Imagine this: you’re a single retiree living alone. One day, a sunny young woman knocks on your door declaring herself your legal guardian with a court order stating you must be moved to a care facility. This is the premise of I Care A Lot, a comedy-thriller I recently devoured on Prime. Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a con artist who bribes doctors into determining elderly people unfit to care for themselves so that she can take over their finances. What makes the movie so scary, and enthralling, is that it doesn’t seem like a stretch.
Ever since my stay in the hospital last fall, I’ve been wondering, at what point is someone considered incapable of taking care of themselves? And who is responsible for their care?
“When we cease to be able to take adequate care of ourselves, the state steps in to help, we can’t just sit by while people struggle,” Marla Grayson tells Jennifer Peterson, the single retiree played by a scowling Dianne Wiest, when she resists being taken to the long-term care home.
Watching this mentally sound woman be held like a prisoner in a care facility, I see someone abandoned by society; by a culture that prioritizes youth and family. I saw this in the hospital too—the psychiatric ward felt like an orphanage of adults; a last resort for people with mental illnesses too complicated for the real world to tolerate.
The past year has illuminated all the fractures in our medical system, but also in our personal networks of care. Who looks after you if you get COVID-19 and have to quarantine? Where do you find recovery support from an addiction if you can’t attend your usual meetings? How does a person with a disability receive their home care safely?
In the absence of adequate care, we look to alternative solutions—it’s what’s made wellness a multi-trillion dollar industry, one that has been thriving during the pandemic. Ironically, self-care was originally used by Black feminists during the civil rights era as a political act against the institutional racism and sexism of medicine. Rather than self-indulgence, poet Audre Lorde famously declared caring for herself as “self-preservation” and “an act of political warfare.”
In many ways, wellness still serves as a counterpoint to the inefficiency and inaccessibility of the healthcare system. Unfortunately, it profits off of our medical problems and insecurities too. “The concept of self-care, which used to be about recognizing your own self-worth in a racist, misogynistic, capitalist society that tries to demean you, is now also a really great way for corporations to make a few bucks,” writes Constance Grady. As Chris Messina’s character says to the con artist in I Care A Lot, “You saw an opportunity and you grabbed it. Hell, if your whole entire enterprise isn’t the perfect example of the American Dream, I don’t know what is.”
In an ageist culture of perfectionism and optimization, taking care of ourselves, and others, easily slips into self-improvement. In I Care A Lot, Marla Grayson spends her down time pushing herself in spin class, she doesn’t care about the health of her mother, and will give up anything for money. She says, “making it” requires focus and ruthlessness. As Jenna Wortham writes, “wellness has become synonymous with productivity; equated with a Wi-Fi-connected bike.”
Do we run the errand for a friend because we genuinely care or just want to feel like a better person? Are we meditating to calm our anxiety or to make us more efficient at our jobs? What if instead, we could, as Wortham suggests, “form new models of health and care-taking that don’t automatically ascribe our value to how much we can do?”
Next week—envisioning a more holistic model of caring for ourselves and society’s most vulnerable.
The past year has been far from one of rest, instead, our bodies are aching, injured and sore. I consulted chiropractor Dr. Evelyn Bak and Dr. Keith Burk to get tips on how to relieve physical tension (FYI your sleep hygiene and WFH set-up might need adjusting).
Here are some of my go-to’s:
Tennis/Lacrosse Balls — an underrated self-massage tool.
Yaasa Adjustable Desk — because sitting or standing for too long hurts.
Brooks — aspirational me says their runners are for working out from home, but realistically they’re just for working from home.
Lunya Restore — fabric that actually boosts local circulation (but it’s also just super comfy and stylish).
KaLaya Pain Relief Massager — this might be the most effective pain relief cream I’ve ever used, but I hate the cooling effect of the menthol on my hands. The massage applicator makes it easy.
CBDfx Balm Stick — for more of a warming effect with CBD.
🔮 Longing for the before times? Be careful: nostalgia can be a “romance with one’s own fantasy. Without interrogation, it can also obscure the root systems of pain lurking beneath the romances of memory.” Try reflective rather than restorative nostalgia, instead.
