Manitoba·First Person

Winnipeg therapist urges self-care, compassion, and cutting yourself some slack during pandemic

"Our lives now contain a fracture. A before and after that we collectively share," says Winnipeg therapist Meaghen Johnston. "We need to see it as a fracture that will heal and will be used as a reference point."

'I see you trying. I'm trying too,' says Meaghen Johnston

During the pandemic, 'we’ve all arrived at this place that requires attention and care,' says Winnipeg therapist Meaghen Johnston. (Submitted by Meaghen Johnston)

This First Person article is the experience of Meaghen Johnston, a Winnipeg therapist and founder of  Intentional Futures Counselling. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

This story starts on a couch with a steamy cup of coffee.

A seemingly innocent scroll through the photos in my phone has landed me somewhere I don't expect. It's the intersection of many emotions and is the place where I so vividly see my light and dark intertwined.  

It forces me to see myself moving through this pandemic experience as an outside observer and, while this story is mine, I believe you will find parts of yourself in here too. 

Johnston loves this photo of herself, centre, with her daughters, taken at the start of the pandemic. But when studying the image of herself, 'I look at that person differently today,' she says. (Submitted by Meaghen Johnston)

I was looking for a favourite photo of me with my daughters. The date stamp on the photo reads April 8 and my mind travels back to that moment, and I focus in on my eyes. I look at that person differently today. I see the sparkle and I recognize the anchored, hopeful part of her.

"If you only knew what was ahead for you," I say out loud.

As I scroll through photos, I see the weariness grow in me as time presses on. I witness myself become duller, and the circles under my eyes grow deeper. I feel the visceral awareness that the demands at this time required me to abandon parts of myself.  I sense that I no longer felt "at home" in my own body.  

We need to see it as a fracture that will heal.- Meaghen Johnston

As a therapist specializing in identity. I began to judge myself for this loss of self. Where did my self-compassion go?  Where were all of my skills for managing stress? The movement away happened in incremental shifts, as I armoured up into "do everything" mode and resisted stillness. 

It was hard and remains hard as I wrestle with a new kind of knowing; that our lives now contain a fracture. A before and after that we collectively share. It's akin to the experience of trauma. The life before the event sits apart from the life after.  

The work is not to try to pull these pieces together and mend. Rather, we need to see it as a fracture that will heal and will be used as a reference point to how we experience ourselves and the world differently, in this space we call the "after."

'Focus less on the hard spots'

I pour a second cup of coffee and decide I need to make room for the grief that is emerging. I see that early pandemic self in those photos, and I want to protect her from what was left to unfold in the days and months ahead.  

I ask myself, "What would you say to her today?"

I'd say this: "I forgive you."

For throwing the pen when you couldn't understand Grade 5 math. For shutting yourself in a bathroom and pretending to be in the shower because you just didn't care what anyone was eating for lunch. For wanting to give up. For thinking you could do it all. For feeling helpless. For feeling hopeful. For not being able to meet the demands. For not knowing the right answer. For being unreasonable.

There are no gold starsfor this pandemic.- Meaghen Johnston

And you are capable.

Of teaching the fur trade, growing a crystal and fixing a paper jam in a printer. Of going deep to find the tenacity, resilience and grit required. Of prioritizing care for yourself when others need so much from you. Of feeling it all. Of loving your family. Of offering support to others, from an unfamiliar space that left you feeling wounded, uncertain and scared. Of finding meaning.  

And I'd remind her of what she knows. 

The kind of love that matters is the hard love, the one that begins rough and edgy, only to become smooth through the bumps and the hurts. I'd ask her to think more about what she is doing right each day and focus less on the hard spots. 

Johnston offers herself the same advice that she gives others struggling during the pandemic: 'You deserve to take the time to untangle what this experience has to offer you.' (Submitted by Meaghen Johnston)

I'd console her and just sit with her and say nothing. I'd encourage her to go back to the basics. Care for yourself first, keep learning and growing, and that this is scary. 

I'd deliver the most challenging truth of all: that there are no gold stars for this pandemic and that allowing your dark and light to churn together is the only way you'll get through this.

We've all arrived at this place that requires attention and care. It's a messy yet beautiful space interwoven with grief, forgiveness, identity and hope.  

The lessons have been hard fought. You deserve to take the time to untangle what this experience has to offer you. My highest hope is that it will inspire a call to action to direct care inwards.  

Healing happens from the inside out. Resilient communities require healthy citizens. 

I don't have all the answers, but here is what I do know. We need to cut ourselves some slack. We need to invite grace into our stories. We need to transform this into something constructive. This is the shift to healing and this is possible.   

I see you, I see you trying. I'm trying too.


Meaghen Johnston is a therapist and founder of Intentional Futures Counselling. She holds a PhD in social work from the University of British Columbia. With a humanistic and strength-based approach, Meaghen integrates her personal experiences and imperfections into the work with individuals, organizations and teams. Learn more by visiting or following her on Instagram @intentionalfutures.counselling.