How To Take Care Of Yourself
The case against self-sufficiency.
Last week I questioned whether self-care is an effective way to look after ourselves amidst our broken healthcare systems (read it first if you haven’t already). While wellness products, meditation apps and online classes have helped the more privileged during the pandemic, others have found meaningful support through mutual aid.
As someone who grew up resentful towards the institutions that failed to adequately support my mom with her disability, I’ve always believed in the informal networks that provide care for those abandoned by the state. When I think back to how we survived, I don’t think of the doctors. I think of the caregiver we hired under-the-table, the Meals on Wheels delivery from my local community shelter, the friend who drove us everywhere—our informal networks of care.
From relief funds for sex workers to prison letter writing projects; grocery delivery to stipends for restaurant employees—mutual aid networks have flourished during the pandemic. One non-profit found the number of mutual aid groups jumped from 50 in March to 800 by May of last year.
While charities address systemic inequalities too, they, like the wellness industry, operate within the existing capitalistic framework. Mutual aid works on the grassroots level, challenging the very structures that created the inequality in the first place. Historically, they’ve played a vital role in serving the communities most neglected by the state—from the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast programs to the homeless shelters created for trans youth during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 90s.
Hearing my friend who works in a long-term care home describe the elderly who have been abandoned by their children, seeing a mentally ill man be put in solitary confinement in the hospital after having a mental breakdown—I’m increasingly convinced our current models of care are failing us. And with 50 million unpaid caregivers in the United States and seniors estimated to make up 23 percent of the Canadian population by 2030, I’m not optimistic they’ll improve anytime soon. But I also know overthrowing the whole system isn’t realistic either.
Between the shortcomings of institutional care and the money-sucking and insecurity-inducing side effects of alternative healthcare in the form of wellness, I realize I’ve painted a grim picture. So what does an effective model of care look like then? Anne Helen Peterson offers some solutions.
“Broadening your imagination when it comes to close community might mean unlearning a lot of understandings about what it means to come of age. It requires rethinking eldercare in a way that’s not just ‘the eldest daughter does it, largely unsupported’ and considering what more collaborative living would look like. That might mean living with more than one family in one home, but it might also just look like podded life, and doing even more exchange of cooking, chores, and general life.” —Anne Helen Peterson.
We shouldn’t have to fend for ourselves. If we’re really interested in self-improvement, then we should consider caring for each other, particularly the most vulnerable (but on their own terms), not because we want to feel like we did a good deed, but because self-sufficiency is an empty promise of fulfillment.
“We spend so much time wishing for dominion over our lives and forget just how lonely it can be once we arrive there. We want dependability, intimacy, to spread burdens and celebrations across a wider swath of people. The truth is, we can’t have it all. We can’t have total control and actual security and care. Community does demand sacrifice in some form, but ‘sacrifice’ doesn’t have to be negative; what might be lost in autonomy is gained in so many other forms.” —Anne Helen Peterson.
For me, care does mean essential oils and meditation apps, even if they might uphold a system that fails my health in other ways. I still believe in Lorde’s rallying cry, that self-care can be an act of political warfare. But my care support also looks like my go-to massage therapist at a nearby walk-in clinic, reciprocal relationships with friends and neighbours, and being a relentless advocate for myself when I do need a doctor.
This past year, I think we’ve all had to face that “every man for himself” feeling, but I’m increasingly convinced self-sufficiency isn’t the answer. We all benefit from leaning on one another.
Nowadays pretty much any health concern has a remedy in drink form. One beverage brand stood out from the rest in my research for my wellness drinks guide a few months ago—Moment, for suggesting you can “drink your meditation.” I was intrigued and so I pursued it as a full story. I interviewed the founder Aisha Chottani about her journey from McKinsey to Shark Tank to launching a beverage brand during the height of the pandemic.
Unlike most wellness drinks, inspiration for Moment’s buzzing ingredients like tulsi and Ashwagandha didn’t come from Gwyneth, Chottani says she was inspired by watching her mom use Ayurvedic recipes back home in Pakistan. When I asked her how she felt about seeing her culture appropriated, her openness surprised me, “I actually think it’s really positive to learn from each other,” the founder said, referencing how her and her partner take flavour inspiration from other countries too.
💛 How Asian Americans love in a time of hate. It’s a thoughtful collection of photography from across the U.S. paired with Celeste Ng’s poignant words.
“When your face makes you vulnerable, one solution is to disappear: Keep your face hidden; don’t go far from home; don’t leave the house at all. Some advocate becoming hyper-American…which is to say: not us. Others would like us to disappear literally. I was 11, standing at a bus stop, when a man shouted in my face: Go back to China or Vietnam or wherever you came from.” - Celeste Ng.
