#SparkSelfCare

The SparkAction Team’s Personal Reflections on Self-care, Advocacy and Identity

May 15, 2019

This article is part of our #SparkSelfCare series. Find more here.

What is self-care and what does it have to do with the advocacy work and activism that many of us take part in every day?

While we may not always intentionally practice it, taking care of our mental, emotional and physical health sets the foundation for how much energy we have to give to the world and the causes we are passionate about.

At SparkAction, we work with advocates, activists, allies and co-conspirators in social justice from all backgrounds and communities who are making the world a better place. The work is important, hard and often emotional. We can’t help but notice that nearly everyone has different ways to practice healing and care for themselves and their communities—and that many of us struggle to integrate it into our lives and our work.

We believe that everyone needs and deserves space to reflect, heal and nurture ourselves and our communities. That’s why we’re collaborating with our partners to launch a multi-faceted content series on self-care in all of its forms. In this series, we’ll use blog posts, video interviews, social media activations and more to explore and support self-care healing, trauma recovery and every day mental health. We invite insights from all changemakers—all ages, issues, backgrounds and communities—with a focus on centering the perspectives and ideas from young social justice leaders.

We’re launching this series first and foremost with the intention of holding space to help remind us all that we must take care of ourselves as humans first and advocates and activists second.

Do you want to explore ways to practice self-care? Maybe you know someone who has radical, creative or innovative ways they self-care, or someone who finds ways to build in healing into their every day. We want to hear from you! Let’s talk about building self-care into our work so we can be the best changemakers possible.

Our personal reflections:
 

Caitlin Johnson, Co-Founder and Managing Editor
Favorite quote about mental health or self-care:

I have many. Here’s today’s:

“…Remember you are all people and all people are you./ Remember you are this universe and this universe is you./ Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you./ Remember language comes from this./ Remember the dance language is, that life is./ Remember.” (Worth reading the full poem by Joy Harjo.)

What self-care means to her:

“All too often, self-care is elusive for me – the thing I know I need to do but can’t seem to make time for every day. On my best days, it means finding the quiet still moments every hour to breathe, center and feel at ease. On frenzied days, it means taking a breath and remembering to listen deeply to everyone around me, and to myself. (That’s sometimes hardest.) I can get stuck in “fast forward”: walking and talking fast, rushing through tasks, chasing after kids or thoughts, multitasking. Self-care in its every day form means interrupting that tendency and trying to be as mindful and singularly focused as I can from minute to minute. It also means setting aside time to read, write, think and take a walk in nature at least a few times a week, and that’s not always as easy as it should be.”

One thing she does for self-care when she can’t press pause:

“In addition to taking a breath and trying to do a one-minute meditation, I have a strange little trick a doctor once taught me, years ago during an especially challenging time for me: I press my palms and ankles into flex position as though I’m pressing at an invisible wall with my hands and feet. Apparently, this helps release acetylcholine, which can counteract adrenaline – but I can’t vouch for the science on this, I’m happy enough even if it’s all a placebo effect.”

What informs her understanding of equity and self-care:

“The Faulkner quote: ‘The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past’ has always resonated with me. We’re all experiencing every moment through the many, many contexts, memories, ideas, experiences (and yes, triggers) that make up who we are. We bring our whole selves into each interaction, and more often than not, that’s messy, complicated and fraught. My past experiences re-announce themselves in startling ways at times, as many of ours do. Healing isn’t linear, self-care isn’t a task you are ever done with, it’s an ongoing process. I love the poem Elly quotes, below, ("Parade Day") – because it really does amaze me that we all move forward each day, through our fear and pain with love and hope, and we keep going. You never know what someone’s dealing with so compassion, empathy and the benefit of the doubt are essential to building pathways forward together.”

Elly Belle, Content and Engagement Strategist
Favorite quote about mental health or self-care:

“there are some hours where I am surprised that there is no parade scheduled simply because we all woke up and did it–we were human! today! we were human! yesterday! we were the same thing, and tomorrow–again!” –Anis Mojgani

What self-care means to her:

“It usually looks like making time for myself to read, making sure I’m staying hydrated, and eating consistently—which all sound like basic things, but for many advocates and activists who also experience intense workloads and have many things that they’re personally passionate about that take up a lot of time and energy in life, these are some of the hardest things to do. Making sure that I have as many physical, immediate needs met as possible allows me to have as much mental focus and clarity as possible, and to feel okay enough to do the work.”

One thing she does for self-care when she can’t press pause:
“I know it sounds silly but putting on ‘The Middle’ by Jimmy Eat World always helps. It transports me back to a place when I was having a hard time, when I was growing up and in high school, and the song’s lyrics, which are about how it’s going to be okay and you’re in the middle of a very long life and you’ll figure it out, always make me feel better and more hopeful. I also try to carve out time every single day to take a walk and intentionally be with my thoughts and myself, even if that means working later or something. On top of that, I intentionally journal and write things out a lot, which is something I’d have to do in organizing and advocacy anyway, but physically writing something helps me center myself!”

What informs her understanding of equity and self-care:

“My personal connection to advocacy and creating equity and opportunity is that I’m a queer, disabled woman who deals with mental illness and chronic illness so I feel because I’m a part of some of these communities, I’m naturally more aware of issues that marginalized populations and communities face, and feel deeply personally passionate about advocating for and with those communities. I also have many friends and loved ones from all different kinds of communities and listening to them and speaking with them consistently informs my politics and my advocacy. It informs me of when to speak up for someone, when to pass the mic, when to be quiet, and how best to advocate for different communities by listening to and passing the mic to people from those communities.

Jamal Stone, Digital Engagement Associate

Favorite quote about mental health or self-care:
“Life will do its best to get at you. Sneak up from behind and shatter you, into tiny unrecognizable pieces. You have to be ready to pick everything up pragmatically. Keep your head down and make it work.” – Tommy Orange

What self-care means to him:
“I’m not sure that self-care looks like anything to me. It’s more of a frame of mind that I can use to center myself, or make sure that I’m putting enough space between me and others so that I can continue working towards positive goals. Recently, that’s been committing to more walks. I have a familiar route from home to work, so I try and change it up frequently so that I can see new places and appreciate new areas. In a city as industrious as New York, there’s such value placed on time that we don’t necessarily give ourselves the freedom, emotionally and physically, to get lost and just explore. This month, I’m also looking for my first therapist. It’s taken me a while to both accept that therapy would be helpful for me, in that it’d challenge me to vocalize and reflect upon myself and conflicts in my life with a relative stranger, and also be able to afford it.”

One thing he does for self-care when he can’t press pause:

“Don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers and peers for a hand. If you’re coming from a place of empathy, of thoughtfulness, of passion, people will detect that and try to work with you. There is plenty of bureaucracy to be parsed in the nonprofit space, as there is in any corporate-like structure, but – in the good ones – that bureaucracy is more flexible and open to insight than you might initially believe.”

What informs his understanding of equity and self-care:

“This doesn’t come through in print, but if you see me in person, I really am quite short. I usually say I’m 5 feet tall, or 5’1” if my spine is feeling particularly aligned. When I was younger, I always begrudged this about myself. I’d find myself thinking about how being short made me less attractive to others, and, in effect, being short made me less attractive to myself. As I’ve grown up - not in figure, but figuratively - I’ve come to think of my stoutness as something of a blessing. Because for a lot of people, their concept of maturing is confounded with growing taller – they literally have a different perspective than they did when they were younger. The cookies in the top drawers aren’t so out-of-reach, the full length mirror is not hilariously outsized. I didn’t have that experience. I’m pretty much the same height that I was 15 years ago. The world and its handholds are not designed for me. Being short is a blessing because it helps you understand that the world was not made for ‘you’ or any group of people, so it becomes more of an imperative to be empathetic, to find ways so that we can all exist in ways that are equitable both to humanity and the environment we inhabit.”

Adam Strong, Digital Amplifier (and founding member of Opportunity Youth United)

Favorite quote about mental health or self-care:
"When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” – Benjamin Franklin

What self-care means to him:

“Self-care for me encompasses three levels. I normally do a self-assessment and think about my physical, emotional, and mental needs. I do different things for self-care for each one, but generally I do them sequentially. I can’t take care of my mental needs until I take care of my physical and emotional needs. My physical self-care could just be a nap, emotional self-care could just be a great night out with friends, and my mental self-care could be a good book, article, or intellectual conversation with someone.”

