Need in the Time of COVID

Sometimes the pressures of existing can begin to weigh heavily on us and we start to consider that we may need to ask for a little help from our loved ones. Maybe it’s because we have a lot on our plate just by nature of who we are and the world we live in. Other times we are those people that are seemingly so full of strength and energy to those who need a helping hand, so much so that they don’t hesitate to ask when they need support. Frequently though, it feels like I am perpetually and simultaneously in both states of existence; always overwhelmed by the needs of others and constantly considering asking for help in managing my own needs because of it. I’ve come to realise that I have a complicated relationship with needing, being needed, and asking for help. I wonder often whether I use helping others to distract myself from helping myself. Then I feel bad about asking for support because I might not have had to, were I putting my own oxygen mask on first. Maybe this is ok, though. Realistically, we all go through times when we have the energy to spare for the needs of others and times when we need help coping ourselves.

We’re now well into year three of a pandemic that has vastly changed our lives in many obvious but also many subtle ways. The ways in which we all interact with each other have been strained and altered. Physical touch in a greeting has become a bit of an awkward dance of managing people’s comfort levels. At least, dramatically more so than it was before all this. Being isolated at home has become the default for many, making connecting in the real world all the more challenging and exhausting. Social landscapes have changed: two years away from consistent partying has meant that many of your friends have taken the opportunity to leave that part of their lives behind. Maybe many others spent the past two years getting “too” wrapped up in their substance use (something we each get to define for ourselves, of course) during a time when it felt like the “rules” had changed or were no longer applicable. Perhaps you are one of these two kinds of people, or perhaps somehow you are both. Either way, the nature of being there for each other has changed as well.

One of those catchphrases of the pandemic that I had heard semi-frequently was, “We all need a little bit more than anyone can give right now”. I think it’s been one of the few of those repetitively uttered catchphrases that’s actually resonated with me during all this. My work life through much of covid had been about providing care to a handful of little ones and their parents (being a nanny really is more about family support than just babysitting) and that definitely took its toll. That would have been manageable, though, had I not been cohabitating with a particularly emotionally exhausting partner that required a great deal of attention and care. You know, the kind of partner that (pandemic or not) always needs quite a lot more than really any one person can give, and yet expects all their needs to be met solely by their significant other, but I digress.

Throughout all of that, I was cut off from some of the people that depended on me the most in my pre-covid life, and was isolated from those that I frequently leaned on as well. I’ve always had difficulty asking for help, and pandemic-related social isolation had made some of the things or people I needed impossible to access, to the point of developing a sort of resentment towards being needed by others. Things have now returned to some semblance of the “normalcy” we all had in the beforetimes (case numbers be damned??), but whether it’s because of the last two and a half years or the last thirty, these feelings of overwhelm still linger and have their continued effects.

In any case, these last couple of years have been pretty hard on all of us in one way or another. Due to the pandemic things like alcoholism, chaotic substance use in general, poor mental health, suicidal ideation, etc. increased in a statistically significant way. Of course, those of us already struggling with these things beforehand were disproportionately affected by this phenomenon. Back in January healthcare professionals were sounding the alarm bells over an already struggling healthcare system potentially facing a severe shortage of nurses due to pandemic burnout. Fast forward to now and we’re seeing an “unprecedented” (there’s that word again) staffing shortage of nurses in Ontario hospitals. Probably not surprisingly, there was also a drastic increase in opioid related deaths over the course of the pandemic, which worsened as time went on. Possibly the one silver lining to all of this is that suicide rates actually stayed the same or even decreased in some places during the pandemic (though it’s notable that this is not the case when isolating numbers for youth and BIPOC folks). Various communities in Canada are now seeing a decrease in overdose related deaths with recovery and harm reduction based approaches, a trend we can only hope continues.

Those last paragraphs got a little dark, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that so many of us have had to deal with heaps of change, trauma, isolation, loss, and general hardship, since March 2020 especially, and many of us likely still don’t know exactly how we have been and will be affected by all this in the long-term. When I think about all the people I care about or come across in life, I’m hard pressed to think of a single person that hasn’t dealt with some sort of crisis or extreme hardship within the last few years. These two and a half years have been rife with challenge and uncertainty, and neither the pandemic nor its widespread fallout are over yet. Many question whether any of it will ever be truly “over” at all. Basically, my point is that we all definitely need a little bit more than any of us can realistically give right now, and maybe that’s ok.

