A friend shared this video recently and it does such a beautiful and funny job of talking about something that I’ve been thinking about for a while now – the balance between self-care and showing up.
This is a relatively new thing for me to have to think about, because up until the end of 2016, I just wasn’t showing up, so there was no need to think about balancing what I need to replenish vs. what I want to give and do. And then, of course, the election happened, and I made the decision to start, as I put it, “putting my time where my mouth was.” I didn’t have a problem putting my money where my mouth was – I’ve been budgeting for donations out of every paycheck for most of my adult life – but, for me, because I have the privilege to be able to afford it, money was far, far easier to give than time.
But my life has changed pretty significantly since November 2016. And one thing that I didn’t really anticipate but should have was the gradual realization that showing up also is self-care. A different kind of self-care, but self-care nonetheless. I should have anticipated it because the same transition happened when I started getting daily exercise years ago. It started as “this is something I should do, so I’ll give up some of my ‘me time’ to do it” – but once I got past the initial transition and it became just a regular part of my life and I started reaping the benefits in how I felt, it stopped being something I had to give up ‘me time’ for and it became ‘me time.’ Now I know that if I don’t get out for runs and walks that I don’t feel as good or sleep as well. I feel restless and groggy. Physical activity has become self-care for me, in more than just the “I do this because I should” sense.
I knew that once I found a good fit for me as a volunteer that I would enjoy giving my time, I never looked at it like “sigh, time to take my medicine.” In the last year, though, it’s become a part of my life in the same way that exercise has – I can’t imagine going back to a life where just about all of my free time is spent on entertainment. And there are so many factors to that – as I’m writing this I’m seeing more and more parallels to my transition from non-physically-active to physically-active. A big part of it is just the enjoyment of doing the thing itself – I enjoy the time I spend running and walking, it energizes and replenishes me. Am I enthusiastic about getting out there and doing it every single weekday morning when the alarm goes off at 5am? Of course not, but once I get out there I’m glad I didn’t let myself off the hook, and I’ve never once said “I wish I hadn’t gone out for that run this morning.”
Similarly, I love the time I spend at Centro, which is my most regular showing-up activity, though what with it being 2018 (lordy) I’ve been getting into doing some phone banking too. Anyway – Centro has been so very good for me. I’ve made incredible new friends, among the staff, other volunteers and the students – fun and brilliant people who never fail to inspire me. Even after rough days at work when part of me just wants to go home to the couch, as soon as I get to Centro I’m grateful to be there. Whenever any of my students thank me for my time and help I try to make sure that they know that I appreciate them just as much, and that they’re giving just as much to me. For many of them – with trickier work schedules and, in many cases, kids to care for – coming out to class is more of a challenge for them than it is for me, and their dedication to learning and community never fails to inspire me. Not to mention they’re just wicked fun to be around. I’ve never once said “I should have just gone home to the couch tonight.”
And just like with physical exercise, I feel the benefits in the rest of my life, too. It’s changed the way I look at myself. In some ways I look at myself more critically and hold myself to higher standards than I used to – which is a good thing, I needed to start holding myself to higher standards – but I also look at myself and think, “I’m trying – I’m showing up – I’m grabbing an oar” (a Jason Kander-ism from Majority 54 – he’s speaking here in town in a couple weeks and we’ve got tickets, I’m really excited). And I’ve got no shame about admitting that wanting to feel better about myself is a source of motivation for me. I know it’s a selfish motivation and I’m fine with that. I say go with whatever combination of motivations gets you off your ass and out there grabbing an oar. At the end of each week I don’t just say “well, I made it through another week” – that’s not enough for me anymore.
Just before the Virginia election there was a live episode of Pod Save America where Jon Lovett did a bit he called “Your Tweets Are Not Enough,” where he went into the audience and asked people what they were actually doing to help Northam’s campaign. And that bit stuck with me. It’s part of what motivated me to commit to doing some volunteering with Swing Left Knoxville this year. Centro is my main volunteering time commitment so I can’t do every Swing Left event, but I can do some – I’ve phone banked with them twice now and I’m going again next week; I’m trying to give them an evening every other week. Because I completely believe that everyone should find the work that’s the best fit for them and there are so many kinds of work to be done, not everyone is suited to directly political work, but my political beliefs are, um, pretty damned strong, and I’m not going to end 2018 without being able to say that I did at least something to contribute to political change. Also, I would very much love to go to a live Crooked Media show at some point and if I’m ever in a position for Lovett to ask me what I’m doing, I’mma have an answer.
Motivations are so personal, and complicated, and sometimes weird. Whatever combination of “I want to help people/be better/have an answer should I one day meet Jon Lovett” I’ve got going on, it’s working for me, so I’m good with it.
But back to self-care. So yes, showing up and oar-grabbing are, in fact, self-care. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also need the kind of self care that involves pajamas and wine and video games. Because I do, and that’s okay. That’s not something I would ever give up, I’ve just been finding a more appropriate balance. And how I view that time has changed – I used to see coming home every evening and playing video games as a right. Something I’d earned the right to do by going to work that day. And you know, in an ideal world that would be true. In an ideal world, once you’d accomplished your day’s work, it would be your right to do whatever you chose with the rest of your time – and that would be true for everybody. But it’s not true for everybody – and spending time curled up in my pjs playing video games requires a major amount of privilege. Like I said, that doesn’t mean I’m going to give it up – recognizing privilege doesn’t mean rejecting it – it’s just something I’m far more mindful of. Like Jay says in the video, I try to be kind to myself about needing replenishment time, and use that time to make sure I’m soon ready to jump back in with my oar.