As someone who struggles with depression (and is currently struggling with it, sadly) the phrase “self-care” has been in my lexicon for a while now. When I use the term I am generally referring to the practice of trying to keep my mental state in some sort of consistent state. It can be anything from happy, to content or to simply not killing myself.
And yes, that last one happens sometimes.
It’s been happening more frequently lately which might explain why I’ve had more trouble focusing on the site.
In any case what does self-care have to do with the anti-work position?
Well I’m so glad you…I…asked…me.
The article that sparked this post has little to do with the anti-work position at the beginning but after a few paragraphs we get to this interesting bit:
It’s no surprise that the concept of self-care has grown in popularity over the last few decades, particularly with women. Multiple studies have shown that Americans now work more than any other industrialized nation and suffer high rates of stress-related health problems as a result. While technological advances such as smartphones have allowed us new forms of leisure, they have also tethered many of us to our jobs even in our so-called downtime, compelling us to check work emails or monitor social media on nights and weekends.
And, as a 2013 report from the American Psychological Association found, young women in particular are bearing the brunt of these increased work demands. According to the study, women reported feeling less valued than men in the workplace, in terms of salaries and opportunities for advancement.
Furthermore, a 2014 survey released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that on average, women were still doing more housework than men.
Ignoring whether these statistics are true or not (since my main point doesn’t rely on that) it’s interesting to note how slackers often do self-care themselves.
Whenever we say we need a break from the world, from our jobs, from the tasks we’ve given ourselves we seem to actually be engaging in a sort of self-care ourselves. It may be self-care in a different sense that someone who is struggling with suicidal ideations or depression might go through but they’re by no means mutually exclusive.
My job makes me depressed. There’s no other way to put it but that.
After five hours or so of being at the convenience store I start to lose my smile. I start to lose enthusiasm and I generally start to lose interest in the things around me. Now, to some extent this is (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun) depressingly common. My intuition about jobs that people dislike and ones that don’t make them feel very fulfilled is that it’ll tend to make them feel more generally dissatisfied with their lives.
But I don’t just get dissatisfied. Man, if only!
Instead, yesterday as it happens, I started not caring. At all.
When people would come to the store I’d want them to go away immediately. When they handed me money my first thoughts were about how it all seemed so fake and meaningless. And every time someone would interrupt me from reading comic books or going outside to get some Wi-Fi I’d immediately try to disassociate from whatever was going on.
And by “disassociate” I mean that things would seem less real to me. It’d take me a few minutes to totally register whatever context I was in again. I mean, I was able to do my job fine enough. But there were little things that I noticed that I doubt anyone else did.
The “I don’t care” started becoming my go-to answer for just about anything. I didn’t feel like anyone had used the coffee urns that day so I just said, “Maybe I’ll wash them out later, maybe not” (I didn’t). Whenever customers would say stuff to me (for the most part) I’d give very simple answers or I’d try to end the conversation as soon as possible. I didn’t want to be there and by 10 PM (I work till 11 PM) I was literally telling a person or two that I had lost most of my enthusiasm for the day by now.
Again, not all of that is unusual (unfortunately) for a job dislike. But thoughts about meaninglessness more generally to yourself or about things around you is a sign of depression. I even told this to a close friend of mine and he pretty quickly said, “Sounds like depression…”.
My act of self-care then is to go home and do just about nothing. Sometimes I’ll debate on Facebook but often I’ll just watch “dumb videos” as I like to say to the Uber driver in question (yeah, I’m dirty bougie scum, I know). Often the videos aren’t dumb (though they can be). They’re just on my “watch later” list and can range from Let’s Plays to ASAP Science videos, Big Think. And after that if I’ve still got some time maybe I’ll watch something on Netflix.
Adventurous, I know!
More to the point of the article though it starts going on about the connection between self-care and slackers:
In its ideal forms, self-care enacts a labor slowdown and asserts the right to be lazy, the right to stop working.
Yet, as demonstrated by my former co-worker, who ran herself in circles in her quest to de-stress, self-care can go awry when it ends up seeming like work in and of itself, something that we’re obligated to do to improve ourselves. Many proponents of self-care have emphasized that rather than provide immediate gratification, self-care requires constant maintenance, or, as a 2010 article in Psychology Today put it, “hard work and perseverance.” When, then, do we actually get the chance to take a break?
In other words, attitudes toward self-care can quickly become what the theorist Lauren Berlant calls “cruel optimism,” or, “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.”
A cruelly optimistic relationship to self-care is one in which self-care is envisioned primarily as a means to rejuvenate us so that we’re able to work faster and harder—precisely the condition that has caused so much of our stress to begin with.
I feel like I’ve also discussed this issue before. The idea that slacking is just a way to become more productive. Indeed, I’ve probably used this sort of language before. But when I do I’m usually speaking the language of the capitalist.
I remember during my training that one of the main reasons why employees should be treated well and why they should treat each other well is to keep up the morale of the workforce. We need you productive so be nice to each other!
It didn’t take much for me for this to sound really bizarre. Shouldn’t we be nice to people just…because? Why do we need people to be “productive” so we can be nice to them? Is that all people are worth at work?
Well…okay, that last one has a bit of an obvious answer. But still.
Regardless, this reduction of people’s worth to their ability to produce raises many questions. What if you have a slacker like me? Do I deserve to be treated poorly and lectured? Do I not deserve respect because I don’t produce as well as my co-workers because I have little financial and hardly any emotional investment in this business? How is it my fault that capitalism works like this, exactly? And why should I be punished for just trying to save up some money so I can move out?
The article discusses an important issue here. How we value slacking may be just as important if not more so than the slacking itself. Is the slacking just a means to an end or an end unto itself? There’s nothing inherently wrong with treating slacking as a means to an end. Sometimes I use that just to get through the work day. And I think a lot of us probably do. There’s nothing really wrong with that but if that’s all you’re slacking for then you might be using it inefficiently.
At the end of the article the author talks about a “politics of leisure” that involved equal pay for women and men, paid time off and men doing more of the workforce.
Whatever your feelings on the wage gap are (and no, I don’t care what they are) or any of the rest of it I think a lot of us can agree that these are just piecemeal reforms. There’s nothing here that really addresses systematic inequalities that result from the state and capitalism. We can ask the bosses and the government for all of the social programs that we want. And hell, we might even get small victories from time to time and that’s not necessarily always a lackluster thing.
But if we want a real politics of leisure then we need to smash capitalism and the state. We can’t be taking half-measures because in the end the state and capitalism are the problems we should be centrally fighting. Not the fact that men and women don’t share work equally.
Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. Unequal work in the home is a problem and I don’t think fighting against it is wrong or worth discouraging per se’.
But I also think seeing it as a central goal is missing the bigger picture. It’s as if you’ve cut a dead branch from a burning tree and then claimed victory. This is what a lot of the mainstream queer movement seems to think about gay marriage.
“We’ve got the right to join this once heterosexist institutions! Now we’ve won!”
But the cake is rotten and so I’m not really convinced “we’ve” won in any substantial sense. It’s alright to celebrate these victories to some extent but as Cory Massimino of C4SS said “Don’t Let the Good Become the Enemy of the Perfect“.
In the end you just gotta let the motherfucker burn and build something better before, during and after.