In the fall of 2019, I took a class where we discussed the words of famed writer and activist Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I didn’t know it at the time, but those words would guide me for the harrowing and exhausting year that was to come.
The class in question was Feminist Thought. I will make no hurried assumptions in claiming that every person reading this will identify with the label of ‘feminist,’ or adhere to the values and trust in the efforts of feminism. However, Lorde’s quote stuck with me for reasons outside of feminism, past the divisive politics play, and beyond any pigeonholed movement that the media likes to paint with dramatics. Rather, her quote stuck with me for a very human reason, a very human experience: the inner conflict of individual and society, of privilege and oppression, of productivity and exhaustion.
Lorde’s depiction of self-care as warfare is radical in all the ways it shouldn’t be. We live in a country of extreme diversity, a world that is more connected than ever, a society so loud that sometimes it feels as though it is impossible to shut it out. Global issues are at our fingertips in moments, phone buzzing with headline after headline of something new to focus on, something new to worry about.
There is always something new to worry about.
And it’s exhausting, isn’t it? That feeling that we’ll never have peace, and that things will never go back to normal—that realization that perhaps even “normal” isn’t a place we can go back to, nor should we. The systematic issues that have come to a head this year have claimed the spotlight for a reason; our country is sick, in more ways than one, and we should not trade the noise of unveiled ignorance for a destructive return to “normalcy.”
2020 has been a year of priorities, of figuring out what we care about, who we care about, and why we should care more about each other, and in the chaos, it gets oh-so-easy to lose sight of how to care about ourselves.
Self-care is a radical concept in a country that places value on physical and mental contributions to society. So many of us have been conditioned to believe that if we’re not doing something—if we’re not working on that essay, or striving for a full-time job, or volunteering at a non-profit, or paying attention to all the issues of the world all the time—then we’re lazy, selfish, and deserving of the obstacles we struggle with. Self-care is not self-indulgence, as Audre Lorde defends. It’s not about indulging in the laziness and selfishness that can seem so appealing at times. It’s not about turning a blind eye to the negativity, relishing in whatever privilege we have that allows us to ignore everything wrong and everybody wronged.
Self-care is self-preservation. It is about surviving in a world that makes it difficult just to exist.
It’s the comfort of playing our favorite song just for a moment’s escape. It’s the fantasy book we’ve been putting off reading for so long because it’s childish, “and, anyway, there’s just not enough hours in a day.” It’s the late-night Zoom calls with friends that we’ve finally gotten around to doing even though a little voice is still arguing that there’s something more productive we could be doing with our time.
It’s the moments to breathe, the reminders that it’s okay to step back, take a breath. It’s the little allowances we make to ourselves: “I do not have the capacity to worry about this right now, and that’s okay.”
Self-care is not toxic positivity. It’s not the “It’ll be okay’s” and “don’t worry’s” that feel empty in a way, invalidating the frustrations of the present by favoring the uncertainty of the future. Struggling with negativity is a part of what makes us human, but so is the need for soft touches and words, the little acts of kindness we must give ourselves when the world around us fails to do the same.
Self-care is warfare. It softens their blows while strengthening our armor.
This year has been an exhausting one. We’ve been fighting for passing grades in online classes, fighting to keep ourselves safe in the middle of a pandemic, fighting in the streets with our rights at risk. I’m not writing this with the irrational belief that everything will be okay again once the clock strikes midnight on the first of January. Times are tough right now, and we have a while to go before our country has healed from its ills. Change takes time, but in order to continue worrying about everything, we must first care for ourselves.
Next time we get overwhelmed by the politics trending on Twitter or the cyclical stories on news stations, we must allow ourselves time to step back for a moment. Forgive ourselves. Be kind to ourselves.
We’ll get through this together.