Self Care: An Activists Survival Guide

AlexiaAlexia Petasis is an INDS intern on the Women’s Center student staff team. Alexia studies social justice and dance. In the following blog post, she runs through a list of crucial self-care survival strategies for activists. 

Every week, the Women’s Center asks a “question of the week” available for anyone to respond to. One week our question was, “what do you do for self-care?” This question was one I have heard many times, but this time it led me to ponder all the ways I have, or have not, practiced self-care as well as what tips I can offer everyone else. I’ve seen many people around campus this semester look drained, fatigued and overwhelmed by our campus climate. For some, this exhaustion was due to the various articles and subsequent student rallies that came about after allegations that UMBC mishandled sexual assault claims.

I’ve gathered some self care tips from my own experiences, the advice my friends find helpful, and others I’ve found online while on a quest to live my best social justice activist life, while not drowning carelessly into the pit of despair that social justice work sometimes feels like. As we head into Thanksgiving, let’s use the next few days off to reflect on ways we can practice self-care….

Take the Time to be Mad:

Over the past semester, many of our campus community members have experienced feelings of  anger. Anger at our institution and anger at the fact that this issue was more than an isolated incident. Being mad allows us to feel what we rightfully should feel and allows us to push ourselves to see what we can do about it. If we weren’t mad or bothered about issues like these, then there would be no driving force to pursue change. On that note, I’ve noticed it is equally important to be aware of how much “bad news” you consume.

During the semester, while UMBC was exploding with its own bad news about the alleged mistreatment of survivors of sexual assault, the news was overwhelmingly reminiscent of how the roots of injustice are so deeply ingrained in our society. Survivors of sexual assault nationwide have had to revisit their past trauma with the news pertaining to Supreme Court Judge nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. An article published on CNN states, “the day Ford testified in front of senators and the whole country, the sex assault hotline saw a 201% increase in calls compared with a typical day”. It was almost like our school and the federal government were in a parallel universe and the influx of bad news was overwhelming.

So, be mad, but also be careful to balance out time to also think about the good things. As hard as it is, try not to allow yourself to stay so up-to-date with everything that you bombard your mind with all the bad in the world. This can cause opposite results and paralyze your abilities as an activist since it feels as though nothing is getting better. This leads me to my next point.

Surround Yourself with Other Activists:

This one is IMPORTANT! I didn’t realize just how draining it was to be around those who truly don’t give a sh*t about the injustices many face in our world. Therefore, I would first say, have conversations and meet individuals whose views align with yours and who want to help the world become a better place too. At the Women’s Center, I have seen so many bonds created in the lounge area of the Women’s Center and have been part of many conversations empowering us to speak our truths. We Believe You, a student organization on campus, holds weekly discussion group and general body meetings for survivors of sexuals assualt and allies. In the wake of campus conversations around sexual violence, it can sometimes feel good to be with people who are doing the work and also feel similar frustrations.

But, along with meeting activists in person, there are many podcasts out there that can make us feel hopeful of all the other activists we have doing amazing work and raising our consciousness about issues that are all around us.

One of my favorites is called “Transforming Together” by two staff members at HopeWorks, a domestic violence shelter in Howard County. Brittany Eltringham and Heidi Griswold shed light on issues happening in our country with an intersectional feminist perspective. They describe their podcasts as, “a blend of pop culture and social justice, the show is hosted by two queer folks who are committed to healing, laughing, and loving their way to a world free from exploitation, oppression, and violence.” Another resource called Know Your IX mentions various tips for self care on their website as well.

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Express Gratitude:

Express gratitude when it’s easy, but more importantly, make the conscious decision and effort to express gratitude when the world feels as if it’s a dumpster fire. Even if it is as simple as I woke up on time today, I made an extra good cup of coffee this morning, or I had a good conversation with someone. Try to start each day or end each night writing five things that you are grateful for that day. Every little bit of positivity you offer to yourself trains your mind to escape this bubble of pessimism towards the world (which frankly I do often too, but I am working on it).

