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Self Care, Disability and Everything In Between
Self Care, The Meme
Self care has become rather trendy these days. What we could describe as genuine forms of keeping ourselves healthy (journaling, jogging, painting, etc.) has quickly degenerated to none of the above. As of now, self care has wildly become an internet meme.
But, with summer dwindling down, nights getting longer, and life in full swing, I think it’s time we take a moment and talk about self care… Seriously.
What Self Care Is Not
Yes, it’s fun to indulge, and no one said you never should. But the internet will have you convinced that self care is something it’s not, and you’ll miss the real meaning behind it.
So, what is self care, really? Let’s explore.
So What Is Self Care?
But we of course feel guilty when we skip. Telling ourselves that we’re taking a day for self care can be reaffirming and validating. (We just have to be honest with ourselves about our needs and our goals).
Why Do We Feel Guilty for Taking a Day for Ourselves?
This idea begs the question: why is it such a taboo to take a day to recover? Why is it that having the flu is the go-to social script when maybe we’re just overworked? Or depressed? Or just simply tired?
Allison Kafer explores these questions in her book, Feminist Queer Crip. Her work discusses disability in a society that not only devalues disabled bodies, but actively imagines a future without them. (This is an amazing and enlightening read that I highly recommend.)
One idea that Kafer outlines, is the notion of “crip time.” She writes, that “rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds” (Kafer 27). According to Kafer, if we wish to truly become an accommodating and accepting society, “crip time” does not just mean “expanded” or more time, but rather it is time “exploded.” (Kafer 27).
When it comes to liberation, liberation of one means liberation of all. If we were to adopt a perspective of “crip time,” tending to our self care needs would not be tinged with guilt.
Disability and Self Care
As Kafer states, disability is not just a physical impairment, but also includes non-visible disabilities too: depression, intellectual disabilities, etc. According to the US census reports, 1 in 5 people in the USA are living with a disability. That’s a lot of the population.
But, statistics aside, a conversation about self care should also include a re-examination of our understandings of ability and disability.
To be disabled is to be a part of a marginalized community. To be marginalized, means that there must be a majority. In other words, in order for normal to exist, we must define the abnormal: Normal=A, Abnormal=Not A. Thus, ability is then defined by disability. The idea of normal is seemingly simple, universal and supposedly encompasses the majority, while the abnormal is complex, and incomprehensible.
But, despite our understandings of normalcy, “normal” in many ways, will never be achieved by many of us. As Robert McRuer, a disability theorist, writes “Everyone is virtually disabled, both in the sense that able-bodied norms are “intrinsically impossible to embody,” fully and in the sense that able-bodied status is always temporary, disability being the one identity category that all people will embody if they live long enough” (McRuer, 30).
Ability is elusive then because it is temporary. Any one of us could become disabled at any point. But even still, our understandings of ability are not fully achievable. “The OED defines able-bodied redundantly and negatively as “having an able body, i.e. one free from physical disability, and capable of the physical exertions required of it; in bodily health; robust.” Able-bodiedness, in turn, is defined vaguely as ”soundness of health; ability to work; robustness” (McRuer, 7).
While there is much to unpack in this definition, and McRuer does a much more thorough job than I do, it’s important to note that we are not always capable of saying we fit this definition. None of us are the tip-top shape human that we imagine ability to be. Even more to the point, I would argue that none of us define ourselves based on our “ability to work.” Simply because we are so much more than that.
Our culture may value us solely on what we are able to produce and contribute, but at our core we are still humans that need to recover, rest, and destress.
As Kafer states, we live in a capitalist society that values “productivity at all costs, of sacrificing one’s body for work,” (Kafer 39). Thus, to refuse to do so, to prioritize your body, your needs and your health first is an act of rebellion in a capitalist society.
To tend to your needs is resistance in a culture that says your needs come second to your work.
Self Care is Resistance, Self Care is Rebellion
Self Care is choosing to put your body first. Yourself first.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha powerfully and lyrically illustrates this idea in her poem “everyone calls you lazy. Don’t let them,” a short piece from her poem book Bodymap.
Self care is tending to your first job: living. Self care is the everyday task of waking up and slowing down. It is to commend ourselves for our work: each and every breath. And, when it becomes hard to even do our first job, or when we simply lose focus or appreciation of our most important job, self care is re-grounding and re-centering ourselves.
And, this my friends, is the ultimate form of resistance. In a society that measures you by how much you’ve done, what you’ve produced, and what you’re capable of, prioritizing yourself over your work is a big middle-finger to the system.
Tending to your health and your needs first, is a pure act of defiance.
To stop and acknowledge that your inherent value is not in your level of productivity, your inherent value is in you, requires a lot of reworking and rethinking for most of us, but is so healthy and so deserved.
Tending to ourselves should be priority number one.
Choosing Self Care
Let this be your reminder not to feel guilty for having an off day, for needing to take a day or for being “lazy.” Because you’re not.
You’re not “off,” you’re not “lazy,” you’re human. One deserving of happiness and healthiness, no matter your output of productivity. You are not a function that can be reworked and manipulated to increase that output, you are not a machine.
You are flesh, and bones. You are emotions and thoughts. You are tangible, and breakable. We must tend to our needs so that we don’t break. Self care is just that. Self care is resistance.
If that means taking a day to binge watch a series, by all means do it. If that means seeing a therapist, please do. If that means disconnecting from the social world, go for it.
Self care is different for everyone. It isn’t a joke; it isn’t a meme. It’s necessary. It’s deserved. So, don’t forget to slow down, check in with yourself, check in with your health, and be honest with your needs. Vocalizing them may be scary. But any act of protest, or resistance is never easy.
An ideal society would bend the clock to meet the needs of our bodies (Kafer). In such a society we would not be overworked and run dry. But alas we must hope for a better future tomorrow. As of now, self care is yours to claim.