Intentional Self Care

There's been a lot said since the election about the need for those of us who are horrified by Trump's election and the ascension of the new GOP to take care of ourselves. Alongside fighting for others - or for ourselves, if we're personally affected by policies (or proposed policies) that oppress people who aren't white, straight, cis men who practice the "right" brand of Christianity - we're encouraged to take time away from social media and the news, to surround ourselves with people who love and support us, and to ensure we stay both physically and mentally healthy.

Most of us practiced self-care in one way or another prior to January 20, 2017 - we binge-watched shows on Netflix or treated ourselves to pedicures or indulged in take-out and a bottle of wine or signed up for a trendy new exercise class. And, I'm guessing, we're still doing all of that. How we indulge in "me time" probably hasn't changed radically in the last few months.

But what we're taking care of ourselves for has, for many of us, changed radically. I imagine that lots of you reading this hadn't been tremendously politically active before; God knows I wasn't, not really. Prior to November, self-care just meant retreating from the normal stressors* of life. So, from here on out, I'm going to make an effort to embark on (rather than descend into) a more intentional kind of self-care that will prepare me for sustained engaged resistance.

In fact, I want to suggest that enjoying the very things that are currently under threat is an ultimate act of self-care right now.

I first thought about this when Jon and I went to hear the National Symphony Orchestra at the end of January. The program was Russian; it started with a violin concerto by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a Polish Jew who fled to the USSR in 1939 to escape the Nazis but lost most of his family in the Holocaust, and the second half was devoted to Shostakovich's Eight Symphony, which was written in 1943 as the second in a trilogy of responses to World War II. (Believe it or not, the concert was planned a year ago, before anyone knew how relevant the music would turn out to be.) The symphony is profound, "a deeper and more personal observation on the human consequences of war, tragic in every sense" and represents "the mature thoughts, more bitter, more resigned, and more strongly yearning for peace . . . for true peace, not a noisy victory celebration. [Shostakovich] wanted to paint horror as well as hope; omitted from the range of his images was triumph." The first movement, described in the program notes, constricted the breath in my chest and drove me nearly to tears, but it also cleared my head and reaffirmed my resolve to fight.

Over the last few weeks, I've found that the times I've felt most collected and, perhaps counterintuitively, also the most energized have been the times I've immersed myself in art and literature and compassion. Attending that concert, reading The Handmaid's Tale, marching for equality alongside hundreds of thousands of others, learning about our civil liberties and the responsibilities of being part of a democracy, dancing with my fellow congregants in our synagogue on Shabbat as Jews have done to welcome the sabbath for thousands of years - participating in acts of resistance, both communal and private, turns out to be restorative for me. I still turn off regularly, and I'm sure that those who have been fighting longer and harder know better than I what they need to do to ensure their health and sanity, but I have discovered that losing myself in active engagement can be the best form of self-care.

What about for you?

Comments are open on this post.

*I recognize how privileged I am to be able to say that. I wish I had been more aware - and started fighting - earlier, and I deeply regret I wasn't. I can't imagine how exhausting everything must feel for those who have been engaged and active for years. If you want to read more along these lines, Elon James White had a good Twitter thread on this the other day.


  1. I just want to say that while I know that you and I don't agree about some things (most things? that sounds like an exaggeration but maybe not), I very much admire how intentional you have been about supporting and/or speaking out about causes/policies/movements that you feel strongly about. And even though I don't feel as strongly as you do about our current president, I definitely am not in support either. It's an odd place to be. Self-care for me involved stepping back from reading and engaging with political social posts, not because I want to put myself in a bubble and hide from anyone who thinks differently than I do but because it really was causing me anxiety and stress that I didn't feel I needed. But I am trying to remain engaged and updated on what's going on, even though I might be less openly vocal about it, and introducing things as you might after a detox diet or something, to use a really weird and random example.

    1. well, I think we agree on a lot of the basics even if we don't agree on how to achieve them :)

      this means a lot coming from you, though - thank you.

  2. I feel you right now. Two feminist bloggers guest-posted for me back in November about self-care. I just keep re-sharing their posts.

    I've been fairly openly political and feminist for many years now, but I'm on a whole new level now. Yeah, it's definitely privilege that I wasn't doing this much before as I am now, but it's never too late to do more and to do better.

    1. P.S. I'm rereading The Handmaid's Tale right now and live-tweeting it. Because I am not just a feminist, but a nerdy feminist.


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