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participate in an act of political warfare
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Lorde's words can seem abstract and distant at first, but boundary between the personal and political is more fluid than we sometimes like to realize. If you are sitting here reading this while contemplating an act of self-harm, please know that I am sorry that you are struggling with this, but that I am also sorry that you are living in a culture that has beaten you down, and left you with so few resources to combat it. Choosing to do something kind for yourself today, let me promise you, is not over-indulgence. It is a clear and definite tactic to battle systems in our world that do not value humanity.
If you choose, this battle tactic--one small kindness you show yourself today--can be private, or if you choose, share what you've done on social media with the tag #i_am_whale. Please know, if you search this tag, that it is used in the challenge to showcase, among other thing, the results of self-injury. To reclaim it with efforts at showing kindness to humanity (including towards) oneself is in itself an act of political warfare.
Those of you who know me know that I make a conscious effort to avoid military language whenever possible, but you and I are fighting in a battle; I can think of no better way to articulate it.
listen to something beautiful
“The dream remains, but now is fading...”
So here we are. It's 4:20 AM and while your neighbors spend a little longer in the warmth and comfort of their pillows, the vast expanse of the internet stretches out before you. As humans, we love to believe we're above being affected by the media we consume. By ten, I was reading books by doctors who studied the effects of the media on young women, especially with respect to the development of eating disorders and self-esteem issues. By middle school, I was writing papers on the same subject. Having the knowledge that these things impact the human mind has helped me to a point, but at nearly thirty, I can't say that I haven't made some unhealthy choices in my desire to look just a little more like the images of (thin) women I see daily.
My point is, none of us are above being affected by the media we consume. Every video you choose to watch can have an impact. Let me leave you this morning with this video. Its lyrics, to me, are a very real reflection on living, but with beautiful driving fiddling, it brings me hope in my darker times.
“One of the hardest things was learning I was worth recovery.”
Self-injuring behaviors can quickly become addicting. If you haven't begun to experiment with self-injury yet, the journey away from this is a battle that will require an incredible amount of energy. The pain of our sisters and brothers on this planet overflows. I cannot stop you from embarking on today's challenge if you are determined to self-injure, but I challenge you to the following challenge, to be completed before you self-injure:
Find your favorite sharpie or other wide-point marker. Draw something beautiful on your arm. If you are able, write a short message on your arm to someone who is hurting who might be reading this. Post it on social media and tag #selfinjury, #blithe, #ehtilb or whichever tags you think might help your words be seen by someone who could use them today.
“Making art is like giving a gift: evidence of your spirit and that you are here.”
Today, let's add some beauty to this pained world by putting pen to paper. Draw something beautiful. The visual arts are a learned skill as much as math or writing or reading, so don't be self-conscious about what you'll create; just go for it.
give or receive touch
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Parcipitation in self harm transceds the boundaries of sex, gender, culture, race, religion, socioeconomic status, and to an extent, even species. While research thusfar still leave us with many questions about why other members of the animal kingdom self harm, we do know this:
"The single most common denominator among animals who self harm is isolation — social isolation. Primates bite themselves, parrots pull out their feathers and dogs and cats lick themselves. Such self-injurious behavior tends to occur in emotionally disturbing situations, particular those over which the individual has little or no control (like being locked up alone).
Birds, monkeys, people and pets are all very social creatures. Touch plays a big role in the ives of all of these species and when left along that physical contact disappears and anxiety increases. Preening and self-grooming is one way animals and people cope with anxiety. Self touch is soothing but a poor substitute for contact with others.
Research on captive primates and birds has identified that self-injurious behavior is a coping strategy to reduce arousal. Biting, licking, and feather plucking lower heart rate, one marker of relaxation.
Presumably the same sort of thing happens on a physiological level for people who injure themselves. People report feeling more calm during the act and for a little while after." (source)
I could expound forever on the importance of giving and receiving physical touch. The scientific evidence that reminds us of this is endless. Today, I challenge you to offer some sort of physical affection or touch to another human being. It is amazing: you have the power to assuage the loneliness in another that is often an inevitable part of the human condition. Take your power and do some good with it.
learn to do something new
“Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.”
