self-care: cultivate your bubble

content note: white supremacy, examples of

At the beginning of this year, I started working with a coach through Black Girl Dangerous’ “Get Free: Healing For the Revolution” program. I saw this part of the program description, and my immediate reaction, was “Yes, I want that.” (Also, are you still looking for places to make your end-of-year donations?)

Our program provides personalized support so that you can:

  • Let go of things you’re holding onto from the past that don’t serve you.
  • Identify, and do something about, areas where you feel stuck in your personal healing and growth.
  • Be accountable for areas where you’re not taking responsibility for your life.
  • Speak and live truth.
  • Do activist work in a way that nurtures and makes you come alive.
  • Cultivate healthy and supportive relationships.

I wasn’t really sure how to set goals; the biggest thing I could think of was “build resilience.” I felt like the microaggressions I experienced in Portland were affecting me more than usual, like I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly, if at all. Looking back now, it’s obvious to me that the change wasn’t just internal. I moved away from a support network and community of organizers that I had spent 10 years cultivating in LA, and I was surrounded by post-racial white liberals — like Board members who talked about the importance of equity (Oregon funders’ buzzword for diversity initiatives) and then also said that they “don’t get white privilege, because their (rich, white) kids were raised not to see skin color”; and poets writing spoken word pieces about how Ferguson, Ohio (sic) taught them, as white women, to fear the police; and people who called me a racist for asking them not to invite me to culturally appropriative events.

I felt stuck and sad and isolated, even though I was lucky to be in community with a handful of wonderful QTPOC organizers. Without going into all of the detail in this post, through coaching, I realized that one way to be accountable to myself for my happiness  was move back to Los Angeles.

“You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more (but I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later)

(Note: In the interest of the “open-source mind” aspect of this blog, the part below is the kernel that this chunk started from. It’s mostly, like, “oppressive people are poop, poop bad, cut out the toxic poop” but thanks to Tk’s wisdom, I’ve spaced out the posts and I get to add nuance. Yes, limit the toxic poop in your life as you are able to given the context of your safety and finances, but also, curate the bubble you do want to live in!)

So how do we minimize the need for emergency self-care?

In different conversations with my mother about community, she’s asked me variations of “Why don’t you hang out with straight people?” and “Do you have any white friends?” First of all, I have plenty of exposure to white cishets in pop culture, politics, positions of leadership, and work — and some of my best friends are straight white people [citation needed]. Second, the subtext here is also that I’m not “living in the real world,” but as people I love and respect have pointed out, constantly surrounding yourself with trauma and sadness is just as much a bubble. And if I have to choose between a bubble of grounded joy and QTPOC magic and a bubble of poop, guess which one I’m going to pick?

I deal with enough poop all day; when I have a choice, I am not going to intentionally curate more poop. A hugely important part of my self-care journey has been finding ways to center people who move me toward healing and growth, folks who embody a commitment to building and personal accountability, folks who I want to laugh and cook and celebrate and create and mourn and heal and process and share love with.

The argument about “living in the real world” comes up all the time, and it is toxic — and false — because it assumes that the real world is a fixed, oppressive nightmare that is impervious to change. When people criticize students organizing on college campuses by saying they “lack resilience” or won’t be able to survive outside of the bubble of college campuses, they are not just being ageist (and often ageist, ableist, classist, racist, and anti-feminist); they are upholding the status quo and cynically accepting it as the only possible reality there is.

In short: Cut the toxic folks out of your life. Refuse to accept that being an adult means accepting that the world is and will always be a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness. There are many practical and emotional and financial considerations here, that make this less of an actual choice or possibility in many situations, but where you can: Cut out the toxic poop. Cherish the unicorns around you.

Find your unicorns: Curate the people who are not-poop and pour your intention into these relationships.

When I say I hate capitalism, the toxic poop is why. It forces us to navigate shitty situations, be in community with folks who harm us but have economic control over our lives, and sacrifice our wellness in order to be able to put food into our bodies and pay for shelter. (More on this in the last post.)

