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From Treat Yo Self to Self-Treatment: Reframing the Need & Importance of Self-Care #SelfCareSA

We often assume that our very status as helpers grants us immunity from the suffering we witness.  We are often wrong.  - Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, Trauma Stewardship

This semester, my office colleagues and I have been reading Lipsky’s Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. Lipsky’s work has helped me to reflect on and (un)learn ways in which I was (not) actually taking care of myself.  As my colleagues and I were discussing one of the latest chapters, a question emerged: How often do I something in the name of self-care to avoid confronting what I actually need in order to take care of myself? 

Let me give an example.  My work schedule involves staying late on Mondays til’ 9 PM and then being back in the office by 8:30 AM.  Because of my varying hours of work from week to week, I need to exercise control in my day, to prove that some part of my day is not subservient to my calendar.  This is often me watching Netflix or going on a YouTube binge before bed, spending an hour or more doing this. Rather than going to bed as soon as I get settled at home, I stay up in the name of self-care. Watching Netflix does bring me great joy [seriously, have you streamed Luke Cage yet?]. However, I use self-care to avoid actually getting more sleep, which is what I actually need.

Self-care, as I have come to learn about it, seemed to get consumed by the “treat yo self” narrative.  Do not get me wrong – treating yourself from time to time is great.  For me, though, it has been important to uncouple that narrative from my conception of self-care.  I’ve come to understand self-care more and more as self-treatment, as Lipsky characterizes it.  Like my wellness needs in multiple dimensions are real and treatable; I am not immune to the very trauma and pain I work to guide students around and through.  This became too real for me this summer.

This summer was a challenging time in my life. As someone from South Florida, as someone who has danced in Pulse night club, the news of the shooting cut deeper. While still recovering from that, two weeks later I woke up from a nap to the news of my grandfather’s passing. June and July 2016 was so overwhelming that I focused more on the needs of the students I work with and my family.  As in the quote above, I thought I was immune to what everyone else was feeling.  These are perfect instances of why self-treatment is so important—I was not treating and addressing what was ailing me at the time, understanding my proximity to all of the trauma. 

So here are two tips that have been helpful to me to think about how I do more self-treatment than treat yo self.

First, figure out what you are doing for yourself and distinguish that for what you do for others.  With both the local and global, the particular and universal forms of violence our communities are experiencing, many events are popping up on our campuses to promote conversation and healing.  It was important for me to decide which vigils and spaces I would attend for myself versus those I was attending to support others.  We need to be the receivers of the same support we give. I have found these two are tough to happen at the same time.

Second, critically interrogate your self-care.  Like my Netflix example, what are practices you are employing in the name of self-care that are allowing you to avoid addressing what you actually need.  Are you staying up later and not getting more sleep?  Are you hanging out with friends more when you need to get other errands done like car maintenance you need to get done?  These questions do not have the same answer all the time and yet it is critical that we ask ourselves how what we are doing does or does not contribute to our wellness. 

We are worthy of the care we give to our students. So let’s do better to do that for ourselves.

** - this blog post was originally published on the Student Affairs Collective Blog as part of their self-care series.

Alex Lange