Forum Connect

Mental Resilience for Preservationists

  • 1.  Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 07-06-2020 16:16
    Edited by Raina Regan 07-06-2020 16:17

    I recently published a story on Preservation Leadership Forum about building the mental resilience of the historic preservation field. As I shared in that piece, I believe that all preservationists can benefit from more mental resilience, and like other soft-skills, resilience can be learned.

    What is mental resilience? Psychology Today defines resilience as "the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties, traumatic events, or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals." 

    For those veterans in the field, how have you gained mental resilience in your time working as a historic preservationist? What advice would you offer to an early career professional?

    For early career and veteran historic preservation professionals, are there experiences you'd wished for more mental resilience to react/respond?

    I welcome feedback on the piece itself, along with any other ideas about how we can build mental resilience in the historic preservation field!



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    Raina Regan (she/her/hers)
    Senior Manager of Easements
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington, DC
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  • 2.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-19-2020 16:56
    Hello!

    Did any of you hear Raina talk at the Dismantle Preservation conference? While I believe the video is no longer available, I wanted to bump this conversation up a little bit as we head into the last weeks of August and push into the Fall when I know everyone refocuses on work again.

    I also know this is something that I've been struggling with. Things like keeping a proper work life balance when you are working at home. Dealing with old and new challenges in the preservation field. While I know none of us are mental health professionals I think it would be great to hear some strategies from the field.

    For instance - in order to get myself to stop working every day I reclaim my space. All my work equipment get's stored in a bag to remind myself that the day is done.

    But that's obviously not the only area where mental resilience is needed.

    Priya


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    Priya Chhaya
    Associate Director, of Content
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC
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  • 3.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-20-2020 09:05
    I think all the talks are here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVqB-ZGr0sVdE7nUc0w0Nnw

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    Shawn Evans
    Santa Fe NM
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  • 4.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-20-2020 09:26
    Edited by Priya Chhaya 08-20-2020 09:27
    Thanks @Shawn Evans, unfortunately, the Mental Health panel is no longer available (the same with the session on unions).

    As an aside to the topic of this thread, however community members should consider watching what is still available.


  • 5.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Ambassador
    Posted 08-20-2020 20:46
    I have been operating my consulting business from home since I retired several years ago. I am lucky to have a small home office with doors that enable me to close it off from the rest of the house. The most important factor for me relating to working from home is to clearly differentiate home from work, particularly in the morning. I don't feel that I can be productive if I roll out of bed and go to my office in my pajamas. I need to duplicate my previous office routine to some extent. So, I go through the same bathroom routine, put on some clothes like I would have worn on casual Friday, then go to the kitchen like I would have gone to the office break room previously. There, I make coffee and eat a bite before entering my office, catching up on the news from overnight, and checking my email. Then, I feel like I am ready to start work.

    My leaving work routine is not as important to me, since all I really have to do is tidy a bit, leave my office and close the door behind me. One thing that helps is that I typically work until 5:00 which means an after-work glass of wine is an appropriate way to end the work day. Rituals are an important part of mental resilience to me.

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    Jim Sparks
    Sparks Architecture
    Glasgow, KY
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  • 6.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-21-2020 01:56
    Wow Jim, seems like we have some things in common. I as well am an independent consultant and have worked from home since the day I bought it. I live in an 1300 sq ft 1887 Gabled Eli "Hall and Parlor Cottage in the (very socioeconomically distressed) Vistula Historic District in Toledo, Ohio. My Office is the former sitting room, separated from the front parlor by large pocket doors and the high windows provide no intrusive view as the neighborhood is essentially an American version of terraced neighborhoods and my neighbor is just under 4' away.

    I am a lifetime social and domestic historical lifestyle conservationist and grew up in Tennessee with mostly Amish and Weaverland Mennonites and got an early start. I am in the process of doing a full restoration to the POHS, which for my home was from 1905-1944 so the middle-ground is ca. 1936 and have completed most of the infrastructure, fixture, and appliance installations and I have found a tremendous solace from a very chaotic world by actively and intentionally slowing many of the aspects I took for granted throughout my adult life, and have also minimized my monthly expenses in ways I didn't predict.

    I too, have to maintain a tangible separation of my work and my personal life and household management requirements, as I work in the applied social and behavioral sciences and it is more complex than it might sound, and includes studying some of the more concerning aspects of the world outside my parlor window (lit by a 1921 Aladdin Model 11) online and across the social media platform landscape.

    I've been researching the Historic Urban Landscape and Urban Cultural Heritage Conservation approaches as well as the NPS Historic Cultural Landscape from the perspective of a supporter of the previous two concepts. Part of that for me, to help build that resiliency is the way that the house has evolved to over 6 years to come very close to the neighborhood interior photos from the early 1930's and I have paid strict attention to socioeconomic and culturally appropriate details in everything.

    So,  an intense career, and an active full-time preservationist and restorationist working virtually alone in the psychosocial wilderness, trying to save a neighborhood (which is the last of it's kind still almost fully intact) that the city seems bound and determined to tear to the ground by any means achievable means mental resiliency is a very priority for me, as I've already seen many people lose that balance and throw a rod through their enthusiasm block.

    I typically wake at 3:45 or 4:00, and can work sometimes until 11:00 at night, dividing my time between my profession and my passion in a delicate balance of seemingly disparate, but actually completely interwoven and competing worlds that my parlor window is at the best vantage point to see most of the moving parts of a lot of what's gone wrong these days and being able to retreat back to the way it was intended to be and still works best today is something that I always have a hard time explaining to people, most of whom can't get past the "You use oil lamps? You'll set the place ablaze" which might be true for them, but my Grandmother (b. 1914) always used them and I grew up with her.

    The still maturing immersive environmental historicity is a livable history safehouse from the Pandorum of today, rapidly being created by what I have long felt to be an intrusive and overused technology slowly taking over reality into something resembling a dystopian cyberpunk story from the late 80's. However, the way that my day to day life runs inside my home is a definite safe place where everything is elegantly modest, often far more beautiful that modern choices available and heavily marketed to low-moderate income households today, consistently reliable, very low-cost and low-maintenance well-made appliances fixtures and furniture, most of which was produced within 100 miles of the house. It feels very much like what the neighborhood and it's residents were intended to feel in these surprisingly elegant emerging middle class starter homes.

    To hear about it is one thing, but to actually sit in a working household environment that has normalized and habituated day-to-day fact of life tasks that haven't been used or thought about in over 50 years provides a stark and striking comparative analysis of how much more to a human scale and pace, which is in many ways much more efficient, often requires less effort than mythologized, and produces a far higher quality result.

    It's really the anchor that keeps me grounded because I know that if I can get the house completed to the point to open it up for other people to have even however a brief experience of this immersive environment, despite the arbitrary obstacles and their builders, it could spark enough momentum from enough of the neighborhood and local community to possibly influence the city to hold to their responsibility to the Historic Status of the whole District, not just the 3 story Empire Revivals 5 blocks east.  Every single place in this entire district matters, not just the ones that other people think of as "real historic homes."

    Perhaps, I might even be able to inspire someone else to take a step towards conscientious and reasonable adoption of livable history elements in their own domestic and household management routine and eliminate stressors and maybe turn down the open fire hydrant of money spewing out of their wallets every month that I didn't even know was the case till I experienced the difference from washing my clothes to making my morning coffee and cooking breakfast to even my now weekly shopping routine, and the gloriously short 6 minutes it takes me to mow my front lawn with a well-maintained reel mower in the summer, often using only one hand and without breaking a sweat, spending a dollar or spewing one particle of crap into the air for 4 years now.

    Mental Resilience in historical preservation and conservation work, especially in low-income urban core districts, is a vital life skill to have a high level of with plenty of reserves. History itself has provided a great deal of insight for me and I have definitely found the most extraordinary wisdom in the most ordinary things no one notices anymore. How could a refrigerator be a source of sage advice and practical life-skill lesson for young people today anyway, it's just a stupid fridge right?


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    P. Wesley Flowers
    Toledo OH
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  • 7.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-21-2020 12:27
    These are great insights! Building a healthy work routine, particularly in this time period when we are predominately working from home, is so critical to mental resilience. I know I've had to adjust my routine over the course of the pandemic to recognize and respond to how the stress and anxiety of this period impacts my day-to-day life. I think you are absolutely correct @Jim Sparks - Rituals are an important part of mental resilience. As soon as I was able to get into a routine with small rituals that worked for me, I have noticed my productivity and mental health have improved (not to say I don't have off days, certainly, they still happen).

    I've found a lot of great tips from the (very short) daily podcast by Laura Vanderkam called 'The New Corner Office.' These 4-5 minute episodes provide tangible things you can do to build a good daily routine while working from home. https://lauravanderkam.com/the-new-corner-office/
    ​​

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    Raina Regan (she/her/hers)
    Senior Manager of Easements
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington, DC
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  • 8.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Ambassador
    Posted 08-22-2020 14:59
    Raina, I will give that podcast a listen, thanks. Writing about my daily rituals made me realize that one reason I value them so much is they help  connect me with happier times when I was working at a job that was challenging but rewarding, before covid and before our current political situation. Those were good times to look back on, and I have to remind myself to look forward with whatever optimism I can muster. Having a daily routine and rituals helps give me the stability I need to move ahead into whatever is coming.  As long as I don't let them get out of hand, that is. For example, I try not to let my end-of-workday glass of wine become a glass of bourbon, but I confess I sometimes slip.