With that context in mind, I think it’s absolutely necessary that we cultivate relationships that help us move toward healing and wholeness. (And even when I say “cut out the toxic poop,” I recognize that in my own life, I don’t want to give up on folks who are invested in learning, and I also believe that part of how we will win is moving folks toward embracing justice and working toward our collective liberation. However, I do think it’s important to recognize that this work is draining, and for me, a huge part of self-care is knowing when to disengage.)

A month or so ago, I put up a support request on Facebook to talk through an incident I was grappling with. As I typed the names of friends into the filtered post box, I felt gratitude toward each person, recognizing that I trusted each of them enough to talk through something I couldn’t process on my own and that was bringing up a lot of uncomfortable realizations I wasn’t ready to confront.

Looking back later, I thought about how writing that post and choosing who to share it with gave me a moment to process who feels safe and why, what it meant that the list was relatively short (people who I trusted, who would understand the context, and who I could trust to listen without judgment), and also whether I behave in ways that would make folks feel safe reaching out to me to process their shit.

So here is a random list of thoughts on how to cultivate and curate a bubble:

  • Think about who feels safe and doesn’t, and why. I like to keep in mind that no space will ever be absolutely safe, but seeing how folks hold themselves accountable and react when they commit harm is a very good indicator.
    • I’ve linked to Ngọc Loan Trần‘s article “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable” before, and I value the way they don’t pit calling out/in as a binary, and also the way they point out that it’s important to think about what makes a relationship with another person important: “Is it that we’ve done work together before? Is it that I know their politics? Is it that I trust their politics? Are they a family member? Oh shit, my mom? Is it that I’ve heard them talk about patience or accountability or justice before? Where is our common ground? And is our common ground strong enough to carry us through how we have enacted violence on each other?”
    • Thinking through why a growth conversation matters helps to maintain perspective throughout navigating harm; and when I don’t want to call someone in or address their mistake, it also helps me to understand the limits of my relationship with them. Maybe I don’t trust them enough to be able to carry out this conversation; maybe I do think they have the capacity to grow in this way, but in this moment, I can’t be the one to navigate harm with them. And that’s OK.
  • What kinds of time and spaces makes me feel more free? A lot of my healing and self-care comes from time spent with cherished folks. I also spend a lot of time in community space that is nourishing to me in other ways, because it feels important or necessary, or we’re having conversations that need to happen, or it’s a party and it’s fun. But I need to check in with myself and see “was being in that space part of my self-care? was that healing? do I need to be alone to recharge?” (keeping in mind, of course, that none of these are binary answers, and that healing work can also be draining).
    • Internal indicators that work for me:
      • Did I feel like my guard was up? Do I need to mentally and emotionally gird myself in preparation for being in that space/with those people?
      • How did my body feel before, during, and after the event/hangout? Am I relaxed or tense? Do I feel energized or tired?
      • Also, here’s a list of “15 Ways to Catch Up With Friends That Aren’t Grabbing Coffee or a Cocktail” (There is also a better list of ways to show up for and spend time with SDQs, and I am looking for it in my thousands of bookmarks … will update when I find it.)
  • Emotional labor: Do you have people in your life who share the emotional labor in your relationships? How do you talk about and navigate boundaries? Are you able to successfully communicate when you need space?
      • This piece by Mahfam Malek is about dating, but the questions are good to consider (and to answer for yourself).
  • Who do you want in your corner? Think about moments that have brought you deep joy, that have made you feel grounded, that have moved you toward your own liberation. Who was there with you? Who do you wish had shared that moment with you? What about the last time you were deeply sad? Who did you turn to? Who did you wish you had reached out to?
  • Who do you have in your life who will tell you when you’re being an asshole? Who will tell you if your behavior is out of line with your values?

You may have some people who fill all or some of these needs, and you also definitely have needs that are different from mine, because we are different people. For me, it helps to remember that each relationship is unique and nourishes me in a different way, and that growing intentionally requires communication, trust, and care — and not just with others; if I want to get free, I need to trust myself enough to listen to my intuition, be honest about my needs, and cultivate the community that moves me toward wholeness.

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self-care: context matters

The numbered points below were my outline notes to myself while fixing this draft; I figured I could just leave it as a tl; dr. (The 3rd point will actually be addressed more in the next post.)