One thing he does for self-care when he can’t press pause:
“I always make sure to have something good to look forward to even when I’m grinding. Sometimes you cannot press pause, but knowing you have something you enjoy just at the end of your work makes the journey that much easier.”

What informs his understanding of equity and self-care:
Growing up poor in rural Southeastern Kentucky, I didn’t know how poor my whole region was, or even how poor I was. Everyone was on free and reduced lunch in school and was just scraping by. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I recognized how advantaged other communities and families were compared to mine. As I move forward in my advocacy life, my focus is on building equity and minimizing inequalities; what is progress if my brothers and sisters back home don’t have an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential and have personal, financial, and educational success?”

Caitlin Kawaguchi, Digital Engagement Strategist

Favorite quote about mental health or self-care:
"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." – Audre Lorde (I actually have this as a sign above my mirror as a reminder that taking care of myself needs to be a priority along with the work we do!)

What self-care means to her:
“To me, self-care means setting aside intentional time each day to make sure that I’m taking care of my mental and physical health, and giving attention to my personal goals in addition to my professional goals. I have a tendency to prioritize work, so it’s important to me to schedule that time for myself and honor it as much as I do any other meeting. Some days this might look like doing yoga, other days it looks like taking a block of time for ‘life administration’ to make sure I have my personal life in order, and other days it looks like learning a new recipe to cook with friends. The most important thing about this time is that it’s dedicated to something to support my well-being, without feeling guilt around how I’m spending the time.”

One thing she does for self-care when she can’t press pause:

“Working in communications and advocacy, I’ve found that it’s important to find techniques to force myself to take a mental break to avoid burnout because the work always feels ‘on.’ I really enjoy classes or being with friends who aren’t on their phones, because it creates an external pressure to step away from the constant noise and be involved in something else.”

What informs her understanding of equity and self-care:

“Self-care is often passed off as self-indulgence but it’s literally what can make or break your ability to be an advocate or activist. I follow that Audre Lorde quote, which is brilliant, through and through.”

Danielle Varner, Youth Justice & Opportunity Fellow

Favorite quote about mental health or self-care:
“Self-care is how you take your power back.” – Lalah Delia

What self-care means to her:

“To me self-care means taking time to put yourself in a safe space, if that means detoxing or even breaking a loop within your daily routine or repetitive work habits.”

One thing she does for self-care when she can’t press pause:

“When I don’t have the option to press pause, I take out a notebook and write everything down. I write down everything I have to do and create a checklist. Writing things down and making checklists allow me to feel more in control of what is ahead of me and at the end of a stressful day I can look back on what I’ve written and feel a sense of accomplishment.”

What informs her understanding of equity and self-care:

“Everyone deserves to let their voice be heard, even if you think you lack experience in the social justice field. Knowing the simple act of making your voice loud is inspiring to other young people considering to take part in activism is great. Real change happens when you are able to reach people. That’s why it’s important to establish connections and community, stand up for what you believe in and never stop wanting to learn more about what people need from the people who are on the ground.”

Timeka Braithwaite, Editorial Intern

Favorite quote about mental health or self-care:
“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn

What self-care means to her:

“To me, self-care equates to relaxation and it can come in different forms. For me, it’s the little things like a ten minute walk, an hour at the gym, dieting interchangeably, a mud mask session, or even a venting session on the phone with my girls that helps me ground myself. In the hustle and bustle of work and school life, I tend to forget to take a moment of introspection to remind myself that I am amazing and deserving of a break.”

One thing she does for self-care when she can’t press pause:

To find a balance when I am unable to press pause, I remind myself what I am doing could be beneficial to others, even if it is just one person at least I will be making a change in some way.”

What informs her understanding of equity and self-care:
I am part of several minority groups: I’m black, an immigrant, and a woman. That informs my understanding of equity. It is important for me to not acknowledge the misconceptions people may have of me from the outside looking in before I somehow accept that and allow it to become my identity. I always enter a room knowing that no one is above me and vice versa. Always knowing I am just as capable to do and be a part of anything.