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The Art of Weathering Winter: What “Self-Care” Really Is (and Isn’t)

How to cultivate more community, according to author Angela Garbes & State Representative Darya Farivar

By Annie Midori Atherton February 7, 2023

Angela Garbes by Elizabeth Rudge-cropped

The term “self-care” has become so overused that its meaning can be bent to almost any purpose. Is it indulging in a cocktail or abstaining from booze? Is it splurging on a skincare product or making peace with fine lines? Some have begun to use the term “community care” to refer to a commitment toward collective well-being, rather than fixating on the “self.”

Book cover art curtesy of Publisher Harper Collins

I thought of these concepts when speaking to two Seattleites who are leading conversations about what it means to live for collective good: writer Angela Garbes, whose book Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, was ranked among The New Yorker’s best books of 2022, and State Rep. Darya Farivar, who was recently elected in the 46th Legislative District in northeast Seattle. They’re two of many people I’ve interviewed recently about how they make the most of winter, and their answers are a testament to how caring about what you do can be a source of motivation during literal or metaphorical dark times.

Though Garbes has lived in Seattle for the better part of 20 years (currently on Beacon Hill), she still finds the winter tough.

“Every October, I’m like, ‘Why do I live here?’” she jokes.

This year, she’s feeling an even stronger need to rest. Partly, she’s coming off a whirlwind year. But partly it’s just the general exhaustion of having been a parent of two children, aged four and eight, during the past few tumultuous years — a feeling that I relate to deeply as a new parent. I asked her what advice she has for other families.

“I want to place this in context,” she tells me. “We’re entering year four of the pandemic. The last three years have been extremely stressful, and I still feel like I’m making decisions as if I’m in a crisis mode.”

Both of her books highlight the challenges of caregiving in the U.S., where inadequate social and governmental support leave many parents feeling isolated and emotionally threadbare. By leaning into community more, which often means offering and accepting help from others, she argues that we can push back on the norms that make child rearing harder than it needs to be. In Essential Labor, for instance, she describes how developing a symbiotic relationship with a nearby family has been a matter of survival, as they regularly care for each other’s kids. She also finds it helpful to think of parenting in terms of the big picture rather than striving for daily perfection.

“My daughters have more screen time than I ever thought I would give them,” she acknowledges. “That’s what I need to get things done.”

The key for her is to focus on the big picture. As long as her kids get outside time, board games, and trips to local sights like Kubota Garden, she gives herself grace. To tend to her own mental health, she takes daily walks and enjoys cozy nights at home. She’s also open about taking antidepressants.

“Survival sometimes means being easy on yourself, and maybe lowering your standards a bit,” she told me. “Not your standards of caring for yourself and loving your children, but your standards of what that looks like.”

hen she describes what they cook most often in winter —“refrigerator soup” made from throwing whatever leftovers happen to be around — it seems to me an apt metaphor for her view on how caregiving can be. A little haphazard, maybe. Not picture-perfect. But resourceful, warm, and nourishing.

State Representative Darya Farivar, in contrast, is not taking it easy. With the legislature in session, winter is the busiest, most intense time of year for her. It’s also her favorite, but not because she likes the cold.

Photography by LSS Photography

“Seattle winters are brutal,” the 27-year-old Lake City native told me on a call. “It’s nice to have a purpose. I prefer to be as busy as possible in the winter so that dark days go by faster.”

When we spoke, she’d just finished what she considered to be a “tame” week because she “only” worked 12-hour days, sustaining herself with black tea (“very typical Iranian”) and homemade meals packed by her mother.

Though this is her first year as a state representative, Farivar has attended many legislative sessions before while working for the nonprofit Disability Rights Washington. Part of her work there was encouraging people to take part in activism. “It’s amazing to talk to folks who get involved in the legislative process because of horrible things they’ve experienced at the hands of our legal and medical system, and how that helps them move on,” she told me.

“This is part of self-care and recovery. For some people, it’s knowing they did their part in ensuring that others don’t have to go through what they did.”

Photography by LSS Photography

Many people may not even realize that they can testify at legislative hearings, either verbally or in writing. The process can be confusing, though, so Farivar advises starting by contacting a nonprofit organization

whose mission resonates with you. If you’re interested in sharing your story, they may be able to help you craft it in a way that will make it more effective in a political context.

“These organizations are hungry to connect with folks who want to advance all these important issues,” she said. In the meantime, you can also contact your legislators.

Talking to Garbes and Farivar reminded me of another quote that has become somewhat of a cliché, from activist and folksinger Joan Baez: “Action is the antidote to despair.” Hopelessness may be tempting on a dark day with even darker headlines, but there’s always something we can do.

This is the third in a series of interviews titled;  The Art of Weathering Winter in Seattle.

Discover the winter habits of Seattle Chef, Mutsuko Soma and Shota Nakajima here.

Then, walk a mile (or twelve) in the shoes of Master Gardener, Ciscoe Morris and Gallerist Tariqa Waters here.

Annie Midori Atherton is a freelance writer covering culture, careers, parenting, and more. Her writing has appeared on The Atlantic, the BBC, Insider, and other places. She lives in south Seattle with her husband and toddler.

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