It’s ok to ask for help, but something I’m trying to work on learning is that it’s also ok to say “no” when help is requested. I’m definitely one of those people that has a LOT of friends, family, partners, etc., all of whom I care about deeply, but I don’t necessarily have the time or energy to express that to everyone. However, when asked for help with something, someone to talk to, or even just a person to hang out with, I default to “YES!” because I genuinely want to DO ALL THE THINGS!! Generally this leads to me overbooking myself and stuffing every waking moment (including ones where I really should be sleeping) with some sort of plan or activity or work commitment to the point of exploding. Of course, it’s me that ends up exploding, not my forever incorporeal “schedule”. This presents in stress, overwhelm, a complete lack of self-care including – sometimes – personal hygiene, emotional breakdowns, lack of sleep, lack of food and inevitable depressive phases frequently characterised by all of the above, but with the addition of (though not limited to) too much food, too much sleep, not enough work, not enough connecting with people, lack of exercise, etc. Living in extremes has been exhausting, and isn’t sustainable in the long-term. Maybe some of you can relate.

What I call a “depressive phase” is really just what many people these days refer to as “burnout”. I feel like that’s a word we didn’t hear as much fifteen years ago. I also feel like it’s the word that the neurotypicals of the world landed on for what can be arguably described as a completely “normal” reaction to a constantly overwhelming world; a reaction that has characterised vast swathes of people in my generation. If you google the symptoms of depression and burnout, they sound awfully similar. Can we call it “clinical depression” if the world has been clinically depressing? Perhaps not, though I’m starting to sound a little dark again. Maybe it’s my burnout talking (or maybe it’s just my post-structuralist and nihilistic nature…).

The good thing about burnout is that it can be avoided with a little time devoted to self-care. Fellow Trip! Peer wrote some super helpful tips on how to get yourself thinking about self-care here as well as some covid-specific tips and stress management strategies here. They’re super quick and worthwhile reads, so definitely take a look! For me, however, self-care starts with stronger boundaries and learning to say “no”. I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to need help sometimes, and it’s ok to ask for help when you need it, but it’s also ok to not be available for someone in need. We all have to put our own oxygen mask on first – or like Nicole said – you can’t pour from an empty cup, and that requires time to yourself to slow down, think, have some stillness in life, and really check in with yourself. Now when faced with a request for aid or attention, I do a better job of pausing to think: “Do I actually want to do the thing, or am I just trying to people-please?” Sometimes that results in more solo time devoted to self-care, but other times this ends up with me doing the thing, but also knowing that I’m doing the thing for myself as well. I might be right in the middle of something when the family member I live with asks me to run to the store for them, but a few moments of thought help me realise I could actually use the break and get another couple thousand daily steps out of it at the same time! Just a little bit of pause to hack my brain or mentally reframe things means I can consciously do things to take care of myself while helping others as well.

However, other times call for outright “no”s, and those can be hard sometimes. None of us want to hurt anyone’s feelings or make our loved ones feel rejected. That’s where boundaries come in, I’ve learned. Generally, we can’t be made to be responsible for the wants, needs, or feelings of others, and shouldn’t feel beholden to them either. Now there are of course some exceptions to that rule and times when we should hold ourselves accountable for our less-than-savoury actions, but that’s a blog post for another day. In any case, feelings like guilt, selfishness, shame, or regret shouldn’t be immediate reactions to expressing our right to say “no”. Maybe it’s not for many of you, and these days it’s definitely less-so the case for me, but it used to be something I struggled with a lot more. Take this as just a little reminder of something that I definitely needed to hear more: investing time, energy, and attention in yourself is not selfish or self-absorbed, for many of us it’s absolutely necessary.

