Loving Yourself: Self Care in the Apocalypse

Metatopia was hard this year. We turned the news off and refused to talk about the world outside the convention centre. We battened the hatches, threw down some sand bags, and smiled at each other instead of continuing to die on the inside. The world outside was frightening. There was an invisible pressure we could all feel that made existing difficult. Each step we took, each game we ran, each hug we gave or receive felt weighted. But we endured.

Beyond the dismal future of a dystopian novel we were spiralling inside, there was the pressure of our lives. All of us have been on one hell of a journey this year and we all have felt it. We've confronted our demons, we've gone looking for new tools and weapons to slay them with. We've born witness to radical pain and loss in ourselves and each other. We've seen such terrible shadows it's no longer possible to walk away from them.

And we endured.

There's something inherently beautiful and filled with grace about our community. We fucking endure. Through harassment, through pain, through terrible abuse, through systemic oppression—we endure. We don't endure silently and we don't stop the fight to make our community better. Sometimes we pause. Sometimes we take a breath and mourn collectively. But sooner or later we move forward with new knowledge and a sharpened resilience.

Even when we shouldn't be able to endure. Even when the world has kicked the proverbial and literal shit out of us. Even when the news is so terrible we should fall apart and scatter. Even when one of us fucks up so severely we shouldn't be able to recover without intensive work. Even when our hearts are broken and a new attack arises that confirms underrepresented voices are worth less than those in power. We endure.

Yet in that endurance is something else we're working on but that isn't quite where we need it to be. So many of us are resilient without caring for ourselves. Those bruises on our souls fade but we're littered with scars of the past and those influence us so heavily in the day. We're not taking time to heal, and our community isn't offering ways to heal. Our community does the opposite. We endure but we encourage harm and we celebrate shunning and we find joy in some of the harm we cause.

But I'm not here today to talk about the dramatic pitfalls of our community. I will one day, when I've discover better tools for fighting back against the fuckery we perpetuate. Until then, I want to talk about you and us and our lives. I want to talk about the ways resilience can lead to hardening and how we need to soften. I want to talk about what we're doing for ourselves to survive without becoming hurtful to each ]other.

Ultimately, I want to talk about self care.

Not in the way I hear it spoken about, either. Self care is so often depicted as a middle class luxury that my head spins and my heart breaks. What are we supposed to do, those of us who can't pay for a massage every two weeks or for the therapy we so desperately need? What do we do when a pedicure is a ridiculous idea to us and going out drinking with friends isn't feasible? Is there a way we can take care of ourselves without breaking the bank? Or even engaging the bank at all?

Let's break that myth down right now. Self care is care you do for yourself. It's the moment you feed yourself healthy food, book your therapy appointment, do something creative to help your mind, or use an anxiety tool to help manage your brain weasels. Self care is literally the things we do to make ourselves feel better, to stay present, and to endure the world with healthy coping skills instead of hurtful ones.

Anyone who's met me at a convention knows I give out self care cards like it's going out of style. These cards have a handy list on them of easy access self care techniques that I'm a huge fan of. My business cards have an even bigger list on them and I got bigger cards just so I could add more. Easy self care steps, when combined together, are wonderful tools we can use to keep our hearts and minds healthier than when we lean on unhealthy coping techniques.

For these techniques I'm going to list, I encourage you to make a list of the ones that you find or think will be helpful and keeping that list on you. On a wallet, by your computer, on your phone in an app somewhere, on the fridge. Anywhere that will allow you to have easy access to the information. Try to do 5 a day and increase that as you get better at it until you find you're created a really healthy feedback network of self care that rewards you and is also, well, care.

It's important to also view these as good things that help you be your best self. Not all of them will work for you and not all of them will be easy or feel natural. Each of us will find the things that resonate with us and carry those forward. Beyond that, we will also learn how to modify and shape them so they become our own. What works for me may not work for you, but the basic premise may be something you can shape for yourself.

Nor will they necessarily work right away. You may do one and find nothing about it helps but after integrating it for several days or weeks, it will become a healthy part of how you gather resources for the future or for your day. Gathering resources is another way of saying finding spoons or recovering spell slots or any other metaphor you want to use to talk about how the world is hard to live in and it costs us to do so. Self care is ultimately gathering resources to you so you still have some to spend after living.

You are the only one responsible for taking care of yourself, unless you have extenuating circumstances. We are our own responsibilities and it's our job to make ourselves the best versions of ourselves so we can help the world feel more loved and fill it with hope. We can't give love healthily if we're not loving ourselves. When we do that, we use too many of our resources and hurt ourselves. We burn out. We lose compassion. We can even hurt people by lashing out when we're too tired to be kind.

In the New Year, in the spirit of Lovepunk, I propose we take better care of ourselves. Here are some quick and accessible ways to help you gather resources. I encourage you to try them, to thank yourself for when you do them, and to personalize the hell out of them. I will give you examples of what I do for these, but also promise you that won't work for everyone. If some of these are upsetting or triggering for you, don't do those ones. Take care of yourself. Don't hurt yourself to gather resources. That will only backfire.

So take a breath, get some tea, and gather some resources with me.

Create Rituals

When we make a ritual out of something, our brains begin to relax when we do that thing. It resets us or helps us stay present and feel better when things can feel whelming. Rituals are short cuts that will reset feedback loops. These won't work right away, but once they become habit they will begin to feel like home. Think of small things that take a few minutes you can engage in daily that will help you pause, be present, and begin to become a beautiful ritual for you.

Try making tea. It can be enough time to boil water and steep that we stop for a few minutes. Do a roaming body check, where you breathe into each part of your body and exhale tension from it, starting with the feet and working upward. You can engage with mindful play like colouring, play dough, or crafting that has a process to it.

Take breaks, walk away, sit and chill for five minutes being mindful of how you spend those five minutes or one minute. You can also try writing down your thoughts with a journal or notes or using a worry box.

For me, tea and skin care are my big rituals. I drink tea several times a day and do skin care routines morning and evening. I also now do ritualized meditation. These work great for me and have helped others too. The one I just started doing is a worry box.

A worry box is a tool where throughout the day you take your worries or concerns and w rite them down. Then you put them in the box. In the evening you and a support person go through the worries and face them head on, talk about them, and resolve them as best you can. Then toss the paper out once they're resolved. It lets you put aside your fears and anxieties to get through your day and still face them later when you have help.

~ Make tea or coffee
~ Roaming body check
~ play
~ Take a break
~ Try a worry box or journaling

Tend to Basic Needs

Our humanness requires certain needs be met. These don't have to be participated in begrudgingly or without mindfulness. Paying attention to how we treat our basic needs is a key step in self care. Being mindful of those basic needs and being a willing participant in our own care is self care at its fundamental core. We all need to eat, but someone of us can find comfort in how we eat instead of just eating whatever is available or whatever we order. That mindfulness will help us see that all of our basic needs are basic self care and gives us a new window of control and conscious engagement.

We need to eat and drink, keep our hygiene up, and find rest and sleep. Those things are activities we must or should participate in to keep us healthy human beings. I've used the word mindful a few times. All that means is that you are choosing to actively be present and considering what you're doing instead of just going through the motions.

When you choose your hygiene activity, you enjoy the shower or bath or hand washing or brushing your teeth. When you eat, you're choosing what you cook and noticing how it helps your body feel good. When you sleep, you're mindful of your sleep habits and trying to engage in good ones. And importantly, when you rest, you're really resting and being present in not doing work deliberately. Don't forget your meds if you have them. They matter.

For me, I take a bath almost daily and when I shower I'm very present. I spend 15 minutes a day doing nothing, forcing myself to take a break and just being present with me. I fall down a lot with food. At my best, I'm cooking daily and really loving what I put in my body. At my worse, it's take out and snacks.

When I fall down, I choose an easy meal, like overnight oats, to make so that I can get back into those good habits again. Keep the bar low and accessible so you can easily jump back in when things fall apart.

~ Participate in hygiene
~ Pay attention to what you drink
~ Be aware of what you eat
~ Try sleep routines
~ Get at least 15 minutes of down time

Remember Your Body

Our bodies are part of us, and for many of us with trauma, our physical health can slide into the background because our bodies have been crappy places to be in. Yet a lot of research has shown that ensuring our physical bodies are cared for beyond our basic needs is part of the full plate of a healthy life. It's so easy to get caught up in our emotional and mental health that we put our physical health on the back burner as we handle our own crises around everything else. But remembering our body doesn't need to be an hour long yoga or gym session.

We can do simple things. We can go outside. Going outside will increase our physical health but also our emotional and mental health too. As we get stressed, our bodies are often the first thing to notice and suffer. Stopping to do a minute of deep breaths two or three times a day lets us reclaim some of our physical space back.

Playing with pets, taking care of plants, or even just looking at picture of cute animals helps relax us. As can gardening, just touching some plants as we walk, or stopping to watch and hear the water. Sitting in a park will give us a few moments of being physically present with ourselves. Doing easy and gentle stretches we can do from sitting or standing gives us a moment of helping our bodies.

For me, I do deep breathing about 5 times a day. I'll pet my cat or play with my dog for a few minutes every day and take my dog for a walk to get outside. I also make a point of walking to work or for a bit every day that I remember to just get me out of the house.

During that time, I can't be on my phone. I'll listen to music, but won't let myself chat to friends. I'm there for my body in those moments, not my emotional connection to people. In the summer, I garden, but I also keep a potted plant at work as something living I'm working with.

~ Get outside
~ Deep, intentional breaths
~ Engage with plant or animal life
~ Go to a park or body of water
~ Gentle stretching

Forge Connections

Our hearts and minds need connection. Human brains evolved for communication, and finding those connections is how we can help make our emotional health even better. It's important we take the time to engage with our communities, our friends, ourselves, and our loved ones on an emotional and intimate level to ensure we feel validated, heard, loved, and supported, and that we're doing the same for them. Those deep emotional connections will help us get so many resources for the path ahead. Plus we can give resources back to create a beautiful feedback loop.

A fast and easy connection is thanking someone for being in your life. Whether this is in person or on the internet, doesn't matter, reach out and touch someone with thoughtful words. Compliment them, show them kindness, validate them, or affirm them. If they're physically present, consider a hug, hand shake, hand hold, fist bump, or high five. Let them know you love them, literally say those words. Normalize love in your life.

You can also take a selfie and post it to social media to see how much your friends love you and your face! It's an easy tool to validate and support yourself and will help you love your physical body too! When in doubt, and you need to clear some space in your head to find resources, reach out and ask a friend if you can talk about some heavy stuff. Get consent first, but do lean on your support network (which helps build it to be stronger) in this way when you need to. And when you want to.

For me, I love selfies. I can tell I'm not doing well when I stop taking them. But mostly I try to get t resources by providing space to people and validating them. I get a lot out of helping other people feel heard and loved. I love the fuck out of people, and seeing them feel loved makes me feel good.

I'll craft small things to give away, make cards, stickers, and soon buttons to show people they're loved and believed in. I'll also reach out and ask for space when I need it, but this is the one I suck at the most and is the one I'm working on hard for the next year.

~ Do something kind
~ Hug/hold hands/gently touch someone
~ Be grateful, validate, love
~ Selfie it up!
~ Reach out and talk

Feed Your Soul

I don't mean spirituality. If you find comfort in that, by all means, go forth. I'm talking about stuff that feeds our souls and hearts and our creative brains in a fulfilling and meaningful way. The stuff of human creation. The stuff that the romantics talked about and the beatniks wrote about and the stuff we, as gamers, live and breathe. Creation. We're gamers. This is why we're here and it's what we do. We breathe life into worlds and feed our hearts with dice, miniatures, maps, index cards, and tokens. 

But engaging in creative works doesn't end with gaming. It certainly is my top recommendation of a way to gather resources, as hobbies are important, but beyond games there are other forms of art we can try. Like watching a tv show or movie, reading a meaningful book, or listening to music that we know will help us feel better. We can make art, like painting, colouring, sculpting, or knitting. Anything artful is a good way to feed our hearts and minds.

We can also engage actively in promoting and practicing love and hope. This can mean finding stuff that's beautiful in the world and giving us hope, reading cute memes, watching funny youtube videos, or even just cat videos. We can read stories of people fighting back and making a difference. We can donate our time or our money or our voices to giving love and hope. We can make a difference.

For me, I have a playlist of self care songs that I know will help me feel better. I have another playlist of love songs that remind me of people in my life I love. I listen to these on transit or when I'm anxious. I colour, draw, sketch, knit, metal stamp, and make art whenever I can. I'm not great at it. And I don't care.

Spreading love and hope for me looks like helping causes, spreading the word, and using my privilege to help others be heard and get out of bad situations. I spread love like confetti by posting validations, responding to people, and helping people feel seen and heard. I seek hope in stories of worst times than this and how people then held onto hope. If the people in Treblinka had enough hope to keep fighting back, who the fuck am I to be hopeless?

~ Make a hopeful playlist
~ Get into some art
~ Play a game
~ Spread love like confetti
~ Find hope where you can

This my last gift of 2018 to you, my love. Live bravely, love hard, be vulnerable, stay fierce. Be yourself and trust yourself. Be accountable and kind. Spread goodness and hope in this world like it's going out of style. But most importantly, take care of yourself. We need you. I need you.

Self care can be inaccessible. It can push hard against food security, disability, poverty, and a series of intersections. All we can do is our best, do what we can, and carve out moments of care for ourself when other options aren't there for us. You are worth self care, even if it's just in small but meaningful ways.

When we stumble, let's get back up and try again. Let's integrate our resource gathering skills into our daily lives so we can do more than endure, we can thrive. So that we will always be the fire instead of getting burned by it. Let's be the spark that changes the world with love, compassion, and whatever weapons we need.

May you always feel loved. And may you always be love.

Happy New Year.