Another cool way to bring in more optimism among all the dreariness that comes with social justice activism is to sign up for The Good Trade email notifications. The Good Trade describes their daily newsletter as, “Everyday Inspiration For The Informed Woman: A 30 second read of good things to listen, follow, visit, browse and read—delivered to your inbox each morning. Curated by and for women.” Their mission statement at the bottom of the newsletter states that the inspiration of the day leaves you “informed + inspired about the good things that rise above the clutter”. To say the least, waking up and reading the good work that others are doing around the world can help to ground us and recenter our views of the world.

Embody Self Preservation:

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Finally, the infamous quote by Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Viewing self-care as an inherent part of any activism effort and a duty you owe yourself is crucial to taking good care of yourself while you are busy trying to take care of everyone else. As we head into finals and holidays and reasons for activism always continue to exist what will you do to practice self-care? Feel free to share your ideas or comments with us on the Women’s Center social media pages!

The Character that Never Left Me

Shrijana

 

Shrijana Khanal is a Student Staff member at the Women’s Center. She is an Economics major with minors in Computer Science and International Relations. Shrijana is a co-facilitator of Pop Culture Pop-Ups at the Women’s Center. 

 

 

As my fingers traced the glazed, gold-plated title of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the seventh time, I felt the same rush of euphoria, nostalgia, and bittersweetness that I did when I read the books for the first time as an eager seven-year-old girl. The Harry Potter series became my refuge during the dark times in my life: an escape from reality and sad thoughts. At the quick turn of a page, I would be transported into another world: a place filled with adventure, love, and friendship. One of my favorite parts of reading the series was my quick attachment to  the characters. The character that stuck with me the most was Hermione, the fearless, smart, and empathetic female member of the golden trio. She became my fictional shero at a young age, and remained this way as I grew up. Hermione taught me that girls can be studious, warriors, and social activists all at once.

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How many times did Hermione save Harry and Ron’s lives? Without her, they would have been slaughtered in the first book. There would be no story to tell about the Boy Who Lived without Hermione. I always admired her for her bravery and wit, whether in the classroom or the battlefield. She was not afraid to be herself. Despite being labeled a “bookworm,” “bossy,” and a “nightmare,” Hermione never abandoned her true qualities. She fought for herself and others along with what she believed in. As a young girl trying to maneuver through a harsh world, Hermione gave me the power to stay true to my values. She taught me that reading books and being the highest-achieving student in your class is cool, and something to be proud of. Hermione gave me the courage to take a stand for issues that were dear to me. She showed me that having emotions is not a bad thing. Most importantly, in a world that is always trying to tear you down, deter you from following your goals, or even presumptuously label you, being an unapologetic girl was the most positive, life-changing thing that could happen to me. For me, Hermione was the best friend and role model I needed.

I saw myself in her; she gave me the confidence to be who I am, a young outspoken, nerdy, and caring woman. Unknown to me at the time, she also gave me the confidence to be a feminist.

Being a woman of color, Harry Potter made it difficult for me to connect with the characters based on race alone, since the series only contained the bare minimum of diversity. However, I did not need race to feel a connection with Hermione. I felt connected with her through her qualities of being studious, kind, and brave. I could easily identify with Hermione because she was not perfect to begin with: she had to go through awkward transitions and transformative setbacks to fully grow. Her development from an “insufferable know-it-all” to a brilliant heroine made her an authentic character.

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However, others may have not have felt this connection with Hermione as I did. Rowling shared that she made the character racially ambiguous on purpose after people were angry that a black actress was cast as Hermione in a London stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Rowling supported her claim by referencing Hermione’s frizzy hair and ambiguous skin color. The concept of a minority playing Hermione is something that makes me immensely happy, but why did it take so long for Rowling to highlight this fact, and for others to accept it? Is the concept of a female lead being played by a woman of color too absurd to digest? For me, this is not feminism. A white girl is not the only person with the power to possess the positive characteristics I saw in Hermione. It is important to see color, because not seeing race devalues what women of color have to offer.

