One scroll through Cleo Wade's Instagram feed of short, soulful handwritten poetry will tell you that she prioritizes activism in an age when there's no question that it's necessary. She's also a woman who clearly takes the best possible care of herself. "Just a reminder: Self-care is not something you have. It is something you CLAIM," she posted earlier this month.
While both self-care and activism are crucial in this day and age, the two don't always go hand in hand. So when Wade stopped by the mbg office on a blustery winter day, we decided to ask her how she finds the energy to show up at protests and speak out against the current political climate while still finding the space to take care of herself.
As an activist, Wade believes the absolute best way to be effective is to show up for yourself first—whatever that means for you. "You can’t be honest with other people unless you can be honest with yourself," explains Wade. "If we’re ignoring how we feel or our exhaustion and fatigue, we’re going into the world being reactive, and it’s not called 'reactivism.' It’s called 'activism.' So it has to come from a really full space."
She also emphasizes the importance of employing a strategy around activism and protest. "It’s so critical during these times to not allow trauma or drama to become a lifestyle," she says. "Think about it: If you have a huge meeting at work, you're not going to go in the next day exhausted after a night out. We have to approach our lives that way. Whether it’s the numbing or ignoring or constant rage or anger, our reactive qualities won’t do much for us right now. When you feel good—and you deserve to feel good, even when times are tough—we know how to spread that good feeling. We know how to problem solve powerfully, and I think that’s what we need more than anything. And we can’t do that from a drained space."
When it comes to protest, Wade has taken a page out of the book of some her personal heroes: civil rights activists John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr., who practiced nonviolent activism. "If they were going to a protest or rally and someone had had a hard day, they would say, 'I’m actually not nonviolent enough to go to this today. I’m going to stay home and practice. They knew in the face of a police officer spitting on them or something like that, they wanted to maintain their belief system. If they knew if they weren’t rooted enough in it, they stayed home and took care of themselves. I don’t think that we should wrap shame in how we’re feeling about something; we should look at that as a symptom we can go home and treat."
Self-care looks different for everyone, and Wade is no exception. The main thing she practices is acknowledging and embracing exactly where she is. "If I have a day where I just feel really sad or overwhelmed, I don’t wrap that in shame. I think it's really important to be able to say, ‘You know what? I don’t have the energy.' We can take care of ourselves in a variety of ways, whether that means going to an exercise class or sitting at home with your girlfriends or going on a long walk. It's just learning how to console yourself, even if that means sitting at home on your own couch and telling yourself it's going to be OK."