Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Self-Care In The Era Of Trump & Brexit

I spent much of 2016 depressed, a mental health crisis triggered by the Brexit vote and exacerbated by the US elections. Yet I've begun 2017 in the most positive place for years and I wondered, why? When the world is undeniably getting worse, not better, and the news out of America becomes more and more dystopian, why am I feeling so cheerful?

I think the answer has to do with finally cracking a self-care routine that really works for me. Siobhan wrote eloquently and brilliantly last week on why self-care can be a problematic term and I very much suggest you read it, but I'm about to completely ignore her very valid argument that "self-care articles are [not] the way forward" and write one of my own.

I am very privileged - I hold a UK passport and am white, cisgender, and middle class, all of which means I am able to sometimes close the door and take a break from the noise of the world. It's important to recognise that this is not a privilege that everyone in this country - let alone the world - has. My self-care routines aren't about ignoring what's happening, they're about taking time to regroup and recharge so I'm better able to be useful in what has become a fight against fascism.

I'm accepting my limits with regard to activism and advocacy, while recognising what I can do
I spent a lot of 2016 beating myself up about the fact that my anxiety prevents me from going to protests and marches. I find large groups challenging in so many ways, from social anxiety to crowd-related panic attacks to IBS anxiety about not always having a loo accessible, and I saw this as a failing on my part, rather than looking at what else I could do. I wrote at the start of the year about not wanting to use my mental & physical health as an excuse to not take action, but I'm learning that it's important to recognise that there are many and varied ways of carrying out activism and resistance.

Thomas has encouraged me to view my writing as a valid form of activism, and one I can engage in from home even when my health is bad. Instead of marching, I'm writing regularly to my MP (which Write To Them makes incredibly easy). I'm putting my money where my mouth is on local, national and international levels. I've set up a direct debit to Leicester Rape Crisis, donated to the UK Black Lives Matter justice fund, Planned Parenthood and, after this weekend's events, to the ACLU as they seek to challenge the Muslim Ban in court.

Think about what actions you can take within your own limits - but also don't be afraid to sometimes push those limits. I know that a large protest in London is not achievable for me, but I joined a smaller local demo last night and although it was outside my comfort zone, I'm very glad I went. Being with others who feel the same anger, who also want change, is also a form of self-care.

I am staying off social media
I'm a social media addict and can happily spend an evening whiling away time on Twitter and Facebook, without achieving anything concrete. But I realised after Brexit that Twitter was having a detrimental affect on my mood; I could feel my anxiety and unhappiness kicking into higher gear as soon as I opened the app. And no wonder! At the moment it's an endless scroll of misery, brutality and fascism. So I deleted the app. I'm still reading the news, keeping abreast of what's happening, and taking actions where I can. But only visiting Twitter once a day has made an enormous difference to my mood.

Take time to consider your social media use and ask: is it telling me something new or does it make me happy? If the answer to both is "no" then switch off. It's ok to acknowledge that you have limits; it's ok to prioritise your health.

I am making & doing
In the run-up to Christmas I started sewing a lot and noticed an immediate upswing in my mood. And now that the festive season has passed I'm in full-on zine mode. Since the start of January I've finished one and started on my second, and seeing something tangible come out of my scribbling is hugely rewarding.

Make time each week for creative pursuits. This could be anything: baking, gardening, drawing, knitting, colouring... whatever you find most enjoyable. Spending time on an activity that requires both concentration and calm is a quick route to zen-like relaxation

I am embracing hygge
Yup, that word I'm afraid, but never fear - I'm not about to tell you to buy expensive new throws or designer Scandi candlesticks. What I am doing is making duvet forts on the sofa, lighting the fire, turning off my phone, and drinking lots of tea. Not exactly revolutionary, I know, but I'm trying to recognise this for what it is - essential self-care and something to be enjoyed mindfully - rather than beating myself up about not being more productive. Some days just call for fresh pyjamas, a 99p bunch of daffodils, and a good book, and that's ok.

24 comments:

  1. I think more hygge as a means to switch off from the world for a little while is a brilliant idea. It's something I'm definitely trying to do more in an attempt to have a brain break from work and the outside world.

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    1. And as much as I find the whole concept of 'hygge' dubious (it seems a very clever marketing tool, as much as anything else) I've genuinely found it useful to put a name to it, so it feels more purposeful rather than just wasting time sitting around in my pjs!

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  2. I really identified with this post, I haven't been to any marches because of anxiety and feeling a bit guilty because of it but whilst mustering up the courage I too have been finding other ways to contribute through donating and letter writing. I've also been trying to wind down social media because it all gets a bit to much sometimes. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I very nearly didn't go to the one this week but I'm very glad I did - because it was so close to home and on a smaller scale, it felt much more manageable. But it's important not to waste energy beating yourself up about what you *can't* do and concentrate instead on what you can, which it sounds like you have been doing.

