“Tamara, you need to get yourself together, you need to do something, for you.” These were the words that Tamara Filsaime told herself when she was at her lowest and most unmotivated moments during this quarantine. I interviewed Filsaime through a glitchy video-call, pausing every few moments to allow the words to catch up with the video— this is journalism during a pandemic. But for the many drawbacks that this interview format had, the lag allowed for a greater focus on her words and her inspiring story: a story of finding value in everything you do.
Filsaime, like many during the pandemic, has seen massive shifts in her work-home balance, in that there is no balance at all, work has entered the home in an unprecedented way—shattering any such separation. “It got to the point that I was waking up, logging on, and not doing anything more with myself,” said Filsaime. She noted that this felt specifically hypocritical as she was often working in virtual workshop programs, encouraging other young people to stay motivated and active. Meanwhile, she remarked that she was doing nothing to care for herself and that “getting up was hard” and “just taking care of herself” was a challenge. “The first step was acknowledging that something was even wrong— acknowledging that I was feeling like I was in shambles,” said Filsaime.
Living in isolation is a dangerous thing for human beings, according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Health Affairs, there have already been some immediate observable effects of social isolation related to this pandemic. A few effects have been surges in mental health concerns, substance abuse, and domestic violence, as well as an increase in a number of problematic health behaviors— including substance use, poorer sleep, and emotional or overeating. “This is a stressful time for all of us; it is overwhelming in ways that we do not realize, and we are feeling a lot of things that we may not even recognize we are feeling,” said Filsaime. While there may be an increase in the number of “problematic health behaviors,” Filsaime is trying to foster a few more positive behaviors.
It started with taking care of her skin. The seemingly simple act of washing her face served as a launching point for a series of unrelated “unproductive” activities. Activities like yoga, social distance hikes, finding moments of mindfulness in the outdoors, and of course-- rollerskating.
“Part of the reason that I picked up roller skating,” said Filsaime, “was I started seeing a lot of roller skaters on places like TikTok and Instagram, but it was just a lot of white roller skaters.” The history of roller skating, especially with its cultural significance to the Black community, is not lost on Filsaime. She explained that during the Civil Rights Movement, roller skating had a lot of “political and social influence on the Black community,” with skaters protesting for desegregated rinks to have safe spaces for their style, personal expression, and athleticism. To learn more about this history, check out the 2019 documentary United Skates.
In a time that so eerily echoes the social upheaval of the 1960s, the activities Filsaime has embraced are, of course, colored by the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement, initially founded in 2013 as a response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, has once more gained widespread cultural significance after the 2020 murder of George Floyd. As such, the act of a Black woman caring for her own skin takes on a different level of relevance and inherent politicism, and so too does the seemingly benign sport of roller skating, which is actually steeped in a rich tradition and cultural significance. “While taking care of Black lives,” said Filsaime, “we have to acknowledge that while there are a lot of traumatic things happening, there are also beautiful things that have come out from the Black community.” This trauma affects the Black community differently than other groups of people, and the stress and anxiety they feel during this pandemic are only heightened every time they turn on the daily news or use social media. Filsaime suggests that one way to heal this trauma is to practice these acts of self-love and self-care. She also notes that while she has the luxury and privilege of taking time to care for herself through these activities, it is something that anyone anywhere can and should do. “Self-care looks different to everyone,” she said. It could be practicing mindful eating habits, or taking time in the shower to check in on yourself, there are countless activities that you can do throughout the day that takes no additional time, that everyone should try.
So how then do you stay impassioned in a time that has been so draining for so many? Just because everyone can practice self-care does not mean they necessarily have the determination to see it through. “We have an amazing skill to learn new skills. I feel like a kid again, when you learn how to do something and get really excited about it,” said Filsaime. This is how she remains activated and motivated to stick with her activities, she treats the time as something to look forward to. She is also careful to add that if she doesn’t feel like the time is going to contribute to how she wants to feel, then she will do something else, it is all about “encouraging” rather than “forcing.”
Tamara Filsaime has recontextualized her own notion of productivity and success. For too long, work has dictated that you are what you produce— your time is only valuable if it is used to make something. It is exactly this feeling like a “robot” that disillusioned Filsaime to this mindset so much, and brought her to buck against what society thinks is an “acceptable use of time.” This is not the only form of success. “If I am not taking care of myself, I will not be successful, no matter how good I am at my job, or how much I accomplish,” said Filsaime, “none of that matters if I, myself, don’t feel good.”
If success is only measured by what one does in their job, then this pandemic and quarantine have had no effect on Filsaime. But, if you can broaden your own notion of success you may find that the journey of trauma and anxiety to self-care and self-love is indeed nothing short of extraordinary. And you may also find that the potential for productivity is already within you, and dependent on your ability to take care of yourself.
Find more from Gregg on Instagram, @greggariously
Photos courtesy of Francelle Papailler, @passionsofxanxor.
See this article and more in our issue two print release!