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It’s OK to unplug
You can tune into yourself without tuning out.
It’s time for me to take a short break from writing this newsletter, being on social media, and spending so much time online. I need to unplug.
I have written and spoken about the dangers of burnout and the virtues of unplugging for a long time. Still, I often have trouble taking my own advice. I tell myself that other people are the ones working especially hard who need a break. Or, I convince myself that taking a break from being online all the time would be detrimental—what if I miss something important?
Lately, I’ve been berating myself for wanting to unplug because there is so much substance happening these days. Going offline for a few weeks means that I will undoubtedly miss out on reading some thought-provoking articles about racial inequality, or learning about another worthy organization to donate to. I likely won’t follow the protests happening in my town and around the world as closely, nor will I refresh the latest coronavirus numbers as regularly. I will unfortunately lose a few chances to speak out against misinformation, to learn from others, and to add my perspective when it’s valuable.
There comes a point, though, when you have to listen to your body and mind. And right now, my body and mind are telling me that I need to rest. Instead of taking in even more information about racial injustice and the pandemic, I need to pause and process all of the data I’ve already consumed. Instead of stressing out about whether I’m currently doing enough, I need to focus on taking better care of myself and this baby I’m growing in order to have the long-term energy to continue fighting for good.
In her recent article, “White People, We Need to Talk About ‘Self-Care’,” Anna Borges explains that self-care isn’t an excuse to tune out from talking and thinking about things like systemic racism and anti-Blackness. “The inherent discomfort of these conversations might feel like a lot,” Borges writes. “But that’s the point. The fact that white supremacy allows us to tune out and step back from these conversations is indicative of the very privilege we should be putting to better use. We have to build up stamina, not run from the work under the guise of self-care.”
Deciding to unplug now is absolutely a decision borne of privilege. I acknowledge that. I am choosing to do it because I can feel myself becoming less valuable of an ally by the day. I am not sleeping as well as I would like, not thinking as clearly as I would hope, and not feeling as energized as I want to be. To Borges’ point, I want to use this time to build up stamina so I can do greater, more meaningful work ahead.
My plan is to take two weeks off from writing this newsletter and posting to social media. If all goes well, I’ll return on Tuesday, July 7, rested and with some fresh insights to share. I will not take a break from doing the deeper work of better understanding and working against racial injustice. I’m also not taking a break from bettering myself in other ways, especially in regards to becoming a mom. I will be doing both those things in a less frazzled, less performative, more sustainable way.
I’m a big believer in public accountability, so here are some of the ways I’m planning to spend my time.
Writing letters to my future child. Over the past few weeks, I’ve felt torn between paying attention to the news and paying attention to my pregnancy. Eventually, I realized I could care about both things simultaneously, and that I will always need to balance caring for my child while also caring about what’s happening in the world. In an effort to find that balance, I’ve been spending quiet mornings writing short letters to our baby, telling her about this moment in history and what I’m learning. It’s a sweet and meaningful way to process what’s happening—both in the news and in my belly.
Building community action into my routine. Instead of responding immediately to everything I’m consuming on social media—making a one-time donation, signing up for a webinar when my schedule is already packed, sharing the same graphic I’ve seen circling around, and so on—I want to identify ways to continue taking action and educating myself even after this moment passes. From setting up monthly donations to setting reminders to write to local officials, there are plenty of habits and routines I can build to be a better citizen in the long run.
Reading, watching, and listening. According to my latest Screen Time report, I spent an average of 4 hours and 8 minutes a day on my phone last week. Yikes! Borges explains that “we often tell ourselves scrolling, boosting, and consuming an endless diet of media is equal to action and involvement when all we’re actually doing is draining ourselves of energy that could be put to better use.” I’m planning to use some of my newfound social media-free time to consume media more mindfully.
Reassessing my own work. I’m going to start tracking the diversity of the authors I’m reading and quoting in this newsletter. Likewise, I’m planning to revisit the inclusiveness of the language I’m using in my mentor project, Digital Women Leaders. I suspect I could do better.
Leaving room for self-exploration. As might be apparent from the list above, I have a tendency to treat relaxation time like work time—filling it up with just as many tasks and responsibilities, and leaving little room for rest. I’m going to try to avoid that trap. Instead of scheduling every minute of my time over the next two weeks, I’m hoping to create space that allows me to better listen to my intuition. What am I feeling at this moment? How can I befriend this sadness? What would make my body and mind feel better right now?
Taking a break doesn’t mean opting out from what’s important. When done mindfully, self-care can help us to reach our larger goals, process difficult emotions, and take better care of others. (And speaking of being mindful, it’s important to note that today’s concept of self-care was largely conceived by Black women!) I’m really looking forward to taking this time off, just as I’m looking forward to returning and sharing my takeaways with you.
See you in July, friends. In the meantime, please take care of yourselves, while keeping the greater good in mind.
My Sweet Dumb Brain is written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, who needs this time, too, to address her own grief and do some necessary self-work. Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash.