I’ve spent the entirety of my twenties reading self-help books on how to put yourself first, listening to my peers talk about their bubble baths and solo wine nights, and having Instagram tell me to say no to others and yes to my evening of face masks and 90s sitcom reruns. I’ve been conditioned to believe that making time for others means less time for myself, which is bad because I should be putting myself first in everything I do. And it has me thinking, in a world of self care, have we forgotten how to truly care for others?
Our parents, mother figures especially, spent their adulthood doing and giving all of themselves to others. They made coffee for their significant other, made sure their kids had healthy lunches for school, cleaned and tidied the house while everyone was out, and had a hot steaming meal ready for when everyone arrived home. They put off treating themselves, and only did so for the benefit of others’ eyes.
And then my generation came along and challenged all of that.
We marketed the term self care, encouraging yoga classes, slow mornings, and evenings with a book and a mug of hot lemon water in hand. We said no to friend requests for a last-minute beer, ignored text messages because we weren’t in the right mental space to deal with it, and hid under our covers in order to create some quality me-time.
It’s easy to take on either extreme. To care for others at the expense of self and to care for self at the expense of others. And in this age of extreme self care, we must ask ourselves, have we become immune and desensitized to the hurt of others in the process?
We’re finding ourselves in a climate that’s asking us to show up in regards to issues that may or may not directly impact us. To use our privilege to amplify systemic issues surrounding Black lives and People of Colour. So what’s the best way to do that? To assure we’re taking care of our own needs while still being present to the needs of marginalized groups around us, we need to practice active over passive helping.
Passive helping has us sending texts to friends saying, “Let me know if you need anything.” It has us sharing information surrounding Black Lives Matter in our Instagram Stories, or responding “love you though!” to someone’s cry for help. This passive form of helping means that we’re only helping on the surface level, if anything just to check off the box that we did something nice that day and can move back to focusing on ourselves. And while I’m not saying putting yourself first is a bad thing, as it’s important to make sure your mental and physical health is in good condition before being there for others, I’m saying that we’ve forgotten how to really care for those around us and show up in ways that actually have an impact on other’s lives.
How can we care more deeply and be of better assistance to people? By actively helping those around us. Instead of telling your friend they can text you if they need anything, try telling them, “I made you some healthy meals and I’m coming by to drop them off tonight.” Instead of passively sharing information and stories on Black lives, actively donate to an organization, show up to a protest, and have conversations with those around you about racism. When you can tell your friend needs an ear, pick up the phone and call them instead of just texting empty I love yous.
This isn’t about ignoring our own needs, but about shifting the care we do give to others into something more impactful.
I remember when my mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I was struggling with the realization of this, and with the fact that I no longer lived at home and couldn’t be there for her to assist 24/7. My cousin saw this internal struggle I was dealing with and made a manicure appointment for her and me, offering me an hour of time where I could focus on something trivial and fun before heading back into the role of caregiver. My cousin didn’t just ask me what she could do for me, she took action and actively cared for me, removing the barrier of me having to think for myself for a moment.
Self care is the groundwork, and what grows from that is not just this peaceful resting, but the restoring of our communities and the tackling of injustices. We heal ourselves through self care so we can create change in our world through community-care.
Words by Laura Robbins
Photo by Alisa Anton