Self-Care in Difficult Times

We live in a scary time. Many of us have been living in a scary time for hundreds of years. Some of us are only recently becoming aware of how scary life can be. And some of us always knew, but were able to set it aside. There are valuable discussions in the world about privilege and how it enables you to act like the world isn’t as scary as it is, but this isn’t one of those. This is about, wherever you are in realizing the world is scary, how you might handle it to keep yourself sane and whole in mind. I will acknowledge up front that some self-care techniques involve material goods. Please know that I’m keenly aware that all of my ideas are not accessible for all people. I don’t believe that makes them worthless. Do what you can, when you can.

Lately, I feel my resilience is strained. I imagine it as a wide rubber band. As it gets stretched, it gets thinner and thinner. It threatens to snap, and if I don’t deliberately create some slack, it will snap. Here are things going on with me that make self-care both difficult to achieve and especially necessary:

1. I am a graduate student. And being a graduate student is hard. It’s not intense physical labor, but it is intense mental labor. It is time consuming. It is never off in the way that some jobs are. There is always more work to do, and in my case much work leftover from the past. I am constantly filled with a sense that I am not being productive enough. Even as I write this post, I’m thinking about other things I could be reading and writing.

2. I am a new mom. I’m so lucky to be a new mom; it is a blessing that came as a happy accident after I had basically given up on getting to be a mom. I struggled with polycystic ovary syndrome for years before falling pregnant; I so appreciate this gift. AND YET. Being a new mom means my body belongs to someone else in a very real way. It means that at almost any point in time, I might need to stop any activity I’m doing – and this activity is usually schoolwork, food prep, or laundry – to attend to a tiny, helpless human’s needs.

3. I am a research assistant on a project focused on equity. My work that’s not for class is focused entirely on promoting cultural competence and culturally sustaining pedagogy, ensuring equity in schools, especially as it relates to race.

4. I deliberately chose my coursework this semester to require me to encounter issues of equity. Because I know that this is an area where I need to grow, I registered for a course called Decolonizing Methodologies and am serving as teaching assistant for a course called Information Services in a Diverse Society. These courses require me to grapple with issues of colonization, inequity, and intersectionality.

5. My usual take-a-break spaces – social media – are (rightly) full of news and protest. I’m a cat videos, cute doodles, and friends’ jokes girl. I would not suggest that we should remove the politics from our social media feeds, but I am not used to the current ratio of news to cat videos. I think it’s excellent that people are using these tools for resistance, and I myself have followed many organizations and people of late to increase my awareness. So I have deliberately transformed the ratio in these spaces for me. BUT it means that what used to consist of taking a break is now more getting aware. So I need to take a break in different ways.

So. Now that I’ve explained what’s straining at my resilience rubber band, let me share what I’m doing to give it some slack.

First, I’m staying engaged so that I feel in touch with the world. I have followed the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Teen Vogue on Twitter. While the combination of new motherhood and chronic illness keeps me from feeling confident in my ability to physically show up for protests, I am engaging in craftivism; I crocheted a pussy hat for a friend who was going to the Women’s March. I am going to make one for myself, as well; I’m also planning to contribute to the beanies for this Black Lives Matter march in Seattle and the crafted hats for the March for Science. I signed up for Kim Werker’s Craft + Activism newsletter, which sends me things to read and do. I sent emails and postcards to my senators; I used the Ink Cards app so that I could send the Women’s March postcards while nursing my baby.

Second, I’m escaping as I need to. This looks different for everybody, but for me it has meant watching old seasons of Project Runway, trying out the new CW series Riverdale (it’s not good and yet I’m enjoying it anyway), listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour episodes both old and new, reading Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’s Archie reboot, and reading Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. (I’m just sort of generally fueling a new crush on @glenweldon. My husband was all “But he’s gay so don’t expect it to be requited” and I was all “That really doesn’t matter because a crush is not a thing that needs to be requited anyway what with me being happily married to you and all. And him being married too. And famous.”) Check your library for access to escapist reading material, y’all.

Third, I’m trying… a little… to take care of my body. I’ve gone for a few walks. I’ve cooked my own meals. I’ve delighted in warm beverages. I’m still not showering often enough (#thanksbaby) and I haven’t gone for a swim since probably September, both of which would make me feel immensely better, but still. I brush my hair most days. I live in my body so I should really care for it, and I’m making at least some effort. For a person with clinical depression (even in remission), this is an achievement.

Anyway. These are the things I’m doing to care for myself. Self-care can be an act of resistance, so please don’t tell yourself that it is unimportant, that you are unworthy, that there are more important things in the world. If we’re going to have the stamina to fight the good fight, we need to give ourselves a break from time to time.