I wrote a reflection on ‘self-care’ in November 2019, early into my time being largely confined to bed as I recovered from major cancer surgery. I understood, at that time, that I was likely to face a longer recovery journey than most given my complicating pre-existing conditions. It has been timely to revisit this as we settle into an undefined period of living in isolated household units in an attempt to ‘Flatten the curve’ as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll in Australia and globally.
In my self-care explorations, self-soothing has also become important. In facing significant traumas at a very young age, I have come to appreciate that part of self-soothing for me often includes vital elements of self-parenting, permission, and recognising trauma responses in my body.
The accounts of the ways in which COVID-19 is ravaging our healthcare systems and the burdens it is placing upon many people, in different ways, worries me as I see in these diverse experiences the recipes for trauma and burnout as we strive to survive this era. My hope is that we strive to survive together. I question that our systems, as they existed pre-pandemic, are particularly well designed to support many people, let alone diverse needs and identities, to live and thrive. In having to shift to a pandemic-responsive way of living, we have had very little time to adapt and these systems are already revealing many ways in which self-care is very challenging in the absence of connections, community, and family (chosen, fostered, and/or biological).
‘Self-care’ is often bandied about with implications of capitalist notions of luxuriating in purchased services (that commodify the labour of others) or idyllic surrounds, but these don’t necessarily contribute to improved wellbeing rather providing an immediate distraction. Whilst distraction from pain is not a ‘bad thing’, perhaps largely driven my Buddhist, Taoist, and multi-Asian cultural background I tend to baulk at this idea that challenge and pain are things to be avoided. Additionally, I am suspicious that avoidance of challenge as a first response may result in consequences (my experience and observations suggest that often those difficult circumstance will simply repeat, in varying manifestations, with increasing cost). In health, “self-care” refers to ways in which we can participate in medical processes for ourselves, empowering ourselves as patients/consumers. This can range from over-the-counter medicines to at-home testing kits. Similarly, some of the self-care we talk about are often packaged in convenient kits to soothe away the things we try not to acknowledge are difficult about society.
Self-care has become an increasingly important topic for me, not only because I am deeply enmeshed in recovery but because I’m asking myself questions about how to design the next chapter of my life to allow more space for better health (emotional, mental, physical, social) with less risk for becoming seriously ill through stress. I feel like many of the people around me know that I genuinely understand if they need to cancel/reschedule plans and prioritise their own wellbeing. Relationships (of all kinds) with me, I hope, can stretch around individual needs that necessarily change shape with circumstances. But I do miss people, as I retreat a little more into trying to understand what self-care *is* and *feels* like for *me*.
When I first shared my reflection on self-care, several people shared personal stories on their own struggles with navigating the complexity of the concept and finding space and energy for the practice. If you have found this post, I hope you use this as a signal to consider pausing and making space for self-care. It takes practice to be kind to ourselves.
Comic Artist: Deanna Zandt
Unfortunately, I don’t recall how I came across these comics as I’m one of the individuals that has lingering memory impairment for quite some time after general anaesthesia, but Deanna Zandt has a website and I encourage you to check out Deanna’s other comics, art, and writing.