The Pandemic Finally Killed the Self-Care Myth
What happens when “just take care of yourself” starts to sound a lot like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”?
I think it was the suggestion that I join an after-work mental health workshop that involved a quiz at the end. Or maybe it was the earnest pitch offering a desktop extension to make my laptop “cozier,” whatever that means.
I’m not sure exactly which moment was the tipping point, but I do know this much: In the middle of a pandemic, the years of chipper notes to make time for self-care and wellness reminders from schools and workplaces made it official. The idea of taking care of myself started to stress me out.
Really, the problem was that I already had enough to do, an issue countless other people have to a much more profound degree. Nurses working in the Covid-19 unit, frontline workers making minimum wage with no hazard pay, employees in a variety of fields experiencing burnout and trauma, people trying to juggle caretaking with work and safety — the list of people who fundamentally do not have time or resources to care for themselves, people who need structural solutions, not impossible reminders to “put their mental health first!,” is endless.
My own personal example was trying to balance multiple jobs with a chronic illness that was rapidly worsening during a time that the local medical system was already strained. Everywhere around me — in the articles I read, the accounts I followed, the conversations I had — were exhortations for us to find something, anything, to help ourselves feel better. But looking for it felt like giving myself another chore to do — one, like dusting the shelves, that it’s easy to put off until you literally see dust bunnies taking up residence with your books.
I started to resent all of it, the things I experienced, and more so, things I saw or heard about from friends in heavier circumstances: blithe reminders for parents to “put their own life jacket on first” while also somehow managing full-time work and remote school. The wellness webinar tacked onto the end of an already-too-long workday. The thoughtful notes that we’re living in a strange time and everyone is doing their best, coupled with a reminder that a deadline…