What the Hell Is Self-Care, Anyway?

Content/trigger warning: cursing, discussion of ableism

There’s been a lot of kerfuffle over what the clinical/psychological definition of self-care actually is. I don’t believe the term has been so watered down that it is meaningless, as I’ve seen some anti-saneism activists claim, but I do think it’s important that we set the record straight on self-care. I see some people saying that self-care is relaxing and taking it easy. I see some people vehemently screaming that self-care isn’t “drinking tea, taking baths, and lighting candles,” it’s pushing yourself to do chores. Both are wrong, although the vehement screamers are more wrong. Let me explain.

In Psychology Today, the magazine in which Carrie Fisher joked about being the centerfold (gods I miss her), there is an article called Self-Care 101, written in 2018 by a PhD and LiCSW named Dr. Maria Baratta. In this article, Dr. Baratta describes self-care as “the mindful taking of time to pay attention to you…in a way that ensures you are being cared for by you.” I like this definition. Notice that it doesn’t list any specific activities. This is because self-care is going to be different for everyone.

Self-care requires self-awareness. In order to do proper self-care, you need to know when you need self-care. Some people wait until they’re burned out to start doing self-care, at which point it may not be helpful anymore. (I’ve found that in order to avoid burnout, it may be a good idea to try to do self-care every day.) Also in terms of self-awareness, you may have to try several activities before you figure out the ones that do the most for your mental health and/or replenish your fuel.

Here are some self-care activities that work for me:

  • Taking baths, usually accompanied by familiar music
  • Snuggling with my wife (oh yeah, I’m married now…that happened)
  • Listening to my cat purr
  • Reading a comfort book
  • Painting my nails
  • Writing, especially journaling
  • Knitting
  • Taking short naps or just resting in bed

You’ll notice none of these involve leaving my apartment. That’s because I’m an introvert. Going out and interacting with people (who aren’t my wife) depletes my fuel. However, here are some activities that others may find improve their mental health or replenish their fuel:

  • Walks
  • Watching the sun rise or set
  • Going out with friends
  • Exercise (okay, fine, this one does work for me sometimes, but I don’t talk to anyone at the gym) or stretches
  • Low-key social activities like game nights or hanging out at a coffee shop

Some people find that their mental health suffers when their living space isn’t clean or when they eat a lot of fatty or greasy foods, and may feel replenished after vacuuming or making and eating a quinoa salad. But I urge people to exercise caution when thinking about chores as self-care. If some chores are self-care for you, great! But…well, I’m going to circle back to the idea that self-care isn’t “drinking tea, taking baths, and lighting candles,” it’s pushing yourself to do chores. 

FUCK. NO.

Okay, I’ll elaborate. The idea that self-care actually or necessarily means being “productive,” especially according to capitalist ideals of “productivity,” is dangerous and harmful. Self-care can mean giving the finger to those ideals because you need a damn break. My therapist once told me I had practiced good self-care when I left work early after a bad trigger. To me, self-care means understanding that taking care of one’s mental health flies in the face of society’s bullshit. 

Sometimes self-care means ordering out because you don’t have the fuel to cook. Sometimes self-care means asking a roommate, friend, or significant other to help you vacuum because your bad back hurts too much for you to do it yourself. Sometimes self-care means Febreeze-ing a blouse you already wore once and wearing it again because you can’t do laundry. Taking care of yourself now, even if you look “unproductive” or “lazy” (I need to do an entry on how the idea of laziness is ableist), will result in your health being better later.

Go forth and take good care of yourself.

Many thanks to my Patreon supporters: Ace, Emily, Hannah, Karina, Max, and Sean! To be as cool as these people, visit Patreon.com/arzinzani to pledge. Even a dollar a month is massively helpful, and will mean you get to see these entries early AND get to read my Patreon-exclusive novelette series!

Mental Health and Social Justice Call-Outs

Content/trigger warning: emetophobia, discussion of saneism and neurotypicalism, homomisia mention, suicidality mention, self-harm mention

I’ve had a really hard few days. Carrie’s yahrzeit and the anniversary of her death by the Western calendar, for one, and also December 26th is a traumaversary for me. Apparently Christmas is also terrible for my PTSD as well, as I spent half the day being violently sick for psychosomatic reasons. So if this blog entry is a little subpar, it’s because I’m operating at like a 35%.

