We urgently need to think beyond “self-care”

Ling Shepherd argues that self-care is a lot more than a trip to the spa. 

Notions of self-care are most often rooted in images of  face masks, pedicures and leisurely soaks in a bathtub. I don’t mean to snuff out your scented candles but there’s a lot more to self-care. Don’t get me wrong, these are all wonderful, little things we do to reward ourselves. It is valid to seek it out. Then something struck me the other day as I had a dental emergency – what is self-care in a South African context? To me it is a mash-up and remix of normal things, healthcare, wellness but also finances, safe spaces and relationship health that has to be put under the self-care umbrella. It is also so glaringly obvious that “self-care” as it is currently marketed is rarely available to the folks who need it.

And let’s be clear, the pandemic sucker punched us. It kicked us into an oblivion we are fighting our way out of. To some, it was a long anticipated break that was needed. It meant a bit more than the minimum 15 days leave. It meant actually spending time at home, the space you work so hard to keep. But it also meant seeing the literal cracks in everything- and many times literally. You noticed how your plumbing is not optimal, or that you should try to stick to regular teeth cleanings. Inevitably we create hierarchies of what needs immediate care. Food, shelter and water are the top three. Wellness is healthcare. Preventative measures should be what the public and private healthcare systems should be leading with. Affordability will always be a major factor too. I also don’t want to be trying to tell people to eat healthy, when those very foods cost an arm and a leg. But something’s got to give. Healthy and balanced diets must be the status quo, and the price makers need to step up. It is no coincidence diabetes and heart disease are major issues in working class communities – junk foods are cheaper, and go a long way. It is not about not wanting to eat healthy – it is the ability to afford to eat healthy.

Finances are another important aspect of all our lives. I heard in passing once, we all need to have a year’s salary saved up in case you lose your job. I suppose this was in a context other than South Africa because it sounds like something out of a fantasy novel. My advice is to pay what you can. Make a decision about which debt requires priority. You can’t please everyone. 

Safe spaces in South Africa are few and far in between. We cannot deny it. We have half a month out of each year designated to the awareness around gender-based violence. So a physical safe space can never be guaranteed, but people in our lives can be. We can find comfort in friends and family – even online friends. There is comfort in a shared community based on a connection on something as random as a television show. Indulge your safe space that you find. Let your instincts guide you with people. Find the good ones, and grab them and hold on tight.

Romantic and platonic relationships are the basis of the human condition. It guides our lives in the most dramatic and mundane ways. Just like anything else it needs nourishment, and care. Tend to the people in your life, as they tend to you. Be as attentive and open as you can. In those times you cannot be, then say so. I think this time we are in has normalised so many things like ghosting each other. It is uncalled for and downright hurtful. Say your piece and move on, but say something. Of course there are exceptions, but in a situation of drifting apart- a final conversation with someone can really help both of you moving forward.

Self-care is fun. I love seeing people doing face masks, or hot stone therapy. Taking up a hobby, or just having time for a jog. These are wonderful little hacks that contribute to our sanity. But we should always be aware that our privileges dictate what we get to do effortlessly – be it a teeth cleaning or being able to afford an online language course. If you are able to do these things, go for it. Embrace self-care, immerse yourself in it. If possible give that gift to someone who may not be able to right now. But remember also, that sometimes self-care is just a confluence of doing everything that is necessary to live a full life. 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay