For Survivors, Self-Care Is Indeed ‘an Act of Political Warfare’

Tending to our physical and mental well-being and health is going to be more necessary than ever over the next four years.

When all else fails, I shut off my phone, ignore all forms of social media, and write. Writing is my favorite act of self-affirmation. Nothing makes me feel more like myself than when I jot down my thoughts. Shutterstock

I’ve been waking up every morning since November 9 hoping it was all a nightmare, but it wasn’t. Donald Trump, a man who ran his campaign based on fear and hatred, and who laughs about assaulting women and has been accused of rape, is going to be president of the most powerful nation on this planet.

The fact is, rape culture and white supremacy elevated his campaign. Trump’s vitriolic comments were less of a hindrance and more of a call to his supporters with similar perspectives. They tapped into the very hostile emotions that too many people in this country feel about immigrants, women, and communities of color.

I wish I could say I was shocked. But for many of us survivors of assault, the results confirmed what we’ve been saying for a very long time: This nation is working within a framework that perpetuates hatred and misogyny.

Still, on the morning after Election Day, I woke up trembling. My husband held me as I cried for myself, for my fellow femmes, people of color, my Muslim friends and family, for brown and Black immigrants, for kind and loving souls who are simply trying to exist in a punishing world. Most of all, I wept as a sexual assault survivor. I wept at the prospect of being raped again, assaulted in broad daylight under a repressive regime.

So what do survivors and activists do at a time like this? For starters, we take care of ourselves. We also nourish each other and hold onto each other as we continue to affirm our existence.

Tending to our physical and mental well-being and health is going to be more necessary than ever over the next four years. We should look to the feminists who came before us, who understood our nation’s precarious state even years ago. Nothing reads truer to me than the words of self-described “Black feminist lesbian mother poet” Audre Lorde today: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Self-care looks different for everyone, and that’s especially true for Black women. Interlocking oppressions mean that women of color are not only experiencing the waves of sexism rippling through white women’s lives, but racism too. The stress of systemic oppression can have dire effects on Black women’s health, and studies have shown that there is a disparity between how doctors treat the symptoms of Black and white patients.

Culturally and traditionally, Black and brown women are taught to put themselves last, caring for everyone else, working multiple jobs, and constantly being available for emotional labor. So, for many women of color, self-care is both revolutionary and radical.

Self-care can take many forms; there is no one way to heal from rape culture and racism. If you’re exposed to hatred within your own family, there is no shame in cutting them out of your life in this moment, and the same goes to friends, acquaintances, and strangers. We don’t owe someone who disregards our concerns about safety any attention while we give ourselves the necessary time and space to mourn losses.

Shedding that feeling of guilt when performing acts of kindness on ourselves is a necessary step in self-care. We also need to dismantle the idea of “guilty pleasures,” because in times of strife those pleasures become fewer and precious; they become essential. Existing traumas can feel even more dangerous, and maintaining regular acts of self-care can ease the stress of those painful experiences that are flooding back.

There is nothing wrong with stepping away from social media. Activism doesn’t mean confronting hate every single moment of the day. The very goal of racists and misogynists is to discourage us and keep us from taking care of ourselves, as well as stopping us from feeling unified as marginalized humans.

Any form of self-care is valid and important, so if it looks like binge-watching a show you’re embarrassed to admit you love, or viewing more than 50 Instagram videos of amazing makeup application, do what gives you a sense of peace, comfort, happiness, and love. And if you have the means and ability to do so, don’t hesitate to indulge in face masks, hot bubble baths, comfort foods, and extra time with your nearest and dearest.

During the past six months of this current election, self-care has been a regular way for me to assuage the anxiety and depression that I could feel coming on. Cooking soup is one of my favorite ways of calming myself. I find the chopping of veggies and creating flavor profiles to be a healing and luxurious process. I’m an avid skin care enthusiast too, so the process of taking care of my skin through multiple face masks and cleansing steams clears my pores and my brain. When all else fails, I shut off my phone, ignore all forms of social media, and write. Writing is my favorite act of self-affirmation. Nothing makes me feel more like myself than when I jot down my thoughts.

For survivors of assault, our self-care during this time is an act of political warfare.

However, there are times when anxiety and depression are too unmanageable to even consider acts of kindness to ourselves. These can be some of the darkest times. Not everyone has a strong support system, close friends, or partners to listen to them, but there are crisis hotlines that may help, especially for those of us who can’t afford care on a long-term basis. For many assault survivors reaching out to other people for help can seem like an impossible task or even a burden to others. Fight the urge to minimize your pain. It is real, and there are people who are here to listen.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

(If you Google them, there’s a chat option)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

(Chat option available)

The Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386

(Chat option available)

The next four years are going to be difficult for us; there is no denying this. But there isn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that marginalized communities are the most resilient and compassionate people in this world. We have always had to face white supremacy and misogyny; we are well-equipped to care for each other like we always have. And during this time, our acts of kindness to ourselves are going to be paramount for the future.