Self-care as a form of resistance

Reagan Jackson (left) and friends on a floating hot tub, one of the ways that Jackson prioritized self-care and mental health. (Photo courtesy Elena Perez.)

More than 165 days ago I began — not for the first time — a daily practice of documenting my self care on Facebook.

I didn’t begin with a specific goal or end date in mind. I just woke up the day after the presidential election too angry to breathe and too depressed to even drink about it.

America had betrayed me again in a bizarre, yet familiar way. I could not begin to think about what this presidency would take from me and what I would have to do to survive it. I felt the weight of overwhelming grief. Hatred and fear of black people caused so many white people to collectively vote not only against our interests, but against their own. (Yes, white women especially, I am talking to you. Literally, WTF.)

And in that moment of rage, sadness, and incredulity, I also experienced a deep and profound clarity. My thoughts turned not to surrender, but to survival.

I went through my cupboards and threw away all the refined sugar. I filled my fridge with organic produce in preparation for a cleanse. I walked down to the gym near my house and renewed the membership I’d let lapse a couple years back.

What else is there to do, I asked myself.

This country where I was born, the place where my great, great, great grandparents were slaves, this place that is indelibly home is poisoning me and the people who look like me through media, education, government policies — and in some places even through the water. And no one seems to give a fuck.

Police shoot us in the streets. While we are posthumously put on trial, for the most part officers are not held accountable for any crime. It is not a crime to kill me, to hate me, to ridicule me, to dismiss my opinions, to plagiarize my style and hair, to profit from my culture, to silence me, to belittle and dehumanize me. But that does not mean I have to be complicit in my own erasure.

Over the past 165 days, I have cared for myself by preparing my own healthy meals, taking lavender scented baths, taking time off work, listening to good music, dancing in my underwear, buying new and very cute underwear, getting massages and pedicures, going to the doctor, drinking rum with friends, laughing, writing poetry, building the gym and long walks into my schedule, forgiving myself and others and going on trips — anything I could think of to actively care for myself.

I found myself feeling decadently selfish and guilty, especially when my chosen self care involved splurging on expensive spa treatments or flying to Las Vegas.

People are dying in the streets, I would think to myself. I should be protesting or working to change legislation, not getting a pedicure.

But what kind of life am I fighting for? A life where I am constantly exhausted, angry, and miserable or one where I get to experience joy?

Black joy is an act of protest. The late great poet and activist Audre Lorde described self-care for black folks as an act of resistance. For me it is putting power to the truth that I am worthy of love and care. That I deserve respect and treat myself accordingly.

I woke up mad as hell, depressed, and disillusioned, but I woke up. I got up and gave thanks to God for giving me one more day in this body at this time and place. And I looked into the mirror and said to myself, I’ve got you. I’m here for you. I love you. What’s one thing I can do to help you get through this day?

These are words I’ve said countless times to my friends and family, but never to myself.

Knowing how to take care of myself is not always intuitive. Through this process I have realized that in being socialized as a black woman, I have been raised to focus on the needs of others. If we were eating with elders or small children, we made sure they were fed first. If you found out someone was sick you called to make sure they had groceries and medicine. Caring for people in your community is beautiful and necessary, but I don’t think it has to mutually exclusive from caring for yourself.

Since this is not something I’ve been taught to prioritize, I’ve had to invest in cultivating new habits. Several times, I tried things that turned out not be what I needed. It’s weird learning new things about yourself when you’re an adult.

Stranger still had been the impact of my practice on the people in my community. I started the Facebook log as a way to hold myself accountable, but it has also become a source of support.

On day 23, I just couldn’t get it together, so I posted: Epic Fail. I was just having a day. I didn’t really have any judgments about it or even feel the need to fix it, I just wanted to be transparent in my log that it just wasn’t happening.

Within minutes my prayer partner was calling me. Did I need support? Could she help me? I received poems and pics, texts and personal messages from people I don’t normally talk to, but who unbeknownst me had been following my log.

It felt jarring to field other people’s emotions about my choices. They defended me against my own lack of care and gave me gentle encouragements and notes about how much my own journey had inspired them to pursue their own. You’ll do better tomorrow they said. And I did.

One of the gifts this experiment has given me is that in taking better care of myself, I have been able to both give and receive more care from my community.  It isn’t a cure-all. I still have shitty days and sometimes make piss poor decisions that are in direct contradiction to my self care goals. But this conversation with myself is important.

Reagan Jackson relaxes by a pool. (Photo by Reagan Jackson.)
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