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    Jim Sparks
    Sparks Architecture
    Glasgow, KY
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  • 9.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Ambassador
    Posted 08-22-2020 14:08
    Wesley, it sounds as if you live and work in a beautiful home. As for me, I live on the outskirts of my small town in a house that was built in the 80s in a Federal style with wings on both sides. The house was built by a member of a local family that operated a construction business that was hired to demolish many historic structures in this region.  They did recognize the significance of the buildings, however, so the house has components, including brick, doors, flooring, and bannisters from several local municipal and commercial buildings. Living here makes me feel both joy in what was saved and sadness in what was lost.

    Because it is on the outskirts of town, I live next to a small woods home to a variety of wildlife. I have spent many hours in the past few months walking in it. the house is not huge by any means, but it is spacious, and because it sits on a roomy lot with a sidewalk on one side and woods on the other, it has been a great place to isolate in the time of covid.

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    Jim Sparks
    Sparks Architecture
    Glasgow, KY
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  • 10.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-21-2020 12:28
    It may be true of other professions, but this is the one I know, so I would suggest that heritage professionals bring to their work an empathetic nature that many others do not. The fight to save a building is a visceral struggle for us (at least for me) and unfortunately one we don't win often in a world where the economics of land use doesn't think much of the 'less than most profitable use' the preservation of a site may dictate. It hurts like hell when we struggle to protect a building for all the quality of life enhancing, socially just, environmentally earth saving reasons we know are right, only to see it demolished because a financial pro-forma says there's more money to be made with something else on the site. So this is going to sound cynical (if it doesn't already), but here's what I tell myself at the end of every day: What I am doing is right and just and is good for society; I have to accept, and be able to live with the fact that preservation is just a stay of execution - only demolition is final, and I must relinquish the outcome for my own well-being; not every building will stand and I have to remember that what I do is only part (a very important part) of city building - my objectivity is necessary so that I continue to be seen as a credible advocate in the eyes of decision makers and fellow professionals in other fields. Finally, when I lecture to students, and emerging professionals I always remind them that if a hitter in major league baseball bats a lifetime .350 average he's going to hall of fame, even though he failed to get on base two thirds of the time. I'm coming up on twenty years as the keeper of heritage for our small city and I walk around looking at buildings that are standing because of my work and the places where other arguments held sway, and I can honestly say that, on balance, the place is better for my work. As long as I can still say that, I'm satisfied that my mental resilience is intact.

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    Erik Hanson
    Heritage Preservation Office
    Peterborough ON
    70574277771
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  • 11.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-21-2020 20:39

    Hear, hear Erik. I really appreciate your words. I reflect often on my first big preservation fight as an absolute green newbie and outsider - the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building just south of Buffalo, on the Lake Erie Shore. That was a gutwrenching experience and I allowed my emotions to be yanked around endlessly by the drama (oh, but it's FUN!) and the pain. I learned a great deal of lessons from that. Including, like you said - sometimes you'll work really hard, and the result will not be the one you want. But there are always lessons in the loss.

    Thanks, Raina for your work to bring these issues to the fore. 



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    Dana Saylor
    Buffalo NY
    (315)525-7474
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  • 12.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Ambassador
    Posted 08-22-2020 20:05

    Hello all,

    In talking about mental resilience and, (hopefully) investing in a larger conversation on mental health in historic preservation practice, I think it may be important to ask two critical questions.

    First, we should ask: How healthy are our traditional ways of thinking and practicing in historic preservation? In asking this question, it is important to consider how traditional ways of thinking and practicing in historic preservation may or may not be conducive to the mental resilience and health of preservation participants and practitioners, even though these ways of thinking and practicing are (often uncritically) internalized and accepted as "normal" in preservation.

