Self-care isn’t just manicures and girl’s nights: it’s also about valuing ourselves, setting boundaries, and taking care of our communities.
During my AVP training, we had a self-care check at every session. Because we dealt with a lot of difficult topics, we checked on each other as we advanced through the content. We had self-care buddies, and we made sure that everyone was taking proper care of themselves.
In fact, self-care was the whole content of the first training session. It was so important that we spent three hours talking about it, and ten minutes at the beginning of every session too.
Our first reading was a blog post from A Tiff In Her 20s. She talks about how self-care is more than just mindless escape–it includes how we value ourselves and our communities.
In other (less eloquent) words, we cannot only think of taking care of ourselves as an individualistic action–something we do for ourselves and by ourselves–whether it be self-care or even self-value. Not only is this approach isolating, dependent on privilege, and places the burden of care on the individual activist (who already does not have a lot of time), it denies our needs as humans and therefore as social creatures. We must also recognize that when we take care of each other and our communities, this too feeds us, heals us, and rests us.
Tiff here argues that one part of self-care is individual; she calls it “self-value”. This means valuing yourself as a human being, setting boundaries, and learning to say no. But there’s an often forgotten part that involves caring for your community. We are social animals: we cannot survive without communities. When we are part of stigmatized minorities (in my case bisexual and kinky), we cannot build self-value without a caring community that supports us.
The foundation of self-care: self-value
Self-care as the popular media and self-help industry portray it is a lie. It’s deeply steeped in individualism and the Puritanical work ethic that have messed our world up for long enough. Laurie Penny wrote eloquently about the problems of the self-care discourse: basically, it isolates us and stops us from banding together to fight the injustice that makes us crazy in the first place.
Tiff offers us a great alternative: not self-care, but self-value. Valuing yourself means understanding the following things:
- My time is valuable and limited
- My energy is valuable and limited
- My skills are valuable
- My body is valuable
- My labour is valuable
If you see your time, energy, skills, body, or labour as not having value, someone will almost inevitably try to take advantage of it. Fear of abandonment made me see my labour and energy as less valuable than my partner’s.
Seeing value in what you bring to the world (even if it’s just your physical presence! your body is valid!) has two effects: first, it’s easier to figure out what exactly you’re meant to do with that body, those skills, and that time. And second, it’s easier to set boundaries.
It’s important to build self-value, especially as a minority. Aria Vega struggles with this in her post about Pride. Where do most of us (who are not male, cisgender, heterosexual, white and middle-class) find value in a world that tells us that we are less?
Self-value is a radical approach to life, because it fights against those who would tell us that our life is worth less. They give us lower incomes, worse health outcomes, or downright state-sponsored oppression. Self-care may not solve the problem, but it gives you a clearer vision of what we can (and can’t) do to start working on them, along with our community.
The culmination of self-care: community care
Let’s go back to Tiff for a minute.
Part of taking care of ourselves is recognizing that activists get involved with issues with so much passion, dedicating so much of their time and energy, because their work is deeply personal for them and not at all abstract. Activists are fighting for their parents, their siblings, their children, their partners, their friends, and themselves–their own bodies, their own rights, their own dreams. Activists fight against the policies and behaviors that directly cause them pain and suffering, and so, inherently, activists are all broken in some way, working with other broken, hurting people. If we want to take care of ourselves, we must also create ways of interacting with each other that is respectful, loving, and compassionate.
I’m not sure I’m ready to call myself an activist yet, but these are the foundations of a more activist life. This work writing about sex and about self-care and getting involved more deeply in volunteering and supporting others are all part of that.
But I wouldn’t be here without the support and encouragement of my friends, my community. It might be small, but I can count on every person in my life to help me when I need it. And then there’s my online community. As Isabelle Lauren muses, the sex blogging community (although I’ve remained on its fringes) is one such helpful, supportive group.
Knowing that others like me are fighting the good fight of destigmatizing sexuality gives me hope.
Community care principles remind us that none of us can do it alone, that none of us is perfect, but that all of us have the potential to contribute to change. I may be terrible at networking, but I can write a mean blog post or an awesome pamphlet. Community care allows us to take advantage of the best everyone can bring to the table, without asking anyone to be everything.
Caring for others is self-care too
Self-care is not the same as self-indulgence. Although we all need downtime when we can shut our brains down, self-care also has a more active component: that of caring for others. Caring for our communities makes us feel good. Adding community involvement in your self-care routine is a good thing.
Here are some questions I want to leave you with today:
- How do I value the different aspects of myself? Do I value certain areas more than others?
- How does my self-value influence how I choose to spend my time and energy?
- Do I have a community I can count on?
- How do I contribute to this community? Do I feel valuable to others? Do they tell me I am valuable?