Those oxygen masks we’re supposed to be putting on first: Why?
This metaphor is so common we barely even contemplate it, but let’s really run with it for a minute. Why are there oxygen masks? Are we in a state of emergency? Can we avert disaster? Is a little drizzle of air from a dangling tube enough to sustain us while we change trajectory? If we’re just in a bit of turbulence, might emergency measures increase everyone’s alarm? Would soothing ourselves and our loved ones better help us weather the storm? Why is there not enough oxygen in the cabin for everyone anyway? And why have we gotta get ours before anyone else gets theirs?
The oxygen mask metaphor is terrible. It’s horrifying. And it’s wrong.
If we’re talking self care that allows us to stay out of emergencies, that resources us enough so we can be the source of care for others, and that provides enough systemically so we’re not all struggling individually, we need to be talking sustaining self care.
Sustaining self care isn’t a temporary emergency measure so no one gets hurt, and it isn’t a manicure model of getting a break from your kids to treat yo self. It’s looking after the basics your body needs, minding your boundaries, making use of structure to stay in flow, finding support so you aren’t managing alone, taking recess in the form of rest or play, and being a resource for others.
This is not a set of items to add to your task list, but a measure of your attention, a method of checking in with yourself.
basics - The basics are your needs for food, water, hygiene, and other biological care. Basics tend to your body, including your brain. Are you sleeping, eating, drinking water, getting a shower, brushing your teeth, taking medications? Are you getting outdoors to ground yourself and get natural light? The useful self-care resource Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay is, appropriately, mostly basics.
boundaries - Boundaries protect your vulnerabilities from being overrun, and are for yourself as well as other people. Are you acting within your capacity? Is there anything you need to scale back on? Is there anyone you need to hold at a distance? What input would be better not to take in? What are you sharing that might better be kept to yourself?
structure - Rhythms and routines provide the structure that keep you in flow. Do you have rituals of meaning for yourself, things like meditation, movement, journaling? What’s your morning and evening routine? Do you have a steady bedtime and wake time? What touchpoints are in your day?
support - You don’t just care for yourself by yourself. You need connection and care in the form of support from others. What family, friends, mentors, or community groups are available for you? Do you have the resources of money, time, and energy to hire a support professional like a child minder, therapist, coach, doctor, accountant, tutor, or trainer? What support can you reach out for from people who care about you? How do you cultivate connection?
recess - Recess is how you recover. You can take a recess like a judge or like a kid: to rest or to play. How do you rest from the ways you work at relationships and responsibilities? What can you shed? Where can you withdraw? What do you need to grieve in service of resilience? What does play look like for you? What are you curious about? What is engaging to your creative self?
resource - Community care is self care. When you are a resource you strengthen and broaden the circle of care, beyond yourself and your personal circle. How are you ensuring that those you care for have your support? How are you serving your community? What actions are you taking against racism and sexism? How are you nurturing the world you want to live in?
Self care is not a self-indulgence but the necessary self regard and loving care that allows us to show up in our lives and for our people. How are you honoring and loving your body, your heart, your mind, your community, yourself?
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