Real Tips for Really Decreasing Your Anxiety

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Anxiety sucks. Clinical grade anxiety is basically sweaty monkey balls.

Over the course of my time in therapy and various kinds of treatment, one of the things that I have wanted more than anything is to not feel anxious all the time. Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as walking in to therapy and having a therapist tell you what will make your anxiety easier. Typically you have to do some work on the roots issues before you can even get to the real, concrete strategies that you can use to make anxiety less intense or less disruptive.

I want to share some of the strategies that I have learned with you. If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, you may already know some of them, but there’s also a possibility that depending on the type of therapist you have, or whether or not you’re seeing a therapist, you may not have heard them before. Some of them might work for you, some might not. That’s ok.

It’s also important to remember that all of these strategies are for dealing with anxiety as it’s happening and for trying to decrease the immediate intensity of the anxiety. If you’re finding that you have intrusive anxiety on a regular basis, you may need to talk to someone or get on medication or do something else to help stabilize your basic emotional state so that these strategies are more effective and so that you don’t need them as often, but these strategies can help as part of a larger treatment plan aimed at decreasing instances of anxiety.

This one will be a little long, but hopefully that’s because there’s a lot of good information in it.

Mindfulness Techniques

The first series of techniques I’m going to talk about all circulate around mindfulness. Don’t get scared off by the name: it’s not spiritual or woo woo, it’s not doing nothing, but it is also not easy. Mindfulness is essentially paying close attention to what is actually happening in this moment. It will take time and practice to get good at, and I strongly recommend practicing it when you’re not anxious so that when you are anxious you can do it without getting frustrated or feeling like it’s pointless.

There are essentially two ways you can do this: you can pay attention to something internal or you can pay attention to something external.

Internal techniques:

  1. Breathing

This is a nice one because you can do it anywhere. You always have your breath, and you can always take a minute to stop and pay attention to it. There are a few different things you can do to help yourself focus. One of the easiest is counting. Some people suggest breathing in to a count of four, then out to a count of four. DBT recommends counting your breath, and always breathing out one count longer than you breathe in. You can choose the number that feels good to you. Whatever you choose, pay close attention to the numbers and what it feels like to breathe. If you notice other thoughts, that’s fine. Just let them happen and then refocus on your breath.

Another way to use your breath is to pay very close attention to the actual physical sensations of breathing. What does the air feel like coming in through your nostrils? What part of your body expands as you breath in? Especially focus on trying to breathe from your diaphragm. You should notice your stomach moving rather than your shoulders or chest.

  1. Visualization or other sensory imaginings

You can tailor this one to your own preferences: if you’re a visual person, then use imagery. If you rely more strongly on a different sense, you might imagine a song or smell. But the idea is to think of a place or sensation that is very calming to you, and to imagine it as vividly as possible. Put yourself in a place or setting that feels safe. Describe it in great detail in your mind. For me, I imagine a huge library. It smells like old books, and has thick, imposing marble architecture with nooks and crannies everywhere. There’s a huge, overstuffed armchair that looks out a large window onto an empty field. I can read whatever I like for as long as I like, with no impositions or tasks to do. It’s quiet, the special quiet that comes from marble soaking up sound, with the occasional tip tap of a librarian’s shoes across the floor. Take yourself to your safe place, wherever it is and stay there until your body has relaxed.

3. Body scan

I like to use this one at bedtime. It’s fairly simple, but takes some time and patience. Start at the top of your head and spend time focusing on each part of your body in turn. Notice what your scalp feels like, if there’s anything touching it, if it itches, if you’re tense there. Again, your mind might wander, and that’s ok, but simply notice then refocus on what you’re doing. Move down your body and do this with every body part. You can go as small or as big as you want, but the smaller you go the more likely you are to notice where you’re tense and find ways to relax.

4. Progressive relaxation

This is something like a variation on the body scan, with a little more umph to help you relax your muscles and body. This time, as you move down your body, at each muscle you reach, tense as hard as possible for a count of three, then release. That’s it! This is a slightly easier one to start with since it gives you something to do instead of just something to pay attention to.

