For the folks working your butts off to make this world better for all of us; take a pause.
This may feel like an impossible task, when so many of you are struggling to balance multiple responsibilities and expectations. When people are counting on you: people whose lives are often at stake.
Change makers in all our titles, often put our own self-care as an after-thought. Many of us will do something proactive about it, only after the body shuts-down. The work, the people, the justice, all comes before our own health. This is preventing us from living out our best, full, healthy lives.
The world does not need more martyrs
When we spend most of our time at work, often our identity and value becomes about how good we are seen to be at our job. The people at home are certainly not interested in us being a Mother Teresa; they want a friend, a daughter, a father, someone to share present moments with. This is not possible when our heads remain in social justice work, twenty-four hours a day. In the end we get sick and a lot of folks get sick of us.
The world needs you to be healthy in this work because we can’t fight the good fight without you. We do not need martyrs on planet earth, we need you alive. And I mean fully alive: with joy, energy, multiple interests and personalities. For this to happen, we must understand self-care is key to all of this.
Being strong is killing us.
Self-care is not easy
This is all easier said than done. I am writing as someone who has worked the sixty hour weeks, skipped breakfast and proudly wore the badge that said “no weekends for the past two months”. This unstable work ethic was wrapped up in lots of things. My ego: the work will not last without me or I was needed like some strange X-Men super-heroine to save the day. This is just not true. While our contributions are meaningful and wanted, we are not that important. Recognising that and being disciplined in taking time out to switch off, is hard and necessary.
Lack of representation makes us sick
My identity, and the lack of people from backgrounds similar to mine at work, contributed to me shunning self-care. Believing, because I was not of the same class and stature to most of my colleagues, I had something to prove. Assumptions are made about people with stories like mine; assumptions are made about all of us. I can not imagine how those without my privileges feel in those spaces. I had to work harder, at a cost to my own health: that is what expected when you are born with rough shoulders. To say out loud “I am struggling” felt like weakness. Managerial advice like “all you need is better time management” does not cut it. When society has set the bar higher and the rewards much more difficult to grasp for so many of us, these words do the opposite of support.
Diary management is not the answer
Taking care of ourselves goes beyond taking control of the diary. It can help, but the reasons for why we burn out, are much bigger and deeper than that. Our mental and physical health effects us all in different ways; stressors like racism, socio-economic disparities and discrimination mean that so many of us just can’t shake it off. At the same time, those discriminations are why so many of us know that we must work harder and longer hours than our white male peers. Self-care reminds us that it should not be this way and we become awake to the system around us. With self-care we can find the strength and energy to call it out and act.
Self-care is a revolutionary act
I stay in justice work because it is full of joy, courage, learning and hope: it is a privilege. I know I am blessed to do what I do and be paid for it. Through a focused effort on self-care, we can continue to thrive and stay in this work.
I want to end sharing a powerful TED-talk by two inspirational women, T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison: when black woman walk, things change. These organisers know a lot more than I do about the power of self-care. I hope they can help you find the time for your own.