There is No Self-Care Without Community Care by Tina Phillips

Have you noticed lately how much we are being pressured into“self-care”? Ever wonder why? It’s because we are living in a society that doesn’t serve human needs. Capitalist society is overworking and underpaying us, stripping us of benefits and time off we need and deserve, overloading us with things to do, and overwhelming us with the care of others. And instead of having a systemic way to resolve this inherent conflict, capitalism has presented us with its newest invention: take care of yourself. This is because capitalism demands it, that’s why. You have to keep going and working so capitalists can profit off of your hard work. Why not add to their profits and at the same time tell you self-care comes at a cost?

No one is paying for us to care for our kids, our pets, or our aging parents. No one is paying us to take time off (maybe with a rare exception). No one is paying a living wage (like almost no one). No one is giving us 6 weeks of vacation days a year, giving us 6 months off to be with our newborns, foster kids, or adoptive kids. No one is helping parents pay for childcare, mental health therapy, or paying off our student loans or credit card debt. No one is helping us afford housing and certainly not to buy a house. We are watching one of the largest transfers of wealth from the working class to the owning class right now. And most of us are paying for it.

And it’s not only our hard earned money being taken from us, but our blood, sweat, and tears; and our mental health and well-being. We don’t have time, we don’t have money, we don’t have resources or support. And in this bare- bones society, we are now being told we must practice wellness too on top of it all. This is freaking laughable! Yet, it’s being pushed like the next big thing. The next big cure to all that ails us!

What exactly does self-care look like? Some say it’s bubble baths and massages. Others say it’s meditation and hikes in nature. Some say it’s chocolate, lattes, and face masks. Some say it’s getting proper sleep and going to the doctor when needed. Taking your medications and going to therapy. Self-care looks different for each person. It just means taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally; To socialize, to relax, to take time off, to treat yourself, to breathe. But who has time for that? Who has money for that? Who has spoons for that?

Some are starting to push back and say, self-care is more than expensive luxuries and retail therapy. Self-care is self-love and that starts with seeing our worth outside of how much money we have or profit-based work.

Indeed, self-care requires a lot of effort at the very least. And who is demanding our efforts? The pushers of self-care. Industry for sure, as they see the trend as something to cash in on if it means people must spend money to obtain it. The concept of self-care has been exploited by capitalists. They are seeking to capitalize off our suffering and the misery they caused! Seriously, they are the reason we are in this position, and now they want to package some supposed answer to all our problems and sell it back to us at a profit? I say: Do not buy what they are selling! If self-care costs us an arm and a leg it may not be worth it. Some of us just simply don’t have any extra to spare. We have to wholesale reject the self-care industry and the co-optation of mindfulness in the name of profit.

As a social worker we are always reminded constantly that we need to do self-care. Yet, am I well compensated as a social worker? Am I well supported in my field? Am I given proper time off? Is my job made any less stressful or demanding? Not really. I don’t even get health insurance from my job because I don’t work full time. I am paying for it out of pocket with the help of Obamacare. Shocker: It’s still expensive. And I choose not to work full time on purpose because I don’t want to burnout. Everything is a catch-22 and a sacrifice. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. After a hard day at work, I am supposed to come home,meditate, and go get a massage on the weekend? I can tell you I don’t feel I have the time, money, or energy for it. In fact, collectively we are feeling the effects of burnout big time.

That is the funniest thing about the demand that we provide our own self-care. It’s not feasible, yet we are told if we feel stressed, it’s our own fault. What kind of sick joke is this?

I know personally, money is tight. I don’t have much in my savings account. Around tax time, if I get a rebate, I put it in my savings account so my wife and I can take one vacation a year (with no paid time off, I might add). And I think most people don’t even have that because their tax rebate goes to paying off bills. My wife and I ignore bills and splurge. Because we deserve it and we want to enjoy life to the extent we can. What is the point of being “responsible” in a society of deprivation? At this rate, I will never pay off my student loans, so I am not going to try. I will pay the very minimum I can just to get by. I intend to live my life to the fullest. One one week vacation a year is really not enough. But it’s the only thing we can afford. We could never afford a weekly massage or spa visit,  even for my wife who suffers from a serious chronic illness and constant pain. 

That is the ironic part. People actually tell folks with serious chronic illness that they need to do self-care. And that self-care will solve all their problems. What BS. People with chronic illness and disability need community care, not just self-care! In fact, often they simply aren’t able to do a lot of self-care. That is why people need caregivers. And why being a caregiver should be a well-paying job, even for family members. And our society and communities should help support people with illness instead of shaming them or stigmatizing them. And to be real, most of us have a chronic illness of one kind or another.  And millions of us have a mental illness. 

Capitalism drives illness too! Overworked, overwhelmed, and being under-supported leaves us soul-crushed and broken. Capitalism doesn’t meet human needs, and leads to exploitation, alienation, oppression, and dehumanization. Most of us are suffering through terrible stress—toxic stress that no human being should be put under. Yet most Americans are right in the thick of it. And we are being told “self-care!” That is rich. That is the height of hypocrisy. And it’s just not okay!

What does community care look like? Community, government, and social programs that help you. Government that pays for family leave, childcare, and therapy. Government that pays for healthcare, college, and housing. Paid caregivers for all who need it. How about better paying jobs so we could work less hours? Workplaces that are cooperatives so we don’t have to deal with terrible bosses that stress us out. Free public transportation. Ensuring everyone has their basic needs met—for food, clothing, and shelter without working ourselves to death. Then we wouldn’t need anyone to tell us to do “self-care.” Because we would have time, money, and energy to do it and we would be doing it collectively. If we weren’t working ourselves to the bone to make a living and care for everyone else in our lives without any compensation or assistance, we could actually live well! We shouldn’t take a social problem and blame it on individuals, and then say it’s their responsibility to care for themselves. Whatever happened to social responsibility?

What I’m talking about are the wellness impacts of  developing a sense of social responsibility. As a species, human beings are cooperative  and interdependent. Our physical and psychological well-being are dependent on other people. So why is “self-care” suggested instead of looking to social solutions? When we call on people who are struggling to make it through the day to care for themselves, it is victim-blaming at its finest. The truth is, we are suffering from a lack of care from society, our government, and from the people around us. It is so easy to tell someone they need to take care of themselves, and so hard to realize that wellness requires more than individual action. It’s easier to put the solution on one person than to ask what can we do to help. Our society’s obsession with self-sufficiency and bootstrapism is really hurting us. We tend to make people feel bad for not doing enough for themselves. People feel shame and stigmatized for asking for help or requiring assistance of any kind. This is a terrible cycle we have to break. Demanding time for us to heal and to be cared for is essential.

If we are going to make room for legitimate self-preservation work and community care, we have to tackle the elephant in the room. Capitalism is in the way of us having wellbeing as individuals and as a society. We have to face up to the fact that capitalism is the real problem.

We have to reject the self-care industry and come up with creative ways to care for ourselves and others without breaking the bank or adding extra work to our already frantic  lives. We have to find ways to cope with life and with the problems capitalism brings to our lives, so we have the spoons to fight capitalism and create a socialist society we all need and deserve. Instead of seeing self-care as a personal responsibility  or a money-making scheme, we should see it for what it is: a way to give to ourselves and others in order to sustain ourselves as individuals and as a society. 

There is no self-care without community care.

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