Today, learn something new. A song or an instrument. Calligraphy. To paint. To shoot hoops. Theres likely a YouTube video out there on beginning to do whatever it is you choose. Just for today, add to the wealth of knowledge you possess and the bank of experience held by the human family; it has already reached its quota of scars for today.
if you can't think of anything
recognize a small victory
You are still here.
Practicing any sort of self-care, in this day and this society, is "an act of political warfare." Today, you are here. You woke up. That is courageous. Today, recognize one small battle you've won. You can recognize it privately, or write it on a piece of paper or yourself and share it using the "#i_am_whale" tag in a public act of warfare.
“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
Today, post something that could help uplift someone else in their darkness. Use the tag "#i_am_whale" to help flood it with images of things other than self-harm.
overcome a fear
“What we fear of doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
What scares you? While some fears, such as those of spiders and snakes, are firmly rooted in our evolution as a species and don't necessarily affect the quality of our lives, other fears we carry often hold us back. They are a barrier between us and a life with fewer hurts.
For many, the thought of doing any sort of self-care is scary, not to mention sharing the fact that one has given any energy to self-care. For others the thought of sharing their scars—physical or psychological—with another human being can be incredibly scary. For others, speaking up about one's own needs, or setting healthy boundaries, can be frightening. Second nature to so many, driving scares me a great deal.
Unless they are holding you back from your dream career of being ann arachnologist or a snake charmer, fears such as those of snakes or spiders, for instance, aren't ones we need to worry about overcoming. These fears are not likely to hold us back. However, Emerson's words are an excellent compass to guide us to fears that there is a good chance we do need to work on.
If life has gotten to a point where it seems when not much could get worse—you have hit bottom—then you may be at the ideal place to work on one of your fears. If it goes poorly at first, well, things can't get much worse anyway, right? If you can find a way to embrace it, there can be a liberating aspect of having reached rock bottom.
There are many online forums and support groups that deal with specific fears and anxieties. You may not overcome your fear in a day, but you can absolutely take a step towards doing so today, and taking further steps is often done more easily in community, where you can share you successes (and learning opportunities) with others who will understand where you're coming from and who will likely grasp the intricacies and particulars of your situation without you having to explain as much.
The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an excellent resource for gently guiding you through small steps to prepare you to overcome your fear. The authors are passionate in their quest, and strive to help you build many of the resources that will make your work easier. At the beginning of the journey that is this book, they share the following poem:
We can't be afraid of change.
You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in,
but if you never venture out of it,
you will never knowl that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea.
Holding onto something that is good for you now,
may be the very reason why you don't have something better.
- C. JoyBell C.
If you are already as low as you can imagine being, giving this book a try won't hurt. If books aren't your style, seek out a support group online. If you're not sure if you're ready for that yet, try reaching out to talk. Samaritans is an excellent organization that allows you to email and does its best to respond within a few hours. You don't have to be suicidal to talk to them; they're there to listen no matter what you're going through. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to contact them.
find something beautiful in this world
“Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.”
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
If you gaze upon the expanse of this planet, it's not hard to view much suffering. Find a place where you can look or be outside, if possible, from a vantage point that gives you a different view of your surroundings than you usually have. Find one beautiful thing in this, and draw what you see.
“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that does not mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no results.”
Draw something beautiful from nature on your skin with a thick-tipped marker. If you are willing, in an act of what is truly political warfare, post it to social media using whichever self-harm related tags you choose.
No bit of beauty we bring into this world, no matter how small, is a waste. You never know how it may touch someone else.
watch something life-giving
“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.”
Confession: I love Law & Order Special Victims Unit. I find the acting appealing, the scripts intriguing, the subject matter fascinating, and the messages so very important. I could watch all day (and thanks to Netflix, sometimes I do)! And in small doses, I think this is just fine; occasionally relaxing in front of TV can be a way of practicing self-care. However, too many hours of story upon story of the shadows cast by sexual abuse, and I (understandably) find myself start to spiral into a rather depressed place. Sometimes, Netflix can shame me out of my SVU binge when I've been there so long that it asks "Are you still watching," but sometimes I need to be a bit more proactive about my own mental health.