Another important distinction that helps me sometimes is between wants and needs. Everyone has things they need in life, everyone also has things that they want. Most people also have things they think they need, but actually just really really really want. The tricky part is that we don’t get to define what is a “want” and what is a “need” for others, but when it comes to the stuff that is more obviously a “want” than a “need” we especially have to remember to prioritise our own needs over the wants of others. Our needs should even come before the needs of others. Of course we should all do our best to support each other and care for each other; we are a pretty interdependent species after all, and aiming to be entirely independent and self-sufficient isn’t the most attainable goal for the majority of us. We should all be able to consider the contextual differences of any given situation and decide whether we want to prioritise someone else’s needs over our own. For example, I need regular intense exercise to get rid of all my excess anxious energy and help me avoid imminent nihilistic existential dread and despair, but if my best friend is going through a crisis then maybe I can skip or reschedule one of my multiple weekly gym days to be there for them. Generally though, my main point is that putting ourselves first shouldn’t make us feel bad or like we’re being selfish; we’re better at being there for the people we care about when we’re taking good care of ourselves.

So if you’re like me and you also have a complicated relationship with needing or being needed, I’m just here to tell you IT’S OK. It’s ok to need others, it’s ok to help others in need, it’s maybe even ok to occasionally burn yourself out a little for the sake of helping others if that’s what you choose for yourself. Just don’t forget to give yourself some time and attention as well when everything is said and done. It’s also ok to need a little help sometimes, and it’s ok to ask for help from others as long as we are prepared to hear and respect the occasional “no”. That’s why it’s important to have a strong support network; none of us should be relying on any one single individual for all the times we need some help. Luckily I have a solid circle of friends and family and an awesomely vibrant, loving, and caring community of party people to lean on in times of need. If you’re reading this you’re probably a member of that circle or community, so lucky you, too! Also, don’t let this whole blog post discourage you, whether as a Trip! Peer or friend, I’m here for you as well! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re in need, because I’ll be able to say no if I need to. 🙂 <3

For those of you that need some suggestions or inspiration, here are a few things that help me check in with myself or address my own self-care!

  • Journaling thoughts and feelings
  • Daily quick tarot card readings
  • Regular intense exercise, or a brisk walk in a pinch
  • Basic self-care activities like brushing my teeth and actually flossing at least once a day
  • The occasional meditation session
  • Some peaceful time with a good book
  • Or just any time alone and separate from people or noise or sensory inputs
  • Turning off unnecessary app notifications
  • Or even turning off important app notifications, like work-related ones, but then scheduling specific time to check those things
  • Making time for a creative hobby of some kind
  • Allowing myself the occasional day of laying around, zoning out, or hours-long video game sessions! Down time is important!

Written by Trip! Peer Natalia F-B 

Volunteer with the Trip! Project!

Spring training is in session starting Thurs Sept 15th!!
The Trip! Project volunteer training involves a weekly training course every spring & fall which features workshops on various topics related to harm reduction, HIV & Hep C prevention, sexual health and safer partying. You do not need to be knowledgeable about all of these topics already – this is a learning opportunity as well as a knowledge sharing one!

Currently most trainings are in person at Queen & Bathurst, as well as in person meetings, community workshops and event outreach. Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centres where Trip! is based currently require volunteers to be fully vaccinated or have an exemption notice <3

In highschool? Get your volunteer hours with us!

Get up to 20 hours from the trainings alone, and get more hours for participating in other project activities like doing outreach at nightlife and community events, social media content creation (Instagram, Reels, TikTok, etc.), writing & taking photos for our blog, making kits for youth (safer party kits, self care kits, art kits, kandi jam kits), attending harm reduction art or mental health drop-ins or zoom-ins with other like-minded youth and attending planning meetings, community workshops or hosting your own! As mentioned above, you don’t have to know about harm reduction or safer partying already – this is a great place to learn about it and bring info back to your friends and community – Just say KNOW! <3

To be eligible for our volunteer program you must:

  • be between the ages of 16-29 (If you are older than 30 please email or apply anyway, priorities are given to youth due to our youth-specific funding, but we do have some incredible 30+ team members)
  • currently connected to at least one community of young people who might use substances in Toronto, from underground nightlife to house parties to queer events to dances to sex workers to homeless & underhoused youth to Indigenous, Black and youth of colour or other communities of youth who party!
  • be able to attend trainings & team meetings in Toronto on Thursday evenings, 6-8pm
  • jive with our harm reduction philosophy
  • have a fun and open attitude, a willingness to learn, and be able to contribute time and energy to the project on a regular basis

Please apply here! 

