Some ideas on self-care, interdependence, and caring for others
On self-care and care for others. I keep returning to the thought of care and interdependence. By caring for myself, I am modeling for others how to care for themselves. When I am cleaning up the environment or making some food or thinking ahead to make my lunch for the next day, I can do it while thinking of those actions as loving self care, and I can extend that to others as well (especially as a parent). That sounds simple, but in practice I don’t find it to be so easy. There is also a place in life for self indulgence: I feel bad, I had a stressful day, so therefore I will get some ice cream and huddle in the blankets and play video games. (Or, weirder than that, the idea that you go get a manicure or something….) That can be part of self-care but it shouldn’t be mistaken for all the work of care, which is 99% maintenance and chores. And who hasn’t had the thought, “Oh, god, here I am slogging through this work again, doing the dishes (or whatever) and then it will need to be done all over again!” and just brushing your teeth feels like this dreary sisyphean task. I have had very good luck practicing the work of transmuting maintenance and care, you could even call it service work, into love or doing it in a spirit of kindness to one’s self. If you have had the experience of trying to do those things, and getting abuse as a result (not doing it well enough, or right, being scorned, mocked, yelled at, or punished, for example) then it is even harder. I have to bite back my thoughts and words (Can’t you even ____?! Can’t you just???! ) A little patience is so useful. (With myself or with, well, teenagers). If a person is feeling depressed and anxious, they need more care, done in a good spirit, and to me, it honestly felt revolutionary to see that, and say outright, “You’re feeling so bad, let me take care of you, it’s ok to feel sad and ask for care from friends and family… and… we can figure out what can you do to take good care of yourself too” And then make some healthy dinner and dig them out from chaos. Because, what I’d expect myself when I was a kid was that my sad feelings and need of care would result in others being angry with me. Danny has pointed out to me over the years that my family’s ultimate insult is to call someone a baby. Don’t be a baby! What a baby! What does it mean to be a baby, in this family language? It means to need help or care. That’s a sad subtext that I want to correct.
Occasionally as an adult in the world I get a feeling of surprise care and humanity where I didn’t expect it. Like, I was moved nearly to tears when someone came round the grocery checkout and offered without fuss to put the grocery bag handles on the back of my wheelchair. She settled it carefully with the handles criss crossed just the way I do it myself, with out jolting me or doing anything strange (either she knows someone well who is a wheelchair user, or she just notices) and she made eye contact first – I can’t remember if she asked outright but we had a eye contact and body language interchange that was essentially asking and consent. True access intimacy. How rare and precious that simple interaction is. All our help and care for others should be in that spirit as well.