    Second, we should ask: Is the ability to be mentally resilient an equitably accessible skill in historic preservation practice?  In asking this question, we should consider that trauma, difficulties, mental fatigue, emotional stress and distress in historic preservation are not evenly distributed among participants and practitioners within practice, and that the "ability to overcome [these things]" are not meted out upon a level playing field. For instance, the landscapes of people of color are constantly under attack and the tools offered by historic preservation are limited by structural inequalities embedded in its laws, rules, regulations, and practices. Often, this leads to more "losses" than "wins" for communities of color. These losses reflect more than just a disruption and/or loss of a visceral connection to a place, but also the deprivation of resources, habitation, communal connections, and legacy upon the landscape. These constant and multiple losses not only take a toll on the mental and emotional health of historic preservation participants and practitioners of color, but also on their ability to practice and participate in historic preservation unimpeded, their physical well-being, and their overall quality of life.  

    In engendering a deeper discussion around mental resilience, and (hopefully) building a broader discussion and safe community around mental health in historic preservation, I think it is essential to investigate how unhealthy ways of thinking and practicing that have been embedded and internalized (and, subsequently, presented as "normal") operate in preservation. I also think it is essential to investigate how these unhealthy ways of thinking and practicing (may even) contribute to the inequitable distribution of trauma, difficulties, mental fatigue, emotional stress and distress of historic preservation participants and practitioners of color; and how the ability to overcome these things are not equitably accessible to all.

    Again, I hope that these questions can contribute to helping us build a stronger, safer, and equitable community around mental health in historic preservation,



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    Jamesha Gibson
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  • 13.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-23-2020 10:43
    Jamesha,

    Great points. To build on some of your ideas, I've been getting some intriguing and troubling feedback from BIPOC practitioners that relates to issues of mental resilience. A few themes really emerge for me based on these conversations.

    Student scholars who choose a topic related to BIPOC heritage are often not formally recognized for their innovative work because the field lacks such recognition mechanisms. Many schools lack such specific awards, as well. We need more than just HABS/HAER/HALS documentation awards to give to preservation students. The only exception that I'm aware of is the Historic Preservation Book Prize from the University of Mary Washington, but that's not really geared toward junior scholars. (I realize other allied fields, such as public history, recognize this kind of scholarship, but my focus here is within the preservation enterprise.) Does anyone have any other examples? Perhaps I'm missing something?

    The point here is that a preservation student who chooses to do work in the area of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion must, by definition, address troubling narratives and will experience some degree of psychological trauma in their work that other students, choosing other topics, will not. The fact that the field doesn't formally reward this kind of scholarship means that these students are denied the psychological and community support that such rewards embody. 

    Another issue relates to agency. Most people want a sense of agency in their work - an ability to choose some area in which they have an interest and apply themselves to it. Stories I'm hearing repeatedly is that if you're white in historic preservation, you can pretty much choose to work in any area you want. If you're BIPOC, the white people in the field subtly or not so subtly will steer you to only work on heritage that, in superficial ways, appears to match your race and/or ethnicity. This is a unique form of trauma that BIPOC have to deal with in historic preservation that their white colleagues do not. Those of us in leadership roles in the field-especially in roles of student mentorship-should fundamentally recognize and address this problem.

    Lastly, secondary school BIPOC students may intuitively be aware that entering a field that is so strongly associated with supporting white supremacy may not be so good for their mental health. And, as a result, they will categorically refuse to ever consider preservation as a career path. This is a kind of self-preservation decision: why enter a field that will likely be unusually stressful simply because of one's racial and ethnic identity? 

    -Jeremy






  • 14.  RE: Mental Resilience for Preservationists

    Posted 08-24-2020 10:08
    Edited by Priya Chhaya 08-24-2020 10:12
    @Jamesha Gibson

    Thanks for your comments. One of the things @Raina Regan and I have been talking about off line is that as preservationists confront the challenges and systemic issues within the field that mental resilience is necessary in order to make the changes that need to be done. We can't be precious about the way the work, and that will lead to some challenges and necessary adjustments. If you are passionate about the field - how do you tackle the issues that may show your complicity in the system? (Personally, I am constantly thinking and re-thinking about my actions, having been working in public history for almost fifteen years)

    Your second point about equity and access for BIPOC - something echoed by @Jeremy Wells is critical. Because there are definitely two different set of standards of work - and often BIPOC experience loss and stressors in areas that many of us take for granted.  [Note: Yes, being South Asian, I am BIPOC, but I always think it is important to understand your own privileges within this field. Especially, since I have access to support that many others do not.]

    Also I was remiss in mentioning that Raina's panel at Dismantle Preservation also included two practitioners Camille Bethune-Brown and Ty Ginter who made some critical points about mental health for new professionals and BIPOC. ​​​Again, the panel is no longer available but I wanted to make sure to acknowledge their participation as well.

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    Priya Chhaya
    Forum Connect Community Manager

    Associate Director, of Content
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC
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