Too tired to rest, too busy to stop: the class privilege of self-care and why we deserve better.
Sometimes it’s too much for me. Not only surviving and paying bills but also taking on more and more as it all falls apart around us and we’re so few that are engaged and the needs are so great. The world is burning, my body is breaking, I haven’t slept a whole night in a month. And the solution, so they tell me? Self-care. Self-care. Self-care.
It’s such a slippery concept. Like, yes, of course we should be taking care of ourselves. Of course sustainability. Of course living to fight another day. But I’m not built for some kinds of self-care, I was never conditioned for them. I’ve worked some 14 hour days this month, almost all of it unpaid, and it isn’t nearly enough. There’s just so much to do.
I get that some people don’t live like this. I understand that some people were conditioned for other things and can take their holidays and eat well and focus on making enough money and like, retire at some point or something. I understand middle-class realities because I’ve been surrounded by them in the radical left for so long. But how could I do those things? Are they even possible?
It’s partly a question of access — my class background, my gender and queerness, not to mention chronic illness, all hold me back from enjoying some of the privileges of late capitalism. But also…I’m just really busy. Self-care feels like an extra burden I don’t have time or energy for. One more task on the to-do list that will never end. Not only do I need to survive in a system that thrives on suffering and death, not only do I need to support my communities and my loved ones, but I also need to take care of myself? Who has time for that?
Most importantly, deep down, I don’t really want to.
I think I’m pretty smart, I know I’m extremely resourceful to have survived this far. By now I could probably have worked out a way to be earning more than a third of minimum wage (in a good year) but also, as I mentioned — and as I remember every morning when I open my eyes and look out over a wasteland of concrete — the world is burning. And that understanding, and the desire to do something about it, have been with me for as long as I can remember. So no, I don’t want to take a year off to find myself and get some rest. I want to stop the destruction, right now, today.
I know that deep down I also don’t really believe that I deserve sustainability or care and so all the judgement/encouragement to take care of myself better won’t change a thing. Feeling worthy of care is not what a classist, femmephobic, transmisogynist world has taught me and if I wanted and could ‘do more self-care’, I’d be doing it already.
The whole concept of self-care disturbs me. Why should marginalised people have to take care of ourselves when others who have privilege and resources (and do a great deal of talking about Class and Marx and Solidarity) don’t feel like sharing? Whatever happened to community care, collective care?”* Sometimes ‘do it yourself’ smacks of middle-class ableism more than empowerment.
I’ve been taking care of those around me my whole life — and that’s my working-class femme conditioning right there — and by now, as I get ever older, ever sicker, I would like to feel a bit more held, a bit less isolated. I don’t.
Don’t get me wrong — I have amazing friends who are incredibly supportive. Friends who understand that hitting me over the head with ‘do more self-care’ will never work but who step up and take on some tasks so that I can take that nourishing walk along the canal. Friends who, rather than adding blame and judgement to my overwhelm, will just go ahead and feed me that healthier food that I’m supposed to be eating. I will never be able to express how much that solidarity means to me.
But also, when we’re taking on a world of oppression, we need better structures than just a bunch of marginalised individuals with all our responsibilities trying to survive plus pay the bills plus take care of ourselves plus support our friends/community/society/dying ecosystems. We can’t possible keep up with those needs and I have literally never experienced it as enough, either giving or receiving. Isolation and individualism are at the core of our communities and without addressing that, all the self-care in the universe won’t be enough.
We need communities that are worthy of the name — not the loose urban populations built on toxic double-standards that I’m used to. We need collective care, real, actual care that decentralises middle-class people taking their beach holidays and meets the needs of the most oppressed. We need so much, and I don’t even know where to start. But I’m tired — that’s the point — and I shouldn’t be feeling so alone in this.
Honestly, I might need to leave organising the care revolution to another day and let the most privileged step up and do some hard graft for a change. Let the people with resources do some care work instead of leaving everyone in the margins to take care of ourselves/each other. Let the people who keep telling me to rest, to ‘just do yoga or something’, do the million tasks I need to do today, so that I have time for those things. The work needs to be done either way.
Let me know when all that is happening — when people with privilege decide to put their luxuries aside and support the rest of us, take on our work and actually listen. Let me know. And I’ll go get a good night’s sleep.
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*also check out these amazing articles focusing on ideas for the community care we need: https://www.autostraddle.com/on-being-a-burden-whats-missing-from-the-conversation-around-self-care