed, and Dr Cathy Kezelman has written a piece that explores the significance of this date and the associated trauma and grief for First Nations people.  How do we unite as a nation to reconcile, rebuild and come together, whilst acknowledging the deep cultural wounds that are still felt by First Nations people?  Importantly, how can we collectively as a society and as individuals play our part?  We hope that this Australia Day sees us one step closer to meaningful reconciliation.

And on a final note, we congratulate Dylan Alcott on his appointment as Australian of Year.  We have no doubt that his voice will be heard far and wide as he continues to advocate for and raise awareness around issues relating to barriers experienced by people with disability . We look forward to following his journey throughout the year.

Until next time, take care,
Blue Knot team

Strategies for Navigating COVID-19 and Complex Trauma

Covid 19 - Women in a supermarket

As we begin 2022, globally and locally we are still facing a challenging pandemic. Knowing that the pandemic is a once in a 100-year event is not a great comfort as we approach a third year of uncertainty.

For those of us living already with the impacts of complex trauma, the ongoing threat and fear is reminiscent of prior trauma experiences. Many of us already experience mental distress all too frequently and have nervous systems which can go from being on high alert to being shut down without warning. COVID brings additional fears of illness of hospitalisation and loss of life, as well of the reality of financial hardship or job loss and for many who have significant support needs, challenges getting the support needed sometimes daily… but that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do.

First and foremost it’s important for us to hold onto the hope that this will, at some point, be a threat of the past and do what we can to navigate this time. Sadly, we have seen divisions within our communities, between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, one State against another, country pitched against country – the haves and the have nots. While this makes sense, it is time for us to support ourselves and one another, to be as grounded as possible, and do what we can together as individuals and in communities.

As for ourselves, as always, and even more so during these times, it’s important to focus on the activities and daily routines which we have found helpful for our wellbeing previously. We are all different and often it is trial and error, as we explore what is useful for each one of us during these times. Remember that even though this pandemic has been going for some time, it will end and is temporary. It is important always to hold onto hope that things can and will improve down the track

We hope that some of these suggestions will prove helpful for you. And remember that it is to be not unusual to feel extra stressed right now. Many people are feeling this way and we are all doing what we can to manage:

  • Try to get some restful sleep – a regular routine can help.
  • Eat as well as you can and drink lots of water. It can really make a difference.
  • Stay as active as you can be. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme but exercising regularly can make a big difference not just to your fitness but to your mental wellbeing.
  • Maybe use this time to try and reset yourself a new healthy routine – it doesn’t have to be anything big. One small step at a time.
  • Many of us are working from home, and even though this can bring benefits it is important to separate your working day from your home life. See what you can do to make things work best for your own mental health and wellbeing.
  • Do things that you enjoy. Have fun. Be creative. Explore a hobby – maybe something you’ve always wanted to try.
  • Get fresh air regularly. Step outside and feel the sun or enjoy the beauty of nature.
  • Do whatever helps you to feel better and keeps you as safe as possible as circumstances change.
  • Staying informed but use reliable sources rather than personal opinion if possible. That said take a break from your phone, social media and the television as it is easy to feel overwhelmed by COVID news as it is reported 24 x7.
  • Make a plan around how to stay connected to the important people in your life and keep talking – by phone or online if face-to-face is just not possible.
  • Reach out in safe ways when you need to and when you want to. Sharing how you’re feeling and staying socially connected can really help.
  • Support others if and when you can. It is a time for us all to show compassion to one another.
  • Regularly practise strategies which are soothing. For some people this is a stretch or a swim, or even a bath. Something that can help you to calm your nervous system – perhaps trauma-informed yoga, mindfulness or meditation – experiment and see what works for you.
  • Try not to use too much medication which has not been prescribed or recommended and limit your use of alcohol and drugs as much as possible.
  • Listen to music, watch or read something you enjoy, find uplifting or which is a distraction.

It makes sense to feel concerned during this time. We all are to some degree. These are stressful times, and they can be anxiety-provoking. Being anxious can also trigger strong feelings and memories from the past. A range of grounding strategies can help For many of us and especially those with experiences of complex trauma it is a time when additional support may be needed.

We also have a range of fact sheets that provide useful information on taking care of yourself and others during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the impact of mask wearing for those with complex trauma or with disability.

If you test positive for COVID-19 and are unsure what to do next, Health Direct have prepared a fact sheet with useful information which can be downloaded here:

If you or someone you care about would like to speak to one of our specialist trauma counsellors, reach out and please call the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 between 9 am and 5 pm Monday to Sunday AEST.