External techniques

  1. Descriptions

I find this one works very well if someone else is with me and they are trying to help. Anxiety is anticipation of a fearful event or situation, so one of the ways to combat it is to remind yourself that you’re safe. This technique works by asking you to describe in as great of detail as possible, the room or space around you. I like it because if another person is with you, they can prompt, or you can talk to them and it doesn’t feel as weird. It doesn’t seem as if it would do much, but if you pay close attention to what you’re describing, it can take your focus off whatever is making you anxious.

2. I Spy

This is a variation on the description game that gets your brain a little more involved so that it’s harder for the mind to drift. Pick a color and find every instance of it you can. If you’re in a small room, find somewhere with more things in it and take a few minutes to play. I was surprised at how into it I got and how quickly the anxiety receded because I wanted to get every green thing.

 

Physical Techniques

Many times when you feel anxious it seems as if it’s your brain that’s making it happen. Your thoughts are spinning or you’re saying nasty things to yourself. In reality, anxiety is an incredibly physical experience, and even if your thoughts are what’s causing the anxiety, your body will react. Helpfully, this means that altering your body can also alter the anxiety in your mind. Here are a few ways to bypass the mental and go straight to calming down your body.

  1. Deep pressure

Deep pressure is something that tends to work for people on the autism spectrum, but if you find it comforting, then GO for it. Deep pressure is basically what it sounds like: providing a lot of pressure on your body to help it calm down. This could be a weighted blanket, a strong hug, a weighted vest, or even just burritoing up in your blankets nice and tight and snuggly. Try experimenting and see what works for you!

2. Exercise

No, exercise will not cure your anxiety. Don’t worry, I will not tell you that. What exercise CAN do is a. work as a a helpful preventative measure, and b. help you to regulate yourself when you are feeling anxious. If it’s safe and healthy for you to do so, one method is to exercise as vigorously as possible for 5-10 minutes (full on sprint, or something equivalent), and then calm down to a walk or cooldown. Normal exercise can also help let out some anxiety, but at least according to my therapist, the intense exercise followed by a more relaxed pace does some tricky shit to your body that gets it to calm down quickly (I do not understand this science, nor am I a scientist, so take this with a grain of salt and see what works for you). Sometimes all it takes is a walk to shake up the anxiety.

3. Ice water

Be careful with this one if you have any heart conditions or similar issues. However if you don’t, and you have some time and space, this is one that can REALLY affect you and have immediate results. Fill a bowl with ice water. Now stick your face in it. Yup, that’s the whole thing. The important part is to get the ice water on the place just below your eyes. Again, some physiological magic happens that helps your body calm down. If that’s too involved you can hold ice against your face, or an ice pack, but focus on that area where you get bags under your eyes. I’ve never personally been a fan of this one, but it might work for you!

4. Intense sensations

One good way to distract from anxiety is to do something that you HAVE to pay attention to. Physical sensations are a great example. Hold ice cubes, punch a pillow, take a hot shower or bath, or listen to music that really speaks to you. Pay close attention to what you’re doing instead of on the anxiety.

5. Notice your body

Anxiety often comes with physical manifestations: tensed muscles, an uneasy stomach, or a clenched jaw. Take stock of what your body is doing, and if possible, adjust it. You can unclench any muscles or body parts that are tense. You might use breathing to calm your stomach. You might stretch if some of your body parts are feeling tight.

 

6. Notice your physical needs.

It’s really really easy to forget about your basic needs if you’re very anxious, but sometimes the most basic levels of self care are the most effective. Take stock of your physical needs. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you have a headache or other pain? Do you need sleep? Have you moved your body at all today? If any of these needs are not fulfilled, or if you’re dealing with pain, try to manage that first. You’ll often find that your anxiety decreases once you take care of your body.

CBT Techniques

These techniques are more about challenging the thoughts that are leading to anxiety. I don’t tend to find them as useful, but for some people they are the most helpful of all, as they head on address the anxiety. Test them out and see what works for you.

