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!

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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.**

What Does Self-Care Really Look Like?

Prachi Kochar

A reflection of what self-care really looks like for each of us, especially during finals, by Women’s Center student staff member Prachi Kochar.

It’s a common refrain that we’ve all heard, especially around this time of year. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself during finals week!”, “Remember that self-care is important!”, and so on. But what does taking care of yourself look like? Does it look like buying yourself your favorite drink at Starbucks? Does it look like going to the gym for a hard session on the treadmill? Does it look like sleeping in an extra hour? Does it look like going to the movies with your friends? Simply put, there is no easy “yes” or “no” answer to these questions. Self-care looks like what is right for you at this point in time. And self-care does not always fit into a neat little box of “Do this and you’ll feel great!” Self-care can be an ongoing process, a process that is sometimes painful and sometimes exhilarating. And it is something that everyone has their own interpretation of, which can be incredibly overwhelming – googling “what does self-care look like” yields over 29 million results!

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Besides these yummy cupcakes, what does treating yourself look like?

For me, self-care can take the form of sleeping in a few hours and giving my body and mind the time to rest and recover from stresses. It can also take the form of waking up early and going to the gym for a 7 AM yoga class or going for a run. Sometimes self-care means showing up for all of my commitments, even when I am tired, and sometimes it means saying “no” or “I can’t do it.” Sometimes self-care means pushing myself to finish all of my assignments when I am not feeling my best so that I will not be thrown into crisis mode later when all of my commitments pile up. What is most important is that I take stock of how I am feeling, mentally and physically, and do not become upset at myself for not being able to do everything, but also recognize that sometimes it is necessary for me to push myself to take care of myself. In other words, self-care sometimes involves doing the hard things and showing up for yourself. Continue reading

Trans Identities + Mental Health Resources Round-Up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff members

In case you missed yesterday’s roundtable on Trans Identities + Mental Health (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), we thought it might be useful to summarize some of the discussion in addition to linking to some useful reading materials and resources. Trans + Mental Health - event

As with all of our roundtables, we reached out to our panel members and asked them to keep some of guiding questions in mind as they shared their stories and examples. Some of these questions included:

  • Where do the intersections of trans identities and mental health show up for you personally? In the classroom? In your activism? In your peer networks?
  • How does stigma against mental illness impact trans people’s experiences seeking support or other mental health services?
  • How are the needs of trans people different and/or similar to those of LGB+ people with regard to mental health?
  • Why is the intersection of trans identities and mental health a social justice and/or feminist issue?

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Black Trauma + Mental Health Resources Round-Up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff member, Meagé Clements

In case you missed yesterday’s roundtable on Black Trauma and Mental Health (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), I thought it might be useful to share some resources that have helped me, as a Black woman, deal with my own experiences of Black trauma. It’s hard to summarize everything that was discussed; however much of the discussion revolved around the problematic “Strong Black Woman” stereotype. We also discussed the experiences of tokenization, involuntary (or feeling it necessary to have to be the) spokesperson in class, and microagressions. Black trauma isn’t just one kind of experience, and certainly isn’t only what is captured by the media. Rather it is a daily and ongoing experience – much like a death by a 1000 cuts. Below are just a few resources I’ve found helpful in learning that I, too, can be strong AND vulnerable.

The poem Dr. Jasmine Abrams shared: The Strong Black Woman is Dead

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Dr. Abrams kicked off the discussion by asking us to close our eyes as she read the poem, “The Strong Black Woman is Dead”

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