“Sometimes loving someone is about carrying the things they can no longer get out from under,” writes Justin J Wee.
🤳 Maybe we could take better care of ourselves and others if we weren’t so addicted to immediate gratification and self-sufficiency.
“We’ve been well-trained to resist inconvenience: I want what I want, I want it this way, and at this cost, and I want it now. I’ve figured out how I’m most comfortable, and I’m unaccustomed to bending my desires towards others.” - Anne Helen Peterson.
💉 We have free healthcare, so why is Canada so behind on delivering the vaccine?
👩👦 23% of parents in the U.S. are raising their children alone. “The exceptionalism of the single parent narrative reinforces the misconception that if we work hard enough, all will be well,” writes Esau McCaulley. “It shouldn’t be this difficult for solo parents.”
👧 A trick to fixing the broken child care system. (Anne Helen Peterson has all our care solutions!).
🙋♀️ Caregiving continues to be under-valued women’s work.
“I lost a sense of who I was. I was going to pick up a prescription for myself, the pharmacist asked for my date of birth, and I gave his. There was this feeling of erasure — that my needs and desires were no longer important.” - Kate Washington.
🚗 How a Chinese auntie taking care of herself on the road became a feminist icon.
💆🏿♀️ A thoughtful four-part photo series by Gioncarlo Valentine and Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. on how Black Americans have taken care of each other during the pandemic.
🤝 On the difference between nice and kind politics.
⏳ And the difference between personal change and transformation.
“Moments of transition may present opportunities to experience moments of personal transformation, but they don’t require it. It isn’t difficult to go through life having never transformed. Passivity is easier, it requires less effort. Transformation takes courage.” -Meghan Palmer.
📱 And the difference between caring for yourself in private vs. public, from Cassandra Lam (who has been holding virtual healing spaces for the AAPI community that I’m so grateful for).
“The care I need for myself is messy, dark, and wild. This type of care doesn’t fit in an Instagram caption or pair well with any pictures.” - Cassandra Lam.
🙅♀️ Here is useful guide to taking care of yourself (yes, self-care can be free). The most effective self-care strategy? Setting boundaries.
“Self-care is deep work — there’s a difference between engaging in self-soothing relief from a discomforting emotion, versus tackling the hard work to take care of yourself on a deeper level.”
👨💻 Another way to take care of yourself? Pull away from work and the attention economy. Especially when the pandemic has made us take work to bed (literally).
👭 And how to have a more rewarding social support system? Cut the deal friends.
Two places I’ve found Asian joy recently:
🍚 Life lessons and affirmations paired with Korean recipes on TikTok.
🥪 And a 5 minute documentary of four-time cancer survivor making pizza toast — a staple of Japanese kissaten cafe culture.
It’s a Sin (Amazon Prime) is cheesier than I’d like, but I flew through its five episodes. The 80s soundtrack is great and the characters are pretty damn lovable. But more importantly, it’s a fresh take on a difficult history—the AIDS crisis in London.
What it does so well is show us the power of chosen family in the face of discrimination. The protagonists not only support each other emotionally when their family members abandon them, they become lifelines who take care of them and advocate for their healthcare. It’s a shining example of what alternative modes of care can look like.
When a show is able to dish up joy and suffering at the same time, I’m sold. It’s a Sin does it brilliantly. The characters die so soon that it’s shocking, but that’s real life. Within minutes of heartache we’re watching them laugh in their grief, hold each other and dance in the face of death, that’s real life too. And it’s beautiful.
What’s better: being nice or kind?
Example: On the West Coast, niceness is prized over kindness, on the East Coast it’s the heart of gold trope—the person who is gruff on the exterior but genuinely nice underneath.
It’s all about the delivery. Niceness is important because manners are social lubricant. “But niceness is more than a social lubricant, handled correctly it can be a powerful tool,” says host of The Cut podcast, Avery Trufelman. “Rather than be a way to avoid hard truths, niceness can be a scalpel to delve right into them.”
Trufelman interviews two opposite ends of the niceness spectrum: Jonathan Van Ness (the king of niceness on Queer Eye) and Scaachi Koul (Buzzfeed culture writer, Canadian author of One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter) to explore the pitfalls, but also power, of niceness.
I love Koul’s take on Canadian niceness.
“In Canada, rule of law is passive aggression. If you accidentally shove someone and you don’t say I’m sorry, they look at you like you ate their dog. There is an expectation for a high level of surface niceness.”
Leaving you with this caesar salad chandelier that’s making me feel like the one I just bought is super boring.