The Call for Emotional Labor

I’ve spent half of my week sick in bed: chugging fluids, downing Vitamin C, closing my eyes while drowning out the world with music and Bob’s Burgers. My friend, Mary had gotten sick the day after the Womxn’s March but miraculously, I felt a hunnid. I thought I had managed to steer clear but turns out, the one day I didn’t wear my poncho scarf, is the one day the rain pours, the wind roars and germs are rampant.

But I do think there is more to me getting sick than that scientific explanation.

Last year, when I was a Jesuit Volunteer, the combination of being away from my home, friends and family, living with white folks whose unchecked entitlement made me feel inhuman, and working at a job where black and brown staff particularly womxn were taken advantage of at every turn – I got colds more frequently than normal. Despite my best efforts to self-care by journaling, making music, talking with friends, going to mass or just getting out of the house, the stress of my life would get to me and I would end up stuck in bed with a bad cold.

Now, it’s the combination of…

  • Feeling despair because so many well-intentioned white womxn have failed to show me that they truly have my back (in work settings, interpersonal relationships, and most recently, the womxn’s march).
  • Feeling powerless as I watch Trump throw out Executive Orders that demonstrate how he values money, power and growth even at the detriment of humanity and the earth.
  • Feeling exhausted from my personal struggle of working to resist society’s values of material wealth, image and power in the form of domination on a daily basis.
  • Taking on some of the pain and frustration from the people I care about who are experiencing life crises such as job loss, depression, and theft. (I’m a total empath, meaning I tend to share other people’s pain)
  • Being on my period. ‘Nuff said (though I’m working to embrace the fact my body releases blood on a monthly basis because I think indigenous folks had the right perspective).
  • Being too sick to join in the current protests and marches against the immigration ban and then feeling bad for not being able to lend my presence.

I would name all the feelings I have above as emotional labor. Wikipedia defines emotional labor as “the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job.” Often, we tend to think of emotional labor as something only therapists, doctors, and suicide hotline responders (to name a few) do. As a human being who has needed to process a variety of emotions in her 20+ years of being, I say that emotional labor is part of being human. We need to process our emotions to exist.

#Throwback to when I would just sit on my roof and be.

Emotional labor is real but unfortunately, the Western patriarchy is not about it. Western culture has been on this path of dismissing emotions since it decided it was okay to kill people for land and power (a.k.a. imperialism). Then, there was the big shift in thinking during the Enlightenment period better known as the Age of Reason. Science, logic and reasoning took precedence over art, culture and emotion. This is one of the greatest lessons that Matteo Ricci College taught me: why white folks are the way they are today.

Look, whether you want to use the terms I’m using (Western patriarchy, imperialism, fascism, etc.), it’s clear that the world wants us to work, work, work, work, work – without giving us ample space to process the emotions that go into the work. There’s emotional labor when it comes to navigating everything: what to say in everyday conversations and interactions, what to wear on a daily basis, and how to assimilate to Western ideals and professionalism (to name a few).

Like I’ve previously mentioned, simply existing comes with emotions. Now add in all the emotions that go into trying to resist all of the degrading and brainwashing systems and individuals of our time. THAT’S a lot more emotions to process.

That’s why there are so many articles floating around these days about self-care amidst Trump administration headlines. [x] [x] [x] [x]

#Throwback to when I had long hair and long bike rides were part of my self-care.

Self-care is a form of emotional labor that replenishes rather than exhausts. It is the kind of emotional labor we should be doing so we can get up to exist another day, so we can educate ourselves and see the strategic racism and genocide around us, so we can resist these institutions that tell us to think only for ourselves and not for the greater collective. Black and brown folks and materially poor communities are taken advantage of, policed and killed everyday. This is no coincidence. Wake the f*ck up, my fellow Fil-Ams. I digress.

As a Filipinx American, the idea of choosing to take care of oneself sometimes clashes with our socialized value to take care of those around us a.k.a. the collective. I spent years feeling ashamed and guilty when how my self-care did not always align with my parents’ traditions to care for the collective. During my high school and college years, I internalized the anger I felt around my experiences as a Filipinx American: being one of a few Asians in my class, feeling like I had to live up to this “model minority” myth, and feeling othered for enjoying Filipinx cuisine. I spent those years trying to do things that made me happy, which often left my parents frustrated because I seemed to stop valuing our family collective. In retrospect, I realize I was just trying to cope with the emotional labor that the United States education system was putting me through – with individual self-care.

#Throwback to a night of collective healing with my cousins in the form of catching up over Settlers of Catan and Tatchos

Since then, I’ve learned that self-care takes form in two ways: individual and collective. Both types of self-care are lifelong processes that take time and energy to understand. Recent resources that have helped me understand my individual and collective needs include bell hooks’ Communion: The Female Search for Love and this Black Lives Matter PDF on healing justice.

We need to put the same amount of emotional labor that the world forces us to give into ourselves. Process your grief, anger and pain around today’s political and social landscape. Give yourself space when the headlines get exhausting. And definitely take care of yourself when your body starts to fail you as did mine.There are a lot of emotions to process as members of the Filipinx diaspora. We must start looking at emotional labor as part of the labor we do on a daily basis.The Filipinx diaspora can only exist and resist alongside other black and brown folks if we are alive. And when you’re alive and kickin’, don’t be afraid to bring your whole self to the table, emotions and all (this in itself is a form of resistance).

I hope you give yourselves the time to emotionally labor with #walanghiya. And when you’re ready, use your energy, your resources, your networks, your being to resist and change this societal culture that tries to oppress us by depleting our energy through emotional labor.

Thank you to everyone who has ever emotionally labored with me, for contributing to my journey to embracing my emotions without judgment. And personal shout outs to Mary, Liz and El for editing this piece and processing with me. Also, final shout out to Claudette Brady at Slip Stitch Needlecraft, a yarn store that has been a mental wellness safe haven for me the past year and a half. It’s currently in danger of closing so please, if you’re about collective healing, supporting local and black-owned businesses, please contribute a few dollars to her GoFundMe. 

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