Audre Lorde once said that self-care is a political act. It took me a while to understand what that truly meant. In fact, it wasn’t until I experienced rape and left an abusive relationship that I came to grasp the meaning of her words. I believe Lorde meant that society is set up to tear us down and wear us out — our experiences with sexual violence and the brokenness of the justice system are very emblematic of that — and taking care of oneself is a pushback against that system.
I go to a very competitive, tight-knit liberal-arts college where students pride themselves on how little sleep they got the night before or how many papers they have to write in a weekend. For someone who has experienced sexual violence, those things are hard to hear, especially during weeks where I had interviews with Title IX Coordinators and attorneys scheduled between homework, work study, internships and so on. I learned, however, to tune it out and listen to myself and my needs.
Practicing self-care isn’t always easy. In my journey to treat myself with compassion I have learned three important lessons —
First, survivors of sexual violence have rights under Title IX to academic accommodations — whether that’s needing to drop a class or have the appropriate person alert your professors that you are experiencing problems. If you are comfortable reporting your assault to your institution, you should be able to access these accommodations. I didn’t often use the extensions I was offered, but knowing they were there alleviated a great deal of stress. I also found therapy in individual and group sessions through my college immensely helpful. RAINN has a comprehensive list of resource centers in your area if seeking help through your school isn’t possible or comfortable.
Second, listen to your body. I sometimes felt guilty for sleeping as much as I did, but I realized that going through a day or a week seemed to expend more emotional energy for me than it might for some of my peers. Even when I have work to do, I set it aside to go to bed. I also found solace in working out — the endorphins helped lift my spirits so much (and “angry running” on the elliptical is really satisfying). Even if I could only get in a 20 minute workout, that was enough. My friend from group therapy would do yoga videos from YouTube in her room — and we’ve gotten coffee and massages together.
Self-care is, as the name would suggest, entirely up to you. Whether it’s getting off-campus for the day or weekend, going to a museum or a movie, or something as small as painting your nails or going for a walk, if that will help get you through the day, do it. College is already so incredibly stressful, but experiencing sexual violence and dealing with trauma and procedures on top of everything else is more than anyone should ever have to go through.
My friends sometime poke fun at me since my version of Audre Lorde’s self-care looks a little bit more like “Treat Yourself” from Parks & Rec, but it’s helped me get through so much.
Katherine Hazen is a junior at Smith College from Chicago. She's currently spending her junior year off-campus between Washington, D.C. and Geneva, Switzerland. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in journalism or communications to incite change.