Leading up to today, you may be reading many articles about Pulse, what it means to our communities, what we can learn from it, and what we can do to come together and work to end violence against LGBTQ communities as hate speech and violence are on the rise. This article is not about that. This piece is about how we keep ourselves and communities whole as we do the necessary work of fighting to make things better. It’s about how we take care of ourselves and of each other, and how we heal ourselves and our community.
From our experiences at the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), leading a team of counselors and advocates, working alongside organizers, trainers, policy advocates, and attorneys, the majority of whom identify as part of the communities most impacted by violence—queer and trans folks, people of color, immigrants, youth and more—we know that the folks who are on the front lines are also directly impacted by this violence. It bears noting that the night Pulse was attacked was Latinx Night, again impacting queer and trans people of color.
At AVP we see firsthand, in the first person, the toll that it takes to overcome hate and live without fear. We recognize that to keep fighting this fight—and to win it—we must ensure our movements are sustainable over time and that we are not depleting our own resources in the face of the systemic violence we face.
To do this, we believe three things are necessary:
- Taking care of ourselves (aka Self-Care)
- Taking care of each other (aka Community-Care)
- Finding your own balance between the two.
Audre Lorde famously said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” We agree that caring for ourselves is an important component of ensuring we can continue to work to build safety, justice, and equity for LGBTQ and allied communities. But some of us may be feeling a little self-care fatigue, may even groan when we hear it mentioned. We get it, and understand that some of the information out there about self-care may not feel accessible to many of us. Solutions may feel out of reach, may not reflect our individual cultural practices, don’t feel helpful or simply feel overwhelming to think about! Sometimes self-care is not “one big thing” you can do, but may require “a lot of little things.” Here are a few ideas or tips that we hope can be helpful to you when thinking about your own self-care. Figure out:
How you’re doing: Take an inventory of how you are feeling, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Too often, we minimize how we’re feeling to push through and get all the urgent things we need to do, done. But those things that we’re minimizing will only get worse if not attended to. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Where does it hurt or feel achy?
- How’s your energy level? Your mood?
- When did you last drink water and eat?
- How are you sleeping?
- What feels pretty good?
- When did you last stop to think, reflect, meditate, pray, or take a few breaths?
What might help: You really are the expert here—what makes you feel better? If you are stuck, reach out to your community for ideas. Some may be exactly what you are looking for and others may not feel right for you—that’s ok! Consider attending to all of your areas of health (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual), and keep in mind a few common culprits: dehydration, exhaustion, being triggered in your trauma. Then, focus on what you can do to address what’s happening—in the moment, in the next few days, few weeks, and over the course of the year.
How to get what you need: Make a self-care plan and reach out for help. We often create these plans in response or reaction to something that’s already happened. It’s really great to have a self-care plan before you need it, and to make sure you have a list of folks you trust in your community that you can turn to if you need support. It’s not always easy, as marginalized communities who are so often told we need to “be strong,” to reach out and ask for help. It is essential to believe that we are deserving of support and that we too have the right to ask for help—for ourselves.
If you need help knowing where to start, you can always call us, 24/7 at AVP: 212 714 1141. Our hotline counselors are available to you, wherever, whenever. You can also make a report online, and ask a Counselor to reach out to you.
We can’t stop at taking care of ourselves, because we can’t do this alone. The idea of self-care as the only way to approach healing is well-intentioned, but flawed: it can be isolating, it puts the responsibility for healing on each of us as individuals, and it doesn’t allow accountability to and responsibility for one another’s wellness. We can’t isolate or silo ourselves and leave others high and dry. We are in this together! Community care means taking care of each other. Checking in with your co-workers, your fellow activists, your loved ones, and working to support and nurture them as your community is equally—if not more—important. It’s essential to continuing in the struggle. We must work in solidarity, to honor the lives we have lost, and to uplift all of us who are still here and still fighting. Too often, we make space for action, and we do action really well—we hit hard, we go all out, and we make real change. But then, we retreat to care for ourselves, alone. What we’re missing is making space to heal, together, as a community. We came together to fight for each other, and we have to fight just as hard to help each other heal, so we can be stronger and fight even harder, and win.
The important thing here is to remember that both Self-Care and Community-Care are important—as we say at AVP, it’s a “both-and,” rather than an “either-or.” You can’t really do one without the other—taking care of yourself in isolation won’t likely be enough when you spend so much time in community, and ignoring your own needs and taking care of everybody else will led to burnout—or worse—really quickly. In taking care of yourselves and each other, here are some links that might be helpful:
- Wellness in the Workplace – Native Wellness Institute
- An End to Self Care – Organizing Upgrade
- Healers of Color on Why Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgence
- When Compassion Hurts: Self Care For Queer Activists of Color
- Introduction to Self-Care from the University at Buffalo School of Social Work
- Organizational Self-Care: Why it Matters and what it could Look Like in Your Organization
Cat Shugrue dos Santos and Darlene S. Torres are Co-Directors of Client Services at the New York City Anti-Violence Project (www.avp.org).