Self-care for when you're too broke, tired, or over it for self-care

Last winter, I wrote a blog post about radical self-love and the power we cultivate when we care for ourselves. At the time, folks were just beginning to quote Audre Lorde’s mandate that self-care is an act of political warfare, and in the face of the then-recent election, her words rang true as a necessary missive in the face of what was to come.

Since then, it seems like there’s been a veritable self-care explosion in our culture. Everyone from the biggest celebrities to our closest relatives tout self-care’s healing powers as they climb into a lavender-scented bath, uncork a bottle of wine, or spend hundreds of dollars on skin care.

In the outpour of media coverage, expensive products, and celebrity culture, it seems that--like all good things--self-care has been co-opted by capitalism and white privilege. That said, no matter how many smart, intersectional critiques I read of the concept and practices of self-care, I still can’t shake an outcry from my gut that says “Who cares if self-care’s corrupted, we need it!”

This became incredibly apparent to me this spring when I took on one too many projects and found myself pretty regularly drowning in some combination of tears, coffee, and panic sweats. I didn’t have money for the self-care products I saw advertised everywhere, but I did have a suspicion that self-care wasn’t really about those things anyway and that I could find self-care resources that would help me get back to some semblance of composure and happiness in my daily life.

What I realized was that when I was at my most busy, broke, and over it, what I needed was a (relatively) quick, simple (and cheap!) way to bring myself back to myself and remember how powerful I could be.

That leads me to this self-care exercise that I wanted to share. It’s half a missive to care for your body and half a mantra to reflect on your mind. It’s entirely meant to remind you that self-care is deeply important and widely accessible, and that in its original forms it’s meant to show us how to resist capitalism and sexism and racism and all the hateful -isms.

Before you get started you’ll want to clear 10-30 minutes and find a seat somewhere comfortable. This could be on the floor in your room, cozy in bed, or even at your desk at work if that’s where you need to bed. Have a journal or notepad nearby if you want to write down your answers to the reflection prompts, then take a few deeps breaths and begin.


Body prompts:

Wiggle your forehead.
Rub your earlobes.
Click your tongue.
Roll your shoulders.
Crack your knuckles.
Arch your back.
Tighten your pelvic floor.
Touch your thighs.
Flex your calves.
Point your toes.


Reflection prompts:

Where does it feel good?
Where does it hurt?
Where will it get better?


If you follow the body prompts from beginning to end, you’ll complete a simple body scan that helps you feel some of your (perhaps) more neglected body parts. That said, feel free to choose just one directive you like to bring some body awareness into your day or life.

The reflection prompts are simple questions that can yield profound realizations. You can write down the answers or just carry a question or two in your mind throughout the day. Either method will help you become aware of the multiplicity you hold and the power it contains.

As spring and summer unfold and the year brings more challenges and, hopefully, triumphs, I hope you can hold on to simples exercises like these to cultivate a habit of caring for yourself in a deeper way, and I’d love to hear from anyone who uses these prompts or develops their own!


PS - I first developed these prompts for a workshop for What Women Read in Chicago last month, and I'd love to bring them to a workshop near you soon! Just email me :)

Image by Hannah Smith.

On Being/Having a Body: Style + Self-care

This spring I've been doing a deep dive into my personal habits and working on revising my self-image. After at least ten years of deeply ingrained beliefs about bodies and beauty, I finally got tired of seeing myself through the male gaze, and I am giving it up for good! It's hard, painful work, but it's so rewarding.

And since it's about all I've been thinking about lately, I wanted to share thoughts on two areas I've had a few breakthroughs in: style and self-care.

GIF by Sharon Liu

GIF by Sharon Liu

I've been thinking a lot lately about how personal style can make me feel more powerful and beautiful than ever. To work on this, I've been reading the book Women in Clothes and then scrolling through the hundreds of personal style surveys compiled on their website. I particularly love the multitude of answers to their very first question: 

"When do you feel at your most attractive?"

I can't get over what a good question it is. How do I know it's a good question? Because I honestly have no clue what my answer would be! And trying to figure out my answer has me realizing that I feel attractive in all sorts of scenarios I never considered. What are your answers, friends? When do you feel most attractive? Please tell me. I'd love to know.

As much as these reflections on personal style have me feeling empowered about crafting an all-me aesthetic, I'm still wary of the consumer culture that can undergird such an effort. So in addition to reading about clothes, I've also recently been re-appreciating this age-old content about being "pretty."

"If you are clean, are covered enough to avoid a citation for public indecency, and have bandaged any open wounds, you can wear any color or style you please, if it makes you happy."

The best part about developing personal style, I realize, is that it's personal. The only person your appearance should please is you! ...that said, I'm sure you are a brilliant, challenging mistress to please! So it may take some work to please yourself with your appearance. But I hope you can find kind, caring ways to take pleasure in styling yourself for yourself.

