In the anti-sexual assault community on my campus, there’s a lot of talk about “self-care.” We start every group meeting with a check-in about how we’re feeling and end every meeting affirming one thing we are planning to do in the next few days to take care of ourselves. We promote self-care since anti-sexual violence work takes a huge emotional toll on those in the community: in order to keep working in the field, we have to proactively work to prevent burnout.
With that said, self-care is a complicated concept. At first it doesn’t seem that way: usually, when going around the table in a meeting, people will say things like, “I’ll make sure I get enough sleep tonight,” or “I’m going to chill out and finally watch this week’s episode of Glee.” Now, getting sleep and watching Glee are great things. But beyond those one-time activities, how can we make sure to do self-care at times when we feel pressured to put everyone else’s needs first?
That question has become a primary concern for me this semester. I’ve gotten more involved in Columbia’s anti-sexual assault community; as my responsibilities have increased, the emotional drain that working with survivors and co-survivors of assault, as well as working to spread awareness of assault, has increased as well. And as a new leader—the co-coordinator of Take Back the Night and a Peer Educator in training—I have added the stresses of wondering about how to lead effectively and accomplish a groups’ goals while trying to make activism and education a dynamic and valuable experience for myself and for group members.
So I’ve been stressed out. And with classes and a job, I haven’t left myself much self-care time. Instead, my Good Girl instincts kicked in—go to every meeting, listen to every story and issue, do everything possible to make sure that things run smoothly, and worry about myself later. Not that I haven’t had fun and chilled out with my friends this semester—in fact, I’ve done a good amount of that and it’s been great. I just haven’t focused on my emotions.
But after a few good talks with my peeps at GLI (thank you, Julia Loonin), I know that I can’t keep avoiding my emotions. Because I think that’s what I’ve been doing—it’s so much easier to watch a movie with my friends than to take the time to process the sadness that comes after hearing a friend disclose a history of assault. It’s time to evaluate my priorities and do some serious self-care. And, as Loonin told me, I’ll be a better leader because of it. Being a leader isn’t only about making sure that all your responsibilities get taken care of—as Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International says, leadership is “about the simple living of our own truth and then manifesting it through an external work that can share it with others.” I want to value, share, and live my emotional truth, so my external activist work will thrive as well.
Images thanks to: http://www.greatfun.com/images/dog_with_a_headache-thumb.jpg