It’s OK if you haven’t done anything today. Cut yourself some slack – we’re living in a global pandemic #selfcare”
That seems to be the gist of a good chunk of social media posts, floating around since March. And the authors of those nuggets have really been hitting their stride as we approach the anniversary of lockdown in the UK.
While the general sentiment is hard to argue with – certainly, the last 12 months and counting have felt like climbing a mountain with an ever-retreating peak – there are plenty of people for whom “not doing anything today” isn’t an option. I mean, it’s an option, but they’ll probably get fired.
I’m struggling to imagine the person penning these niceties, or who they think is reading them. Does this content circulate primarily among oligarchs and aristocrats? Are these social media authors heirs to vast fortunes? Do they live with mum and dad, perhaps? If so, I wonder how they would fare were their parents to take the advice, lose their incomes and join the #selfcare party.
Whether the posts are penned with genuine good intent or wilful ignorance to most people’s daily reality, they are a Trojan Horse. It’s ostensibly friendly to tell people to look after themselves (that’s the horse), but the posts contain a degree of moral superiority as well as an implicit monetary one. Here come the Greeks, roaring into the breach and proffering profound wisdom beyond the grasp of the likes of little old us – hamsters running in wheels, so single-minded that it doesn’t occur to us to stop. Just remember to take a break is on a patronising par with telling someone anxious to calm down. Thanks!
Other #selfcare posts come packaged via an influencer’s glossy brand persona, similarly dual-barbed but even more disingenuous. Here, truisms are puckered with hashtags and maybe even a sponsor or two, all wielded to illustrate a carousel of enviable photos – a delicious vegan meal or a glowing #makeupfree selfie, exhibits A and B in the show trial of productivity. Not only are influencers making a bomb while they tell the rest of us to cool it, they put us under pressure to add #kalesmoothies and #facemaskfriday to a never-ending to-do list.
No matter the specifics, then, the message underpinning these posts is damaging as well as deflating. In my experience, grinding to a halt is generally a bad sign – fatigue and lack of motivation are both symptoms of depression, and that has abounded in the employed and jobless alike over the last year.
I don’t mean “pull your socks up” – quite the opposite. Rather, if you’re finding said socks consistently round your heels, that might be worth a conversation with a professional, not a coterie of Instagrammers. Similarly, I’m not talking about people who can’t work due to physical or mental illness, the faltering pandemic economy or the myriad specificities of personal circumstance that make a 9-5 job impossible. But then again, the authors of these posts aren’t either.
We can all agree that the diverse traumas of the coronavirus crisis have provided more than enough raw material for the owner of even the stiffest upper lip to curl up into a ball and howl. Nonetheless, for many, the prompt to “take the week off, you deserve it” is about as viable as, “just take a quick holiday to the Bahamas”. Find me a person who wouldn’t stop, even if only for an afternoon, if they felt like they could. Instead, we are informed, the show must go on.
On the other hand, I’m aware that this is a case of grapes so sour that Aesop could scarcely have dreamt them. Not a week has passed since the pandemic started where I haven’t felt like screaming by Thursday. I’m shattered, and I’m not the only one. The crisis’ background static might have fuzzed into white noise by now, but it’s had untold impacts on everybody’s bandwidths; from emotional robustness to tackling the washing up without getting a bit surprise-weepy, the idea that we’ve got enough in the tank for rampant professional productivity is laughable. All this is true, and yet...
For me and millions of other people, it’s not up to us whether a #selfcare day is “okay”. The pandemic has amplified precarity along with societal inequalities. As a freelancer who’s fallen squarely through the gaps of both the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and furlough schemes, the sense that a single slip could send the spinning plates crashing down is ever-present.
Despite Rishi Sunak’s record spending, there remain huge swathes of the population for whom the edict “work from home” or “isolate for 10 days” are simply unviable. One domino, one day’s missed wage, and the whole production comes tumbling down. Parents pivoting from conference call to nappy change, up till midnight finishing their day job’s to-do list, are making it through by the skin of their teeth.
All these people need a day – nay, a year – off, and a chirpy online reminder is less likely to be met with “oh yeah, good point!” than “no kidding”. Tell that to my children. To my boss. To my landlord.
As someone wiser than me noted right at the beginning of the crisis, coronavirus has landed us not so much in the same boat as the same storm. It’s alright for some, and it’s certainly not alright for others.
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