The time has come to take the self out of self-care

The time has come to take the self out of self-care

via the Correspondent by Tanmoy Goswami

If non-English languages had their own Word of the Year contest, a strong contender in Hindi would’ve been the word “aatmanirbhar”, meaning self-reliant. It has emerged as perhaps the favourite word of the Indian government in 2020, with the prime minister aggressively championing it as an antidote against the pandemic-hit global economy.

An idea that might have felt old-fashioned in a hyperconnected “global village” makes sense this year. Self-reliance is what 2020 has taught many of us anew, and some of us, for the first time in our lives. We were yanked loose from our connections and left hopelessly disoriented. We found ways to survive, at first kicking and screaming, but soon enthusiastically, showing off our proud new lockdown skills, sourdough loaves, or steely abs.

If fostering self-reliance is a solemn duty to the nation, embracing self-care is a joyous duty to yourself. In 2020, those two ideas have melded into one.

And now, just like that, the year is over. We are set to enter the New Year’s season, when self-care resolutions cover the world like snow. At least 2020 has given us a lot of practice.

But 2020 has also exposed something frighteningly fragile in our culture. Not every self can be reliant on, or care for, itself. Sick, unemployed, homeless, lonely – what happens to those selves?

Even the Ancient Greeks loved self-care

Shubhrata Prakash has a self-care story that has nothing to do with the pandemic. Four years ago, in the middle of a long struggle with depression when she often wanted to “end the agony”, Prakash  stopped taking her pills.

“I was on a lot of medication, but it wasn’t helping,” Prakash, a senior Indian bureaucrat and mental health advocate, told me over a phone conversation last year. “Instead, I would get these tremors [as a side effect of the pills]. I spoke to my doctor about de-prescribing, but she didn’t agree. That’s when I had an epiphany that I needed to look out for myself. I decided to listen to my body and taper off my medication.”

Initially, she was hit hard by withdrawal. “Then one day I had a small window when I felt normal. I hung on to that and took charge of my wellbeing. I started doing yoga, exercising, swimming, journalling, meditating.”

Illustration of a blue box with icons related to the internet spilling out, balancing on top of two pill, one blue and one blue and green.

In the space of a few months, Prakash began to feel like a different person. “I can’t say for sure what worked, but it’s like my brain was rewired.”

Prakash stressed that she does not recommend ditching medication against professional advice. However, she insisted that going off meds was for her the “fiercest expression of self-care”.   

When I revisit the story of Prakash’s recovery from a deadly illness today, it sounds like a rousing endorsement of an increasingly loud slogan in health and wellness circles – especially in the wake of a pandemic that has left us painfully aware that whatever we thought will protect us, can’t:

Invest in self-care. Take control of your own healing.

Of course, the idea of caring for the self is not a newly minted fad, though the recent explosion of self-care messaging – much of it aimed at superfoods-loving millennials  – makes it difficult to imagine otherwise. In Michel Foucault’s The Care of the Self,  the French philosopher explains that to the ancient Greeks “man is defined … as the being who was destined to care for himself”.  Care was considered a “privilege-duty”: a privilege because it set us apart from animals, and a duty because without care for ourselves, we cannot survive.

Thousands of years after the ancient Greeks, the narrative today is that self-care is a magic solution to all our existential problems. The reality? While self-care is a powerful tool, its current golden age has brought with it four disturbing problems…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE

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