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An articled called, An End to Self Care, was recently published on Organizing Upgrade, in which an activist proposed bringing an end to the individualism behind “self-care” and, instead, called for community care.
The author, B. Loewe, made his point about not privileging the self over the group (part of which I agree with to some degree), he even cited women of color such as Audre Lorde (who said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”).
Yet, despite several points that resonated, a few of which a friend of his outlined here, B. Loewe’s response, along with the many thumbs up he got for writing that piece, also reminded me why I’ve made it a point to stay away from activist spaces; why the spaces in which I once found affinity ended up becoming one of the biggest threats to my mental health.
After a day of being repeatedly triggered and pissed off by the callous debate surrounding B. Loewe’s article, I needed to get this off my chest. So, here’s my emotionally drained, sleepy, and over it response. Forgive the free-form. I originally posted this as a semi-rant on Tumblr.
The Martyr Complex Driving Self Care Critics (and Response to The Article, “An End to Self Care“)
I have a hunch that tells me: the degree of individualism put into one’s self care practice may correspond to the degree with which they are responsible for others (and how many).
I’m an activist and community organizer, a small scale public figure if we must. My work, life, nearly everything is about giving to others, uplifting others, nourishing others. Because of this, I’ve been forced to build self care into my daily routine, my natural rhythm (which is actually a good thing — everyone should), otherwise I’ll run out of battery.
Self care, for me, isn’t a trip to the beach, or an expensive yoga retreat; it’s getting 7 vs. 5 hours of sleep on a good day; it’s eating at least 2 meals a day, when I can afford the time (and expense); it’s time spent with an inner circle of close friends and confidants who don’t know me as “Spectra who writes”, but the introverted lightweight. Self care, for me, isn’t a luxury by any means; it is a basic need, a necessary part of my being.
Yet, despite these realities, the question people have been asking for the past few days is this: Is Self Care Individualist Or Revolutionary?
On the rare occasion that I need a day off, and can actually afford to take one (note: I work for myself, I don’t get a steady paycheck that makes me forget that I have the privilege of prioritizing my job –er, I mean–community care– over my mental health), I should be able to take a day off. But I often cannot.
An hour nap turns into an hour obsessing over what things I “really” need to do for others, because activist spaces have made it okay to model their “transformational spaces” after a non-sustainable, unhealthy system of “accountability” that not only guilt trips people into feeling bad about having to tend to their recovery, or their lower capacity due to disability, but literally whips them back to work under the falsehood of promised rejuvenation “if done right.” No. This is not okay.
I feel no different when I read posts like these than I did when I was working as a consultant in corporate america and the boss would send me emails on my “sick days” asking if I’d gotten a chance to review those documents, because, you know, above all, we gotta make sure we think of the company…. Last I checked, activists in the non-profit industry were accusing corporations of being greed, exploitative, blood-sucking a**holes who didn’t care about “people”, just “money.” I’m ashamed to say that after years of working with people in the non-profit industry, there’s not that much difference; just replace money with “self-righteous political agendas.”
To be completely honest, when I think about the times when I’ve been at my lowest and most strained, it’s been due to other activist guilt-tripping me into over-extending myself for some agenda I don’t even remember signing up for.
I’m lucky that I’ve been able to find others like myself, who believe just as much in caring for their communities as they do taking care of themselves, not necessarily as interdependent ideologies, but because — dare I say it — it’s possible to want to improve the world and have other interests that are not necessarily connected, including your own dreams, ambitions, peace of mind. God forbid the word “self” ever finds its way into the mouth of an activist. God forbid we actually practice the “self-love” slogans we slap on so many protest signs.
I could go on and on about this, but, for me, the bottom line is this: People should be able to take a day off without having to justify to themselves or anyone else for that matter, why they’re doing it.
Yes, there are self-absorbed, privileged people in the world that have commercialized real survival tactics (eg. self-care practices like mine just so I can be at level ZERO) and throw the term around just to get out of responsibilities, or because it’s so indie and “cool” to “take a day.” But selfcare for me, and so many others, comes from a real legitimate need. And I won’t submit to the idea that I should only ever advocate for self-care using the “acceptable martyr” complex prevalent in so many self-righteous activist spaces i.e. “it’s not just for me, but for the community.” Bullshit.
I’ve lived with depression my entire life; I know for a fact that my default “level” is not as high as someone who doesn’t have to worry about their hormonal imbalances; I need to be militant about taking care of myself or I simply will not be able to function as a human being, period; not just as an activist. So anyone calling for an end to self-care, especially if it’s accompanied with an “unless it’s for the community” clause, clearly doesn’t give a rip about me, or anyone else that doesn’t fit into their superhero archetype.
But martyrdom, and disabilities aside; I’m an activist that has paid her dues. I’ve sweat and toiled over the communities I love for years, for nothing in return, simply because, I have love for my people. But I have love for me, too. So the idea that I don’t get to give myself a day when I need to, for none other than, I want to, quite honestly pisses me off.
If I need a day to regroup so that I don’t burn out, collapse, or get to a point where I’m no longer functional as a partner to my spouse, to my siblings, my parents, to my dog, or as the arbiter of my own dreams and aspirations, then I need a day, period. I make no bloody apologies for wanting to survive through my militant compassion for the world.
Meet Spectra: Queer Nigerian Afrofeminist Writer and Media Activist. Social Entrepreneur Nurturing Principled Diaspora and Women's Philanthropy in Media and Tech. Self-Care and Self-Love Evangelist. Idealist Warrior Woman. Big Dreamer. Big Thinker. Big Doer, Too.
Do you believe in the connection between love and social justice? Do you believe that LGBTQ rights is a transnational issue? Do you believe that gender and trans struggles are integral to the racial justice movement? If so, check out Spectra. She’s awesome, fierce, and most importantly, speaks from the heart.
I love not only your thoughts, but also how you express them… Your love-centered, hopeful, positive and proactive voice is incredibly refreshing and exactly what I’ve been looking for recently in the feminist blogosphere.Sara
Spectra has allowed myself, and many I know, access safer spaces to have much needed, challenging and powerful conversations that would otherwise not occur in our communities.ShakiraThe Network/La Red
… a flexible and effective communicator with youth across various social, class and cultural strata.AyariGirl Scouts Program Coordinator
Spectra is a talented speaker and facilitator and is especially adept at working with groups of students in ways that both challenge and support individual viewpoints.http://Eva, Harvard Women's Center
… a force to be reckoned with–in a very positive way. Spectra has the “gift” of envisioning the greatness we can achieve and uniting the folks who will make that happen. I adore her.TimFenway Health
… [an] articulate weaving of personal experience and analysis.Becky
By sharing your story, you allow people like me to relate, to experience, to learn and to share with others as well. thank you, thank you, thank you.JT
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We love it when Spectra Speaks!The Theater Offensive
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