I recently saw a semi-prominent YouTuber claim that a particular group of people had no consideration for mental health or respect for people with mental illness because they…drum roll please…were upset at him for using homomisic slurs. On the surface, this is bullshit. If you look deeper, it is still bullshit. However, it is still worth talking about mental health and call-outs, because call-outs can be triggering.

But first, I want to say that trying to defend your own bigoted behavior with “I don’t know any better, I’m neurodivergent” is neurotypicalist. Yes, really. Saying that neurodivergence makes a person incapable of understanding morality and justice is a particularly scary type of neurotypicalism and it needs to be stopped, especially if it has been internalized.

The rest of this blog entry is going to be about two things: how to call someone out while minimizing the chance of triggering someone and how to respond if a callout triggers you. Let’s start with minimizing the chance of triggering someone. Here are a few things you can do when calling people out to ensure that you don’t trigger any potential health issues of theirs:

  1. Discuss the person’s actions or words instead of making statements about them as a person. I know, I know, we are all everything-ist because oppression is built into our society and we’re all in the process of unlearning. I know. I’m not being sarcastic, either; I know. But saying “what you said was [blank]ist” instead of “you’re [blank]ist” may keep a person’s douchebag brain from latching onto “they said I’m [blank]ist, that means I don’t deserve to exist/I should self-harm/etc.” And of course, stay away from ad hominem attacks, which are bad social justice praxis in general.
  2. Don’t dogpile. Dogpiling can feel like a personal attack or be overwhelming to abuse survivors. If one or two people have the call-out handled, let them handle it. Only get involved if the person being called out is responding by being a belligerent asshole.
  3. If the call-out is happening online, don’t continually post lots of messages without giving the person being called out a chance to respond. A flood of messages, even from only one person, might be too much to process for the person being called out or might feel like an attack.
  4. This one is really specific, but I’ve seen it. Don’t mock the shitty thing the other person said using the Spongebob meme mixed-case text. That meme is disfiguremisic and ableist against ID/DD/LD people.
  5. If you did trigger someone with your call-out, don’t mock them for the symptoms they’re showing, including accusing them of “crytyping”. You should have seen how shot my fine motor control was after someone complaining about bicyclists riding on the sidewalk accused me of not agreeing with basic human decency because I suggested that more bike lanes might help. My PTSD was having a fit and a half.
  6. This is more of an accessibility thing, but still relevant. Don’t use sarcasm, especially in a text-only medium. If the person you’re calling out can understand sarcasm, it might feel like an attack. If the person you’re calling out can’t understand sarcasm due to neurodivergence…well, shit.

However, sometimes call-outs are triggering no matter what. I dissociate when I get an email from my boss, no matter the contents of the email. It’s annoying, but it’s not my boss’ fault. So if you’re triggered by a social justice call-out, here’s what to do.

  1. TAKE A BREAK. Disengage. Walk away. Count to ten. If you’re triggered, your ability to respond constructively is probably limited. Go engage in self-care, or do whatever you need to do to calm down.
  2. Only go back to the call-out when you’re ready. Evaluate whether or not the call-out used any of the tactics in the previous list, in which case you can–respectfully–tell the person who called you out how to change their praxis in the future. Also, if you can’t go back to the call-out for the sake of your health, don’t.
  3. Whether or not the call-out used any of the tactics in the previous list, evaluate whether or not you did the thing you were called out for. Maybe you did. Maybe you fucked up. We all fuck up. Nobody is a perfect bastion of social justice.
  4. If you did indeed fuck up, acknowledge your fuck-up. (But if you’re tempted to self-flagellate and be like “oh I’m terrible, I am just the worst person, I feel so awful I’m going to go cut myself,” you’re either being deliberately emotionally manipulative or you’re still feeling symptoms. Walk away until you can respond constructively.) Make a real apology, which consists of acknowledgement of wrongdoing and an indication of doing better in the future.
  5. Try to take the call-out to heart. This can be hard because if a call-out was triggering, even measured, respectful discussion of whatever -ism you were called out about can become a trigger or be retraumatic, and you just don’t want to think about it. (This has actually happened to me a few times.) Do whatever you have to process what happened so you don’t end up with a new trigger. If you have a therapist, you may want to talk about it with them.

I think that’s all I have for now. Happy (Western calendar) New Year!

BAD ME I have not been listing my Patreon supporters at the end of blog entries. Many thanks to Ace, Emily, Hannah, Karina, and Sean! To be as cool as these people, visit Patreon.com/arzinzani to pledge. Even a dollar a month is massively helpful!