  1. people are tired
  2. we’re tired because we’re oppressed
  3. so don’t bring that shit into your personal life

In my intro post to this ~self-care series~, I mentioned that this year has been challenging but amazing, and also tiring. For me, personally, it’s been a year of healing and growth, along with processing a lot of learning that came out of living in Portland for a year and being miserable for a lot of it. (More on that in the post about curating and living in a bubble, but here’s a preview.)

I have also felt tiredness from people around me, and I think a huge factor in feeling that from the community has come from intentionally focusing my energy and time on building community with QTPOC and centering these folks in my life. When I think about the daily trauma we experience on the intersections of multiple axes of oppression, I am often amazed that we’re not more tired.

I also believe that there are different kinds of tired.

There’s the kind that comes from dealing with all the bullshit around us, the tired of having to explain for the 47th time (today) that “reverse racism” is not a real thing, the tired of being constantly misgendered and having a piece of your identity forcibly and repeatedly erased, the tired of feeling invisible and hypervisible, the tired that comes from having to expend a huge chunk of your energy to pass as neurotypical for a full work day (while also remembering all the different edits to yourself you have to make to fit in to the norms of professional workplace behavior), and then also the many things I’m privileged not to have to experience, including navigating institutional ableism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and classism, and all the ways these tired-making things intersect.

And then there is a different kind of tired that comes from holding hope and believing that a different world is possible, and dreaming alternative realities and bridging gaps between people to bring those worlds into existence, and making beauty out of the terrible.

That second kind of tired, for me at least, comes from a place of wholeheartedness, and it feels much easier to bounce back from. That kind of tired feels like next-day-sore muscles after a good workout, or the slight buzz of finishing a Sunday crossword.

It’s important to think about “self-care” in context because 1) We should understand that our need for self-care is directly related to the harm we experience and 2) For me, and it seems like for many of the folks I consider my people, it’s hard to make time for self-care when we feel like there’s so much work to do.

On that second point, I genuinely want to move toward a place of self-care because we need it, but that truth seems to be constantly drowned out by the nagging voice saying “maybe we all need to try a little bit harder.” It has helped to try to consider these two voices not as a dichotomy, but as two things that are true to me.

Am I saying that people who aren’t doing the work aren’t worthy of care? No. But a part of me still has a lot of feelings that come up around this. That is, I’m not writing a bunch of posts about self-care for the people who are jetting off for the weekend to do yoga on a mountain so that they can feel fit and recharged the following Monday when they go back to work for their multinational corporation.

However, I do think for organizers (and everyone) that the need to disentangle our worth (and that we are worthy of care) from the work is an important part of moving toward wholeness. I am looking for ways to think of worthiness and self-care as things that are inherent to everyone, including myself, regardless of what they or I contribute to the movement.

I was lucky to get a ticket to see Laverne Cox speak at USC last week (thank you, Queer and Ally Student Assembly!), and in addition to talking about her life and tying her own journey as a Black trans woman to Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?”, she also took questions from the audience. The last question was “How can organizers doing social justice work sustain themselves (emotionally, etc.) in the movement long-term?”* Laverne’s response centered on recognizing that “the list of injustices is really, really long,” and that for her, it’s important to detach from the work and not become “codependent” with it. That it’s possible to separate her own self-worth from the work, without losing her will to fight the fight:

I have so many moments of ‘Laverne, you could be doing more, you should be doing more,’ and I’m doing the best that I can. And I have to be able to just give that to myself. And I think that it’s important to give that to ourselves; to know that we’re doing the best that we can, and when we know better, we’ll do better. […]

So many of the challenges I’ve had throughout my life, my worthiness has been on the line. I have been hustling for my worthiness, trying to be enough.

And those moments when I can take my worthiness off the table, when I can understand that worthiness is a birthright, those are the moments that are deeply healing for me — when I understand that because I am a child of god, I am worthy — those are the moments when I can stand in my truth, and stand in various spaces, and feel like I am enough, I have enough, and I do enough.

I recognize that this is still a process and that I easily fall into the habit of leveraging judgments on myself and others, that I carry guilt around feeling like my own care is selfish or solipsistic. (And I do think that there is room for necessary critiques of how folks with privilege can mobilize “self-care” as a concept to reinforce their privilege.)

