not in Primary anymore

an activist’s guide to self-care

As I came through the door after church yesterday–Wear Pants to Church Day–I broke down into tears. I was happy, sad, frustrated, angry, elated, and overall exhausted. After months of online discussion about something as simple as wearing a piece of clothing with a seam between my legs–a piece of clothing that on no other day of the week garners attention or criticism–I was am, a bit emotionally spent. Since the holidays can often add even more to the activist’s emotional load with Great Aunt Betty who is less than keen on your stance regarding the ordination of women, the next door neighbour who thinks the word feminist is synonymous with baby eater, and your ol’ racist Grandpa who you love dearly but honestly cannot believe some of the things coming out of his mouth, you may find yourself needing a bit of a lift. Here are a few self-care items for the weary activist:

  1. Take a break: As silly as it may sound, turn off your electronic devices, especially if they connect to Twitter or Facebook. Even if it’s just for a few hours. Know that you can leave the crazy and it will all be there for you when you come back.
  2. Practice relaxation techniques: Cousin Kelly is going off again about how challenging patriarchy is the devil’s work? Where do you feel the tension creeping in? Your jaw, neck, lower back? Breathe into that space. Focus on relaxing the places of tension. Still feeling piqued? Leave the situation if you can. Go for a walk, get some blood pumping, or go for a drive.
  3. Give yourself permission to be upset. Something I’ve really struggled with is allowing myself permission to be angry. When I step back, I realize that anger is helpful. I can do something with anger–hence, the activism. But fighting off years of internalizing the message of anger = bad is tough work. Give yourself the permission to be angry, sad, hopelessness, etc. Fighting the oppression of marginalized people takes a lot of work and Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes. It just means that you realize how far there is to go and that you’re keeping perspective.
  4. Define your boundaries. Mom and Dad just don’t get you or your pants wearing, OW-supporting, PRIDE parade marchin’ ways? It’s frustrating. I know. If you’re home visiting the folks for Christmas, if possible, have a conversation at a neutral point in time to help to set the tone for the rest of the visit. In other words, when you’re both feeling pretty chipper and the buttons aren’t being pushed, this might be a good time to say, “Hey Mom, Dad, I know that you don’t really approve of me being involved with ___________________, but I want you to know I love you so much. I don’t want time spent together to be awkward or tense. Please know that if you have any questions or want to learn more about my views, I’d love to talk about it in a civil way but I’d appreciate it if it wasn’t in front of other people or when we’re having a fight about something else.” Figure out what are your boundaries and then communicate them. This way, if things start to go awry, you can calmly remind them that you’ve set some terms and they’re being violated.
  5. Do something totally unrelated to feminism/activism. Get together with a friend and talk about that trashy reality TV show you both love. Read a book for fun. Grab ice cream with your folks while talking about how ridiculous it is to eat ice cream in -20F (or head to your beach house and talk about how much you pity the people living in such horrendous conditions).
  6. Meditate/pray/tap into your spirituality. However you choose to worship God or celebrate Divinity, carve out time and space to be at one with yourself and your God.
  7. Cry. I know, I know, the world isn’t very nice about the feels. But tears are literally cleansing to our bodies. They help to release built-up toxins, which is why we usually feel better after a good cry. Let ’em loose.
  8. Have a safe person or space. Not everyone will understand you, your opinions, or your passions. Frankly, you can’t change everyone. When you’re feeling frustrated about so-and-so not understanding, turn to the people who understand you best. Head on over to YMF or fMh to vent and be validated. Text your fellow feminist friend to talk about your latest rage-y encounter. Draw strength from those who have strength to offer you.

What are some of the things you do to practice self-care, especially when the stakes are high?

13 Responses to “an activist’s guide to self-care”

  1. thestayathomefeminist

    I LOVED reading this! As serious and true this is, I did bust out laughing to your “baby eater” comment. So, thanks for the laughs, and thanks for the helpful tips on how to make it through the holidays!

