Patriarchy wants us tired, it wants us constantly tired, emotionally burnt-out and unable to think clearly or fight for our liberation and freedom. I have a theory – more an observation. My observation is that womxn (whether cis or trans) have to constantly perform emotional and spiritual labour without compensation or recognition. This happens regularly and so often that it has become normalised and invisibilised into our daily lives. From the minute we wake up, we have to choose what to wear whilst trying to mitigate sexual harassment and physical violence. We have to move and walk through public spaces that are emotionally and physically violent. Remembering to which streets are “unsafe”, which streets to avoid whilst walking to the taxi rank after work/school when it’s dark is tiring.
The emotional and mental work performed by womxn doesn’t stop there but moves into their homes where they’re expected to perform additional tasks by preparing dinner and planning other meals for the following day. We ensure our younger siblings or children have done their homework. Before we sleep, we prep meals for the following day. Womxn perform the care-work of ensuring not only their own safety but the emotional and physical safety of those in their care. ADDITIONALLY, for those with spouses, they have to ensure that their spouses’ emotional needs are taken care of. For all womxn (cis and trans) failure to do these things is often seen as a character flaw. “You’re not womxn enough”, “umshato uyanyamezelwa” –these sayings place womxn in positions where they have to do a lot of emotional labour because that’s just what womxn do.
For black queer/lesbian womxn there is the additional task of living in a homophobic and transphobic world; and most times a homophobic/transphobic family. As queer womxn we have to negotiate through a lot of social aggression and even death. The task of ensuring that you protect yourself from homophobia/transphobua driven aggression within the work space and school space can be emotionally taxing.
And this is exactly why emotional self-care is so important for us. When I speak about self-care I don’t mean taking a bubble bath after a long day or “treating yourself” to a drink, a new watch or any other capitalist drive notions of self-care. I want to talk about politically driven self-care, in the words of Audre Lorde self-care as a political practice of self-preservation and political warfare. I want to talk about self-care as a conscious effort to surround yourself with black womxn because you want to ensure that you center yourself in all your interactions with the world. I want to talk about self-care methods such as waking up and going to a job you hate because that is how you will get yourself out of a homophobic home/environment in the future.
I want to talk about remaining in the closet as self-care or reclaiming black lesbian history as self-care. I want to talk about making the decision to seek out therapy and accessing medication because you realise you need help in remaining emotionally sober. I want us to talk about self-care that doesn’t diagnose us as the problem but is situated in the truth that this entire world is structured to work towards our death institutionally and ideologically. Self-care is hard and often times it a difficult journey because of the changes we have to make. I want us to make changes which will strengthen us emotionally, physically and politically.
As this blog progresses I will write on various topics– including a Self-Care series discussing various aspects of mental health self-care practices. My methods of self-care are different and encompass healthy coping mechanisms which I developed through experience. They are meant to be introductory and are by no means prescriptive. As you continue on your journey towards self-care you might develop different methods of self-care.
As this is an introductory blog to the series, let me discuss some self-care principles that help me distinguish between the parasitic and capitalist driven forms of self-care which we are often sold such as “fitness diets” and “fitness regimes” which leave you feeling more exhausted, hungry and siphon up all your time.
Weight is not the point
How much I weigh – unless a medical professional tells me there is a medical issue in relation to my weight – is never my focus. Having recently begun a fitness journey, I have struggled in removing the focus from my body and weight and into capabilities. So rather than the goal being to lose X amount of weight, my goal is to perform particular exercises within a given time. Rather than obsessing over how much I weigh, I refocus on what can my body do/achieve.
This principle is a struggle and a constant work in progress. Part of self-care is removing shame as a motivator. Again taking the idea of weight (you can clearly see that weight is a big deal for me), rather than embarking on the journey to fitness because I felt fat or had insecurities around my body. I began my journey with the specific intention to ensure that my body was performing at optimal levels. I wanted to boost my immune system in order to help it fight off flu and other viruses. I also googled the benefits of exercise and one benefit was better sleep and better concentration. I centred these rather than my insecurities towards my body as motivation.
Commit to yourself and hold yourself accountable
The last principle has been the most difficult because I am still working on it. This involves developing a plan around my plans (A plan for my plans!). For example if my plan is to exercise two consecutive days in a row for 30 minutes to an hour I would ensure I set that goal and execute it. This is not as easy as it sounds because it is easier to negotiate yourself out of plans and scheduled activities – especially if you have anxiety. Thus I ensure I do everything during my day with the express purpose of fulfilling my goals.
Procrastination and other anxiety induced avoidance mechanisms are still there – I still get lazy about holding myself accountable but I am learning how to commit to doing things because I have much bigger goals (see above).
A black lesbian centered practice of self-care focusing on the emotional, physical and political levels is incredibly important in helping us develop the energy to fight for our freedom and liberation. It is a difficult journey to negotiate these obstacles as we are all in different spaces of self-actualization. Through this series I want you to take what you can and perhaps leave tips on how you have practiced self-care within your context.
If anyone asks tell em Mathoko said so!!