But if for no other reason than that getting stuck in guilt does nothing to serve the movement, I am repeating, until I internalize it fully, “I am worthwhile. I matter because I exist.”

Readings and resources:

  • Original title: “Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)”
  • Autostraddle: 36 Reasons Why QPOC-Only Spaces Are Very Necessary by Gabrielle Rivera (please do not read the comments)
  • Kama La Mackerel’s piece “What’s love got to do with our politics?,” particularly the part where Kama addresses the question “How did you learn to love yourself?”
  • Social Justice League’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Polite: The Issue of Nice versus Good” — I link to this post all the time, usually as a starting point for folks who don’t understand why tone-policing is oppressive, but I think it also has a great breakdown of kyriarchy and how folks demanding “niceness” from oppressed people are part of the problem. (This piece is a good reminder of how structural inequality functions in insidious ways, and how this loops in to microaggressions, gaslighting, and silencing of oppressed folks, as well.) Note: Piece includes the (transmisogynistic) t-slur, as an example of how that slur is not equivalent to being called a racist.

* She answered my question! BASICALLY WE HAD A CONVERSATION IRL.

thoughts on self-care: I have a lot of them

This is an intro post to a multi-part series (of an indeterminate number of parts) on self-care and community care that started as one post, and then it was too many words, so now it is more than one post.

This year has been … a lot of things. A huge part of me wants to curl up into a ball (maybe surrounded by puppies and kittens, also curled up, resting their fuzzy little faces onto their tiny fuzzy paws) and take a break from everything. I am tired, and it feels like people in my communities are also tired.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about self-care and trauma, with links to resources, for at least the last 6 months. I’m recognizing in finally writing this post that I have been thinking “I need to write that self-care post,” while my heart and life have been traveling down a different path of “What does community care look like?”

selfcare.jpg

By the way, this is my favorite hobby/self-care practice (working on my photo book “Hey, can I hold that?”)

Thankfully, this hard and tiring year has also been amazing and rewarding in many, many ways, in large part because I have met and deepened relationships with so many rad, radical QTPOC organizers. I have learned so much from reading their status updates and blog posts, from talking through trauma and #organizerproblems over meals, from observing how folks hold space.

I’ve learned about what I want care and access support and communities to look like, how I want to show up for folks, how to ask for support and articulate needs and boundaries. These are all things that I recognize are ongoing practices, things I hope I will strive to be better at for the rest of my life.

So. I am accepting that I don’t have all of the answers, which is like, probably important to growth? And part of my self-care process and accepting imperfections? I guess?

My original post had paragraphy subheads to help break up the text, so I will leave them here as a preview of what I think follow-up posts will be, with links added in once other posts go live:

  • Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care. (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)
  • “Self-care for sustainability” is part of the problem. If we’re only doing self-care so we can work more, how can we disentangle our self-worth from the work? Hint: I don’t think we can. (Also, this is capitalistic and ableist.)
  • “You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more. (But I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later.)
  • What does the opposite of a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness actually look like?* Moving from self-care to community care.
  • [Something about trauma, secondary trauma and therapy, which I had already decided to break out into a separate post.]
  • Here is an oddly curated list of resources.**

* This is particularly odd without the context of the section that comes before it, which might not make it through edits.
** I may break up the resources a bit to go with each post, and then create a final post with all of the links, along with any additional suggestions I gather from the comments or Facebook. Please comment with resources you’ve found helpful!

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall a partial list of things that help me maintain perspective:

  • my hobbies: baking bread and picking up animals and taking pictures with them
  • journaling, even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time (if 10 seems daunting, start with 5; if it helps, try promising yourself that you won’t go back and read what you wrote for a month, or 6 months, or ever, and find a good hiding spot for your journal)
  • QTPOC workouts: being able to move in a space that is affirming and inclusive, that welcomes all bodies, openly encourages modifications, and where folks are actively respectful of pronouns and thoughtful about how they are communicating feels almost unrealistically magical but it’s real
  • Chani Nicholas’ weekly horoscopes
  • Lucille Clifton’s short, powerful poem “won’t you celebrate with me” (full text, video, skip to 30 seconds in)

And some additional things I’d like to share: