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Sometimes Self-Care Isn’t About The Self

I have heard Shelly Tygielski’s story before. Right at the start of the pandemic, she put together a sort of community-based mutual aid organization that was designed to match people in need with people who could help. She has now written a book about that experience and shared her mindfulness teachings.

I caught an interview piece/book review over on the Time website this week and I thought this is something that really makes a lot of sense, and might be something we need to think much more openly about when we encourage people to self-care.

The other argument Shelly makes is that self-care and community care are not in opposition; they’re entwined. “The successful inner journey of me leads towards a collective healing of we,” she writes. It was a lesson she discovered as a single mother dealing with a newly diagnosed health condition. She’d hit a wall and admitted to a few close friends that she couldn’t handle what was on her plate.

Those friends became a tiny mutual aid group, meeting to share their to-do lists and, most importantly, their self-care plans. They supported each other, offering help, like covering school pickups, and they kept each other accountable for the kind of self-care that fosters resilience, like prioritizing sleep. Shelly expanded this grassroots safety net to a wider array of acquaintances and found that when one person raised their hand and said, “I need help,” a door opened for everyone.

Our culture tends to define self-care in very individualistic ways. Yes, we need to take time for ourselves, doing things like getting a good night’s sleep, eating well, exercising, even the occasional massage, etc. But, we also have to recognize that we all need support as well. Having even a small group of people who can help support us, and whom we can support similarly, is also an important part of self-care. It connects us to other people, which is good for us, it provides an opportunity to be generous, which is good for us, and it helps the other folks in our group too.

It’s a true win-win.

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