Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
The dominant cultural paradigm deliberately ignores the needs of our physical bodies. We are not taught to listen to our bodies. When we are feeling tired or run down, we have not learned to take time to rest. Instead, we drink another cup of coffee or eat something sugary to give us a false sense of energy, and keep on working. Our mainstream culture promotes unhealthy practices, such as overworking, undersleeping, and abusing substances like alcohol, nicotine, and sugar. Many Latinx, Black, and Indigenous communities are food deserts, where people have no access to whole, healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
In many communities of color, traditional folk medicine practices like curanderismo have been lost due to the impact of colonization, genocide, and intergenerational trauma. We are taught to fear our own Indigenous and cultural healing practices. We are taught to mistrust herbs and the wisdom of our own bodies.
Each person’s health is always a reflection of the health of our society. When poor and marginalized communities are located in toxic environments, individuals are not to blame for their asthma, cancer, or autoimmune disease. Nobody can be expected to know how to eat a healthy diet if the dominant culture is blocking their access to healthy food.
Healing is hard work. Any person who tries to sell you a quick fix for your health problems is either completely out of touch with reality or a con artist. The journey of self-healing requires the strength and fortitude of a warrior. To heal ourselves, we must face our own inner demons, such as the parts of ourselves we dislike or fear. Many of us have suffered from abuse, violence, or other traumas, which take an incredible amount of time and effort to recover from. According to African American trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem, ancestral and intergenerational traumas such as slavery, genocide, and war can remain in our minds and bodies, and they can take generations to fully heal.
To heal ourselves, we must battle the forces of the dominant society that are invested in keeping us sick and disempowered. These include all forces of discrimination and oppression, such as colonization, capitalism, white-bodied supremacy, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, and transphobia. In addition to these toxic forces out in the world, many of us have internalized their messages. It takes determination and willpower to disentangle from these dementors of doom and to protect ourselves from their constant assault.
How do we take care of ourselves when all that we have learned teaches us to ignore or abuse our bodies? An important first step is to not blame ourselves for our poor health. If we had grown up in a culture that valued the well-being of all individuals, many of us wouldn’t be suffering from illnesses in the same way.
To heal, we must have the discipline to make changes in our lives. Often, we must let go of familiar habits or addictions that may be contributing to our state of being unwell. Sometimes we are the only one in our family who wants to make healthy changes. Our family members may not understand us; they may judge our new lifestyle choices. We may feel isolated and alone on our healing path.