It isn't limited to televisions; the books we read and the music we listen to can have the same effect. Though my area of study will mean that a lot of my reading can deal with some pretty heavy subjects, I make every effort to balance this out with music and other media that is generally uplifting. Here's one selection from one of my "Uplifting Music" playlists:
share a joyful song
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
Share on social media an uplifting song. You never know whose life you may brighten.
make a plan
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Come up with a list of things you can do instead of self-harming. You can make the list in any form you want; it can be written out as a list, it can be a collage, it can be a painting, or whatever strikes a chord for you. If you choose, share this on social media using whatever tags you feel appropriate.
try your hand at something different
“Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.”
One way to divert yourself from self-harm behaviors is to busy your hands. Whether or not you think of yourself as a creative person, we all have the ability to create in one way or another. Take 30 minutes today to create something using a medium with which you are not very familiar. Do you love painting but rarely ever work in pen and ink? Try that. Never tried knitting? YouTube can teach you. Never wrote poetry? Try starting with a haiku; their definite structure and short length makes them a good starting point.
do something that feels good for your body
“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.”
It can be such a challenge to allow ourselves to participate in self-care without feeling overly-indulgent, so I know this isn't ann easy task. Choose something that you wouldn't normally do today. Enjoy a bubble bath. Buy a blanket that is extra fuzzy and feels wonderful. Hold someone's hand. Get a massage. Lay out in the sunshine. Go for a swim.
go somewhere that helps you feel good
“Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort.”
If you can, spend a few minutes today somewhere that is a safe place for you. Maybe it's snuggled in a favorite chair in your own home, with a few candles lit. Maybe it's a rock by your favorite waterfall. Maybe it's hidden deep in the recesses of the endless library shelves. Maybe it's at a friend's house. If you do not have a place right now, to whatever extent it is possible, create one in your own home. Sit there and imagine what your perfect safe haven would look like. Imagine yourself walking, sitting, swinging, singing, drawing, reading, running, whatever it is you choose, there.
get outside and wonder
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
Dr. Carl Sagan
Walk or travel somewhere you wouldn't normally. Watch the other people. Imagine what wounds they might have. Consider what you would say to them if they shared their scars with you. Observe something beautiful and wonder about how it was created.
exchange your perspective for a while
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Most of us will encounter others whom we wish we could be like in one way or another, or desire for parts of ourself to be different than they are. Spend an hour today behaving as if you were the person you wish to be. How would that person respond to situations? To others? To the pain in one's own life? Would they do life-giving things for themselves or others? Would they choose to reach out to someone in pain? Would they hit the "continue watching" button on Netflix for the fouth time? Don't put all the pressure on yourself to change your whole self forever all at once. Choose an hour today to "give up" your normal self and instead act as if you were the person you'd like to be.
reach out to another person
“It's not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It's necessary.”
Reach out and talk to someone about whatever you feel you need to share today. No one escapes life unscathed, but most discover along the way that a good deal of pain can be assuaged by not enduring in isolation. Maybe there is someone in your family or work or school with whom you can share.
You don't need to share everything; share a bit and then take some time to reflect on how it was to share with this person. Were they supportive? Did they offer what you needed? Did they say things that were hurtful, dismissive, or minimizing, even unintentionally? After evaluating this, decide whether or not to go back and share more.
If you don't currently have anyone to talk to "in real life," today might be a good day to seek out a forum-based support or discussion group. A google search for a forum dealing with whatever topic you'd like to be able to discuss probably already exists. Alternatively, take 15 minutes to write to email@example.com. This online help-line is free and confidental, and someone should reply to you within a day at most.
encourage someone else
“...there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our encouragement, who will need our unique talents.”
Dr. Leo Buscaglia
No matter how much it may feel like you are alone in your struggles, others have experienced the same things. Maybe some of the particulars are unique, but the underlying feelings, what is truly painful, are not unique.
These scars also give us a place from which we can connect with others.
