Thoughts by a First-Gen on Self-Care during Pandemonium

When I went into quarantine a month and a half ago, I was irrationally excited about the swaths of time now available to focus on creating the ideal at-home lifestyle. Maybe pick up a few healthier habits, maybe focus my creative energies and miraculously come out of the pandemic with a writing career in the making. Maybe learn how to cook stuff using the wok without fear. Since I’m currently in my last year of undergrad (social work; also, shoutout to the class of 2020! what a mess!), my main responsibilities included finishing up coursework online and doing some light job-hunting. Mainly I planned to take it easy for a while, as would have been the case whether or not the world was thrown into the Covid-19 pandemic. 

To preface, this isn’t my first rodeo of trying to take better care of myself. Self-care has been an active subject in my life since enrolling in a helping profession four years ago, and especially significant since I started tackling personal issues around two years ago. Helping professions take this stuff seriously; you hear about burnout and compassion fatigue all the time, because they’re very real possibilities when your career means stretching your emotional limits. Add that to the slew of other issues one tends to grapple with while coming-of-age like issues of self-esteem, self-worth, realizing how that thing that happened was actually, to put it politely, quite messed up (and sometimes, that’s on trauma)… and you get a riveting contrast of knowledge on the subject, and a sudden realization that you are no exception to it. 

Point is, what they say is true; every part of the past is vital to this present moment, and is key to what happens next. So, that’s where I’m at. Definitely not an expert as much as a familiar intermediate; with the aim to share what I’ve learned thus far on my own journey. 

Okay, back to the matter at hand. For me, the relationship between self-care and self-harm is strong, likely because when I realized it was time to take better care of myself, it meant swapping/ adding kinder habits to the ones that currently hurt. Self-harm isn’t always blatantly clear and conscious; sometimes it’s as mundane as choosing to not get enough sleep. There are so many passive ways to hurt ourselves, usually to cope with something else going on. Which is valid! But bad habits just keep on taking. Meanwhile when possible, self-care is more sustainable; it fosters energy and keeps us going. Half the battle is deciding we believe it’s deserved. 

Part of self-compassion is radical self acceptance; radical because emotionally, we may not feel like it’s deserved. Yet we move forward anyway, because the times we feel we least deserve self love and respect are likely the times when we need it the most. Having yourself in your own corner, as the only one who truly understands your own motivations and reasons, is so much more constructive than its opposite.  

I’ve noticed a lot more about my own Chinese cultural background in the past year than I have in awhile, mainly due to my academic placement in a Chinese program within a community centre for seniors. This experience pushed me to take note of little things that I’d simply taken for granted before. For example, being raised with a general sense of collectiveness; taking care of yourself by taking care of others, and letting them take care of you in return (yet not in a selfish way, either. the value of balance is strong here). While the results aren’t always as ideal (see: traditions like filial piety, or that one Hasan Minhaj joke about how as kids of immigrants, we are the retirement plan), the underlying goal of togetherness and empathy is there. 

A truth I’ve stumbled upon in recent years is that it’s easier to care for others than yourself. There are a myriad of branches to this idea; to an individualist, it might sound like a trick into sacrificing yourself for someone else and losing out in the process. But isn’t it true? Giving compliments is so much easier than accepting them. Cooking someone a meal feels so much more satisfying than just cooking for yourself. Such is the life of communal beings. 

Our behaviours are all based on survival; whatever we’ve kept as we’ve grown is because of this simple monkey-brain psychological conditioning reason: it’s worked in the past. Maybe it’s not necessarily healthy! Not everything is. Not everything will be. 

Ultimately, it comes down to owning whatever is weighing on the mind at the moment. We’re problem-solving creatures- our brains seek conflicts and strive to fix them. Trust that your unconscious brain is working on it and take a break, sometimes, too. I’ve found that doing things where I lose track of time, like cooking or writing, helps more for the mood than wallowing in things that can’t be changed. And for the things that can, maybe I’ll make a plan to change them. 

Time is like money that you have no choice but to spend; the remaining question is how. Mindfulness is found in how you most enjoy daydreaming/ thinking in the ways you’re comfortable with, which isn’t always a meditation session. Sometimes it’s taking the time to not rush through brushing your teeth or doing the dishes. Incorporating healthier habits into daily life is much easier than trying to add a new one to an already full life. 

Some final food for thought: Firstly, what do you want? Secondly, what do you need? And in combination, what do you need to do for yourself to get what you want, and what do you want to do for yourself to get what you need? I’ve learned that overall, the journey of life is simply too short not to ask ourselves what we want out of it. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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