If you are living with disability and are seeking emotional support, please call our National Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468 between 9 am and 6 pm Monday to Friday AEST and between 9 am and 5 pm Saturdays and Sundays.

Using Anchors to Help Ground Ourselves

In this article we present the concept of anchors and their use as a self-care practice. We offer some ideas around finding your own anchors and explain how to use them – but remember, these are only suggestions. It is up to each person to explore and find what helps them.

This description by Russ Harris p.92 of The Reality Slap can help us understand more about anchors: “Painful feelings can be like a tidal wave; they rise up and bowl us over and carry us away often before we are aware of it…Developing a mental state of expansion, by stepping back and looking at the waves with curiosity, we can become like the sky, vast open spacious. And then we have created room for the waves no matter how turbulent they are. We can do this by keeping ourselves anchored.”

An anchor is often something concrete which comes from your own life. Try to find your own anchor which is associated with positive memories in both your mind and body. Your anchor may be a person, (grandmother, partner, teacher) or an animal/pet, a place, an object (boat, tree, stone) or even an activity.

A suitable anchor gives you a feeling of relief and wellbeing emotionally and in your body. Support systems can also provide anchors and help us overcome difficulties in life.

How do you communicate your needs to get the help you need?

What are some of the ways you can nurture and foster your support systems?

Phone calls, postcard, text message, Facebook message, share a photo, arrange to meet up, book an appointment – we all use different modes depending on the relationship.

Can you relate to the anchor… what anchors you?

And where do you draw your strength from?

You might like to draw or write out your anchors. Think about new sources of anchors for yourself. Think about how to strengthen anchors which are weak.

Perhaps you can write down the names of people in your support system and the specific ways they help/support you.

You might like to try this short strategy: Take five to ten seconds to do the following: Push your feet hard into the floor and straighten your spine. As you do this, take a slow, deep breath.

  1. Taste one thing.
  2. Smell two things.
  3. Touch three things.
  4. Listen carefully and notice four things you can hear.
  5. Look around and notice five things you can see.

Notice where you are and what you are doing. When we use anchors consistently in our day-to-day life, we usually feel more grounded and less overwhelmed. See how you go.

Book Review – Strategies for Self-Care

In her book, The Art of Doing Nothing, Veronique Vienne (1998) talks about the challenges of slowing down. The language is gentle and quaint, with a creative list of ways to ‘cajole your mind to let go and find some serenity’.

Here are some ideas from the book:

  • Giving in to distraction sometimes: Water streams and meanders around obstacles. After all, our bodies and the world are 70% water.  It is human nature to take the easy curved path – to meander. If you want time out, sometimes give yourself permission sometimes to stop doing what you are doing half-way through and give in to the distraction. This is natural.
  • Sauntering: Saunter sometimes when you are outdoors – walking in a slow, relaxed manner without any fixed destination or timeframe. Slowing it down can release some pressure if you’re feeling tense.
  • Breathing: Vienne invites us to think of breathing as giving and not just taking. Visualise the plants and trees taking up your outbreath. We don’t need to change or do anything to imagine this
  • Lounging: can help you bring your attention back down to earth at the end of the day. Vienne suggests you get as low to the ground as is comfortable, stay put for a while, and wait for your head to slow down. You may sit on the back step or stretch out in your favourite chair to do it. This can give you a different view of the world and you may start to notice things that you didn’t see when you were standing.
  • Lounging on the beach: You might like to try lounging on the beach. The sun might make you drowsy as you mould your body into the warm sand, taste the salt on your lips, and stare off to the horizon.
  • Yawning: happens suddenly from inside us and helps stretch our internal muscles.  Soon it spreads through our whole body causing out voice box, nostrils and breathing tubes to widen. Yawning helps lift your eyebrows and shoulders, lowers your diaphragm to let your lungs expand and increases blood flow to the brain.

We need to work together this 26 January

Australian Aboriginal Flag

Dr Cathy Kezelman AM on why acknowledgement of the harm perpetuated by historical injustices of 26 January is no longer enough. (Originally published ProBono Australia).

As we approach 26 January, we are a nation divided.

For some Australians, “Australia Day” is simply a day off work. Some time to be spent with family and friends. A day of celebrating our nation – all the while ignoring what this day truly means for the Traditional Owners of our land.

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, 26 January is a day of intense mourning and distress. It is a painful reminder of colonisation, genocide, and mass incarceration, and far from a reason to celebrate.