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  3. I haven't read Siobhan's post yet, I'm headed straight there afterwards. Thank you for THIS post however, it's so important to take care of yourself to enable and empower you to get out and use your voice and privilege to raise awareness. I cannot advocate enough having regular social media breaks too-as mucky as anything I just feel burnt out by the barrage of negative news and views you stumble across, the only way to power up again is taking a break.
    Thanks for so articulately saying what I was thinking!
    M Life Outside London

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    1. Thanks for this, it seems I'm by far the only one burnt out on social media.

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  4. I couldn't go to the only march in Switzerland because it was too far away (in Geneva) and we had plans that day. Those are crap excuses and I do feel guilty, but on the other hand I hate really crowded places and would probably have felt out of my depth.
    All any of us can do is our best. If writing letters, donating or signing petitions is the best we can do, we're still doing more than those who could go to protests but don't.

    Self care is so important in these ark times. Getting burned out on all the bad news isn't going to help anyone. By taking care of your self, you are able to continue doing what you do.

    Well done to you for this post. It is very necessary.

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    1. Thank you. And you are absolutely right - allowing ourselves to become burned out is going to achieve anything. We need our energy to fight this, and self-care is one route to ensuring that.

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  5. Man, I hear you. I am trying to bury my head in the sand ATM and concentrate on baby D, but then that makes me worse and I worry what kind of world he will grow up in!
    I think your top point is the best one. We have to accept our limitations and the fact that we cannot (individually) change the world and things that are out of our control. All you can do is try your best and kudos to you for donating to worthy causes. Think of it this way - the money and time that you would have spent travelling to London to march has been put to a very good use by donating it and writing instead. Your other points are great too. Great post. xx

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    1. I really feel for new parents - I can't imagine how awful it must feel like to look at your beautiful baby and wonder what he's going to have to deal with in future.

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  6. Such a great post. I had got to the point where my stomach was churning as I scrolled through twitter and every time the BBC news alert sounded on my phone. On Monday night I felt a bit ashamed of myself for going to yoga rather than travel an hour to the closest march on my own, but this has reminded me that there are lots of ways to protest and we need to choose the best ones for us to maintain some kind of balance. It's that old adage of putting on your own life jacket before you help others isn't it?

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    1. I love that! What a great metaphor for it all - take care of yourself so you can take care of others.

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  7. Had to look up 'cisgender' but I'm always open to expanding my vocab! Hope the social anxiety won't prevent you from popping in for a few drinks at my birthday bash in July?

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    1. Thomas and I are getting married at the end of July so it's a busy month but I'll certainly try to be there!

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  8. So much of this resonates with me - right down to the IBS stuff. I am really struggling at the moment between work (teaching) and pressures at home (partner got made redundant last summer and he hasn't been able to find anything so I am carrying everything by myself) and feel a bit like I'm falling to parts. My physical health is a bit of a mess too, just small scale stuff like constant colds and mouth ulcers, but enough to further grind me down. I deactivated Facebook a few years back, and gave up on Twitter last year - Instagram generally feels like a happy place though. My biggest "self-care" thing is a weekend day of back-to-back Say Yes To The Dress, a massive bath with a stack of magazines, and not getting out of pyjamas.

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    1. Oh gosh, teaching plus the pressure of your partner being out of work is enough stress for anyone, even before you throw in the nightmare that is the global political situation. I hope half term is a well-earned break with lots of pyjama days and Say Yes... marathons.

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  9. Just what I needed to hear/read today. I am struggling with finding the right mix (for me) of news content/saturation, activism, hope and ... um, pyjama days!

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    1. Pyjama days are very much needed right now!

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  10. You raise some really, really good points. Being completely knackered and burnt out will achieve nothing so your suggestions are great!

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  11. Wonderful post Janet! I am doing a terrible job with anything resembling self care the past couple of weeks/not being able to tune things out. I feel guilty if I'm not engaged/informed, especially when I had friends and family going to the Women's March on Washington, I so wanted to be there with them. Your advice is really sound, there are plenty of other ways we can contribute. I think part of my problem is feeling powerless as an expat (and I know this would be largely the same even if I were in America), but I basically have a double whammy on my timelines of American stress and British horror and it's quite overwhelming at times. I need to find something to decompress other than Netflix (which helps!). I feel like self care and Hygge and anything we can do to take care of ourselves is always a good thing, any backlash to it is reactionary/"Why aren't you fixing the world all by yourself" b.s. I don't need right now! ;-) Anyway thanks for writing this! xo

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    1. Thank you. I think of you and other American ex-pats in the UK often - if it's difficult for a British citizen to deal with this overwhelmingly shit situation, how much worse it must be for you guys.

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  12. Brilliant post (I found you through Siobhan). On the social media point, I joked last year that I had carefully curated my Facebook feed so that pretty much all the algorithm let me see when I logged in was videos of cute animals. That's... slightly less the case now, but it helps a little. Not least because my Twitter, RSS feeds and email have all the angry girl action point resources one can really deal with.

    Lis / last year's girl x

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    1. I know exactly what you mean - I keep my Instagram feed as fluffy and cute as I can, so that I have a digital escape when Twitter becomes too overwhelming.

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