Self-Care or Survival

Growing up in the self-love, self-care era, I feel fortunate to have seen the rhetoric go from self-care as a reward to self-care as a necessity. For disabled people especially, I believe that self care is, at its core, essential to surviving as a disabled person. We are constantly asked to extend ourselves past our limits, to do more than our non-disabled peers despite our limitations! And yes, I say limitations - don’t come near me with the diverse abilities rhetoric. When we discuss reproductive labour, we explicitly ignore the labour disabled people have to put in to manage their conditions, treat their symptoms, and explain very basic concepts to their non-disabled peers (ie. why I have the right to exist as a disabled person).

Alt text: a photo of Carly Fox, a white woman with a full face of makeup on and a simple necklace, wearing a deep v-neck dress and taking a mirror selfie – blue floral background and walls with a light-up mirror frame.

At a NEADS event I hosted recently, I asked Heather Walkus, Chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), how to avoid burnout. Her answer? You can’t! Under systemic ableism, we are pushed to the point of burnout, repeatedly, throughout our lives. Avoiding burnout requires avoiding the systemic ableism found in every aspect of our lives. Will I use this narrative to dismiss my mom when she warns me I’m going to burn out soon? Absolutely! (Sorry mom.)

It’s also worth noting that self-care is inherently subjective - it is personal and vulnerable and an expression of our basic needs. For me, self-care is about connecting with my body through face masks, long showers, yoga, and hearty meals. It’s about connecting with my spirit through spending time in nature and with music. It’s about connecting with my mind by just listening to it and exploring where my thoughts and feelings are coming from. Does anything about checking in on yourself, determining your needs, and acting on this sound like a treat? A reward? A luxury? Sometimes the last thing I want to do is sit alone with my thoughts and dive into them!

When we see self-care as a luxury or a privilege, we’re aligning ourselves with the same systems that see us as inputs in productive systems instead of humans. We’re alienating ourselves from our own bodies and needs! And, we push a classist rhetoric that poorer people can’t engage in self-care, or don’t deserve it. Are you seeing the problem here?

But here’s where I do a sharp turn and some of you fall off: my day yesterday at a nature wellness resort was a privilege and a luxury! It was a reward! Was it still self care? Absolutely! Was it essential? Absolutely not!

For anyone with disposable wealth and/or economic privilege, I think we’re the ones that have to do the heavy lifting when it comes to shifting the self-care narrative: we can’t act like spa days are essential to our wellbeing. We can’t use self-care as an excuse to ignore our privilege.

Yesterday was self care + : I listened to what my body needed (a break) and I gave it what it needed (a break) - there’s just easier and more accessible ways to treat that need than disappearing from reality for a whole day to drink sangria in hot tubs.


Carly Fox (she/her/elle) is a disability rights advocate sharing her experiences with physical disabilities, mental illnesses, and neurodivergency to explore the intersections between these communities, systemic ableism, and building a barrier free future.In her professional capacity as a researcher and communications officer for a by-and-for disabled students organization, Fox examines topics including self-advocacy and accommodations and connects with disabled student leaders across Canada.

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