The most important thing anyone can do for the world is to take care of themselves.
In my experience, this has been particularly hard to grasp and accept for women, particularly women of color. It can be almost unthinkable for a woman to put herself before all her obligations and check in with herself about what part of her needs nourishing. In the United States, there is a culture of excess stress and pressure. Of unreasonable demands on the human psyche that quite frankly border on psychotic.
The effects of 80-hour work weeks, juggling family schedules, worries about financial stability drives many Americans to the other extreme of excessive alcohol, tobacco and drug use as well as other self-destructive behaviors begging for us to take a break. This is further compounded by status in society and where one lies on the totem pole of power and privilege – the lower on the pole you are, the more stressed out you are likely to be by the oppression of ideologies out of your control. In other words, the trauma of poverty, racism and sexism adds a whole other layer of injury to an already stressful life for the average woman of color like me.
During my doula training about two years ago, my mentor was passionate about self-care as birth professionals. I learned through the extensive training how helping women in childbirth is a journey into the unconscious memories and views on birth. We spoke a lot about how to sustain ourselves during the labor, the importance of debriefing and decompressing afterwards and how to maintain healthy boundaries with the women we serve to avoid being burned out. It was after this experience that I began to understand how important taking care of one’s self was.
The necessity to take care of my self became a priority after having my foundation rocked by sexual abuse, family strife and personal growing pains in the last several years. I began to understand that my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health needed support for all the work I was doing with women’s empowerment, my writing and birth professional work. I learned tools that would facilitate a healthier relationship with my self. Therapy has been one of my most helpful resources. Taking care of my self became processing and unloading things I never could bring myself to talk about, as I saw how they were hurting me to remain silent about them.
Self-care has required me to look at all the ways I am promoting and maintaining my overall health. It has entailed a deep level of self-inquiry about where I lack love for my self and why I don’t think I deserve to take care of my self. It’s something I’ve learned vicariously through growing up in the world. That somehow, taking a mental health day off from my work, deciding to dedicate time to therapy sessions, booking yoga sessions, eating organic foods and setting limits for my interactions with people was selfish. As a Latina, my status in society has made me feel guilty for wanting to attend to myself first. With the burden of less economic opportunities and the notion that women are supposed to bend over backwards for everyone but themselves, I didn’t feel that I had the time or the luxury to focus solely on my well being.
I have quickly learned that if I am not okay, I cannot help anyone. The quicker I deteriorate healthwise, the more likely it is that my work will come crumbling down with it. While I have continued to learn how to employ a healthy lifestyle, it is out of the awareness that I need to serve myself to serve others to the best of my ability. To serve myself is radical – it is getting right to the root of the issues in this world. For all of us are sick with the disease of fear and suffering expounded on us daily and generationally passed on from mother to daughter. Incorporating self-care into our conversations around empowering women could lead to more women releasing and breaking the silences that keep them paralyzed if we can come to an understanding that we must heal ourselves before healing the world.