Fun fact: As I write this, I’m nursing a relatively severe knee injury that my doctors speculate may be due in part to “acute emotional stress.” Yes, that’s a real diagnosis (because it certainly wasn’t due to significant physical stress), and yes, it’s caused me to reevaluate my priorities—you know, so I can consider walking, sitting and sleeping without pain sometime in the near future. They estimate months, but what do they know?
The truth is, burnout is very, very real... even when you spend 10 to 12 hours a day behind a laptop. (C’mon trolls, you know what I’m talkin’ bout. It’s rough, amirite?) So, when I read a tweet from Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announcing she’d be taking a few days for what she called “self-care,” I was here for it.
Because, at the risk of sounding like a martyr (which I am far from—more like a really hardworking hedonist, if that’s a thing), like Ocasio-Cortez, I am usually the last person I prioritize on any given day. First? Work. Second? Family. (See? I’ve already got my priorities mixed up.) Third? Food (because, yum.) Fourth? Sleep/therapy/exercise/balanced diet/drinking enough water/doctor’s appointments/retail therapy/social life/spiritual life, etc.—in that order and measure.
Suffice to say, it’s not a good look—and my body was bound to call me on my bullshit. But apparently, equally bound are folks to throw shade at even the most rational and necessary attempts to take care of yourself—especially when you’re in the public eye.
For instance, Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet was immediately attacked by legions of trolls and haters who took umbrage with the idea that she might need to take a beat over the holidays (as if many of them won’t be doing the same). Then, there was the New York Daily News, which ran an article on the announcement with the somewhat snarky title: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announces ‘self-care’ break before congressional session even starts,” later taking a dig at the congresswoman-elect’s “string of Instagram messages about how she had to give up her Zen lifestyle when she launched her congressional bid.”
You know, you’re right, Daily News. I mean, it’s not like she’s spent the last two years of her life building a political presence and campaigning against a longtime incumbent. Or as if she hasn’t had plenty of moments to pause, reflect and regroup since winning a groundbreaking election as a millennial underdog. Or as if she’s been maligned, misrepresented, dismissed, diminished and been subject to both unapologetic and inadvertent racism and misogyny throughout the entire process.
Not that she should have to, but Ocasio-Cortez elaborated on her reasons for needing a time-out via an Instagram story, saying:
Before the campaign, I used to practice yoga 3-4x/week, eat nutritiously, read and write for leisure. As soon as everything kicked up, that all went out the window. I went from doing yoga and making wild rice and salmon dinners to eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in my jeans and makeup. We live in a culture where that kind of lifestyle is subtly celebrated as “working hard,” but I will be the first to tell you it’s NOT CUTE and makes your life harder on the other end...
Girl, who you tellin’? My knee, my mind, my neglected hobbies, and the significant number of extra pounds I’m now toting around (sorry, knee) second all of these emotions.
Ocasio-Cortez also got poetic while pointing out the gender disparity between how women and men approach self-care, and how society often judges it. Reflecting on her mom’s relentless work as a housekeeper to ensure her daughter’s education, Ocasio-Cortez wrote:
She denied herself a lot—so I feel a lot [of] GUILT thinking about taking a day off, doing a face mask, or having a nice dinner with friends. My dad would hang out with his friends all the time, though! They both worked just as hard.
And for all the hard workers out there, Ocasio-Cortez encouraged us to join her in establishing some healthy boundaries, and adjusting our own oxygen masks before assisting others—or before officially joining Congress on January 3. But like a lot of us, she’s clueless as to where or how to start.
“I’m starting a week of self-care where I’m taking the week off and taking care of me,” she said in a separate IG video, as reported by Vogue. “I don’t know how to do that, though,” she laughed. “I would appreciate any and all self-care tips, because sometimes people are like, ‘Top 10 tips for self-care: Go to Cancún!’ And I’m like, Is it a face mask? I don’t understand. I just don’t understand.”
What I don’t understand is why it’s so hard for other people to understand that being a public servant (or working in any relatively public role, like *ahem* journalism—or hell, just working) obligates you to sacrifice the entirety of your existence—and accordingly, your health—on the altar of public opinion and expectations.
“For working people, immigrants, & the poor, self-care is political—not because we want it to be, but bc of the inevitable shaming of someone doing a face mask while financially stressed,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, a scenario confirmed by even the most perfunctory glance at her comments’ sections.
But like New York’s new congresswoman, I’m giving up on attempting to be everything and do everything. (Seriously; it doesn’t work that way. Something’s gotta give.) I’m tired, demoralized, and more than a little bit achy at this point. And as we move into our final holidays of 2018, I hope we all take a beat to reflect on the general toxicity of this year, and the energy we hope to be able to bring to a new one; energy that requires a reboot to be effective.
“I believe public servants do a disservice to our communities by pretending to be perfect,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez. “A lot of campaigns are based on telling a ‘superhuman’ story and I respectfully disagree with that tactic... You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be 100% committed.”