Taking a Moment
Self care and knowing love
This work makes me feel fulfilled and purposeful. Creating spaces that build connections through love, empathy, and compassion is what drives me to continue my work, and I could never imagine doing anything else. However, as this work can be unprecedented in its reward, it can be equally as draining and exhausting if self care and love is not a part of my regimen.
My activist journey began in my undergraduate studies at Concordia University, as a Women’s Studies major. I chose my degree because I wanted to develop a language that enabled me to explain the inequalities and micro-aggressions that I was forced to deal with every day. In school, I was tired of only learning the opinions of white male scholars that omitted the realities of patriarchy, racism, sexism, classism and hegemonic authority. But most importantly, I chose my degree because I wanted to learn how to see the world in a way that encouraged and propelled my desire to change it, rather than only resent it. My major helped me to understand my own experiences as a Black woman. It also gave me a language to articulate these experiences, and use those articulations to help others.
Racism, sexism, and oppression manifest in such diverse, minute, and impactful ways that sometimes it feels like it’s almost impossible to make a difference. There is so much to do, so much that needs to change, and taking time for myself was viewed as a sign of weakness, or a lack of resilience. Sometimes, it is much easier to address issues from an aerial perspective, to remove yourself by focusing on the needs of others. But if we neglect self care, it will cloud our ability to produce alternatives and solutions to these systemic problems we all want to see change.
Activist work requires selflessness and a deep level of compassion for others. It requires dedication and commitment to one’s beliefs. My form of self care requires that I set boundaries with myself for the amount of time and energy I give to any and everything I do in my life. It means valuing my time and talents and being convicted in my decisions. It also means finding and having meaningful and loving relationships. Having people around me that don’t exhaust me—or make me feel unsafe in any way — is one the most important forms of self care I practice.
I used to excuse people: for treating me poorly, for disrespecting me and my beliefs, for making me feel badly about my opinions, or for dismissing the legitimacy of the work I do. But I soon realized that the respect I demand from others is a reflection of the respect I have for myself. My beliefs and my activism are a manifestation of me. It is what I put my time and energy into. If I do not have people around me that support this part of my life, then by extension, they are not supporting me. Having loving (and in turn) supportive relationships in my private life allows me to give more love to my work, and support to those I work with. All About Love by bell hooks (which I would recommend to everybody) deals with and addresses the importance of love as a form of self-care. She says:
I am at a point in my life where I refuse to be apologetic in requiring love and respect in my romantic and my platonic relationships. I am lucky to have a partner who shows me love in a way I never thought possible. He supports me and respects me. When he doesn’t understand elements of my beliefs, he asks questions and has conversations with me about them -- rather than being dismissive, or getting frustrated with me. “To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients — care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication” (hooks).
To know love in this way has allowed me to safely share my time and energy with another person—to create a safe space removed from the turbulence of my everyday reality. Knowing love in this way and understanding the importance of it inspires me and fuels my ability to give love to myself, love to others and love to my work. “Love is an action, a participatory emotion. Whether we are engaged in a process of self-love or of loving others we must move beyond the realm of feeling to actualize love. This is why it is useful to see love as a practice” (hooks).
Friendships are no different: “Loving friendships provide us with the space to experience the joy of community” and “[l]earning to love in friendships empowers us in ways that enable us to bring love to other interactions [...]” (hooks). Over the years I have let many people go. For too long I accepted relationships that did not serve me or the people involved in them. Inevitably, these relationships diminished because as I started to desire more from these relationships, the people involved were not willing to accept or reciprocate what I was asking for. Having healthy, loving relationships in my life is a rudimentary element of self care. I should not feel guilty for setting a standard that requires love, respect, and trust from those I keep close.
In addition to having healthy loving relationships in my life, my self care also involves: finding moments to be with my thoughts, writing, sleeping, cooking, listening to music, watching television shows, or simply being around friends and family. It means knowing when to take a break.
As a person of colour, and especially as a woman of colour, I am forced to work twice as hard to get what the majority has. I am forced to live in a society that only accepts versions of my culture and existence, so long as they fit into pre-constructed racist and sexist paradigms. I am forced to reconcile with the reality that society does not want me to succeed, and even when I get to a certain level of success, at some point it sinks in that I am still playing by someone else’s rules. Simply living this reality is enough to discourage anyone. Being a woman of colour and especially being an activist of colour requires self care. Merely by existing, we are fighting and we are resisting — and knowing when to take a moment for myself is not a sign of weakness, but rather a acknowledgment of my strength.