As some of you no doubt noticed, I didn’t post over the weekend. The reason is simple: After last week’s Republican convention — that bizarre festival of hate that’s somehow given Trump a boost in the polls — I needed a couple of days to clear my head and remind myself that there’s more to life than Anime Nazis and woman-hating dolts. I’ll probably be doing this more in the future, though I’ll try to store up posts that I can put up on the days I’m taking off.
The weekend was a welcome respite, as was that little staycation I recently took, but there’s a big part of me that still feels guilty for taking the weekend off. Like a lot of those at least roughly on the left, I still find it hard to justify the simple act of taking care of myself. With all the hate in the world, shouldn’t I be on call 24/7? Isn’t self-care a sort of bourgeois cop-out, a narcissistic retreat from collective action?
As Laurie Penny (there’s that name again!) notes in a recent Baffler piece, it’s not hard to understand why so many leftists, especially those of the activist persuasion, look upon self-care with a certain cynicism.
The slow collapse of the social contract is the backdrop for a modern mania for clean eating, healthy living, personal productivity, and “radical self-love”—the insistence that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we can achieve a meaningful existence by maintaining a positive outlook, following our bliss, and doing a few hamstring stretches as the planet burns.
As Penny suggests, you can’t make your life better by running it through an Instagram filter, or by adopting the Coca-Cola ad slogan “choose happiness” as a personal credo. If happiness really were a simple choice, I’m pretty sure all of us besides the most cynical would have chosen it already, even if we had to buy a couple of liters of Coke (or eat some kale) to seal the deal.
But rejecting the capitalist fetishization of consumerist “self-love,” Penny argues, does not require that you “fetishize a species of abject hopelessness.” There’s nothing revolutionary about malignant depression.
It’s also galling, as Penny notes, to see brocialist types “refusing to do the basic work of self-care and mutual care that keeps hope alive and health possible, because that work is women’s work.”
Lefty miserablists, Penny continues, need to look not just to feminism but to queer activists, who understand all too well “that caring for oneself and one’s friends in a world of prejudice is not an optional part of the struggle—in many ways, it is the struggle.”
Self-care can mean a lot of different things. It may be as simple as logging off Facebook and going to look at some art, as a feminist friend of mine did recently when she was feeling so burned out her stomach was churning. Or binge-watching a season of a favorite show. (Seriously, folks, check out The Leftovers.) Or putting this on in the background instead of MSNBC while writing blog posts.
But it can also mean more systematic — and in the long run more effective — ways of dealing with stress and depression and general burnout. Penny, for her part, has taken up yoga, noting almost guiltily that “it’s changed my life to an extent that I almost resent.” I’m learning mindfulness meditation, using headspace.com, and have been systematically exploring other ways to get the better of anxiety and depression and general burnout.
And so, for my own sake as well as for anyone else feeling a bit burned out in this monumentally shitty year, I will be posting more about self-care in the months to come, as well as making a point of posting some more uplifting posts, alongside my regular dissections (humorous or otherwise) of some of the worst people in the world. I’ve also been working for some time on a sort of side-project related to self-care that I hope to be able to share with you in the not-so-distant future.
I’d like to get the discussion going by asking everyone here what sort of self-care strategies you use — what works for you, what hasn’t worked, what you’re considering trying in the future.
H/T — Thanks to the person who linked to Penny’s piece in the comments here