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Although the series was published 10 years ago, it is still relevant to my life and the lives of others (even with its sometimes problematic stances). Personally, I still revisit the books whenever I go through a tough change in my life, as a coping mechanism. Discussing the issues of the series forces me to grow from the innocence I had in my childhood while reading it for the first time. But through everything, Hogwarts will always be there not only to teach you to see the magical and real world differently, but to welcome you home each time.

Click on the links below to learn more about the topics discussed in this blog!

Importance of intersectional feminism

https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-our-feminism-must-be-intersectional/

How many times Hermione saved Harry and Ron’s lives

http://booksandchardonnay.com/19-times-hermione-granger-saved-the-day-so-harry-potter-could-prevail-in-the-end/

JK Rowling Loves Black Hermione Casting In ‘Harry Potter And The Cursed Child’

https://bust.com/books/15328-jk-rowling-loves-black-hermione-in-harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child.html

 

Survivorship Looks Different in the Asian American Community

Samiksha

 

Samiksha Manjani is a Student Staff member at UMBC’s Women’s Center. She is a Political Science and Sociology double-major and is currently a co-facilitator of the Women’s Center’s discussion group, Women of Color Coalition.  

 

 

As a survivor of sexual violence, I have found myself re-traumatized by the recent events that have happened at UMBC. In the aftermath, I struggled to focus in my classes and could barely complete my work. Despite this, I somehow managed to get by with everyday going by in a blur. I went through the motions day-in and day-out. I was slowly sinking back into depression.

One of the most common emotional and psychological responses to sexual violence is depression (RAINN). Depression is a mood disorder which occurs when feelings of sadness and hopelessness persist for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns. It affects a person’s behavior and can disrupt their relationships. Just like many other survivors, I also struggle with depression.

During this difficult time, I was shocked that no one in my life had asked me how I was doing. None of my friends had asked me how I was handling the news, despite knowing that I’m a survivor and that I also struggle with depression. They knew about the lawsuit against UMBC too. In fact, they knew so much about it that they talked to me about their opinions on the matter. Yet, they never asked me how I was processing the news or if I was doing okay.

At first, I thought, “wow, I have really shitty friends in my life.” But I realized that this was a drastic conclusion to make considering my friends were normally compassionate. Instead, I tried to put myself in their shoes. Why would my normally compassionate friends be so inconsiderate? Had my external behavior reflected my internal suffering?

I realized that, from an outsider’s perspective, I seemed completely okay because I went to my classes and work as usual. My behavior, communication, and demeanor had basically stayed the same so nothing seemed amiss. However, this was completely contrary to how I felt internally. Inside, I felt awful. Every step I took was harder, every assignment I completed took longer, and every smile was faker. I was falling apart on the inside, yet no one around me could see it.

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At first, I thought that this was just how I expressed trauma. But after some reflection, I realized that I knew so many other Asian women dealing with depression that were also still high-functioning. I was not the only person who exhibited depressive symptomology this way, and more importantly, it had seemed that this was especially common for other Asians.

My assumption was not wrong. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (2011) found that Asian-American teenage girls have the highest rate of depression compared to any other racial, ethnic or gender group. Furthermore, the suicide rates for 15-24 year old Asian American females are 30% higher than the rates for white females of the same age (Mental Health America). Yeung and Kam (2006) found that none of the Asian patients in their study considered depressed mood as their main problem. However, more than 90% of them indicated having a depressed mood when asked to rate their symptoms on a depression rating scale.

Despite these alarming statistics, 51% of Asian Americans have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, compared to 29% of all Americans (Mental Health America). Furthermore, 21% of Asians, ages 25 or older, have attained an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.), which is significantly higher than the national average of 12% (Baum and Steele, 2017; United States Census Bureau, 2016). Lastly, the median annual household income of Asian American households is $73,060, compared to $53,600 among all U.S. households (Pew Research Center, 2017). It is important to note, however, that there is variation in educational attainment and median annual income among the different ethnic groups which makeup “Asian Americans.”

These findings made me wonder, why do Asian women express depressive symptomology so differently than other ethnic groups?

