This post is part of a series of reflections on the recent events on campus. If you have anything that you would like to contribute, please feel free to reach out to us at staff[at]wesleying[dot]org.
In the past two weeks, we have heard many, many calls for some form of “self-care.” Usually these are the kinds of things that I ignore, since they too often rub me the wrong way. It’s taken me an entire week to work up the nerve to write this. Even as I write this, I’m still not sure how to approach the topic, both generally and through the lens of my own slow quest to take better care of myself. It’s taken me most of my teen and adult life to get to a point of acknowledging that I take really shitty care both of my corporeal vessel and my.. soul, or whatever.
Just as we should be kind and respectful of people around us, we should also try, to the best of our abilities, to be kind to ourselves. We should give both our bodies and our minds the same kind of compassion we would give to the people we love. But efforts to practice self-care are so often intertwined with the struggle against a number of factors outside of our control, and self-care itself is a very personal and very relative thing. I’m still trying to figure out a good way to practice self-care in a manageable way, a way that doesn’t add to my stress, a way that makes me feel less empty.
Rhetoric about self-care without acknowledging such variables places nearly all of the responsibility for ‘getting help’ on people who might not have much of an opportunity to be kind to themselves. It’s especially hard when the assumed first step of self-care is seeing someone at CAPS — although I’ve found them helpful, students often have to wait at least a week for an appointment if they have the time for a visit at all. Likewise, it’s difficult to speak broadly to any group of people about self-care without making it seem like outside factors aren’t important, or like self-care only takes one form.
There’s a marked difference between the way you might help your friends process their struggles and the way you might deal with your own. There is a marked difference between the way I take care of myself (disclaimer, though, I’m really shitty at it) and the way my siblings take care of themselves, or the way my friends do. Hopefully in this post, I can call out some of the issues and dangers of these calls for self-care while.. also.. calling for self-care.
In my experience, many calls for self-care often turn into this overgeneralized, quasi-spiritual bullshit that always makes me want to lie face-down on my floor for a couple hours. Especially because people who don’t have problems taking care of themselves are often the ones advocating for the “Simple Things” like taking time out of your day to drink a cup of tea, meditate, or ‘do you,’ often blind to the fact that not everyone has the same capacity to take care of themselves or does so in the same ways.
Not everyone has the same ability to practice self-care, whether due to lack of time, mental factors, and/or situational factors, among others. Not everyone has the same amount of time or energy to devote solely to themselves in a place that demands so much of its students, all the time. Making an empty invocation to ~*~*~take care of yourself in small ways~*~*~ ignores the facts that not everyone can engage in this kind of thing at the same level, that not everyone gains fulfillment from any given ‘small thing’ the way someone else might, and that it’s often demeaning to assume that people, especially people at a mental/physical/temporal disadvantage, aren’t still trying to take care of their bodies and minds.
Calls for self-care, especially if directed toward large groups of people, need to operate with the understanding that ‘self-care’ is a really stressful thing to try to do in a system that doesn’t leave very much room for it. My CAPS therapist told me last week that I need to both take half-hour breaks after every 1.5 hours of work I do, and do one hour of something that “fulfills me” every day, which is nearly impossible to fit into my schedule. I work ten hours a week on top of five credits and my extracurriculars, so doing this is pretty unreasonable unless I choose not to sleep (which I already don’t do very much of) or drop out of the fun things I do, since it would take a toll on classes I need to do well in and on money I need to make. The idea of devoting an hour of my day solely toward myself is actually stressing me out more, and I only did it once last week. I’m also not sure what’s fulfilling to me anymore, but that’s another issue.
I can’t pretend to be any sort of authority on self-care — I’m still trying to find a semblance of balance between my responsibilities and feeling okay. Ultimately, I can’t speak to your experiences, but my hope is that this might be useful both to people seeking the same kind of balance and to anyone hoping to provide support.
Even though many approaches to self-care can be problematic, I still can’t discredit the value of being more compassionate to ourselves and of placing our physical and mental selves as a priority. As much as we want to try to do it all, too often does that take a toll on both physical and mental health. We cannot provide support to others nor can we find the energy to move forward if we aren’t a little selfish about what we need first. You deserve it. We all do.
To me, self-care isn’t so much about doing small things that make me happy as it is about remembering to cut myself some slack. Everyone hurts in different ways, especially of late. I can’t speak to the experiences of someone who was close to any of the students hospitalized or arrested, and I can’t speak to the experiences of any of those students themselves. But I’ve found that when I am kinder to myself, it makes it easier to be kinder to others.
I hope that spring break can help all of you recharge in some way, dear readers, but even if it can’t, I truly hope that you treat yourself as kindly, as compassionately, and as respectfully as your circumstances allow, and that you receive the support you need from others — in whatever form that takes — to do so.