1.Check the facts

Of all the exercises for thinking your way out of jerkbrain territory, check the facts is my favorite. Essentially you sit down and see if your emotions are based in facts or not. Sometimes you might want to check in with other people to see if you’re perceiving a situation correctly. So for example if you feel incredibly anxious about a test, you might ask whether you’re prepared for the test, whether you have a history of doing poorly on tests, or whether the test is likely to have a huge impact on your future. If you have clinical grade anxiety, in many cases your anxiety will not be commensurate with the things that are actually happening.

2. Gratefulness

I personally despise these types of exercises because the good things in my life don’t seem relevant to whatever is making me upset, but for some people they work really well. Essentially you want to make a list of the things you’re grateful for in your life, as a way to combat anxiety about the bad things that are happening. If you’re feeling particularly down on yourself, you might also make a list of qualities about yourself that you like.

3. Work!

As mentioned before, distraction is often a good way to decrease anxiety in the moment. If you know of something that requires your full attention, that can be a great distraction. Maybe it’s working, reading a book, doing a tricky puzzle, or some other form of work that is high concentration. Some people find that the anxiety distracts them too much, but if you can get focused, it’s a great way to distance yourself from the anxiety until you feel more calm.

4. Challenge your thoughts

It’s easy to think that anxiety comes directly from a situation. In reality, anxiety typically comes from thoughts about a situation. For example you might think that you are anxious because you are supposed to go to a party. But in all likelihood you’re having thoughts about the party, for example “I will be awkward,” “No one will like me,” “I won’t know how to behave.” Those thoughts are what leads to the anxiety. If you can identify which thoughts and beliefs are leading to the anxiety, you can ask yourself whether those thoughts are realistic or true. This can be another place to ask for help from someone who might have a less biased opinion about whether no one will like you. If you can start to believe thoughts like “I can find one or two people to talk to at this party” instead, your anxiety will decrease.

5. Probability estimates

If you like facts, this is a great technique for you. Many times we feel anxious about things that are not very likely to actually happen. It can be good to spend some time estimating how likely it is that the event will actually happen. If you’re very anxious about getting on a plane, you might read up on the statistics of how often crashes actually happen (it’s really, really rare). Focusing on those statistics can help remind you that you are most likely going to be completely ok.

Now that this post is over 2000 words long, I think it’s probably time to stop. If you have more ideas or suggestions, feel free to add in the comments. Remember that none of these ideas are a treatment plan that will help you address clinical and chronic anxiety. They’re just things that can help. Good luck!

 

What’s Wrong With Clinton? A Study in Overwork and Sexist, Classist Expectations

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I recognize that I’m hitting this topic a little late, but I had a busy week last week and I still think it’s an important thing to discuss.

This isn’t really an article about Hillary Clinton. I mean sure I’m going to talk about Hillary Clinton, but she’s really just one example of thousands of women who work in the same sexist milieu. She is simply the highest profile example of something that we all experience when we are expected to overwork ourselves and still show up to work with a smile.

Last week, people became utterly concerned with Hillary Clinton’s health because it is one more way to show that she is unfit to be president. It’s a transparently sexist criticism, since we’ve had chronically ill presidents before and no one today seems particularly upset over that. Women are clearly inherently more frail, so any sign of weakness is evidence that she could drop at any moment.

In response, I’ve seen some memes along the lines of “Clinton had pneumonia and kept working. If that’s not strength, I don’t know what is!”

Neither of these seems like an appropriate response to a 68 year old woman fainting while working.

Instead, I think we should be asking some questions about how she ended up in this position. Why has she felt the need to continue working through pneumonia? Why has she made an additional effort to keep her illness hidden? What changes can we make so that people aren’t just passing out while they’re trying to do their jobs? What the fuck is wrong with our society that we feel we should criticize someone who has overworked themselves instead of offering them support?

Even more importantly, if someone who is as privileged as Hillary Clinton still feels these pressures, what about the average peons who don’t have thousands upon thousands of dollars and wealthy connections and basically every privilege box checked except for gender? I recognize that campaigning is something of a special circumstance, as it’s a directly competitive job, and if one candidate decides to keep working through illness, the other one almost has to in order to keep up. But I also see in the ways that we’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia many of the same problematic attitudes that keep the average Joe at their job through sickness and injury.

