Welcome to Self Care for Advocates newest blog series: What is Self Care? In this series we will talk about what self care means, not just as a concept and practice but what it means to us as individuals. Join the SCFA team as we ask ourselves, our friends and our community, What is Self Care?
It is easy to get bogged down in the semantics around an idea like self care. As we share the mutual trauma bonds of the last several years, self care is simultaneously a much needed yet poorly understood concept. The greatest challenge in self care is understanding what it is, and many of us need to understand a concept like self care before we are able to practice it ourselves. All the while encouraging our friends and loved ones to practice something we ourselves cannot seem to pin down.
Posing the question What is Self Care? Is a daunting task, but for our first attempt at answering this critical question we need only look right in front of us. More specifically we can look no further than our own SCFA community. Our very own Kanisha, guided by President and Founder Trace Fleming-Trice and supported by our Tech Staffer Connor Fasel, has only recently launched a brand new series lovingly dubbed, “Self Care Show and Tell.” The aim of this series is to reach out to our friends throughout the advocacy community and beyond and get their perspective on this timeless question. What is Self Care?
The first answer to that question comes from our not too far away friends Danielle Mars, LMSW and her bestie Renee Smith of Birmingham, Alabama. What is Self Care to Danielle and Renee? In a word: Friendship.
“We’ve been best friends since 2005,” Danielle begins as she goes on to illustrate a friendship full of love, support and commitment to one another. “We started talking, and we haven’t stopped yet!” Danielle and Renee met while attending Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama and quickly established a strong bond. Connecting over their shared interests in Psychology, Danielle and Renee would go on to build a relationship that spanned years, graduations and the birth of their children (of which each acts as godmother to the other’s).
But what goes into building a friendship that’s built to last? To Danielle and Renee, the answer is communication. Checking in with each other, and developing over time the ability to know what the other needs even when it is not voiced. When we think of self care, many people tend to emphasize the “self.” This framing puts the pressure on us as individuals, and can be isolating. When we only see self care as deeply personal, hyper focused on us as individuals we close ourselves off from our friends, family and community. Not only do we stop ourselves from seeking external support, but we can even go so far as to inadvertently put up a wall around ourselves that keeps us from receiving external support as well.
“We do check-ins,” Renee adds. “Have you eaten, had water, etc. We’re at that point that we can read each other’s needs.” Building a relationship like Danielle and Renee’s also challenges, and ultimately removes that fear of showing our vulnerability even to the people we care about. By building a strong bond with each other, they are allowing themselves to receive that external support that becomes the cornerstone of self care for them as individuals. While they both have families and communities that rely on them, not to mention their work, they have found strength in relying on each other.
“Self Care is community care,” says Renee. “We act as role models for them [their children].” Danielle and Renee go on to say that as their friendship matures, so do the nature of their needs. How we check in and the support we offer evolves, and it becomes even more crucial that we are there for our friends. As Renee adds, “How are you doing, at the core of you. Sometimes it takes more than just showing up with a latte.”
Seeing self care as something we can provide not only for ourselves, but others as well, we can learn to neither give nor accept the “obligatory ‘I’m fine,’ or ‘I’m good.’” When we practice self care, as Danielle and Renee put it, we make space not only for ourselves but for the people in our lives who matter most.
A common sentiment shared these days is just how much things have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. For many, uncertainty, fear and isolation took a toll on most if not all of our relationships. However, for some the struggle of navigating through this global tragedy forged bonds of love and friendship that would prove to be stronger than ever. This was the case for Danielle and Renee.
“We both lost people, including my mother and those were the times that just checking in between us was everything,” Danielle adds. During lockdowns and quarantines, the effects of which we are still feeling today, isolation is a constant material reality. For many, this would lead to an emphasis on being able to provide ourselves with the care and support we would need to get through those fearful times. Arguably, many advocates have carried those adaptations with them back out into the world, and here is where Friendship as Self Care is the most critical. Learning to reconnect with people, rebuild relationships and strengthen and nurture the ones we have is a critical part of maintaining our own mental and emotional well being while being able to simultaneously provide that support to someone else.
Reaching out, or even just accepting support from friends can be the simplest and yet most profound act of Self Care there is. Because when we open ourselves up to that care and attention, it can take so many forms. When someone understands how deeply we are in need of care, then the simple act of showing up with a latte can have profound effects. And sometimes the hardest thing is asking for a simple act of love and kindness, worse when the ask itself feels bigger and more of an inconvenience to someone. Danielle shared a memory of Renee, assisting her with a backlog of laundry, even donating the use of her washing machine when Danielle’s machine chose the exact worst moment to stop working. What matters more than any act itself is knowing how deeply it affects your friend, because your bond is such that you know what they need sometimes without them even knowing themselves, much less asking for it.
“There are so many things in my life that I don’t know that I’d really do them if I didn’t have my bestie with me for it. A big part of my life, a big part of where I am is in direct correlation to my friendship with her.”
We were honored that Danielle and Renee were willing to act as the stars (and if we’re being honest, guinea pigs) for this new flagship series, “Self Care Show and Tell.” The complete audio recording of this episode is available on our Spotify Podcast here. But if you want the full visual experience, the best thing to do is subscribe to the brand new Self Care for Advocates Patreon!
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Thanks so much for sticking with us through Part 1 of our newest blog series, What is Self Care? We look forward to more stories and more conversations as we continue to explore what self care means to all of us and how to continuously work toward making space not only for ourselves, but the people we care about.
Check back soon for What is Self Care? Part 2