On Self-Care

Some thoughts about self-care:

It's almost the holidays, and they will be painful and isolating for some of us. You will probably be encouraged to do some self-care. Self-care is great! But it has been marketed to death in face masks and cozy slippers—and believe me, I love face masks and cozy slippers. It’s worthwhile to step back from marketed self-care (and the very easy platitudes you might hear others spouting about it) and look at the underlying philosophy.

We can trace the more modern iterations of self-care back to Audre Lorde, Black feminist librarian poet activist (among other powerful things). She deserves careful study and consideration far beyond my quick summation of self-care practices. You have probably seen her famous quote from the epilogue of A Burst of Light somewhere: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” To put this in context, she wrote this while fighting for her life with liver cancer after surviving breast cancer and spending a lifetime fighting racism and sexism, advocating for marginalized and traumatized voices.

She is not talking about putting on a face mask, watching Netflix, having some me-time; these things might be part of how you shrug off the dirt of the day and get back to kindling the light in your marrow, but there’s much more to it. Worse yet, the way self-care gets marketed now is just another way the prevailing narrative tells traumatized people they aren’t trying enough: they just haven’t done the right ritual of propping their feet up and pouring a glass of wine and letting it all go.

Lorde writes, “I had to examine, in my dreams as well as in my immune function tests, the devastating effects of overextension. Overextending myself is not stretching myself. I had to accept how difficult it is to monitor the difference.” If fundamental to self-care is not overextending yourself, that includes not reaching for someone else’s silver linings and sayings and lessons and products. That includes performing positivity you don’t necessarily feel, silencing grief and hard things inside of you so that others are satisfied that you’re doing self-care the way they see fit. Challenge yourself, but not to fit the shape of someone else’s healing. Your self-care might be a hard thing for others to see if it means letting yourself feel and do challenging things (while wearing soft slippers if you like).

Take care.

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