The first element of the problem that I see is the evidence that no one is immune (pun intended) from having their health held up for public discussion. I’ve heard numerous times from friends with chronic illnesses that their bodies and abilities are suddenly considered public property the moment health comes up. This is doubly true for women, whose bodies already get discussed without their consent on a regular basis. Even though Hillary Clinton was trying very clearly to keep her health a private matter, hundreds of people seem to believe that it’s relevant to her job performance and her abilities.

That’s the second element that’s a problem to me. For people who are chronically ill, there are nowhere near enough employment protections to help them find and retain jobs, and this particular debacle highlights the way that “health” is considered a prerequisite for work. I think there are some layers of complexity here, because it’s true that there are some illnesses that can make it impossible to fulfill certain job duties, however our current system tends heavily towards providing few to no accommodations, judging people on a moral level for illness or sickness, and providing minimal time off to care for one’s health. That makes it really difficult to keep up work when you’re dealing with illness. If even our wealthiest and most privileged are struggling with finding a way to continue at their jobs without being criticized and nitpicked for any illness, then how are the rest of us supposed to get by?

Perhaps even more troubling is the response that says Clinton is exhibiting strength by working through pneumonia. Refusing to practice self care is not strength, it’s unhealthy and potentially dangerous. I understand the pressures that put Clinton in a position she felt she had to do it, but I don’t think we should be praising the behavior. We should be talking about how we create a culture where that’s kind of odd and worrisome.

Health SHOULD be a matter of national importance, but not for the reasons it’s being discussed now. It should be a matter of national importance because people don’t have adequate sick days or feel capable of taking their sick days without falling behind or being judged poorly by the higher ups. It should be a matter of national importance because we currently see it as completely normal to go to work while truly, dangerously ill, and because it’s considered evidence of a good attitude to prioritize work over health. It should be a matter of national importance because anyone who actually is chronically ill understands just how few opportunities there are for anyone who isn’t completely able bodied.

But it really shouldn’t be news because maybe someone who appears to be mostly in good health got sick and now we want to use it as additional evidence that she’s not good enough. There’s no world in which I would describe Hillary Clinton as “frail” but I also don’t want to praise her for continuing to exhibit behaviors that are unhealthy and are demanded of most of us in the real world where we’d get fired if we took a week off for health reasons.

So let’s talk about health and work. But let’s not talk about Hillary Clinton.

 

 

I Am Not Less Human Because I Will Never Have Kids

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If you have not heard this, then you are a lucky person: when you have a kid, you realize what love really is. Or some variant of that, that implies that the love a parent feels for their child is better, more, and utterly different from any other kind of love out there. In some cases, this is even put on par with an integral human experience, or used as a way to hold parents above others, as more loving, more compassionate, more…HUMAN than other people.

I am so over this bullshit.

Every single human being on the planet experiences things differently. As an example, people with Borderline Personality Disorder (myself among them) experience emotions more quickly and more strongly than most other people. “Normal” people (sad lives that they lead) will probably never experience joy on par with the joy that I have felt, or experienced Arthur Miller as the transcendent thing that I have. I personally have never felt compersion, although my friends tell me that it’s an amazing and powerful experience.

We all have different experiences, and beyond that, we have brains that process those experiences differently. It is patently absurd to posit one experience as the most/best version of an emotion, and far beyond that to connect any particular experience with an essential humanity. This is the same kind of bullshit that says romantic love is better than nonromantic love. We cannot put an hierarchy on what kinds of relationships are the most powerful and  meaningful, because (holy shit) people are different and experience things differently.

You have no idea how powerful other people’s emotions are. Perhaps you got a big old dose of baby hormones when you had your kiddo and you bonded really well. Some parents don’t, and they treat their kids like crap or neglect their kids. Some people have brains that feel ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME without any babies involved. Simply because YOU experienced love in a new and different way because you had a kid doesn’t mean that EVERYONE will or that EVERYONE is missing out on something until they have a kid. Saying so is condescending and presumptuous.

