Self-Care in The Age of Collapse

Is it even possible?

Self-Care in The Age of Collapse
Photo by Caseen Kyle Registos on Unsplash

My daughter wanted an ice cream sandwich.

Like an idiot, I bought a box.

A year ago, that would've posed zero problems. Now bird flu is spreading unchecked through the meat and dairy industries, and we're told to prepare for an inevitable pandemic while remaining calm and making absolutely no changes to our habits or behaviors. If history holds true, nobody in our government will warn us until it's far too late.

So, that's it.

I have a box of ice cream sandwiches in my freezer, wondering what I should do with them. If I throw them away, I'm paranoid and wasteful. If I feed them to my family, I'm careless. If I give them to someone else, I'm potentially committing murder. A year ago, we lived in a world with occasional ice cream sandwiches. Now we live in a world where they're probably fine, for now. And if you express the slightest bit of concern, you sound like a lunatic. Our government is mixing bird flu milk into regular milk, heating it up a little, and then assuring us it's probably safe to drink, but they won't heat it up any higher because that would make it taste funny, and we're the ones called unhinged.

We live in a weird abusive space now, where we're both expected to shoulder the full responsibility of taking care of ourselves and protecting our families, while pretending to live in a world where nothing that bad ever happens and someone will always be there to watch out for us. More and more, there's nobody.

Every year takes something.

Of course, we probably shouldn't have had many of these things in the first place. Most of what we considered normal, the things we miss, were hopelessly embedded in a system that's destroying the planet.

So that's where life finds many of us, mourning a lifestyle that was always destined to end, and then feeling guilty about it.

Every day, we make impossible choices.

We want to hang out with our friends, but we can't. We want to stay home and avoid disease altogether, but we can't. We want to move somewhere safe from fires and storms and heat waves, but we can't. We want to stay where we are, but we can't. We want to elect responsible leaders, but we can't. We want to talk about all of this, but we can't.

There are no good options. What we have are bad and worse options forced on us by a small group of psychopaths who think they're going to survive the apocalypse in bunkers and then colonize space.

We want to mourn the dead future, but we can't.

We want to start fresh, but we can't.

Maybe you fantasize about living in a cave in the woods, but your family doesn't want that. You don't really know where you belong anymore. Part of you wants to be done with industrial civilization, but the other part still kind of likes the internet and hot showers. You also realize the appealing myth of homesteading. It's not exactly without its own hardships and risks.

The original homesteaders didn't live in paradise. It was a hard life, and most of them either died or gave up.

It's easy to judge people.

If someone doesn't homeschool their kids, they're a bad parent. If they do homeschool their kids, they're privileged.

If they even have kids, they're evil.

If you live in a city, then you're part of the problem. If you live on a farm, you're part of the problem. If you drive an electric vehicle, you're a fool. If you drive a gas-powered vehicle, you're killing the planet. If you work from home and hardly drive at all, then you should apologize to everyone else.

It's been like this for a long time, but it didn't always feel that way. Ten years ago, you could still convince yourself that a few adults were in the room, that someone out there had your back. You could forget about the world's problems for a little while and just watch a show, escaping into a reality where people cared about each other and nothing bad really happened.

Now, most of our pop culture icons have turned out to be predators in one form or another. If they aren't actively assaulting someone, they're flying around the world spreading disease and trashing what's left of the planet, all while moralizing to us about what they owe their fans, when they really mean to explain what they feel they deserve. The rest of them are justifying genocide.

Politicians and celebrities have run out of comforting lies. The lies are getting more and more brazen.

They're not even trying.

We're months away from being asked, yet again, to save democracy from the grips of fascism. This will be the third time. There won't be any hilarious impressions or standup routines if we lose.

I'm sure the cast of SNL will try.

It won't be funny.

It's tempting to offer advice for how to get through all of this.

The original idea of self-care came from civil rights activists. They were burning out and hurting their health by their tireless, selfless acts. For them, it was a radical idea to put yourself first every now and then. It was necessary. If you didn't, you wouldn't last for very long. You wouldn't be much good to anyone. That was the point at first. Self-care was about preserving yourself so you could continue serving your community and the greater good.

From there, self-care spread to service professions like mine, the nurses, the doctors, the teachers, the paramedics. We would give ourselves over too much, to the point it wasn't healthy. Our bosses were all too happy to keep taking. So was the public. Again, the point of caring for yourself was to remain useful to society, and not a heaping mess.

Then the gurus and goopers found it.

Like so many other things, the wellness industrial complex turned self-care into the exact opposite of its intent. They used it to sell stuff. They used it to excuse and justify reckless consumption and selfishness. So it became associated with disregarding the needs of others. Today self-care isn't radical at all. It's everywhere.

So, what does self-care look like now, in the age of collapse? How do you care for yourself in an age where your job or your other responsibilities won't let you make sleep a priority? How do you care for yourself in an age where lawmakers make it legal to deny you water breaks, where newspapers tell you to build up your heat tolerance, where someone can force you to breathe contaminated air, and a robot might take your job while telling you it's okay to eat rocks and if you're sad, jump off a bridge.

What does self-care look like on a planet where wildlife is dropping dead from trees and roads are melting?

I don't know.

You probably don't need any more advice about how to get a good night's sleep or how to stop doomscrolling. You've probably already found the little things that keep you going from one day to the next. That's not the problem. You probably already know about masks and clean air, but what happens when you or someone you love winds up in the hospital, and you rely on someone else's care? What happens when those people don'

At a certain point, self-care simply can't compensate for the void of empathy and compassion taking over the world. It doesn't matter how self-sufficient you are. One day, every single one of us will rely on someone else for survival. Most of us already do, and only a few of us realize it.

You know what most of us fear?

It's not a tornado.

It's not a heat wave. It's not a superstorm or a flood. It's not a deadly disease. It's winding up in the care of someone who doesn't believe in science and thinks every problem in your life exists only in your head. That's a terrifying prospect, worse than any kind of doom Hollywood can dream up.

There's no amount of mindfulness exercises that can make us feel better about that. It doesn't matter how long you sleep, or how rested you feel when you wake up. That reality is what greets us.

It's waiting.

Today, the best kind of self-care is to keep caring about other people, setting an example, and demanding better from those in positions of wealth, power, and influence. When we feel the exhaustion setting in, that's when we have to back off and recharge. We have to be the ones.

Nobody else will.

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