by Heather Seggel
Origami. Making terrariums. Adult coloring. Eating a raw foods diet. Eating a paleo diet. Expensive coffee drinks. Loose tea with complex preparation rituals. Manicures. Knitting. Crochet. Collage art. Strategic skin exfoliation. Journaling. Cat videos. Gratitude journaling. Crosswords and sudoku. Bullet Journaling. Making goddamn Pinterest boards.
These are just a few of the things I have done in the name of self-care. One thing not on the list is vomiting a little bit every time I use the phrase “self-care,” but it’s true. The idea strikes me as ridiculous and is rife with very real problems — and yet its popularity is not a mere fluke. Busy and stressful lives demand that we care for ourselves, if only so we can carve yet more off to share with others. But as a movement, self-care often feels like it’s reaching out to those who need it least while encouraging an unhealthy degree of separation from others.
If a harried full-time caregiver gets a nice emotional reset from a pumpkin spice latté and half an hour scrolling through Twitter, that’s an excellent use of her time, but those drinks are shockingly expensive. I had someone recommend listening to audiobooks on my phone via YouTube recently, and it sounded like a great idea — but for the fact that my phone is connected to the wall by a pigtail cord. I’m writing this on a $150 refurbished laptop that I love with all my heart, but I can’t afford to bring home the technological baby brother or sister it deserves, complete with calling plans.
To try and cajole myself into happiness, I’ve bought scrap yarn at thrift stores, cut up my junk mail to fold, dumpster-dived for art supplies, leaned on the fantastic generosity of my local public library and strategically food shopped from the weekly sale circulars to try new diet tweaks without breaking the bank. With the exception of library events, all of this has taken place at home, alone, where I spend most of my time. True self-care for me is never going to involve a long candle-lit bath; it’s more likely to involve joining others in a group outing, the prospect of which is about as comforting to me as a nice dip into a tub full of scorpions. Nevertheless, my self needs others to thrive. Staying at home and coloring mandalas until my eyes cross can be a fun way to spend an afternoon, but in its own hippy-dippy way, it’s reinforcing my independence when I’m lobbying to be more interdependent.
DIY, or do it yourself, was once a rallying cry for movements, not individuals. Don’t wait for a label to discover you; form a band and go on tour. It was a very scrappy call to be the change you want to see in the world, but usually your self was part of a collective. I’m not sure how it happened, but DIY slowly became the province of places like Home Depot and the Home and Garden Network. That’s not a bad thing overall; I’ve painted a ceiling and taken off a drain trap as needed, and it feels great to have the skills to take care of oneself at that basic level. But our drive for independence keeps us too far from one another and assumes we are all equal, not just in terms of access, but ability.
When you are deeply unwell and alone too much of the time, joining a group of mimosa-drinking adult coloring book enthusiasts might feel roughly equivalent to facing a firing squad. But failing to make those soft social connections cuts us off from a wide range of resources, from job referrals, housing leads or simply learning about similar events. And while almost anyone can find at least one event they’d be willing to attend, things like work, child care, elder care and appointments to manage our own physical and mental health can make access extremely challenging.
Saying “it’s who you know” conjures up images of old-boys networks, but building connections is where our collective future health and happiness lies. Someone recently posted about disaster preparedness on my Facebook wall; we were in the midst of a terrible fire season and live with earthquakes as an ever-present threat. She asked what people would take with them if forced to run, and the realization that I’d be doing so alone and on foot hit me hard. I responded, “Bus fare, and maybe a rosary,” feeling panicked.
I continue to push myself out of my comfort zone, and when I see others doing the same it makes me both proud and weepy. I dream that my granny squares will knit into yours, or your collage will join mine in a mural, or that we will find some earth to dig in side by side. I rub these notions into those rosary beads daily, another self-care ritual secretly designed to lead me out of myself and into the world at large. I hope to meet you there.