Intensity of feeling is not a marker of a life well lived. We already have enough myths that say having kids is necessary for a woman to live a good life. We do not need to buoy up the egos of moms at the expense of people who choose not to have kids or who cannot have kids. We are not defined by the children we do or do not have, and those children do not turn us into completely different (better) people.

Not only that, but deciding for other people what experiences are important and meaningful is condescending and presumptuous. It is perfectly fine to say that for you, having a child changed your life and your emotions. It is not acceptable to tell other people that this will or should happen to them. Perhaps it is true that biologically momfeels are different from every other feeling. That does not make it better or more important. Literally every feeling is unique. Get over it.

I Do Not Need to Be Suicidal to Justify Antidepressants

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I take antidepressants. I have for some years now, and I’ve found them helpful to keeping my emotions steady and stable. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about medication, because it’s not something that inspires strong feelings in me: my medications have not been life-saving or even radically life-changing, they do come with side effects, and overall I’m ambivalent about the fact that I am and will continue to be on meds long term.

But now I’m angry and I do have strong feelings.

A friend of mine posted a few weeks ago about this ass of a picture:

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She shared an incredibly personal story about how starting on antidepressants very literally saved her life when she was in the hospital with a severe eating disorder. She wrote quite beautifully about the experience of being at such a low weight with such severe food refusal that she was very literally in danger of dying until she started on Prozac and was able to feel comfortable enough to eat.

And it made me so, so sad. It not only made me sad that this illness was such a fucking asshole, but it made me sad that we have so convinced people that mental illnesses do not deserve real treatment and that medication is bad that someone has to be on death’s door before they’ll consider it. We have to tell graphic, personal stories of how antidepressants very literally and directly saved our lives in order for the medications to be seen as acceptable.

Here’s an idea: my antidepressants are none of your fucking business, and I don’t have to justify using them to you.

Antidepressants have never saved my life. Honestly my antidepressants have never made a drastic enough difference in my life that I can point to changes and say “yes, that.” What they do is give me some slight relief from depression and anxiety, enough that I can engage a whole host of other skills that actually allow me to live a life I like. They improve my quality of life.

The idea that we should not be allowed to take medication to improve our quality of life is part of the bullshit natural fallacy that says medications are inherently bad, but also part of this weird victim blaming mentality that says if someone is mentally ill then it’s because they’re not trying hard enough or they don’t have the right attitude.

Part of this misunderstanding is the idea that if your quality of life isn’t good enough it means you’re not trying hard enough or perhaps that you deserve it. Some people even seem to think that suffering is good or necessary or deserved. They think it builds character or that it’s a badge of pride and purity. That all is horse shit. If someone is suffering and we can make it better, we should. That means that if medication can make things better, a person absolutely should feel comfortable making the decision to take meds.

Sometimes, no amount of therapy or skills will really improve things. Or they might some, but medication makes it even better. Sometimes you need medication to give you a boost that makes therapy and skill effective. There’s all kinds of reasons that people take medication. But if it lessens your suffering or makes your life better, no one has the right to tell you not to take it. No one should feel like they have to justify making a choice that makes them happier at no cost to others. Sure, medications have side effects, but that is an individual and personal calculus to perform. For many of us, improving our quality of life is far more important than some kind of purity from Big Pharma.

There is nothing so wrong with medications that we should feel we have to be on the verge of suicide in order to justify taking them. There is absolutely no reason that anyone should ever feel they have to tell a story about nearly dying in order to convince others that medication is acceptable. The improvement of quality of life is reason enough to do something. We as human beings deserve more than just survival: we deserve some amount of happiness and fulfillment in our lives. Having a mental illness doesn’t change that. People with mental illnesses also deserve happiness. It’s not selfish or bad for them to want medications that make them feel better. “Feeling good” is absolutely enough reason to want to do something. It’s even enough of a reason to take medications that may have side effects. Diminishing suffering is a major part of our goals as compassionate and reasonable humans. The hatred against medication clearly has some other motivation than the good of the people involved if we have to rely on “it’s literally life saving” in order to be believed, instead of simply being able to say “it helps me feel better.”

