“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I know many folks in this industry have spent the past Summer in a state of, “Can I even continue to do this work?” for one reason or another. Stressful events, the slow but expected decline of business during the hot months and the unsettling realization that there are folks who will use their power and influence to attempt to ruin other people’s lives/income/safety/sense of well being have caused some of the saddest sads I’ve ever seen in this business.
Through my years of being an educator, a public figure attempting to represent empowerment and pleasure I’ve had to mask my depression to continue the facade society demands of us which charades that A) this job is never challenging B) sex/sexuality is always fun and C) I’ve got all of my proverbial shit together and deserve to get paid. I’ve become an expert at being secretly sad- which might sound melodramatic, but any woman in a fast-paced industry knows that letting oneself fall behind professionally because of depression adds to the disadvantage we showed up to work with in the first place. Being openly depressed also reinforces stereotypes about women being too emotional in the workplace so we teach ourselves to be unaffected by serious events and robotically perform our duties just to be recognized as contributing members of our communities. We become professionals at hiding our pain.
For many people, time is the biggest obstacle in allowing ourselves to experience sadness or anger. After working all day, you might come home to your second shift of taking care of a family or other responsibilities and spending all night crying in the bathtub is just not something you can pencil in to your schedule. We know that we need time and self care but how do we fit attention, self-reflection and maybe something to distract ourselves with in the quick moments we can afford to give ourselves?
As someone who works a job that is not my profession during the day, writes at night, teaches workshops on the weekends and has multiple partners and two dogs, I can empathize with folks who are short on time and in need of some self love. Over the years I have experimented with ways to care for myself during periods of sadness and I’ve found that planning how to deal with depression while already depressed can be like looking for your glasses when you can’t see where you’re searching. For me, anticipating what I might need during a period of sadness is easier and more productive so I’ve created a kind of kit for my off days when I don’t know how to help myself in those moments.
I made myself a self care box. A tiny box I can slip under my bed until I need it- and I will need it. I’ve started anticipating my expected depression instead of trying to avoid it and then not being in a place to plan how to support myself once it has hit me. I tried to plan for varying degrees of needing the box from having a shitty day at work to dealing with the type of deep depression I recently experienced.
Making one is easy and might help you care for yourself the next time you find that you’re in one of the lonely places our industry sometimes seems to carve out for us. The goal here is to gather things that make you happy or things that just keep you busy and have them ready in one place. This allows you to spend more time caring for yourself and less time thinking about how you can track down that one video of the lion who remembers the dudes who raised him a year after joining a pack in Africa.
For me, the first thing I notice happening when I’m slipping into depression is that I start to dissociate from my body and if I can try to tap back into my physical existence, it’s much easier for me to be aware and in control of my emotional existence. To do this, I have to do activities that appeal to my senses. Sometimes, masturbation is a great way to be in touch with my body although this is not always something I’m up for when feeling low. In this case, a scented hand cream can help with self massage as I try to be in my body, feeling being touched in a non-sexual way and smelling the scent of the lotion. Bubble baths can be great for this too and sometimes the act of scrubbing myself down and getting clean can be enough to pull me out of feeling like I’m losing your body. This can be really helpful for staying in my own skin when I see that I’m beginning to check out.
Sometimes I want a lot of self-reflection and write in a journal or compose letters to people I know (or don’t know and keep sending them even though Morrissey never replies). Other times I just want to distract myself from stress for the evening and smother myself with shitty tv and old VHS movies. Both are OK and it’s good to make a list of things you like to watch so you can just reference it instead trying to remember positive things when you’re feeling so negative. We don’t need to keep struggling to reinvent the wheel of self care every time we’re faced with stress.
I really like crafting so if I need to focus my energy on something productive, I try to start a new project and keep some materials in my box. I knit, but if you play music, get the tabs for Enter Sandman in your box. If you cook, keep recipes in your box you’ve been wanting to try and make me some vegan food. Sometimes a new project can keep you distracted enough to get through your day and that’s sometimes all we can do: get through one day.
Next, write a letter to yourself about how you can and will get through this. That this is temporary. About how strong you are and also about how it’s absolutely alright not to be strong all the time. Write out why it is you do this work and your ultimate goals. Include a reminder to be gentle with yourself and to be patient with those around you who may not know what’s going on. Come up with some ideas about how partners, lovers, roommates, friends and family can support you.
Have a friend write a letter for you to read when you need a bit of love and keep it in your box. Have another friend write one. And another. There is no such thing as an over-abundance of support and you are worth being told how important you are.
Make a list of folks in your life who you can talk to if you need to reach out for support or even people who are willing to bring you something to eat if you can’t leave your house. Add anything else that makes you feel whole and human and capable. I have photos of my dogs’ first time visiting the ocean and my Godfather when he used to comb his hair into that ridiculous pony tail in the 90s. I have a bag of candy because I’m 8 and truly believe skittles can make my day better and a drawing of me my niece did complete with a septum ring, titled “Ante Cate”.
This is my actual box. This is how I make myself, allow myself to feel OK.
Self care is not selfish and the more I see educators, bloggers, writers, sex workers and badass people in my life wear themselves out by doing this work, the more I am convinced that self care needs to be a mandatory part of this industry. Take care of yourselves so we can keep doing what it is we love to do.
*Please seek professional help if you are experiencing depression that is affecting your desire to live or meet the basic needs of you or your dependents. Visit Mentalhealth.gov to be put in touch with resources or call Crisis Call Center‘s hotline at 1.800.273.8255
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” -Audre Lorde I know many folks in this industry have spent the past Summer in a state of, “Can I even continue to do this work?” for one reason or another. Stressful events, the slow but expected decline […]