Redefining Self-Care in 2018
"This reflection is guided by the black feminist teachings and thought on self-care that helped spark my journey years ago and with it, I hope to pay homage and respect, as well as give credit to these women."
2016 nearly ended my life.
I know I’m not alone when I say that. For some unexplained reason, the pain that that year brought into many people’s lives turned into a sick phenomenon. It felt like we were all recovering from so much personally and communally for reasons none of us understand. The brown Muslim woman in me had had enough of 2016. It was more than just Mercury in retrograde. I wish I had answers, but I don’t.
Before 2016, I thought I had self-care on lock. If you know me, you know I’m all about promoting authentic means and modes of self-care and self-love. But when 2016 decided to chew me up, spit me out, grind me to dust, rinse, wash and repeat, I felt like I had lost everything I once knew about self-care and self-love. Rituals I used to rely on seemed to no longer hold the same effect. Experiences of loss and trauma just felt far too deep for the topical ointment that my prior routine served as.
2017 felt like a rebirth and a tragedy of sorts. I worked hard to be in a new place and to cleanse my life of toxic people and practices. I was more intentional than ever before about where I spent my time and how much energy I exerted. I was hyper-vigilant about safeguarding my being. Everything felt preventative but nothing felt like active self-care. I was feeling reborn but I still felt the loss of rituals. I wasn’t working on healing, I was working on preventing further damage.
In 2018 I want to start the year by redefining self-care. I want to come up with the closest to perfect blend of self-care rituals and theories that will carry me through 2018.
As I was thinking of reorienting self-care for myself, I thought back to when I first learned about self-care from my mentor, a black woman, who learned self-care from other black women. It was through my introduction to the readings and teachings of bell hooks and Audre Lorde that my self-care and self-love journey began in 2012. I remembered learning principles of self-care before I learned practices and rituals. That was when I thought that perhaps in the socio-political and personal mayhem of 2016-17 I had completely lost my self-care compass. I needed to revisit the basics. I needed to reground myself.
I’ve never been a New Year’s resolution kind of person. This post is not that. What’s more effective for me is scaffolding for my goals. Creating the vibe, space, and the safety net that will allow me to succeed in whatever ways I need to succeed serves me more than outlining hyper-specific goals that may need to shift shape once life hurls its usual lemons at me.
I know I’ll never fully figure this self-care thing out, and I’m okay with that. Maybe that’s just inherent in what self-care is; mental frames, practices, definitions, that are neverending in their evolution because the Self is constantly morphing. Maybe it’s about holding on to principles and allowing your rituals to shift based on what your needs are.
The following definitions and examples work for me but I know they will not necessarily work for everyone or manifest in the same ways they do for me. One thing I’ve made sure of is that these definitions do not require a person to spend money. If self-care is real at all, then it should be free and accessible to every person.
This reflection is guided by the black feminist teachings and thought on self-care that helped spark my journey years ago and with it, I hope to pay homage and respect as well as give credit to these women.
1. Self-care is Liberation
Nina Simone said, “I’ll tell you what freedom is, no fear.”
Liberation is living your life liberated- without fear of the unknown. Without fearing loss. Without fearing power. Without fearing others.
Fear has a way of controlling you, informing you of your decisions before you’ve even made them. Liberation is operating outside of that control. Outside of the control of commodities, capitalism, racial and gendered power structures, apparatuses of power, etc.. If I am not liberated, I am not in a place where I can actively care for myself. Self-care might not be buying that new outfit or paying to get your nails done. We’re leaving that in 2016. Self-care might be recognizing the control that capitalism has on you by choosing to opt out of the consumer role. It might just be cleaning out your closet so you can restyle and painting your nails yourself at home.
In 2018 I want to be liberated from the negative thoughts I have about my body. In 2018 I want to be liberated from the negative thoughts I have about my worth. In 2018 I want to be liberated from cycles of harmful spending habits. In 2018 I want to be liberated from ideas, people, and places that seek to control me without my consent.
Liberation is the highest form of self-care. It does not happen overnight, and for many of us it will never happen completely in our lifetimes; but we can and should still center liberation in self-care practices.
2. Self-care is Introspection
Audre Lorde said, “If I did not define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies of me, and eaten alive.”
Knowing yourself is self-love.