So for anyone who feels like others need to “prove” how effective meds are: you can fuck right off. The only person that needs that evidence is me.

The Semantics of Rape

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I’m baaaack! Sorry it’s been so long, but with GISHWHES and a week on vacation without internet, there was no way I was going to be posting. I’m happy to be back in action though, and so I decided to take on a topic that I’m sure will piss some people off. Hooray! I want to give you a basic template for determining if a rape has occurred, and who is culpable.

Let’s talk about drunk sex.

Or rather, let’s talk about rape, because drunk people cannot consent and people who have sex with nonconsenting people are committing rape.

Or rather, let’s talk about what it means to “have sex with” someone. That phrase seems really simple, but it can obscure quite a bit. When you hear that phrase, do you imagine that one person is acting on another, or that two people are doing something together? Sometimes I hear it used to mean one, sometimes the other. That is a huge problem for dialogues around consent and rape, because the difference between those two parsings is the difference between sex and rape.

Most of the time we can tell if one person is the active participant or if both people are actively participating in sex. We don’t always talk about rape that way. We don’t necessarily talk about the things that the rapist did. We talk about the things the victim did: did they run away, did they fight, did they scream. But we don’t talk about who is initiating contact, who escalates from kissing to touching, who removes clothing, who initiates penetration, etc. Those are usually pretty good markers of who is an active participant in an encounter (there are obvious exceptions, particularly in BDSM situations, but those exceptions almost always require pre-negotiation or a pre-existing relationship that uses non-verbal and mutually discussed cues to indicate if someone is consenting).

Where many people get confused is when alcohol comes into play. How does consent work between two drunk people? Aren’t we all raping each other because pretty much all of us have had sex while drunk?

I think things are both more confusing than many feminists want to realize (it is not just as simple as “consent is easy, any time a penis touches a vagina while people are drunk a man has raped a woman”) and less confusing than most other people want to recognize (we can figure this out, I promise). It hinges on those two meanings of “having sex with.” Most people want there to be a single metric to understand if a rape occurred and who did it. Typically that is consent: who was capable of giving it, who gave it. When alcohol is in the mix, I think we need to have a two step process instead. Step 1: determine who could consent. Step 2: determine who “had sex with” whom. Rape is not just the presence or absence of consent: it is continuing to engage in sex without the presence of consent. So we need to determine both pieces. That can be tricky when we’re not willing to talk about the nitty gritty of what it actually looks like to be an active participant in sex, and who was being active.

A big disclaimer: this DOES NOT mean victim blaming. It DOES NOT mean that if a person was active up to a point and then stopped being active, they were “having sex” the whole time. It DOES NOT mean that any prior sexual activity is relevant. What it means is using the actual facts to determine who was the aggressor. He took off her pants and she did nothing? He was having sex with her. She pulled him upstairs and grabbed his dick? She was having sex with him. While it sucks for victims to have to relive what has happened to them, it is also important to know the details of what happened, and that is true of any crime. This is not an excuse for cops or other officials to act as if a victim is a criminal or to force them to recount it over and over. A victim should give a detailed account once, and that should be good enough, unless they have left out a detail, or someone is confused.

I will in a future post discuss how we teach young people to both be active participants in sex, EVEN IF one person is more assertive or you’re doing a sub/dom scene, or one person likes receiving. But for now, let’s accept that we do a shitty job of talking about mutual assertiveness in sex, and recognize that who is doing what is an important part of discussing rape.

Ok.

So step one: if only one person can consent and sex occurred, their partner raped them. If both people can consent, then great! Go to step two to help determine IF both people consented. Can neither person consent? This is the situation that most people seem greatly concerned about, especially in college campuses. What happens if both people are drunk?

Step two: was this a mutual encounter and everyone could consent? Great! You’ve had sex, and no one raped anyone!
Could everyone consent, but only one person acted while the other didn’t reciprocate? This is probably a red flag. It could have been negotiated this way, but encounters that are entirely one sided should probably get you to look a little more closely at them, whether they’re your own or whether you’re an official trying to decide if someone was raped or not. Get some more information about who says they consented.

