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.

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