When I say ‘knowing yourself’ I’m speaking to this rawness in that feeling, a brutal and tragic honesty of self. Knowing yourself is knowing your higher self and lower self, and the needs, desires, weaknesses, and realities of your higher and lower selves.
Some say self-care looks like solitude, others say it looks like surrounding yourself with more people you love. The problem with turning either one of these into a hard and fast rule is that it can never be consistent. If you approach your needs introspectively, with a real and deliberate sense of authenticity, you can better make the decision to go out or stay home in a moment. You can better assess if you’re using someone or something to distract from accomplishing something. You can better decide whether you’re performing self-care or feeding your ego. You can better challenge yourself in moments you need to be pushed, better pause in moments that require you to stop. It’s about what you need and placing those needs above your desires, by all means necessary.
Self-care looks like emotional intelligence. Self-care looks like knowing when and how to let go. Self-care looks like tough conversations. Self-care looks like deliberation. Self-care looks like washing the dishes. Self-care looks like staying home. Self-care looks like going out. Self-care looks like food prepping. Self-care looks like setting up a budget. Self-care looks like apologizing. Self-care looks like holding the people in your life to higher standards. Self-care looks like writing. Self-care looks like setting boundaries. Self-care looks like volunteering and giving back. Self-care looks like planning out your week.
Introspection is sitting in a room alone with your truths and trying your hardest to be unafraid. It’s about tearing down the shoddy walls that hold poorly and rebuilding with meaning.
3. Self-care is Sensory
Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Capitalism has commodified self-care to a point where we think massages or pedicures are necessary self-care rituals. If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say that those rituals specifically are not necessary.
Although commodified practices are unnecessary, there’s an element to them that serves us in a way when it comes to caring for and about the body. Sensory self-care is important because it’s our way of communicating with our bodies, giving back to our bodies, and elevating our bodies.
For me, it has looked like getting up to wash my hands when I’m anxious, getting under blankets if I can, and taking a walk to feel the breeze if possible. Self-care looks like a hug from a loved one. Self-care looks like coconut oil in my hair. Self-care looks like exfoliating. Self-care looks like burning sage. Self-care looks like sujood. Self-care looks like things that smell good. Self-care looks like a run. Self-care looks like yoga in my room.
Sensory self-care is communicating to my body: “I’m here. Thank you. It’s going to be okay. Thank you. We are here. Thank you.”
4. Self-care is Community
Alice Walker said, “No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow”.
Self-care as a concept is often framed as a western phenomenon exclusive to cultures that focus on individuals and not on family or community. As a brown child of immigrant parents from India, it’s been tough balancing values of community and collective with self-care as it is framed in my context. I want to redefine and reappropriate self-care to be able to operate with my identity in a way that helps preserve me while centering values of community.
Moving into 2018 looks like surrounding myself with individuals that empower and uplift me. It looks like forming a sisterhood free of toxicity and full of understanding so that I am empowered, every single day, in my identity as a woman. It looks like black and brown community solidarity because I’ve recognized that as a need for me. It looks like having a relationship with my Muslim community.
Self-care looks like a book club. Self-care looks like a supportive online community. Self-care looks like setting boundaries with toxic family members. Self-care looks like giving back to your city. Self-care looks like thanking the people that check in on you. Self-care looks like dropping off food for a sick friend. Self-care looks like thanking your mentors. Self-care looks like healing with others.
Centering community means recontextualizing your problems and sharing pain with others so we feel less alone. It’s about knowing that you are not perfect and that there will be moments of intense self-doubt and self-loathing, but you can and will absolutely pull through by relying on your tribe in times of tribulation.
I pray we enter 2018 conquering our fears, battling our depression, and unpacking our trauma. I pray we blossom, planted in authentic and honest soil. I pray we are courageous beyond measure, not because there is no other choice, but because that is who we are. I pray we flourish from the prayers of our ancestors as we push forward through all obstacles, big and small. I pray we have moments to pause and thank ourselves, nature, bounty, love, Higher Power, family, mentors, and more. I pray we have the strength to set boundaries in our lives so that we may be radical in ways that are necessary and just. I pray we have the ability to recognize love, light, and happiness when it comes our way, and to cease those moments and bask in them for they are gifts of rarity. I pray we believe that we are deserving, worthy, and sufficient.
I pray we center Liberation.
I pray we center Introspection.
I pray we center our Bodies.
I pray we center Community.
Happy New Year.