Email info@tripproject.ca for more info 🙂 

Feel free to share this post with friends and networks!

Opioid MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment)

So….we live in the time where Opioid MAT is a thing. Let’s explore it. Opioid MAT stands for Medication Assisted Treatment and, in this case, refers to drugs that work on the opioid receptors in the brain that are used to ease/prevent opioid withdrawal in folks who are physically dependent on them. Opioid MAT are often taken along with therapy and/or support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, S.M.A.R.T. Recovery, etc. Opioid MAT drugs prevent cravings and withdrawal, while simultaneously not getting the person “high” while taking it.

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Decriminalization: A Not-So-Hot Take

Image from Kristal Menguc/The Varsity

There’s been a pretty big development in drug decriminalization in Canada! By now many of you have probably heard the announcement made by the federal government that British Columbia will be the first province to decriminalize small amounts of some drugs for personal use. More specifically, “Canadians 18 years of age and older will be able to possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA within B.C. as of Jan. 31, 2023.” This is a pilot project, where the BC government intends to keep this law in place for three years, until January 31, 2026 unless otherwise “…revoked or replaced with another exemption before that date.

This is definitely a step in the right direction! We know that any forward movement in decriminalizing substances helps to decriminalize and destigmatize those who use drugs. BC overall, and Vancouver more specifically, have both been leading the charge in the country towards this end with the introduction of a safe supply program last summer and Vancouver’s filing for drug possession exemptions last November. Since then Toronto has filed a similar exemption request, and the same is being considered by various municipalities across the country, most notably in Hamilton, Edmonton, and Saskatoon. Also in favour of decriminalizing drugs for personal use is the Ontario NDP, which is something they say they will work towards now that they are once again the official opposition in the provincial government. The federal government has also come out saying they are open to working with various jurisdictions to expand decriminalization efforts across the country, and even the Conservatives claim to support a health-based rather than criminal approach to all substance use. However, we have yet to see progress in creating such a policy at the federal level, which is crucial given the number of opioid related deaths and continued stigma experienced across the country.
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Sleep, Supplements and Sleep Hygiene:

Sleep can be a tricky thing; whether it’s falling asleep, staying asleep, being comfortable in bed, or dealing with constant fatigue. In this blogpost, we’ll cover the basics of sleep neurobiology, tips, common sleep disorders, over the counter & herbal remedies that may encourage better sleep, and additional online resources to check out.

Why is sleep important?

  • Your body repairs its cells during sleep, important for wound healing, cellular regeneration, etc.
  • Digestion and metabolism are affected by sleep.
  • Your brain consolidates information and memories.
  • People who are deprived of sleep are at a significantly higher risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stroke.
  • Too little sleep, or poor quality sleep can aggravate gastrointestinal disorders and mental health issues.

What happens when we sleep? Continue reading

Part 2: ADHD Brains

In this second part of our series on ADHD and substance use (read Part 1 here), we will be discussing the neurological aspects of ADHD. Harm reduction exists in many facets of life, and can take on many forms. Here at Trip! Project, one of the ways we practice harm reduction is through the spreading of knowledge and awareness of various substances, and phenomena related to taking/using these substances. The idea behind this is that knowledge is power! Having an awareness and understanding of the substances we take and the ways in which they interact with our brains is one way to make more informed and hopefully safer choices when it comes to substance use. The same can be said about our own brain chemistry and structure! Knowing how or why we experience the things we do can help us make informed choices and take better care of our brains. 

This next installment aims to share some of the neurological aspects of ADHD to inform not only why those of us with ADHD gravitate towards the substances we do, but also to undo some of the shame and stigma associated with those habits. Some of these habits are wired into us on a neurological level! That’s not to say we have no control over our decisions or choices. Understanding why we make certain choices can go a long way in overcoming the shame many of us feel around our actions and impulses. Sometimes we all need a little reminder not to stigmatise the way that different brains operate, and to remember that trying to make changes to your mental wiring (if that’s what you want for yourself) can be incredibly challenging! So, with that, we hope to share some info on what specifically is happening on a neurological level when it comes to the ADHD experience.

