There’s a term that has been bandied around recently, on social media, in music and in yoga studios all over the country – self-care. What is self-care? I take issue with the way it’s used sometimes, as I feel that there is some level of gentrification and undeniable privilege within the context in which it is often used. People see self-care as putting on a face mask, going to an expensive retreat or this carefree notion of ‘treat yourself’. Don’t get me wrong, these are all wonderful ways to take care of yourself, but what about the simple ways of looking after our mental and physical health that don’t rely on money and probably wouldn’t get any likes on social media? Like going for a smear test, attending therapy, a dental check-up or saying no to a toxic person for your own peace of mind? To me self-care is about prioritising yourself over all the noise. It’s about deciding to love yourself without needing validation that you’re ‘doing it right’ from anywhere other than your own experience and what it feels like to you.
As an empath, I need to take my self-care rituals very seriously, both in my work and my personal life. I absorb energy from the people around me and I can often feel quite drained if I’m around a lot of big personalities for extended periods of time. In my role as Friendship Producer, I am around so many different types of people. Some of them have really harrowing stories. I’ve sat on many sofas hearing struggles and watching tears fall. Everything from bereavement and loss to sexual violence, abuse and bullying. As I sit and hear the people I’m connecting with tell their stories, I feel honoured that they feel safe enough to share. However, all I can do is listen, lend a kind and supportive ear without giving any advice, which can make me feel very helpless and, by the end of the day, I feel emotionally exhausted.
In my opinion, one of the basics of self-care is to ask for what you need. After realising that I needed some support in my role delivering the friendship model, I asked to take part in Samaritans training. Samaritans pride themselves on being an organisation that are always there to offer a listening ear without judgement. The main purpose of the training was not to become a Samaritan. The training was a way of sharing skills that may come in handy in different work environments. There were people there who wanted to learn how to understand and support their employees’ mental health, others who wanted to improve their listening skills and some, like me, who were feeling overwhelmed by the nature of the information they were trusted with and needed support in managing it.
Samaritans ask open-ended questions to ensure the conversation isn’t cut by one-word responses, and they encourage their volunteers to listen without actively advising the person in crisis. In my work, it is so important that I have the skill of being able to listen openly and without judgement, but without giving advice or taking responsibility for anyone. Samaritans also highlight the difference between empathy and sympathy, as sympathy can come across quite patronising, whereas empathising with someone and putting yourself in their shoes can really make a difference.
As Friendship Producer, I often face the dilemma of having to choose between my own personal comfort and making people feel at ease. When I’m connecting with multiple community groups at one time, I sometimes come across people who hold views that I fundamentally disagree with, or perhaps they use challenging terminology. Usually their community leader doesn’t comment, and I choose to remain silent. You never know who you’re going to meet, their backgrounds or beliefs because community groups, quite rightly, don’t discriminate. So sometimes someone will say something that I find offensive, but I choose to take care of myself by confiding in a friend or colleague later instead of taking it up with the person as it isn’t my responsibility to chastise or educate someone, or even question their beliefs. This is something that I don’t compromise on. If we as a company decide that we don’t want to pursue a friendship with someone, that is something we discuss together and a decision we take seriously and really think about, but as a representative of the company I wouldn’t take it upon myself to enter into a conflict with someone I meet in my role. This is both a professional boundary and a self-care boundary for me.
Another aspect of self-care that I feel is important is not working outside of business hours. It helps that I use a work phone now but there have been occasions where I have turned it on in the morning to find missed calls/messages that came in after midnight. Because the role is so new people don’t understand what is acceptable and so I have to set the boundaries myself. It’s difficult to say no to people or mute the multiple group chats for a few hours, not only because I’m afraid to miss something or someone will think I’m ignoring them, but also because I genuinely care about the people I am connecting with. I sometimes have to actively force myself not to respond to a late message, so as not to give the impression that contacting me late is acceptable.
Aside from the specifics of looking after myself, my general self-care includes setting at least ten minutes a day aside for meditation, eating the right foods for my body and ensuring that I take regular breaks when working. I suffer from a chronic illness that causes a lot of fatigue so I really value my rest.
Ultimately, self-care means different things to different people, but the bottom line is prioritising yourself and understanding that you cannot pour from an empty cup. As the Friendship Producer, I am pouring into multiple cups within a community and if I didn’t take my self-care seriously in this role, it would be very difficult to do it to the best of my ability, let alone love it as much as I do.
kiki brown is the friendship producer for tiata fahodzi. With a background that also encompasses acting and community theatre, she has co-run two small-scale theatre companies, is a drama facilitator and a singer/songwriter.