Reassuringly Restless 3: self-care and protecting yourself
Nothing more than a fad?
Sometimes I wonder if it is an oxymoron: self-care and activism. To be an activist, at its core, is to push against social norms. Pushing against the status quo (in theory) isn’t good for self-care, even if it will increase wellbeing in the long term.
I fundamentally do not believe in the phrase “the ends justify the means”.
At other times I think about the privilege in being able to talk about self-care in activism. To be able to talk about switching off or taking time out assumes that there is an opportunity of walking away from the source of stress. There’s a privilege in that and that is something I (and other activists alike) need to acknowledge. That is not to say that it is not something we should aspire for, but we must recognise that activism looks very different depending on our environment and circumstances. That difference can largely be pinned to power, privilege and how our identities are perceived. People with marginalised identities are given less space for self-care and for that reason we must persist with it and prioritise it.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” - Audre Lorde
Know your red lines
Your red lines are your boundaries and what you are/are not willing to do. As an HIV activist (and someone living with HIV) there are three things that are my no-no:
Telling my transmission story
With all of the talks and articles I have written, I would be amazed if you can find one where I talk about how I got HIV (this is not a challenge for you to look!). Some people do, I don’t. This is my red line.
I spoke more about using your voice in my second blog post. Telling your story can be powerful, speaking your truth is powerful, but please only do it when you’re ready (ready can only be defined by you). I have seen too many people retraumatise themselves by publicly telling their stories and experiences before they were ready. I talk about this more in my article for gal-dem magazine Activists, don’t feel guilty about self-care and setting boundaries
Providing peer support for people living with HIV
If I am running a workshop for people living with HIV, of course I will provide emotional/pastoral support, but the key thing is that it is time limited and a contained period of time. I do not provide emotional support or guidance in my WhatsApp messages, direct message or private messages on any other social media platforms. I know that I would not be able to handle it, so where I can, I will redirect them to support services/groups within their countries, but I do not provide that support myself.
Working with harassers and bullies
I fundamentally do not believe in the phrase “the ends justify the means”. In my first blog post (So, you want to be an activist?) I talk about things to consider and seeking out a community. It is important to feel safe within that community of activists. I have seen activists exploit this principle to treat other activists in the most disrespectful and abusive of ways, for the good of “the cause”. Our practices and approaches in our movements need to reflect the world we are striving towards - otherwise, what’s the point?
Personal and strategic approaches
As a term, self-care has been tokenised and commercialised, but that does not mean it should be dismissed. Here’s the thing though, self-care has also been individualised and that is dangerous. As Frontline AIDS points out “If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it does not mean that something is wrong with you. Burnout is caused by organisational and structural factors rather than individual attributes. Your body and mind are simply doing you a service by asking you to slow down.”
If you are existing in a hostile and dangerous (whether that be physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc) environment, no amount how much the individual action (like no social media days and bubble baths) will save you!
We need to think about self-care in terms of so many different aspects. We need to acknowledge the societal structures and impact our wellbeing (thus making self-care ‘an act of political warfare’), we need to look at how our own collectivism may re-create the very oppressive approaches we are fighting to change within society and then we can talk about individual action.
I run a workshop called Self-care and Resilience in Activism. In it I cover the tools/approaches below as a way of thinking about self-care. Below I have written a brief overview of three approaches, click on the hyper-linked subheadings for more details about each.
This tool gets you to think about your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). It is most commonly used on an organisational level, but the approaches can also be used on an individual level too.
This tools looks at Awareness, Balance, Connections and Development to manage self-care and avoid burnout.
I appreciate this tool because explored different parts of ourselves (physical, psychological, mental, energy, spiritual) and encourages reflection on an individual and network/organisational level.
We are striving for a balance, at least where I am, ‘self-care’ has become a well used term. As well as thinking about our own self-care, we also need to think about how we are working with others (especially if you are in a position of power).
Can activism really change the world? I think it’s the only thing that ever has, but we need to be strategic with it. This is the third of a monthly blog series. If there is anything that you would like me to discuss in future blog posts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bakita Kasadha (aka BAKITA:KK) is an HIV activist, associate trainer and writer. She is the Chair of the Global Network of Young People Living with HIV. She is interested in self-care, ethical engagement and power dynamics within social movements.
Through this blog series, she aims to share some insight to navigating activism and advocacy spaces, for those thinking about it and for those figuring it out. All opinions are strictly hers.
Artwork by thecamru