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    Yesterday I logged onto Twitter to get my fill of the laughs around #HBOInsecure. However something else caught my eye.

     


    I was very confused as self-care saved my life so I know this statement to be false. I have also worked with dozens of people to help them find the time for and to commit to self-care. I think they would agree as well.

    I had to find the source of this statement.

    To my surprise this was a quote from Melissa Harris Perry. I was sure she was misquoted or it was taken out of context.

    I read the source article How #SquadCare Saved My Life and found out these were indeed her words.

    The essay starts with pointing out the limited kinds of self-care that we see on social media. Indeed when you take a peek, you see a feed filled with pampering. I agree that if we only look to social media then we may only see a commodified version of self-care. As with most things, social media is just a small slice of life and should never be used to define anything.


    She goes on to say that self-care matters but then negates that in the next few sentences.

    “Marginalized populations have performed self-care for centuries in the face of systemic oppression. But the term, whether it refers to critical activist work or a kind of spiritual nourishment, suggests that it’s possible to practice care on our own. The truth is we exist in matrices of allies and friends who do this work for us. If we’re honest, it isn’t #selfcare. It’s #squadcare.”

    Then she goes on to say “I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THAT SELF-CARE IS NECESSARY FOR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING.”

    Refuse is such a strong statement. Provocative.

    And that is where nuance left this discussion.

    I went on to peruse the hashtag and I saw someone, who I now know to be one of the students authors, make this claim.

    Lots of people can’t self-care, so why must uplift those vulnerable and strong enough to seek help from others. #Squadcare

     

    I asked why.

     

    The response: “Lots of POC can’t do self-care because they get vilified by others for taking time for themselves. My depression makes it hard for self-care.”

    I understand that tweets don’t leave space for nuance so I am going to extend a modicum of grace that “can’t” must be short for “they have barriers and challenges and are in need of solutions.”

    Then I went on a 22 tweet rant of my own.

    So here’s the nuance.

    It’s about self-care AND squadcare.

    People can and should practice care on their own and in community. And the fact that people would be vilified for taking time for themselves is the problem, not self-care.

    The problem with MHPs declaration is her necessity to put one strategy over the other.

    I could see if she was defining self-care as solely pampering but from the outset she includes things like spiritual nourishment. She also talks about self-care at it’s best as “We who work for freedom must take an occasional nap to ensure we survive to see freedom come.”

    She says this kind of self-care is feasible and humane.

    So why again do we need a substitution for it?

    We don’t.

    I chose to promote self-care at it’s best.

    I have been on a mission to round out that picture so that people understand that self-care is much more than manicures. A trip to the spa is not the cure for overwhelm and burnout. It’s not about #treatyoself.

    MHP and I can agree on that.

    (But even our grandmothers knew the value of a hot bath in epson salt!)
    However, the solution she offers, Squadcare, is not substitute for self-care. It’s a complement.

    I could stop there but as a public intellectual with outsized influence I take issue with her essentially taking a very important tool away from those who need it most.

    The Personal

    You see I didn’t learn about self-care on the internet. I didn’t have much familiarity with the word at all for most of my life. I wish I did.

    I learned about self-care from necessity.

    As an activist and woman of color I didn’t have a self-care routine. Identifying and tending to my own needs was foreign. I was working around the clock. An overflowing plate and not enough sleep were par for the course. Fast food between protest planning meetings.

    Maybe I could get an Essence magazine or a bar of chocolate to soothe my soul. 

    Short lived solutions.

    Eventually,  I started exhibiting the physical symptoms of burnout. I kept pushing through because I didn’t want to let the collective down. I told myself that I could not take a break until health and racial equity were achieved. When HIV disparities were solved.

    My body had a different plan. My body started to shut down and I fell a part.

    I’m privileged enough to have great health insurance. Test after test revealed nothing.

    They would ask me about stress but that wasn’t something that I could articulate. I didn’t see myself as any more stressed out than the average person. So that certainly couldn’t be a reason for this debilitating anxiety, insonmia, and constant nausea. That couldn’t be the reason I was losing 2-3lbs a week.

    I laid in the bed for two months watching my short-term disability dwindle. (Yes another privilege.)

    I suffered for months because I didn’t understand one basic thing.

    I needed to consistently tend to my health and wellbeing before I attempt to do anything for anyone else.

    My squad could not help me because the problem wasn’t apparent to me or them. We were all exhausted. So none of us even saw a problem.

    In fact everyone had one explanation for my severe exhaustion.

    I must be pregnant and not ready to disclose!

    My road to recovery started small.

    Get up and take a shower and brush your teeth.

    Try to eat 1000 calories before noon.

    Drink water.

    Take all of six of your medicines.

    Some real basic stuff.

    Now I was well enough to get back to work before I was let go. I ramped it up.

    Stop rushing out the door.

    Find a better way to keep track of your commitments.

    Stop spreading yourself so thin.

    Say no.

    Pick one cause for your activism.

    Get out of the middle of the messy relationship between your sisters.

    Reconnecting with my spiritual self.

    That’s a snapshot of my self-care.

    These are the things that no one else could do for me. My squad could encourage them. They could go get my medicines. They could take me to appointments. But they could not do these things for me. My squad can’t sleep on my behalf. That’s not how it works.

    I don’t like to think about what would have happened had I not realized that I needed to overhaul my life and to start taking care of myself.

    Now that I am out of crisis I use self-care to stay far away from it. I have many tools and my mission is to share all of these tools with those that need them.

    However, I don’t mistake my presence in someone’s life as a substitute for them using these tools themselves.
    Self-care is necessary for my health and well-being. And I believe it for everyone else’s.

    The Political

    MHP is also taking issue a the political framing of self-care. The practiced ideology that says self-care is only for the privileged who earn it. My formal academic background is in public health so I look at things through the Social-Ecological Model.

     


    Source: CDC

    The individual, Interpersonal, community, and policy strategies are mutually reinforcing strategies.

    I get it.

    You can’t drink your 8 glasses of water a day if you live in Flint and the tap water poisons you.

    However, nothing about that negates self-care.

    We have a policy problem. 

    I truly believe this public declaration against self-care may do more harm than good.

    It’s  going to add to the guilt people already feel when they try to tend to their own well being.

    That if they aren’t caring in community then it’s not valid.

    That all self-care advice is B.S.

    To me that’s dangerous and will have serious consequences.

    I believe at end of the day both I and MHP have the same mission but choose to go about it in different ways.