Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. – Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light
Before I spent a couple of crucial seconds yesterday decorating the hood of some lady’s car with my precious, precious bod, I was celebrating a different survival milestone: springing forward! I know that this doesn’t happen everywhere but here in Ontario anyway the clocks jump an hour ahead early Sunday morning for daylight savings.I always think of the “falling back” portion of daylight savings to be the official beginning of my seasonal affective disorder, so springing forward is a symbolic sign of the lessening of some of my depression symptoms. Alright! Spring’s official beginning is just over a week away.
For me, a big signal that depression is kicking my ass is self-denial of some important things: sleep, healthy meals, a clean house, time to work on important projects. I focus hard on self-care as a way of preventing this from occurring when I can. I even started a self-care themed tumblr that you’re welcome to follow: Care of the Self. It’s heavy on cute animal photos. (Thanks to my friends who post there too!)
Some of my favourite theorizing about self-care has come from Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Claire linked to this excerpt from the essay, “A Time to Hole Up And a Time to Kick Ass” from We Don’t Need Another Wave. I hadn’t heard of that book before today and now I’m looking forward to tracking it down. Though our circumstances are different, this excerpt really expresses some of the many reasons that “care” is radical, and also why, for me, doing femme, as an intentional activity, is about a lot more than looking cute.
What counts as activism? Why didn’t the kind of emotional self-care me and my girls were doing—talking to each other about all the fucked-up shit we were going through as brown girls—count? Why didn’t my best friend driving her elderly East African mother to the doctor and renegotiating her way through the layers of the racist, sexist, condescending bullshit medical system count as activism? Did staying alive count as activism? Did re-learning Tamil, one of my Sri Lankan family’s languages, count? Did cooking good Sri Lankan food and learning how to cook those recipes I didn’t have female family members around to teach me count? As a South Asian femme immigrant who was having a shitty week, did shopping at the MAC counter and finding the perfect shade of fuchsia lip gloss for my milk-tea skin count?
I also found the essay, “Communities of Care, Organizations for Liberation“ by Yashna Maya Padamsee on the brownstargirl blog. It’s probably one of the very best pieces of writing on this topic that I’ve come across. The focus of the piece is about understanding how to extend concepts of self-care to encompass broader communities, and asks us to identify instances where the need for “self-care” are being created in order to lessen that personal impact on individuals in the community.
Too often self-care in our organizational cultures gets translated to our individual responsibility to leave work early, go home- alone- and go take a bath, go to the gym, eat some food and go to sleep. So we do all of that “self-care” to return to organizational cultures where we reproduce the systems we are trying to break; where we are continually reminded of our own trauma or exposed and absorb secondary PTSD, and where we then feel guilty or punished for leaving work early the night before to take a bubble bath.
Self-care, as it is framed now, leaves us in danger of being isolated in our struggle and our healing. Isolation of yet another person, another injustice, is a notch in the belt of Oppression. A liberatory care practice is one in which we move beyond self-care into caring for each other.
In my life, it has been absolutely crucial to be able to do “self-care” with friends. I count myself lucky to have pals who I can be real with about depression and who understand about how taking time for a manicure is often about much, much more than just pretty hands. Thanks to friends who walked me to the grocery store on days when I wouldn’t have made it without supervision. Thanks to friends who sat on my kitchen floor with a bottle of wine and cried and laughed and talked it out with me.
This thing happens when the people that made you die, where you stop knowing how to take care of yourself. It’s like when your mom goes away for the weekend and leaves you in the house to fend for yourself and you eat nothing but frozen pizza for three days…