What constitutes an act of self-care? The internet is full of suggestions on how to prioritize oneself, ranging from meditation to hot tea, prayer to yoga, face masks to nap time. Although such rituals are often enticing, they are not always feasible ― not when there is dirty laundry all over the floor or a pile of dishes in the sink.
London-based occupational therapist and illustrator Hannah Daisy had this very tension in mind when she was creating illustrations that celebrate the more banal accomplishments that can go uncelebrated, from going grocery shopping to simply getting out of bed.
The illustrations resemble DIY badges honoring achievements that require dedication, energy and resilience, even if they aren’t traditionally valued as such. One commemorates cooking and eating a nourishing meal, another changing the sheets or going outside. Such undertakings can seem simple, but for those dealing with illness, disability, depression, anxiety or fatigue, they can be revolutionary.
The conception of self-care as a radical act has roots in the civil rights movement, when women of color created spaces and ceremonies to put their health and bodies first. Self-care was, as Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, an assistant professor at the New School, explained to Slate, “a claiming [of] autonomy over the body as a political act against institutional, technocratic, very racist, and sexist medicine.”
In 2017, as a patriarchal government threatens the well-being and survival of marginalized American citizens, self-care is a crucial way for individuals to emphasize their mental and physical health. Yet some of the rhetoric surrounding self-care can over-emphasize rituals like shopping or beauty routines and can subsequently alienate those people who can’t afford to spend the money or time required to partake in them.
As an occupational therapist, Daisy helps people grappling with illness, disability or neurodiversity to accomplish daily tasks, sometimes helping them to readjust to former habits after a physical or mental transformation, other times helping them find completely new approaches and tactics. As she explained in an email to HuffPost: “Really, when we become ill, the biggest problem is ― how the hell am I going to do X task?” Daisy helps her clients figure that out.
In the realm of occupational therapy, self-care refers to a wide range of “occupations,” or “things you have to do every day” ― a somewhat different understanding than most contemporary self-help guides prescribe.
“I started noticing that online, self-care was talked about in a very different way,” Daisy explained to HuffPost, “often only about nice or lovely things you can do for yourself, like a bubble bath, a massage, buying nice crystals, etc. ... I started to feel that conversations online about self-care often alienated people [who thought], ‘I can’t go and do this nice thing for myself because I have this huge pile of washing up and my house is a tip.’”
Daisy began to illustrate some of the lesser-acknowledged actions that help bring people clarity and peace of mind. She uploaded the drawings on Instagram along with the hashtag #boringselfcare. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with many grateful to see responsibilities that can feel burdensome if not impossible framed as triumphs, instead of givens.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to educate oneself about the importance of mental health and the various illnesses and disorders that should not be stigmatized or silenced, but explored. Daisy’s illustrations, revolutionary in their everydayness, offer a perfect place to start.