We Thrive Events loves to bring you stories about women who are doing things in their careers and their communities. Today we turn the spotlight on Dr. Deone Curling, a Mental Health Therapist at a community health centre located in downtown Toronto. Anyone looking for a woman coach with an in-depth experience with mental health need look no further than Curling, who is a life coach with We Thrive Events, and fittingly, is also an entrepreneur herself: she has her own practice where she counsels individuals. As one of the city’s women supporting women, her work has largely focused on this gender, although increasing number of men are starting to seek her help.
We recently sat down with Curling to talk about her work — about how she found her own stride in her career, women’s attitudes towards self-care and their endurance after facing hardships, and how she helps others.
When it comes to talking about living your best life and overcoming hurdles, Curling isn’t just spouting platitudes: she has lived it. She’s no stranger to dealing with difficulties that could have become obstacles if she had let them.
Although Curling wasn’t sure what she wanted to do as a young woman, her career started off promisingly enough, but not in mental health. “I went to York University and did sociology,” she explains. “Then I did a one-year certificate program at Seneca College in corporate communications because that’s what I thought I wanted to do.” Curling soon started her own public relations business that did well. “I had a lot of clients.”
One contract in particular would prove life-changing. A new non-profit organization building for abused women in Toronto sought out Curling’s services. They wanted her to do community relations in response to resistance from the surrounding community who did not want the building in the neighbourhood. Little did Curling know it would be her entree into mental health.
While working on the project, she spent more time talking and supporting the women who resided in the building than doing public relations campaigns in the community. This was the beginning of Curling contemplating a shift in the direction her career. “I felt so humbled that the women shared their personal stories with me, [about which] I could be an ear for them.” At this juncture, Curling said she began to think about the possibility of changing her career and working in a field that would support women’s emotional needs.
Curling also shared that during this period in her life she was having a difficult time with one of the individuals who hired her. “He bullied me throughout the project. It was terrible. He repeatedly humiliated me on the job. My self-esteem plummeted, which left me feeling worthless.” She explains that things were so bad that Curling went to see her friend’s mentor for suggestions on how to get revenge on her abuser. The mentor advised, however, “This is what you’re going to do. You’re going to go to Niagara University and get your masters degree in mental health.’ ” It wasn’t quite the information she had expected. “I was crying to my friend, because that wasn’t what I went there for.” Her friend told her to take the mentor’s advice, adding that she should go back to school. The mentor reminded Curling that the best way to get revenge on her abuser is by being her best self.
Her friend and the mentor were right. Despite balking at the suggestion initially, Curling went to Niagara University. “I never did well in school; I always struggled,” she says. “But when I did my master’s in mental health, I understood everything. It was like they were speaking my language.” School soon became her method of coping with the turmoil in her life. “I didn’t preoccupy myself with how to take revenge on my abuser; rather, I focused on getting excited with the new knowledge I was obtaining from school. I thought, ‘My gosh, I love this.’ It opened up this whole new world to me. That shifted me from doing public relations to doing therapy.” One of the worst experiences of her life had actually led Curling to find her passion.
After she graduated with her master’s degree, she started working at a community health centre that serves Black women and women of colour. The hard work wasn’t over, however: Curling set her sights on earning her doctorate while working and having two children. Her dissertation was on Black Women’s Depression and she received her doctorate in 2013.
Curling has learned a lot from the women of different backgrounds that she’s worked with over the years. When asked what one of the commonalities of such a diverse group of women are, her answer strikes two sides of the same coin. On the one hand there is the danger of being exploited that women and girls live with. “Most of the women I’ve seen — from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, South Asia and other cultures, too — there’s a vulnerability to being a girl.” Childhood sexual abuse is pervasive. Giving a conservative estimate, she says, “90% of my clients have been sexually abused,” adding that it’s not just in “other communities,” as many tend to think; it affects all communities, including Canadian women and girls.
On the other hand, there’s a strength that also emerges that impresses her. This ability to endure and survive shows up not just with sexual abuse, but other traumatic experiences as well. “I’ve seen women who have gone through so much trauma — war, abusive households. Sometimes I look at them and I say, ‘My gosh, and you’re sitting here in front of me? It is a miracle.’ I see the commonality of their strength, I see the commonality of their vulnerability and the commonality of their resilience. I love listening to women’s resilience,” Curling says.
As we spoke, the topic of self-care came up. A big champion of self-care, Curling sees it not only as positive but necessary for people, especially women, to ensure that they take care of themselves. “Self-care is a political act, especially for black women,” she says. “We are sometimes seen as the mules of society: we’re supposed to be able to take on everything. And we embrace it; we say, ‘My mother was able to cook, clean, go to work. What’s wrong with me that I can’t do it all?’ So I see it as a political act when we do take care of ourselves. I see it as an act of honouring our ancestor who worked so hard for us. Self care is saying thank you to our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers for all their sacrifices that allows us to live well today.” She’s also heartened to see that Generation X and the millenials are open to self care. Speaking from her community of middle-class, black women, “We are starting to see it as, ‘It’s important to take care of myself because it helps everybody around me.’ If Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy!”
That attitude, that helping oneself is actually helping those around us, is the message that Curling has found important for her women clients of all communities. “For clients to hear that they are important, [I have] to say, ‘Helping yourself helps your children, because if you’re in a good place, your kids will be in a good place.” She often gives the example of what happens in an emergency on an airplane: “If you don’t put the oxygen mask on your face, how are you going to have the strength to put it on your child?”
This isn’t to say that Curling doesn’t see merit in someone else doing the nurturing or taking care — far from it. She believes that when others want to help we should let them. We need to let go and allow others to help at times. “Some of us have inherited the bad habit of saying ‘I am okay, I can handle it all.” Sometimes we are not okay and we deserve a little help even in the simplest ways. For instance, if someone offers to carry our bags we need to stop, hand them over and say, ‘Thank you.’ Sometimes we don’t need to be superwoman — we need to give room for others to help us even if they don’t do it exactly the way we would like it to be done.”
For Curling, running is her self-care. It has become part of her morning routine, as necessary to her as breathing. Curling wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every day, makes her kids’ breakfasts and lunch (her children are 8 and 14), then goes for her run, listens to motivational talks and meditates before returning home by 6:30 a.m. “I love getting high on the endorphins that running produces, being motivated by inspirational words from YouTube talks, and clearing my mind through meditation every morning. It fills up my cup so I can deal with the day. It’s what keeps me sane. It makes me so happy. If I don’t do that in the morning my day is not as good.”
Who does she find inspiration from? “Oprah, Robin Sharma [author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari] and [author] Marianne Williamson” are just a few.
The kind of inspiration Curling feeds herself every morning is the kind of positive influence she’d like to inspire in other women with her coaching. “I would love to encourage people to have a morning routine. Robin Sharma calls it the 5AM Club and I truly believe in it. You should do something every single day to treasure yourself. Don’t wait for the big vacation once a year, if you are that lucky. Instead, do something soothing every day: taking a bubble bath before bed, sipping on hot chocolate, listening to music — it doesn’t have to be big. If you don’t spoil yourself others won’t know how to spoil you. You deserve it!”
Curling is one woman helping women to reach for their full potential. She sees her position as a life coach to assist individuals in becoming their best self not only for themselves but for all those who surround them. Curling elaborates, “There is an African saying: ‘I am because of you;’ hence, I believe a woman striving for her full potential is a recognition of her ancestors that have gone before her and for the next generation that will carry on her legacy. I am always humbled to be a part of that process.”