GIF by Angela Landiyan

GIF by Angela Landiyan

This leads me to the second area I've been thinking about a lot lately: self-care. Last weekend, I went on a four-day no-phone-no-laptop retreat with my partner and spent a few wonderful days sleeping and eating and doing little to nothing else. It was a real joy, but when I returned I felt completely overwhelmed by catching up with everything I'd put down for a few days.

Somewhere soon after I came across this article and the following quote:

"True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from."

Damn. I thought I was doing so great with my vacation as self-care, but I'm seeing now that I need to build more vacation habits into my day-to-day life so that a full shut-down doesn't seem quite so necessary and the shock of re-entry isn't quite so tough. This shouldn't be such a surprise since I wrote an essay on this last year ... but sometimes we can't hear our own advice, am I right?

Amidst my many other projects, I've been mulling over a #loveyourgut womanifesto lately. I want to make something that clarifies the intentions and actions I've cultivated as I'm learning to love my body and find myself beautiful. Any tips or tricks you can share? All advice is welcome.


This post originally appeared in modified form in my monthly-ish amelioratic newsletter. You can sign up to receive that in your inbox here.

Radical Self Love, Real Power

This essay was originally published on the Forth Chicago blog. You can read it there, too.

Last month, I went to the Chicago Women’s March alongside 250,000 brilliant women and allies. I carried a neon pink, handwritten sign that read “Radical Love, Real Power,” and I wandered amidst families and organizations, following groups chanting rebellious slogans and stopping every so often to take stock of the immensity of the event.

We were powerful that day, ladies. PowHERful, if you like. But since then, almost every day has felt like a defeat. Every community I’m in is scrambling to better respond, react and resist. We’re at a loss for how to care for each other or ourselves in the turmoil of political instability.

In the midst of these questions, conversations about self-care are emerging more and more often in expected and unlikely spaces. I’ve seen everyone from my mother to my dentist share this Audre Lorde quote:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Do y’all know Audre Lorde? She liked to describe herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and she was certainly all of those things and more. Audre Lorde was a radical political activist and a radical self-care champion. She always emphasized the connection between the political and the personal, reminding us of the obvious but oft-forgotten fact that there’s no politics without people.

What’s lost when this quote is extracted from Lorde’s work and used as a self-care mantra, however, is the very concrete advice that Lorde gave us for how to care for ourselves, particularly our femme-selves. For Lorde, self-care isn’t about buying a new candle or drinking the good bottle of red wine instead of the $3 bottle (not to hate on candles or nice wine). Those things are nice salves, but they don’t cultivate real care for the self.

Rather, self-care is about identifying your deepest desires. It’s an embrace of feelings, emphasizing joy but including pain, through which we learn to accept and love ourselves.

Self-care is important not simply in and of itself but as a necessary step toward self-love. We often think that we care for people and things we already love, but it’s also true that as we care for people and things, we come to love them. It works on us too: as we care for ourselves, we come to love ourselves. Self-care leads to self-love.

I’ve spent the past five years or so of my life on a long, winding path toward self-love. In a lot of ways, the Women’s March seemed like the culmination of that, a moment where I was able to come together with thousands of other women and proclaim our love for ourselves and our womanhood. But something was still missing. After the march, I went home and felt more exhausted than I had in years. My sign read “Radical Love, Real Power,” but what did that really mean? How could I radicalize the self-love I had learned and fought for in the face of the precarious political climate?

Turns out Audre Lorde also has a lot to say about radical self-love. As Lorde puts it, self-love puts us in touch with the erotic power that every woman holds. Not a sexual or sensual erotic power, but a relational, community power:

“The power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual.”

The erotic is what bonds us to others as we work together to build relationships, worlds and lives. It’s the deep, creative source that fuels us at our most joyous. When we connect with others with erotic intensity, our power grows beyond any measure we can imagine. We resist the powers that be and all the ways in which they attempt to oppress difference. As Lorde says,

“Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama. For not only do we touch our most profoundly creative source, but we do that which is female and self-affirming in the face of a racist, patriarchal, and anti-erotic society.”

So how can we pursue genuine change? By using self-care tools to cultivate radical self-love that radiates outward and builds deep connections with the individuals we organize with and for. Focusing on the news or abstract causes or political agendas leads us to resistance fatigue and political-personal burnout. But focusing on the relationships we build and how they organically create powerful webs of resistance will provide an endless source of energy to abolish whatever obstacles stand in our way.

Every February I send out an open call on social media offering to send valentines to anyone who sends me their address. The first year I sent a half-dozen cards, the second a dozen, and this year over two dozen. I've mailed cards all over the US to old friends and recent acquaintances. This small effort has come back to me tenfold, as women I've only shared a single conversation with have sent me heartfelt gifts thanking me for taking the time to care for and about them. This small act I put out into the world once a year is a simple way to tap into my deeply creative source that Audrew Lorde talked about. It's just the beginning my learning to wield my erotic power.

When 250,000 women gathered in Chicago for the Women’s March, we felt just an inkling of our true power. The connections that we, as women, develop from our deep, creative source are powerful in ways we can only imagine. They can take over the world, one act of radical self-love at a time.