“Restorative nostalgia wants to recreate an idealized past, reflective nostalgia interrogates the image it longs for,” writes Leslie Jamison. “Restorative nostalgia is drawn to monuments; reflective nostalgia to ruins.”
👵🏻 The pandemic has forced daily routines to fall apart, what does this feel like for the 50 million people living with dementia?
“They’re living through a disorienting time in a mind that is already deeply disoriented; losing things faster than they should: weight, words, functional abilities, their remaining sense of self,” writes Katie Engelhart.
👁 First it was grey hair, now it’s dark under-eye circles—I’m loving that the look of old age is trending.
😰 Stress reduction has become our economy’s biggest commodity. But is using tech for wellness (think, online workout classes, meditation apps) only making us more stressed?
“Wellness has become synonymous with productivity and self-optimization. But wellness isn’t something that can be downloaded and consumed.”- Jenna Wortham.
🗣 One form of stress-reduction tech that’s booming—therapy apps.
“The privacy-starved can text without anyone overhearing; the socially anxious can communicate without facing a stranger; people who are new to therapy can get their feet wet in a low-stakes way.”
💅🏻 What a bad day looks like for one Asian American family.
🚴♀️ Few brands epitomize the blurred line between self-care and self-optimization more than Soul Cycle.
“The fact that brands built on ‘wellness’ can foster such unhealthy behavior shows how easily our instinct to confer positivity on the pursuit of health,” - Natalia Mehlman Petrzela.
💋 Remembering a time when kissing and dancing in the dark was normal.
🛒 And when the grocery store was a place of comfort and security.
“The supermarket stands as a monument to consumer culture. Its breadth of offerings (or lack thereof) functions as a class marker, and with its shelf-stable foods, unseasonably ripe produce and wasteful packaging, it asserts control over the natural world even as it accelerates its decline.” - Amanda Hess.
🧀 Take the guilt out of cheese, turns out it’s not bad for you.
🐣 On the unsettling power of Easter.
🌷 And an op-ed for those who finds this day marked by grief. “Easter is about rebirth: life from death, spring from winter, hope from despair,” writes Jennifer Finney Boylan.
One night when I was in the hospital, a man had a violent mental breakdown in the hallway. The nurses were too afraid to help him so they called security, but the security guards seemed to feel too unsure of how to handle the situation medically to do anything. So both parties stood by as the man broke down—it was torturous to watch.
I keep thinking of this night while watching Mark Ruffalo as Thomas, a man with paranoid schizophrenia, in a psychiatric prison in I Know This Much Is True. Like I Care A Lot, this HBO mini-series, based on Wally Lamb’s bestselling 1998 novel of the same name, reveals how our medical and criminal justice systems fail vulnerable people, particularly those with mental illness.
The dark melodrama is far from feel-good escapism (it comes from the same director who made tear-jerker Blue Valentine), but it’s seriously worth watching. Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of mental illness is one thing, but I think it’s actually his performance as Thomas’ twin brother Dominick—who becomes his primary caregiver after the death of their mom—that won him the Golden Globe. Ruffalo’s brother Scott was murdered back in 2008, and it feels like he’s channeling some of that loss, and his understanding of brotherly love, to playing the brothers here.
I’m only a couple epi’s in but hooked. Oh, it also has Kathryn Hahn and Rosie O’Donnell (!)
COVID-19 has thrust many into the unexpected role of caregiving, making people more aware of how hard it is to keep afloat when your life is devoted to someone else. This TTFA episode gives a voice to caregivers of all walks of life.
I related so much to what caregivers said they wished people knew about caregiving:
“I’m not brave, I’m not strong, I’m just me. I didn’t choose any of these things. The fact that I get through a day doesn’t make me special. It makes me a human being with a will to survive.”
“I wish they could understand that everything that’s happened to him has also happened to me. Every diagnosis, appointment and procedure that I’ve been present for, and I’ve been traumatized before, there have been 10 years of those stacking on top of each other. But in addition to that, I was also expected to keep working.”
“Stop making caregiving sound so heroic, it propels caregivers to push harder and wear their depletion like a badge of honour.”
Leaving you with some stale cream-filled eggs from last year.