  2. Neznem

    This was great, and well put together. I’ve bookmarked this and will probably come back to use as a checklist to get through the holidays, lol.

  3. erincita33

    Why put so much emotional energy and time into something, as you say, as simple as wearing a piece of clothing with a seam between your legs? I like the advice for self care. But it could also start with not making such a huge thing out of something that simple- as you say.

    I often wear pants to Church. Jeans sometimes. Sometimes I’m travelling. Sometimes I just know I won’t go if I have to change and I’d rather go than not go so I just go. Sometimes- who knows. Other times I put great care into “dressing up.” I actually really like skirts. Just depends upon the circumstances and how I’m feeling.

    If I wasted a lot of emotional energy over this, I’d simply be wasting a lot of emotional energy. If I allow logic to rule my thoughts- you wear what you want, I’ll wear what I want and I don’t really need to think too much about it- then I have much more energy for more important things that the “piece of clothing with a seam between my legs.”

    I think that might be pretty valuable self care- let logic rule instead of emotion- because it will help you avoid the frustration and negativity you are feeling in the first place. Then you won’t have to deal with it. 🙂

    • amycartwright

      Erincita, I’m not sure if you were following much of the “Wear Pants to Church Day” movement, but I, personally, felt it deserved some emotional attention and I felt it was important enough to give it. The point wasn’t about wearing a pair of slacks–I’ve worn them a number of times to church services–it was about spreading the message of love and inclusion within Mormon faith communities. It was amazing how much of a push back that received. Also, like with many things, there were lots of other very important conversations attached to “Wear Pants to Church Day,” including the Mormon feminist movement as a whole. So yes, I think wearing an article of clothing to church is, and should be, no big deal. But this particular day wasn’t about the pants, it was a symbol of a larger message. And most larger messages require larger amounts of emotional energy.

      • wellbutrin-free

        That’s one way to look at it. 🙂

        The way I see it is that there are a lot of important things to talk about- our time is so limited. Like- B. is feeling overwhelmed with life and needs some support, and Z. is making important changes to his life and could use some visits, and sister H. has no food in her kitchen, and brother j. who just lost his wife is really struggling and needs friends, and visiting teaching and home teaching and other callings and who is lonely and who is bombarded with attention and needs space and who needs people to sit with them and who needs special attention. What are the needs of each person in our ward and what can we do to bring them love and light?

        Hey everybody- look what I’m wearing ! I don’t think that is EVER a helpful approach in life. When we notice what others are wearing first and foremost we tend to stop looking in their eyes and seeing who they are. When we purposefully dress in a way to get attention- that is the effect of our actions. To reduce our humanity to a distracting protest.

      • wellbutrin-free

        I go to church in jeans if I am depressed and that’s the only way I can get myself there. It’s embarrassing but if that’s what I have to do just to get myself to church – it’s worth it. I’ve worn pants many times. I’ve learned that thinking about what I’m wearing more than thinking about serving others only has negative consequences. It makes me self centered. That is my personal experience. Yours may be different. Wearing something that will catch people’s attention may somehow help you. If that’s important- then do what you need to do to be helped.

    • Neznem

      You’re ignoring all kinds of psychological research that shows many people take in and process things very different ways. Look up information on the Myers-Briggs test. Not everyone can just flip a switch and not take emotions, especially their own, into account.

      Also, you completely dismissed her account because yours wasn’t the same… Let me clue you in on something. Your experience doesn’t trump anything except for your own decisions. It’s the definition of anecdotal. Perhaps you live in different regions with different amounts of social pressure and cultural pushback? Maybe she received negative letters or looks from family and friends, people that should be supporting her and maybe aren’t.

      Take a step outside of yourself and be a bit less judgmental, it’ll help you understand people better.

  4. hutch

    Oh my gosh! No one cares if you wear pants to church! Although, I’m sure some people care that you’re making a religion out of it and preaching it at your local church.


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