Now we get to the one that EEEEEVERYONE is interested in. What if no one could consent? What if everyone was drunk? Here’s where it becomes incredibly important who actually actively participated. If only one person was active, then they are the only rapist. It doesn’t matter that sex involves two bodies, if only one person is making it happen, EVEN IF both people are drunk, then only that person is culpable. We cannot assume that that person was the man because that’s bullshit. We have to ask who did what to determine who was the aggressor. Many people get caught up on step one (which really isn’t that confusing) and forget about step two (which sometimes can be confusing, and is awkward to talk about, and really sucks for victims, but is necessary).

If both people are drunk and actively participating, then they both violated each other’s consent and are both culpable. We can discuss whether it’s possible for two people to rape each other or what the harm is in this situation, but it’s NOT the same as when one drunk person takes advantage of another drunk person. These are the situations that I worry are obscured when feminists use metaphors or parallels to other crimes that someone can commit when they’re drunk: most other crimes do not also come with a high likelihood of the criminal being a victim as well. When a feminist says that a drunk rapist is still a rapist, just like someone who drives drunk is still culpable, they miss that sex always involves two people, and that we do need to take the time to ask if both people were actively involved.

This is why we can’t just say two that two drunk people had sex with each other. That phrase obscures that sometimes it’s a one sided action and sometimes it’s mutual. That’s why many people are so concerned that their child or friend or acquaintance is going to be held responsible for a mutual encounter, instead of recognizing that the majority of the time we are talking about encounters in which only one person was active. In fact, it’s incredibly common for rapists to intentionally get their victims drunk and themselves remain barely buzzed so that they can use the confusion around the phrase to defend themselves. Those situations are the reason that feminists and other activists are so concerned with alcohol and rape. So please, if you find yourself wondering why one person is being held responsible for “drunk sex” but not the other, look at who actually did things. You might learn something.

 

 

Housekeeping

You may have noticed that I’ve been posting less frequently in recent weeks. There are a number of reasons for this, from work picking up to getting engaged to having some family health problems. I intend to continue blogging, but at this slower pace of one to two posts per week going forward. This coming week, there will not be a post, as I’ll be participating in GISHWHES. Thank you all for being my readers. You really do make my life better. See you in a couple weeks!

Is Self-Care Part of the Capitalist Machine?

Some unsustainable self care

Self care is really important to me, so when someone passed along an article entitled “Why I Don’t Believe in ‘Self Care’ (and how to make it obsolete)“, I was intrigued. I like a good critique of something that I care about, especially if it makes me consider things in a different way. The intriguing thing about this critique is that it appears to be based in Marxism, which i’m mostly going to ignore because I don’t want to argue against all of Marxism, but suffice it to say that buying things ever is not inherently evil. That said, there are some interesting things to consider about the critique.

According to the article, self care means “any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated….In modern medicine, preventive medicine aligns most closely with self care.” The author pulls this definition from Wikipedia, and goes on to talk about the fact that we call many things self care that don’t fall under this definition. In the author’s mind that’s a problem, because we confuse things that are necessary and under our own control with things that we do to cope temporarily with bad situations.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the first thing I want to point out is that hinging your entire argument on a Wikipedia definition of a word is not a strong case. Words are defined by how we use them, so if everyone around you is using the phrase self care to mean “taking care of yourself, doing things that feel fulfilling, checking in with yourself to engage in practices that keep you going”, then that’s probably what the phrase means, rather than something very strictly defined as “under your own control.” In fact, if I were to ask 100 of my closest friends what they think self care means, I doubt a single one of them would include the self initiated and under individual control elements, but those appear to be huge parts of the author’s argument.

I have a huge problem with folks who profess to be intersectional, but take strong prescriptivist positions on language. That shit is racist and classist, and if you don’t understand that we have to look at how language actually functions in real life, then I really don’t have time for you. So let’s just take a moment to find irony in the fact that an author who is arguing against the problems of capitalism and the abuses of the oppressed classes relying on prescriptivist arguments for their article.

