An interview between Julia Métraux and Fariha Róisín on Róisín's book Who Is Wellness For?
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Growing up, many of us are taught that being sick is a sign that we’re not taking care of ourselves. This is just one of many erroneous messages about wellness that chronically ill people have to face and force ourselves to unlearn.
In her book Who Is Wellness For? An Examination of Wellness Culture and Who It Leaves Behind, Fariha Róisín, a multimedia artist and the daughter of two Bangladeshi parents born in Australia, questions the current state of wellness culture that has been colonized and commodified, as well as what wellness should look like in an ideal world for people who are navigating chronic illness, mental illness, or a combination of the two.
Unlike many self-help books on wellness, which are arguably just wellness culture commodified, Róisín interrogates the barriers that keep certain people from incorporating wellness into their lives. To succeed in a Westernized wellness culture, your problems need to be easily “fixable.” This leaves out people with chronic illness and mental illness, and people who cannot afford to buy expensive “wellness” classes and products. How do we break down these barriers? Community care is just a start.
Róisín talked to DAME about the process of writing her book, the importance of access to care and how communities can support wellness, both in ourselves and in those around us.
In Who Is Wellness For, you wrote about the importance of actively working on replacing self-harm – both physically and how we can be destructive to ourselves mentally – with self-love. I am wondering if the work of writing this book was an act of self-love for yourself?
One-hundred-thousand percent it was an act of self-love. That sort of consistency of actually sitting down with myself and having to face so many parts of myself that I didn’t actually necessarily want to face. Even if I knew about them, they weren’t things that I actually like, something like my sexual abuse, it’s there. I know it’s there. But do I want to now unearth this in order to show it to other people?
It’s embarrassing. It’s difficult. It’s ugly. It’s slimy. There are so many parts of it. It doesn’t feel like I’m fitting myself into this neat little box. I think being a public person, in so many ways, is a performance and I don’t know how to perform. I just can only be myself. So the book, trying to put all of those things out in order to address them not only for myself but for other people was such an act of self-love.
Due to intergenerational trauma, people from certain ethnic groups have higher rates of physical and mental illness (including myself, I’m Jewish). How does the pressure of personal responsibility on “fixing” mental and physical health conditions ignore the fact that we’re also dealing with a history of trauma far beyond us?
What I’m trying to do with this book is to explain that care or access to wellness should be public health. It should be available to everybody. It shouldn’t be an issue if you have more needs or certain needs because you’re chronically ill, because you are disabled, because you are traumatized, [or] because you are mentally ill. Those things should not be put on you or your family to find a way out of. It’s the government’s responsibility in many countries, like in Australia, where I’m from.
Many more of us than not need extra care, and we’ve denied ourselves that for so long, then that just exacerbates the issue.It exacerbates mental health. It exacerbates chronic illness. It isolates you. Care is everything, having care and access to care. People that care for you, a community that cares for you, [and] a culture that cares for you should be our priority, because of intergenerational trauma, epigenetics, all of the things that we’ve experienced.
People that experienced that level of trauma are going to pass that trauma down. We’re still not taking into consideration what is war, what is migration was mass migration. What are the impacts of colonization? How does that actually affect the way that we then engage with one another? We still haven’t improved the ways in which we understand how people’s traumas affect their livelihood, and we should care.
On the topic of how access to care is an individual financial responsibility in the US, I’m reminded of how GoFundMes have been created to support survivors of the Uvalde mass school shooting. Right now, we’re still relying on a capitalistic system, where people literally have to donate through GoFundMe to make sure these kids get therapy.
I have chills. During the pandemic, it is kind of a joke where people are just like, “Is this how we get public health now, through GoFundMe?” Is that what gives us care? It really is, and that is sad. Mutual aid is powerful, and I think it is sort of the antidote to capitalism, but ultimately capitalism is the engine that that circulates everything.
There’s a reason that the United States is being challenged on so many different fronts. I think we really have to face the ugliness that exists in this country. This is not the first school shooting. It’s not going to be the last, and yet we’re still here. So what will it take? I think the only way for it to change is revolution.
Pivoting topics a bit, how can participating in wellness practices that have not been colonized by the Westernized wellness culture be a form of resistance and self-love?
I’ll use myself as my own case study. The more I devote myself to the care of myself and also what that looks like for me, it’s not participating in like this like engine of wellness or this Wellness Industrial Complex where I need to buy this serum. I’ve kind of gone back to a more internal place and gone into the core of myself to really look at, why am I sick? Why is my body sick? What is happening here? My body is trying to speak to me. There is an empowerment that I’ve gotten with understanding my body is actually really powerful regardless of what it looks like, or regardless of how it may not exist within the confines of normalcy.
Every day, I have to be really concerned about what I eat. That kind of consideration was something that was really difficult for me when I was growing up. I wanted to rebel against it. The more I focus on wellness, the more I focus on care, the more I focus on investing in myself and not just in artificial or superficial ways, I have found such a profound awakening.
How have communities that you have been with over time changed what healing and wellness look like for you?
The older I’ve gotten, the better understanding that I’ve had of myself. The more we have the language of ourselves, the more other people can ask others to hold us with more complexity and appropriately. That’s been really profound for me to be like, “Oh, I can actually show up as a better version of myself when somebody is able to be like, ‘These are my needs, and this is what I want from you.’”
It does take community effort and community care, and I think it’s I’ve just naturally gravitated more towards the people that care about those things. Care is important to everyone, and it should be accessible to everyone, especially in a community. We should all be looking after one another.
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