Being from the global south, I was continuously discouraged to use the word ‘myself’, ‘self’, or any synonym that encourages individuality. My people didn’t mean any harm. In their minds they were teaching me the meaning of solidarity and the values of putting the collective need first. However, it has made me learn a bad habit. When I grew up I associated everything related to self-care as a form of selfishness, and it was reflected in both not my personal and professional lives.
Working in the human rights field is rewarding because I get help people as a career. On the other hand, it’s draining and demanding, because every time I wanted to rest I felt guilty for those I will leave behind. My continued feeling of guilt extended to the point where I felt that saving the whole world is my own responsibly.
For years and years, I was caught in the circle of self-neglect and guilt.
I told myself I will be fine as long as I’m doing my work right and helping people. I’m sure that many of you working in this field can relate to what I have experienced. I have found many fellow activists caught in the same circle.
Personally, I think a big part of this guilt is the terminology itself. Being called “change-makers” adds a big toll on us. This has often made me feel that change will just come by my hand. That I must always work hard because if I took rest, then the change would not come. It took me a lot of work to understand, that I am a part of a wide movement and I will not be able to change everything alone. It is collective work and will take time as well. This important realization has helped me to get rid of the guilt around the concept of self-care and take my first steps into it.
I have just started my self-care journey 10 months ago. Many factors have helped me take this step and the major one was working in an environment that promotes mental health and self-care. The fact that my organization played an active role in hiring an external professional, has given me the push to have a deep look into my life especially regarding mental health and self-care. Before these sessions, I did not realize how much I was harming myself by taking the role of superwoman and thinking I could save the world without saving myself first.
The act of self-care is not easy. People might tell you to have a bubble bath or watch Netflix or just to have a break. These might work for some, but I found that it needs far more than that.
Self-care in the context of women from the global south who are working on gender justice and equality, needs a lot of work.
Here’s what has worked for me in my journey.
- I got professional help. As I mentioned I was lucky that my job covered several sessions with the phycologist. If you didn’t have access to this, consider my 5th step because you never know who in your network can help you.
- I got rid of the guilt around self-care. This was not easy and took me a long time to eventually get there.
- I gave myself space to make mistakes. I knew that my path is not going to be perfect. There will be days where I will do an excellent job to practice self-care and there are days where I failed – but that’s okay.
- I started to create a routine that has self-care elements in it. For example, I forced myself to go walking at least 3 times a week. In addition, I try to eat healthy, give myself social media breaks, and even take care of my skin. At this step, I gave myself the freedom to experience many things and choose what I want to keep and what did not work for me.
- I asked friends for help. Do not underestimate the power of your networks. For example, because I reached out to friends, some of them gave me free coaching and meditation sessions, yoga classes, and much more.
- I integrated meditation and mindfulnes. Believe me, in the beginning, I could not stay for a minute, but after a while, mediation has become easier.
- Finally, I accepted the fact that it is continuous work. The act of self-care is not just a one-day thing, you need to continuously work on it in order to be effective.
If you are reading this article, I want to tell you that you are on the right track.
Starting thinking of the idea will help you eventually do it in your own right time. I also recommend you to read Amnesty’s “Staying Resilient: while trying to save the world”. It’s a well-being workbook for youth activists. In this workbook, you will find a more in-depth elaboration of different aspects of self-care and wellbeing. It also includes practical exercises you can do it to set you on the track of self-care.