But to move on to the main argument of the post, the author wants to distinguish between coping, which is a temporary strategy to get through a hard time, and self care, which is the ongoing actions you take to ensure your well being. I think there’s an important nugget of truth to be found in this article: there are some things that we do that feel nice in the moment but are not sound long term strategies. I think it’s important to recognize the fact that often self-care will put us at odds with other people, and that we need to be aware of how our self care affects others. I’ve seen people say that self care is eating a whole pizza and binge watching Netflix. That might be self care in this moment, but it is not going to be self care if you do it every day. That’s the challenging balance: sometimes you have to do temporary things to get through the day, sometimes you have to go exercise and eat a salad in order to stay healthy and make a sustainable life.

What I find bizarre is the shamey tone that the author brings to this argument.

She says that “The result of this [self care] is that we end up spending a lot of resources on unnecessary things, even as we are trying to work for a less wasteful and anti-consumerist world. We’ve bought into the consumerism that we claim to oppose.”

I find myself confused. It’s easy to say that if something isn’t totally ethical then it isn’t sustainable, and therefore isn’t self care. We should be able to get by without it. But that’s not always true. There are times that a person requires something that isn’t great in order to survive. An example: in order for me to eat in a healthy manner, I have to live in opposition to my values; I cannot be a vegan, which is what I logically believe is the most ethical position to take. If I were to eat vegan, I almost certainly would fall back into my eating disorder and seriously hurt myself or potentially die.

That would not change if society were different or if I had a better communal support system. It is a simple fact about my combination of sensory sensitivities, difficulties with restriction, and rule following nature. Sometimes there is no circumstance in which we can both take care of ourselves and do the best thing. That’s ok. My biggest beef with this piece is that it doesn’t recognize how hard someone can try to be a good person and still need to “fall short” in some ways in order to take care of themselves. I don’t think we need any more shame around the concept of self care. We have so much already.

 

What the article gets really really right is the promotion of more community care instead of an individualized understanding of health. We are interdependent and it is important to recognize that. I’ve always thought that an important part of self care is recognizing when we need others, so I think we might be down to semantics in distinguishing self care from community care. You can put the focus on the individual by saying everyone is responsible for asking for help when they need it, or you can put the focus on the community by saying that it’s impossible for any of us to meet all of our own needs. I think it’s important to remember both, as the community can’t help unless we articulate our needs, and we cannot take care of ourselves without community.

It is absolutely important to recognize that the language of self care can put the onus of survival on an individual rather than on systems. Self care cannot exist in a vacuum without advocating for change to workplaces that are unsupportive or relationships that aren’t interdependent. This is the most important element of this piece in my eyes: self care cannot replace a society that is functional for the people in it. What I disagree with is the idea that self care or even coping has no place in a “good” society.

“It sounds so simple, but here’s the big secret: community care can make our unsustainable coping mechanisms obsolete. If we can build a culture of community care, where people’s needs are met through each other, coping becomes unnecessary. We can cut down on waste. We can make our communities sustainable.”

There will never be a community so sustainable that people never have to use unsustainable coping mechanisms for some things, or so sustainable that some people don’t have to use long term self care methods that are not ideal. That is not possible and saying it is is a utopian myth. There will always be times that in order to get by, we will need to do things that aren’t perfect or that might hurt other people. One of the hardest things about engaging in self care is recognizing that sometimes it is ok to prioritize yourself and your own well being over other people.

I think that this article gives us a great starting point: communal care needs to be part of our understanding of living a healthy life. But I think that a healthy life involves a balance: giving and receiving help from others, while also sometimes prioritizing your own needs.

Not everything we do can be sustainable, perfectly ethical, or communal. Sometimes we have to do things for ourselves that means someone else won’t get our time, or that we take a resource from someone else. It’s not ideal, but it is also reality, and shaming people for being realistic about taking care of themselves is pretty shitty in my opinion. So yes, let’s aim for community care. We absolutely can do better. But making all unsustainable coping mechanisms obsolete? Ha. There is no system under which I will never want to binge Netflix and eat a tub of ice cream. Unsustainable coping mechanisms are part of life, because some situations are unsustainable and that will never change.