by Naomi Ortiz
Self-care doesn’t start with “doing.” Taking care of you doesn’t start with routines, activities, goals. Self-care starts with the truth, being in your truth.
As a Disabled Mestiza raised in Latinx culture, my childhood was mostly about medical professionals using the idea of “fitting in” and having friends as a way to motivate me to do what they wanted me to do with my body. This made me think, especially when I was feeling sad about being excluded, that I had to change who I was in order to be accepted by other people. I had gained a bunch of weight after my first batch of surgeries, which I never lost and I gained even more as I got older. I felt split. Part of me wanted to do everything I could to control my body, like forcing myself to exercise by walking as far as I could, even if that meant I was sore and unable to walk for a week after. Another part of me just wanted to rebel by giving up in a self-hating kind of way. Both reactions weren’t my truth.
Medical professionals never discussed with me what I felt was my truth. They believed they were the ones in charge of fixing bodies which were “not-normal,” especially bodies like mine, broken bodies. I began to believe their lie, that if I tried hard enough, I could fit in and have the same opportunities as everyone else. Believing this set me up to consistently feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough.
Ultimately, I had to fail at controlling my body in order to begin to understand my truth. Relating to my body only through control wasn’t self-care. In my 20s, I found disability community, other people both different and like me, who had experienced control of bodies. Talking to them helped me realize that the problem of why I was excluded and/or discriminated against wasn’t me. The problem was society excluding those who are disabled, fat, poor, queer, and/or people of color, immigrants, etc. by not being accessible. I learned a truth, that all of who I was (disabled, fat, mestiza) is a valuable part of human diversity.
Once I connected to community, I saw there was lots of ways to live in these bodies. Some people walked, other people used wheelchairs. Some people used their energy sitting still, others used their energy to create or write while they rocked, played with their hands and made noises. Disability community let me know that my body is fine as it is. This didn’t mean that rejection didn’t hurt. The kid who walked behind me, imitating my beautiful disabled walk, hurt me. This rejection, this fear people had/have of my body, it hurts. That’s my truth. That it hurts AND that it’s not my job to educate them or make them feel differently or better.
As I get older, what people think still affects me, but I’ve began to pay more attention to what I think about issues and what I experience. I’ve began to care more about what I notice as beautiful in the world. As I pay more attention to what I find fascinating I’ve become fearless about asking questions, investigating, pushing boundaries, learning, growing, and putting myself out there in a more public way through my art. I met my partner and we are navigating life supporting one another. I’ve made friends with people who are truthful and courageous. When I pay attention to what I think, see and my emotions, I’m able then to start to notice how my body feels.
I’ve began to pay attention to how my body feels eating certain types of food. I pay attention to how my body feels moving in a certain kind of way. After a period of time of just paying attention and not over analyzing what I noticed, I’ve realized important information about my body, my truth. I realized I have food allergies. I’ve realized my body really feels good moving in water. I’ve begun to understand that I have to exercise slowly, paying attention to when I reach exhaustion so I don’t max out and hurt myself. I’ve had to figure out what types of exercise and movement feel okay for my body, not just going with what the medical professionals told me to do.
Now I am living in a body that I’m not afraid to pay attention to. The self-care of “doing,” is about trying my best and paying attention to what feels true in my body. I notice the effects of my goals and activities and adjust to respect what makes me feel the best. Taking care of my body is about listening to what my body needs. I listen to my truth.
Naomi Ortiz is a writer, poet and visual artist who cracks apart common beliefs and spills out beauty. Her art is like dirt, hundreds of grains coming together growing nourishment. Through facilitated discussion, art, poetry and other practices, Naomi supports individuals to build bridges connecting them to their own truths around self-care and living in multiple worlds. Naomi provides individual consultations and is a nationally known speaker and trainer on self-care for activists, disability justice, and intersectionality. Naomi is a disabled Mestiza living in the U.S./Mexico borderlands. Her book, “Sustaining Spirit: Self-Care for Social Justice,” exploring self-care for social justice activists, will be released by Autonomous Press in early 2017.
Find her at: http://www.selfcareforsocialjustice.com/