In our history books, 26 January marks the day that Captain Arthur Phillip and his fleet landed at Sydney Cove and claimed the land as a British colony in 1788. It is the day on which Australia – as we know it – was “founded” and, despite its racist roots and brutal beginnings, it is still a date that Australia memorialises through a public holiday and parade.

For First Nations people, 26 January marks a day which heralded the beginning of an immensely dark chapter in history. It initiated the brutal process of colonisation and its ongoing disruption of cultural wellbeing. It introduced the unfathomable trauma of displacement, massacres, forced removal, marginalisation, and disruption of culture. The loss of connection to place, land and kin has continued across countless ensuing generations.

Right now, in Australia, we are living through a period of history which is unprecedented in the number of Royal Commissions, public enquiries, and protests in support of the marginalised and disenfranchised. This 26 January, people will once again take to the street, seeking to influence our leaders to change the date.

The trauma experienced by our First Nations people is multilayered and cumulative, with profound experiences of grief and loss being passed down from generation to generation. The loss is about loss of identity, loss of meaning, loss of connection, loss of purpose and, in so many cases, loss of life.

When people are subjected to trauma, they cope as best as they can. They use whatever is at their disposal to reduce their angst and distress. Trauma occurs in response to threat and when it is perpetrated by other people, it can be especially damaging.

The interpersonal trauma experienced by generations of First Nations people has been evidenced by ongoing cycles of hopelessness and helplessness. Colonisation shattered many of the connections which were fundamental to the wellbeing of our First Nations people, and this trauma lingers.

For the last 200 years, many of our First Nations communities have experienced mental ill-health, substance abuse, fractured relationships, suicide and cycles of violence as an outcome of the ongoing impacts of colonisation and its deep destruction.

When we celebrate 26 January without a real acknowledgment of the losses the day commemorates, we send a harmful message that this trauma doesn’t matter.

It is time to go beyond an acknowledgement of the harm perpetuated by historical injustices. It is time to act. It is time, as a nation, to understand that the trauma of our history lives on. It is only through truly recognising this that we can move closer to a world that is genuinely understanding and supports people to heal.

So, how do we as a nation reset? How do we meaningfully listen to our First Nations brothers and sisters? How do we come to truly comprehend the ongoing inequities, compounded disadvantage, and discrimination which still play out in our communities? How do we ensure that we aren’t minimising a part of history that comes with deep cultural wounds?

As Australians, we all have a part to play. We can start by honouring the strengths and resilience of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speaking out and telling their truths. We can contribute to combatting stigma and discrimination and show that we are there for one another as human beings – by showing compassion, removing judgement, and contributing to a truly fair and equitable Australia.

It is important for us all to acknowledge the place of cultural healing which rebuilds connection to family, kin, and place, and fosters a sense of belonging. When a sense of hopelessness and helplessness predominates, it is important for people to identify and reconnect with their strengths and rediscover the promise of hope and possibility for the future.

It is time for all Australians to walk alongside our First Nations people on a path to individual, community, and national healing. It is time to use our individual and collective voices to foster r trauma-informed attitudes across all sectors and industries.

At a time when racism and discrimination abound globally, Blue Knot calls for genuine understanding, tolerance, and meaningful reconciliation within Australia.

As Australians, we all need to work together. We need to work together, with our First Nations people, as they heal, and we journey collaboratively towards true reconciliation. We need to use each opportunity we have to amplify the voices of First Nations communities to truly and meaningfully identify their needs.

This 26 January, take time to consider and acknowledge the pain that First Nations communities are experiencing, and ask yourself how you can contribute to a trauma-informed, supportive, and understanding Australia.

Australian Government Disability Gateway

Disability Gateway

Around 4.4 million Australians are living with disability and there are a wide range of services and supports available. However, searching for information and services can sometimes be difficult and complex.

The Australian Government’s Disability Gateway is a free, Australia-wide service dedicated to helping people living with disability, their families and carers find trusted information and connects them to services in their area.

It includes:

  • a website
  • phone line and
  • social media channels to help connect people to the right disability information and services.

The Disability Gateway aims to improve access to information and services and make searching less stressful. It is a central starting point, providing information people can trust that is accessible, easy and safe to use.

Information on the website is structured around 10 topic areas that provide useful categories for searching for and finding services, including income and finance, employment, aids and equipment, housing, transport, health and wellbeing, everyday living, education, leisure, and rights and legal.

The Disability Gateway phone line provides free, fact-checked information and can transfer people directly to other support services if needed, such as counselling or advocacy.

For more information go to  download the fact sheet or call 1800 643 787. The Disability Gateway phone line is available Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm AEDT.