As a low-income student, I was reliant on Iowa’s Medicaid for most of my time at Grinnell. I remember feeling a lot of fear this past spring, when my Medicaid was suddenly privatized, not knowing what it meant for the future of my health. Lord knows that SHACS is so underfunded that I can barely even rely on it for my physical healthcare needs, let alone my mental health. So I took a deep breath, and had hope that my healthcare would remain stable. I thought lots of positive thoughts.
Of course, positive thoughts won’t pay the bills. It certainly didn’t pay the bills to keep Central Iowa Family Planning open. Like a lot of Grinnell College students, I was reliant on CIFP for my birth control and reproductive health needs. It was also where I went to get my blood pressure taken once every six months. I don’t have a primary care physician back at home– CIFP was the closest I had to anything like that. And it was closed down, as a direct result of the Medicaid privatization decision.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve drunk a lot of tea. I try to work out more often. I “unplug” and I am “mindful.” And none of those things will help me if I have a medical emergency. None of those will help me pay for the antidepressants that I need. None of those things are healthcare.
The discourse around self-care is important– the idea that doing the things that you need to do is not selfish, it’s actually the right thing to do, is critical to functioning as a person in this grueling capitalist system. But self-care only works if it is a complement to having stable housing, food supplies, living wages, and healthcare. The discourse has shifted to making self-care the focus point, which turns into a kind of emotional neoliberalism where if you are suffering from any sort of mental illness, it’s your own fault for not doing enough yoga. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and “Be Less Sad.”
There is also a sort of defeatism in learning to accept your oppression and be moderately less sad about it, rather than going ahead and changing it. A lot of my anxiety is a biological issue with my neurotransmitters. But the intense fear of not knowing whether I could afford to go to a doctor if I underwent some medical emergency? That causes a lot of anxiety as well. And the idea that I just need to be content with my lack of economic security is pretty disgusting, and it benefits people in power.
Staying in some nights won’t save me. Meditation can’t save me. Medication might. Economic security might. Our end goal should be an equitable society, not a society where we all do yoga to distract ourselves from the lack of equality.