Radical self-care is my thing right now. I’m on a mission to become a self-care superheroine.
I’m not talking about the kind of self-care that your boss tells you to do when you’re overworked and stressed out because of all the demands he/she has placed on you. Nor am I talking about the kind of self-care that health care workers advocate when they lack the time or empathy to try to understand what you’re experiencing but also don’t want to come across as a callous robot. Nor is it the typical self-care that you might hear people talking about when they grant a luxurious or pampering experience to themselves once or twice a year.
Radical self-care might sometimes involve taking a bath, sipping some tea, taking a day off, or getting a massage…but it’s not primarily about making myself “feel better” or rejuvenating my energy just before charging back into the fray of life.
It’s about a owning myself, my needs, and my responsibility for those needs. Radical self-care is about developing a deep intuition about what’s going on “inside” and a commitment to caring for myself even when it doesn’t feel good…or even look good to others.
(For all the hype that our society has around self-care, it’s often shocking to me how much others don’t really want us to take care of ourselves when it means setting aside obligations, saying no to demands, or holding a firm boundary.)
As I head into my second year of graduate school, with internship, classes, and a couple side jobs, I know there will come a day when I’m faced with the choice to finish a project or get sleep, to hole up to do an obscene amount of reading or spend time with loved ones, to call in sick or muscle through the day with a sore throat and upset stomach.
And I’m going to have to be prepared to make the judgment calls of what I need most. I’m going to have to be ready to piss people off when meeting that “most” need conflicts with something someone else wants or expects.
I am my home base—my own foundation. Everything I do stems from the core of me. I need to be radical about self-care because I recognize that if things aren’t good in my foundation, they can’t be good elsewhere in life. The only way I can do anything worthwhile long-term for anyone else is if I am providing myself the space and permission to meet my own needs.
Burnout shouldn’t be an expected part of life; it should be an indication of a lack of taking care of oneself. Unfortunately we live in a society where many professional and academic fields recognize that self-care is essential but treat burnout as inevitable. They’re set up so that it’s impossible to take care of oneself sufficiently enough to avoid burnout. Self-care becomes a tool of oppressing people rather than the tool of nurturing them. It becomes an excuse to avoid looking at the systemic ways that people are treated rather than a form of empowering people to demand to be treated with dignity and concern for their well-being.
Which makes radical self-care a revolutionary act. By committing to taking care of my needs (and by holding my boundaries), no matter what, I am refusing to participate in that paradigm. Right now, the ability to be radical about self-care is somewhat of a privileged position, but the more people commit to self-care, the more people will be able to consider committing. This is a social justice mission, but it’s one that fundamentally has to start with concern for and commitment to…yourself.