Self Care in Activist Communities
Why running into other people’s burning buildings can be easier than running into your own
Self care. It’s still important, even in activist circles. Maybe especially in activist circles.
When everything is happening at the world at once right now, as well as lessons from the past and future to take into consideration, sometimes it’s easy to gloss over our own problems and focus on society’s issues. But if the activist isn’t taking care of their own problems in addition to “the rest of the world’s,” then the activist will soon burn out and crumble from their own lack of infrastructure within themselves.
We live in a culture of self disclosure and expression. I was hesitant to write this all down, because I thought that it might make me seem weak or unbalanced. But the more I thought about it, I realized it makes you ahead of the curve if you’re not only able to critically look at yourself, but also to write about it publicly.
I’m talking to my brother while I think about this, and I say “Oh. This is going to be a great blog post article.”
I can’t turn it off. The thinking about the world, the thinking about writing it all out. And I don’t want to. But I also want to create my own life as well: a life that is stable, and healthy for me and those around me.
Treat yourself like you treat your politics
As an activist, the world is everything to you. You dive into it daily, and you are constantly finding new things to listen, learn, write and speak about. But you’ve got to slow down a bit, and treat yourself as just as important as the daily headlines.
Honestly- I don’t know how to help myself right now. And that means I really need to take some time and examine, because I’m out of touch. I need to take time daily again to read myself like I read politics. I need to tell myself what I tell others: authenticity and acceptance are the way to go.
I think I put myself down a lot because I think that what I am struggling with is nothing compared to what others are struggling with in the world. I discredit my own anxiety, and try to ignore my own problems and focus on the big picture and how we can change systems as a society. I feel that wallowing in my own problems in selfish and unhealthy. And while I hold true to this statement, I also think that there is a balance. I should not ignore my own struggles, that is just as bad as ignoring another person’s struggles. If I truly believe in respect and equality, I must take myself seriously.
My struggles don’t need to be equal to others to be important. I just need to keep a perspective, and realize that I need a balance of internal and external reflection. My struggles are my struggles, and no matter how they stack up in the imaginary “hierarchy of struggle,” they still exist, and I must address them. Sometimes it seems easier to take on the challenges of the systems of the world than my own issues, and though I genuinely am fascinated by the world’s systems, this is also using the world partly as a distraction.
The Burning Building
Living with anxiety feels like you are regularly (or could potentially regularly be in) a burning building every day of your life. I have anxiety. I always have, and I probably always will because it is genetic.
Still, I credit my anxiety for all the best things I have ever done in my life, and so I would never want to “get rid of it,” even if that was possible. Since I am a pretty consistently anxious person, I am used to challenging myself to overcoming my fears. I push myself to do things that I am scared of, and that other people are scared of.
In questioning why I do this, I think it’s a few things. I think it’s because if I don’t force myself to face my fears, I know my fears will just get worse. In facing fear is power, in avoiding them gives the fears power over you. Also, as a person who’s anxious a lot of the time, it doesn’t matter when the risks are a little higher. If anything, my anxiety seems much more natural and understandable to other people in more extreme situations than in other everyday life situations. Finally, I think, regardless of having anxiety, I still love the thrill. Maybe I am addicted to that buzz of adrenaline in a way. Maybe I love the thrill of a new anxiety to take me away from my old anxieties I’ve been haunted by.
I’m still talking with my brother when he asks me why I don’t just stop going into other people’s burning buildings and deal with myself first. He has a good point. Even if I can identify with the internal pain others are feeling, if I can’t help myself how can I help them?
I realize that having this anxiety probably helps me identify with groups that have experienced trauma, and other mental illnesses. Interacting with populations who have been through a hell of a life is where I feel that I do good work, and I don’t want to go forget about that.
I’m realizing that, like everything else, I’m not going to solve my anxiety tonight, but I want to start taking down brick wall between me and the part that I don’t know. Walk into abandon. Find it, face it, and go from there. If I’m scared to face it, that’s probably the number one reason I should move forward in discovering what’s there.
Digging into myself and journaling or running to let the thoughts flow is how I help myself. Learning about and strengthening this core within myself is like playing with a bat instead of not knowing the rules of the baseball game at all. At least I’m hitting at something, now. A focus on mental health, with the current running through all the stories I write about other people, but not to forget my own story as well.
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