One reason could be because of the immense pressure Asians deal with to live up to the model minority stereotype. The model minority stereotype characterizes Asians by hard work, laudable family values, economic self-sufficiency, non-contentious politics, academic achievement, and entrepreneurial success (Kang, 2010). There is a lot of American cultural pressure on Asians to fit into this “intelligent and self-reliant” stereotype. Such a stereotype has dire consequences; for-example, Asian students are pressured to rise to an academic bar that keeps rising. The mental health cost of reaching an unrealistic standard is demonstrated by the statistics mentioned above.

This pressure is worsened by the fact that many Asian immigrants experience downward economic mobility upon arrival to the U.S. Most Asian immigrants are highly educated and held middle-class status in their country of origin (Lopez, Bialik, & Radford,  2018). Because of this downward shift in class status, Asian immigrants have to work their way up from the bottom of the social and economic ladder in the U.S. This is a very daunting task given that many Asian immigrants not only have to support themselves and their families in the U.S., but also relatives back home (United Nations, 2017). This leads to an immense pressure to climb up the socioeconomic ladder and become financially stable.

Both the pressure of the model minority stereotype and pressure to support family members removes any possibility for Asians Americans to display characteristic forms of depression without severe consequences. There are high costs for Asian American immigrants if they do not complete their education, capitalize on job opportunities, and/or perform at their jobs. If they do not perform, they are risking not only their survival, but the survival of relatives back home. This does not mean that people who display traditional depressive symptomatology are somehow less “able” or “motivated” if they can’t complete these tasks. It is simply that the pressure to economically succeed robs Asian Americans the ability to address mental health concerns.

Another reason could be the large stigma within the Asian community surrounding mental health illnesses and treatment. Asian Americans are 3x less likely to seek mental health services than White Americans (Nishi). Furthermore, it is taboo within the Asian community to speak about having mental health illnesses (Chu & Sue, 2011). One large reason this stigma exists is because of the concept of familial shame within Asian communities.

There is immense pressure in the Asian community to preserve the family’s reputation and status at all costs. This is reflected in popular terms used within various Asian cultures which represent the process of shame or losing face: “Haji” among Japanese, “Hiya” among Filipinos, “Mianzi” among Chinese,”Chaemyun” among Koreans, and “Sharam” among Indians (Sue, 1994). If an Asian person has a mental health illness, it could be interpreted by the community as a result of their family’s failure to raise the person correctly. Therefore, Asian Americans are unlikely to acknowledge and seek mental health treatment in fear of “bringing shame” to their families.

I think in a lot of ways all of these factors have influenced the way that I have processed the trauma of my assault and the resulting depression. Like many other Asian American women, I don’t outwardly exhibit depression through conventional symptoms. However, this doesn’t mean that I experience depression less severely than other people. On the contrary, I struggle with depression so much sometimes that it’s hard to even do basic tasks (even if I end up somehow getting it done). Because of the fact that depression is one of the most common psycho-emotional responses to sexual violence and also that the Asian community presents unique depressive symptomology, it is logical to conclude that survivorship is likely to look different in the Asian community.  

Therefore, it is extremely important for friends, family members, and mental health professionals to recognize that survivorship manifests differently in various ethnic communities. As such, the type of support given must be individualized to meet the needs of survivors of different backgrounds. To best support survivors, the people within the survivor’s inner circle should adopt a lens of cultural humility.  

The Women’s Center uses this lens of cultural humility to best support survivors of different backgrounds. Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude towards individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases. This departs from “cultural competency” in that it recognizes that a person cannot possibly know everything about other cultures. Instead, people should approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.

I truly believe that if my friends had adopted a lens of cultural humility, they would have easily picked up on my struggles. If they had understood more about Asian culture and what it means to be an Asian immigrant, they probably would have been able to recognize my signals of distress. This is especially important for mental health professionals; they would be able to pick up more details from their clients if they held the mindset that “there’s always more to learn.” Using this lens, we can better support the survivors in our lives.

**Please note that not every Asian person experiences depression this way. The goal of this blog is to highlight a common phenomenon in the Asian community. If an Asian person does not process depression or trauma this way, it is not a reflection of their Asianness, intelligence, reliability, or any other characteristics.**