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Two Wolves

By: Joanne Okimawininew Dallaire, Elder (Ke Shay Hayo) and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation
November 23, 2021

Content warning: This post discusses suicidal feelings, depression and mental health.

A teaching regarding gratitude and appreciation from Joanne Dallaire, Elder (Ke Shay Hayo) and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.


Hello, my name is Joanne Dallaire, I'm Elder Senior Advisor Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation for Toronto Metropolitan University. And it's always my honour to talk to people and try and pass on some of my coping mechanisms to you guys, so today what I really wanted to talk about is the very stressful times that we're living in, and how we're really everyone's fighting some depression.

And I really want to talk about that so here goes.

You know, I have struggled with depression all my life that kind of comes from the fact of how I was raised in early trauma and all of that. And I've gotten really good over the years at being able to detect it.

I can detect it when I'm starting there and I could do a few things that kind of pulls me out of it. If I missed that cue for myself. Then I could recognize: okay little stronger, pull into the depression part so I'd be some others, and that pulls me back.

But there are times still and always will be, with all of a sudden I'm in the deep dark despairs for everything aches, or I don't want to get up, where I don't want to do anything.

And so that has always been a very difficult place for me to pull myself out of.

But what I'd like to talk about is, you know, for years I did anger management classes and training and train staff how to do it with other so I was very involved with anger management.

And one of the first things I had to do was explain to the people that it's called anger management for a reason.

It's not called anger elimination.

Because we don't eliminate anger, we learn how to manage it.

And I want to apply some of that strategy to here now about dealing with the deep dark side of coping in life right now.

You know, we've got nothing to tether ourselves to, we don't have any past experiences. And for most of us in this life, how to deal with pandemic.

You know, we were told at first it was going to be two weeks and it was going to be a month and, and our start time just keeps changing. And every time it changes we lose a little bit of hope, we realized through the force of the pandemic making us stay inside that we all have issues that we're dealing with on the emotional front, and there's no shame in that. One of the gifts that this time at COVID has given us is a knowledge that we all have emotional difficulties that time that's human nature to expect that is to be unreasonable.

But that's what we've been expecting of ourselves for a long time, with all the social cues to not share, not cry not talked about that stuff, and all the cues that come from our family and how we deal with I don't deal with information, we bring to the workplace we bring with us everywhere.

So I had to learn to get comfortable with the fact I should reconcile my own self to the fact that I have some very unique responses to my trauma induced lens and depression as well, and suicidal ideation was one of them for a very long time.

And there were times I actually even attempted suicide.

And it was one of my many counsellor's because cause I've been in and out of counsellingthat for 40 years I still have a counsellor that I reach out to when I'm in a very old place that I need her expertise to help me out.

But I have very unique responses that are to direct impact from my life as to you. And those are all normal and natural to us really can't be compared to anybody else's because no one else has the exact same experience in life, including family members, siblings who grew up together experience it differently because they have their own lens, their own view on life.

So I had to learn to accept the fact to reconcile with myself that I battled depression.

One of my counsellor’s said to me one time when I was so deep and dark said two things to one question was at one time she asked me, did I know what I would look like, or how I would feel, or how my life changed if I wasn't the victim.

I had no idea.

I had been relating from a victim lens for 30 some years at this time. I never, ever considered myself to be happy.

And then one other time I was talking about you know my suicidal thoughts and stuff.

And this counsellor said to me, I don't think you really want to kill yourself. I think you just don't have it live without the pain.

And that struck me like a ton of bricks that was it. That was the truth like resonated with me I knew that exactly.

And so I started to develop ways to deal with the truth.

Truth of My Life, the truth of my experience. The truth of the memories and stuff, I had to learn to manage and to deal with.

So, and looking at this management lens but like I said I know what I'm, you know, kind of missing the mark I'm not really tending to myself. Maybe I haven't drank enough water for today or, you know, I noticed a little things when I start to walk away from self care. That's a sign that I'm getting emotionally overloaded and I just don't want to deal with.

