SELF-CARE CAN'T CURE SOCIAL DISEASES
Towards an Abolitionist Practice of Autonomous Emotional Support
We never consented to the systems of oppression that we've ultimately inherited. Yet our lives are so entangled with them that we still find ourselves perpetuating them in a million tiny ways. This reality has left our bodies riddled with social diseases, scars, patterns, and traumas. The body in question is not just the one that we walk around in, but the social body as well, our minds, hearts, spirits, families, communities, ancestors, and the earth that we share. It encompasses what has
come before us and also what lies ahead. We (social deviants and otherwise) have experienced erasure from written hxstory and collective memory. And the line between those suffering and those causing harm isn't a bold and clear one. We experience this erasure at different intensities and volumes depending on the social position that we occupy at any given moment. Building solidarity and moving through conflict is challenging, but these are the responsibilities we must take on if we want to keep ourselves safe, and if we want to work towards healing and against the police, the prison and its allies in the domain of psychiatry.
We know that self-care can't save us. We know that we need more than that. We refuse to accept our conditions as inevitable. We have found ways to heal and take care of one another, despite living in a world that rewards those who step on others to feel strong and is quick to forget those who experience harm.
This world is deeply sick and it has made us sick too. We are socialized to perpetuate these patterns of harm and oppression, to push forward into uncertain futures, with our health and well-being kept a mystery by political gatekeepers and corporate interests. From the trenches of this battle, we are trying to create networks and share new collective forms of autonomous healthcare. We also know that it can be really scary to take responsibility for our communities'
mental and emotional health, because most of us are not professionals or doctors. In some ways, the prospect of relying on those who already understand where we are coming from - our friends, comrades, and loved ones - is appealing, rather than being dependent on psychologists and other
professionals. Friends showing up for friends is a process that we are trying to figure out, and it takes a lot of work. It's an open question, a difficult path, and doesn't offer a quick fix. We don't have all the answers, but we can feel the blows and the healing moments.
We're encouraged to consider our mental health very often at present. Even just two years ago, it was difficult to access conclusive research on CPTSD, but now we are bombarded with Instagram ads for BetterHelp and the like. As the logics and mechanisms of capitalism shift their shape and change their masks to accommodate each new crisis, mental health is another aspect of life in which the responsibility falls to each of us individually to construct ourselves as efficient workers. Healing and empowerment are available, as long as they increase our productivity. Do not mistake the admission that a good worker is a healthy, emotionally stable worker for any kind of concession from power. 2020 and 2021 have demonstrated how disposable many of us ultimately are.
These are not new forms of social control and pacification, at least. These are the same calculated processes of systemic repression through pathologization that have been used against us for a very long time. In the U.S. it wasn't until 2003 that sodomy was decriminalized on a national scale, and not until 2013 was "gender identity disorder" dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Economic and national policy sustains the institution of therapy, which
ultimately informs the discourse and practice. At the same time, learning about attachment theory and how PTSD works (concepts substantiated by professionals) can show us how to reduce harm and help us perpetuate gay love. We hold these contradictions while still knowing that the more intimately that we divest from institutional power and police, the more resilient and free we become. That means it's up to us to be self-reflexive instead of outsourcing accountability to an arbitrary authority.
Our interwoven histories of repression suggest an approach of anti-assimilation as people with non-normative mental and emotional experiences. Queer anti-assimilation imagines the lives that might be possible beyond the confines of cisheteropatriarchy and identifies possible routes of escape towards this unknown. Neurodivergence anti-assimilation imagines what genuine individual and collective well-being (which, of course, are inseparable) could look like if we trouble the descriptors of normal, healthy mental and emotional states.
How, then, can we be guided by our understanding of the connection between our sickness and our oppression without denying the very real ways that we're hurting? For in every way that it's true that ‘I'm not sick, the world is’, there is another way in which ‘I am sick because of the sickness of this world.’
Healing takes time, and happens when you address the root cause of all of the symptoms that you can see at the surface. It comes from taking a cold, hard look at the trauma of the past and moving through it. What is true for the individual is true for the whole. In order to heal the social body, the ecological body, we have to dig deep and resolve the broader systems that are causing harm. And the sad truth is that we can't undo the trauma from the past. What we can do is remove the structures that are hurting us right now. Understanding the causes of our trauma beyond the scope of our individual circumstances, beyond the actions of our nervous systems, and allowing ourselves to place our hurt within histories and mythologies of resistance, only equips us better to practice care for ourselves and for those we love. Healing, then, is not a personal responsibility, but rather a shared practice of harm reduction — a path without endpoints, a constant commitment to shared survival and thriving. As we learn to see more in terms of interconnections rather than dualities, we also discover that caring for one another is an active process of real solidarity and mutual aid, and not simply something we do in service of a more visible, legible struggle against power.
Trust that there are plenty of reasons to feel panic or depression. Have you seen the fires? Have you seen the floods? Have you seen the heatwaves? "No Future" has become more than just a nihilistic reprise for the misfits. And that is just what lies ahead. The forever-increasing rate of digital circulation isn't helping us process this grief much either. You don't have to look very far to find something to keep you up at night, and the pressure to go on smiling and being productive sets us up for an internal conflict that will ultimately beg for attention in some way. Colonization, genocide, and the church itself killed god and the idea of spirituality for many of us; we need new rituals and group practices to help us move through all our collective grief. This process necessarily involves returning stolen land to the Indigenous among us and actively supporting them as they preserve and rebuild their cultures and practices.
One possible starting point might be to banish the logic of productivity from radical spaces and to refuse to enforce it upon others. The idea of getting better so that you can fight back harder is a valuable, personal motivation for lots of people to stay alive, get healthy, get sober, and so on. Still, when that's our only logic for healing, we can end up inadvertently telling our friends that their only value is what they can bring to the struggle. Fighting back against oppression is unsustainable if we can't integrate care and healing. Refuse any approach that defines our well-being by our usefulness, whether it's in service to these systems or against them.
Our practices of care are inseparable from the war we're fighting for agency over our well-being. Healthcare within struggle is inherently bound to struggle against what makes us ill. While visiting autonomous clinics in Greece, we heard a saying that went something like "Action dries your tears." Can harnessing our grief, pain, and anger as forces for transformation and liberation make it easier to bear? Could tears fuel a movement to lift all of us up? And if not up, then maybe link us together, so that less of us fall down so deep?
We have chosen sides and taken positions in this war. We do not seek power, but rather to share in empowerment and self-determination, striving for liberation through solidarity and affinity as our lives and collective well-being depend on it.
This article has been published first on Issue 18 World Hell Organization