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Mutual-Aid Harm Reduction: Black History & Future is Love

For this February: May we not only celebrate and honour Black histories, but may we invest in Black futures also. For this Valentine’s day, may we give back, may we gift each other the flowers that we deserve, and may we love deeper in solidarity. For all of this month and beyond, let us continue to seed for change through care, as mutual-aid is indeed harm reduction in a world where it feels like there’s not enough love to live. Black folks in our communities deserve rest, justice, and recovery. We will not celebrate resilience without resistance to systematic violence. We shall remember to care for, invest in, and heartfully cherish Black presence, in all timelines and beyond, as we love towards a future that we all deserve.

Check out these upcoming events (Feb 24 & Feb 28) at NIA Centre for the Arts, a Toronto org that supports & showcases Black artists and artwork.  

2 GoFundMes to Support & Share:
Justice for Moses Erhirhie

Help Shar Get Therapy & Heal

Care for Our Queer & Trans Black Friend

Black Trans Couple’s Affirmation & Survival Fund

Myles’ Gender Affirming Procedure Fund

Therapy Fund: Black, trans, ND & traumatized

Help Antea Rest and Recover

Cleo’s Top Surgery

Help My Mom and Her Fight against Cancer

Regis4Ever

Justice for Moka

In Memory of D’Andre A. Campbell

Written and compiled by Leon Tsai, a Trip! Peer 

Part 1: ADHD and Substance Use

Welcome to the first installment in a multi-part series on ADHD and substance use! In this series we will be going in-depth on topics specific to adult ADHD and substance use including: common symptoms and behaviours of ADHD, the neurological aspects of ADHD, common habits around recreational drug use and self-medicating, and the prescription medications most commonly used by people with ADHD. This first part of the series hopes to give a brief overview clarifying common ideas and misconceptions about ADHD and how substance use can become a part of the ADHD lived experience.

You may have heard or read somewhere that it’s more likely for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to develop substance use issues or even just generally struggle with self-moderation when it comes to substances. In fact, as many as a quarter of adults seeking treatment for substance use related disorders also have an ADHD diagnosis

That also doesn’t account for all the people that may suspect they have ADHD but are undiagnosed, or those that maybe don’t even realize they have it to begin with. But how does that actually present itself in real life? What does it look like to be an adult with ADHD trying to help mitigate some of those symptoms with substances and self-medicating? First we have to start with outlining what some of those symptoms are. Continue reading

Housing Harm Reduction: Community Solidarity & Resources


Photo by Jeff Bierk

Housing is a human right, however…

“It’s estimated that 1500 people sleep outside in Toronto as the result of a housing crisis that saw 102,049 households waitlisted for social housing in 2019 and over 9000 people homeless” – Encampment Support Network (E.S.N.) Toronto

Housing instability and the lack of shelter resources continue to be a violent factor to marginalized folks living in the city. From locally to globally, harm reduction values and practices are both necessary and essential while reaching towards safer and stable housing for all. Not to mention the restrictions or stigmatizations against substance use often turn people who use drugs away from community housing and shelters altogether. Especially, according to E.S.N. Toronto, “as of June 5 there were 14 current COVID-19 outbreaks and 528 confirmed cases in shelters. 4 People have died. In the encampments that have been tested for COVID-19, there were zero cases.” Housing is a human right, and it should not be at the compromise of any person’s dignity, autonomy, or survival. This pandemic should be a reminder of how much care we all deserve and not an opportunity for anyone to be left behind.

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Prescription Sedatives & Tranquilizers

Xannies, tictacs, bars, oh my! All the ins and outs of benzodiazepines (benzos) and z-drugs! Commonly used prescription drugs for anxiety and insomnia, and are also used recreationally without a prescription. Even when they’re prescribed, they still have unique risks! Benzos have been infiltrating the illicit drug trade, increasing the risk of overdose and uncomfortable side effects. This piece covers the differences, dosages and routes of administration and other harm reduction strategies to keep you and your friends as safe as possible.

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