“The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no tickertape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our encouragement, who will need our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.” - Dr. Leo Buscaglia
Write three sentences to help uplift someone else who is struggling with the same things as you. Post it on social media. You may know a few of your friends or followers who have had similar experiences to yours, but you may also touch the lives of people you never would have guessed struggled with some of the same things. In sharing this part of your humanity with the world, you knit the human family a little closer together.
do something that feels good to you
“Invent your world. Surround yourself with people, color, sounds, and work that nourish you.”
Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy
Actions of self-care are deeply counter-cultural. While our society does promote the vale of some amount of "indulging" on the surface (which is what much advertising relies upon us buying into), to take time for oneself to truly nurture oneself is frequently discouraged. I write this from America, where we have clung to our Puritan roots in some bizzarely unhealthy ways: we seem to clutch the idea that self-care is indulgent and a waste of resources. This is a lie! The Protestant work ethic isn't a quantitatively bad thing, but you'll be a more productive member of society, and you'll have more to offer the world, if you take care of yourself, too.
re-examine a universal value
“Intend unto others as you would have them intend unto you.”
Most of today's major faiths hold some version of the Golden Rule to be true, and even in groups without faith, it is widely accepted as a valuable tenent.
In Christianity (with which I am most familiar), you'll find not only the Golden Rule, but also an interesting variation: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Most of us would say that we love our neighbor, but many of us also recognize that we do not necessarily have that same love for ourselves. What would it be like to show ourselves the love we show our neighbors? This is listed in the Christian Bible as one of the two most important commandments (the other being to love God). At first glance, it's easy to pass off as "Love your neighbor, be nice to people, love others, et cetera" but it asks of its followers something much more radical: to love themselves!
Taking this reversal a step further, let's look at the Golden Rule from a different angle. "Love yourself as you love others."
Today, write down five things you'd need to do if you were to love yourself the way you love others.
love yourself the way you love others
“There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a person being themselves. Imagine going through your day being unapologetically you.”
Practice self-care today by trying to do for yourself any one item you wrote in yesterday's list.
Yes, it is radical and it is counter-cultural and it is hard, but no, it is not impossible.
reach out to someone
“We rise by lifting others.”
Imagine a person who has self-harmed for the first time. Write a short letter to them and post it on social media, using whatever tags you feel are appropriate.
try somethig brand new
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.”
Jean Shinoda Bolen
When it comes to self-care, much of what we will find valuable is not hard for us to figure out, based on our likes and preferences. Today, try something you wouldn't ordinarily do. For me, for instance, most of my self-care activities, though varied, involve sitting or laying down. I might try running! I've heard enough others say that this is a vital part of their self care routine. I tend to associate running with sweat and achiness and mosquitoes and the sun beating down on me and bad memories of middle school gym classes. Needless to say, I tend to avoid it! But maybe it is worth trying; I am far from middle school, there is a lovely cool breeze today--I can almost smell autumn--and I can come right in and take a nice bubble bath if I find that this is not the best way to nurture myself.
gatherng nots of encouagement
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Write something encouraging to yourself. Tuck it away for when you might need to read it later on.
Additonally (or alternatively), as someone you care about to write something for you that you can read as needed to help you to get through the darker nights.
write in a journal
“Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”
This can take many forms. Write. Set a timer for five minutes and don't stop writing.
make a vow to yourself
“Don't forget to fall in love with yourself first.”
At various points over the past four weeks, you've had opportunities to imagine changing the things about yourself you'd like to work on. Make a vow to yourself that as you do this hard work on yourself, that you will be gentle with yourself. Vow to remind yourself that progress is not linear! How often it would be convenient that progress in life be graphed like y=mx+b (that is, linearly, with a positive "m" value). It's more like the graph of y=10*sin(x10/y). It's messy. It's decidedly non-linear.
I digress. Write a vow to yourself. Here's a suggestion to get you started, but don't hesitate to make it your own:
Dear Self, I promise to be gentle and tender with you as we forge ahead into the unknown. I know we will leap forward, trip repeatedly, wander in the wilderness, dwell upon plateaus, and I vow to gently remind you that this is a normal part of healing. As long as we keeping working at it, we will get to where we need to be.