Self Care Rapture

Response to “An End to Self Care”: How About “An End to the Activist Martyr Complex?”

An articled called, An End to Self Carewas 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.

  • kristincraiglai

    Furthermore, it is telling that a man wrote that article because Audre Lorde is absolutely correct for women self-care is revolutionary. It is a direct action against the notion that we should care for all others ahead of ourselves.

    • Spectra Speaks


  • Raechel

    Spectra, thank you for this article. I have learned that to care for others, you must first care and love for yourself. True compassion comes from within, and if we deplete our own internal resources, then we do not have as much to give. We need time to ourselves, to heal and energize ourselves so that we can give our energy to others. And who better knows what you need to repair than yourself? Self-care is just as important as ever, and maybe it is revolutionary, but it is no surprise that it is necessary.
    Thank you

  • Heather

    Indeed…saying no is not negative and “I cannot commit to that right now”…the less energy you have the less you give to anything! Dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) is an art form we must practice…be well my friend! :)

  • Gail Sullivan

    You go girl
    Self care is so very important, I like many don’t do enough of it to really care for me. One of the many things that I admire about you is that you are able to put YOU as a real priority. I spend way to many hours each day caring and giving to others, that while I try to not take it home, because I have my own struggles that I don’t always make a priority. So as always thank you helping me to remember more of what I try and teach others to practice. I need to live and by my own words.
    Peace Gail

  • Greg

    Spectra this is a beautiful article, my girlfriend and I are going through similar discoveries at the moment and it is so empowering to read your article. Thankyou for sharing your thoughts and beliefs.

  • RidleySays

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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  • Elizabeth Scala

    Great article. You know, we have to take care of ourselves if we want to help the group. I believe there is no use to the group if we are not well ourselves. So while I agree that being kind and caring to the community, I’m a nurse so I do like to give and help, I think I do a better job at it when I give to myself first. I don’t see it as selfish at all. In fact, I see it as a way I can better help others.

  • Erika

    Love this – and so true. I live by the rules of, If I can’t take care of myself, I damn sure can’t take care of anybody else. Love comes from within and spreads throughout.

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  • Keri@AmazingWomenInHistory

    Yes! I love this. Wholeheartedly agree. I tend towards depression too and need to prioritize self-care in order to function. I’ve also noticed that in some nonprofits the tendency is to constantly give lip service to the notion of self-care without actually allowing any time or space for it. Very hypocritical.

  • Samantha

    i know I’m two years too late on this one, but I could not agree more.

    I’m a clinical social worker who knows the strain of vicarious trauma all too well. Do you know the boom Trauma Stewardship? It’s about how care takers and social justice types can take care of themselves so they can help others. That book more or less saved my sanity when I was working in the trenches of community mental health.

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