But I've learned to do that.

And I've learned the signs of when okay, you know, I don't want to go to bed I just want to watch TV I don't want to do anything. I don't really care if I eat or don't eat, I don't have any cravings, that’s stage two.

So there are particular things that I do around that time sometimes I journal. Sometimes I try to reach out to someone at top, sometimes all I can do is journal.

Then there's that deep dark place where all of a sudden everything just hits me all at once.

And just so much going on emotionally around me and my own life, my triggers, the trauma in the, in our world at large.

Then I need to have a plan, and I had to learn to develop a really good plan.

And the plan was not to shame myself oh yet here I am, yet. Well that never goes away we just deal with it in layers until we get it down to a manageable bits.

And so the fact was yeah I could fall into these deep dark depressive states. And it wasn't to deny myself, emotion, but to set up a limits, kind of comfort limit on managing this, and I would give myself 15 to 20 minutes to just sit in that negativity and just really looked at everything that it was bringing to my mind how it's making my body feel I just experienced it.

And then when I got out of that I went and had a glass of water and then I would sit down and I would put down onto paper, what it was I just realized through sitting with my feelings.

And then I would read that back aloud to myself. And then I get myself something to eat.

And if I needed to go back later on in the day and sit more with those feelings I would do the same thing.

But it was always with the thought in mind that I was going to take the best care of myself I could that I could not prevent there was nothing wrong with me going into depression.

The problem lies when I stayed there. So I had to develop a strategy to manage that depression.

So that's what I want to encourage all of you to do. You're the expert on you, you know the early warning signs when you start to walk away from self care.

Just sit down and put them all down on paper, all the things that you do to avoid yourself to avoid emotional work, but it's just to do any work at all. You're overloaded, one more sentence is going to be too much, looking at one more email.

Sit down and really understand how you manage that kind of stress and depression, and then start to break it down on things that you could do. When you first notice things that you can do when you recognize that you've missed the first notice and you now on the second and then have a very good strategic plan for how you're going to deal with it when you're in depression, full blown depression, what are you going to do, how are you going to help yourself, write that out so it goes into your conscious consciousness, on a deeper level and have that list around sometimes because you need a need to pull it out and take a look at it.

But the point of all this, that I really want you to know is no matter what you're feeling no matter what you're going through. No matter what your thoughts are.

These are normal natural responses to incredibly unnatural untethered life experiences that we're having with our environment at this moment. So help yourself in any way that you can please pay attention to how you talk to yourself, don't develop. Or if you already have developed with not to the most of us have a very negative self talk, pay attention to how you put yourself down, how you support yourself and work on everyday investing in you.

That's your responsibility here. And when you put yourself into a place where you feel like you can go, then you will cope.

And if it takes as long as it takes. It doesn't matter. Just keep moving forward to you being able to feel confident in yourself, that no matter what life throws at you, you're going to be able to take care of yourself and not abandon yourself need yourself the most.

I hope you found this helpful. I hope you found it something that you could relate to. I really wish each and every one of you have the wisdom in ingenuity intuitiveness that you need to help yourself on this journey. It's tough, but there's still lots of really good stuff out there. And I'll share with you my last thought on this teaching that I've shared before.

This man in his 30s had gone home to his community because he was struggling with addiction. And there was an elder on the bridge and looking over the bridge and looking at the water. And this, he knew this elder head already recovered from what he was going through.

So he asked the elder what he should do.

They elder just said, pay attention to which wolf you feed.

There's a wolf inside of you that says nothing is good I can't do this everybody's out to trick me any negativity this wolf has, it'll tell you.

And then there's this other wolf that says yeah you know what life is difficult.

And I'm here and I've got the skills that I need. There's lots of good people in this world. There's lots of people who are willing to reach out and help into care.

So pay attention to which wolf you feed. It will help guide you down your path. 

I wish you all the best, take care of yourself and we’ll chat again soon, bye bye for now.