Woe Is Me! “My Activism Is Taking a Toll on My Mental Health. How Do I Cope?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I love that I am an activist. But my mind has conditioned me to think only in terms ofvarious topics, subjects, and issues. All my dreams are usually where I am being molested. This has caused a severe impact on my mind. Every time I have a fear, I cannot overcome it. Please help me because I have a long way to go and I cannot sit back due to this pity fear.”
— Fighting the good fight
RN: This sounds like something that requires you to step back from your goals a bit and reassess. You cannot have an impact if you don’t take care of yourself, and shield yourself from the things that affect you. It looks like you need a break to get a fresh perspective that can help you continue your work without it giving you nightmares.
But having said that, on some level, it is bound to happen just because you are getting so close to the fire yourself. Try to maintain sight of the larger goals at hand — what is the world you envision that you’re working towards? What does that look and feel like? What if you try to hold on fiercely to this vision, and use that to drive you forward? This shift in perspective is easier said than done most of the time. But this is where you might need to enlist the help of a mental health professional, who can guide you towards healthier thought patterns that keep you focused on your goals without getting burnt by them. It would also be important to have a community you can lean on, and who share your experiences, hopes, dreams, and ideas. You are so important to the world and I hope you don’t feel like this is your burden alone to carry. Think of this work as a choir — when you take a break from singing, the song still goes on.
PB: I can feel your struggle — it’s difficult to be disillusioned by the system and still have to live in it every day. The social and cultural study gives you so much knowledge, and makes you aware of the problems, horrors, and stigmas of today; but it also teaches you how all-encompassing they are. It’s difficult to find joy when you see injustice with the same gaze. I doubt token comfort would help you. I’d rather encourage you to focus on all that is beautiful as well. Injustice and pain exist, yes — but so do happiness and beauty. Continue fighting for the causes you believe in, but please remember that the beauty of the little things is what keeps us going when the bigger picture seems unbearable. The smell of an old book, the crispness of chai in the winter, the flutter of sparrows at dawn, they can seem cliche and innocent and naive.
But perhaps they are what can help you sleep again.
SS: It appears you’re focusing on being an activist for everyone but yourself. This kind of work takes a toll on the best of us, so I think you’re being a bit silly by thinking you’re completely defined by what you do. Also, it limits how and what you learn. The world will always be on fire. The only area you have some control over is your own self and your body. Put out some fires later. First, go take a shower or something. (And lean on a friend to set you up with a trauma-informed therapist. If you can’t sleep, you can’t do anything).
SK: There’s nothing pitiful about this fear. I truly do respect and admire your desire to go on, but I’m glad you brought up the cost that this persistence comes with. It must be crippling to live — and even dream — in a messed up world. I think you’ve taken the first step already by acknowledging the toll it’s extracting. The next step is probably to reach out for support. Do you have access to affordable mental health care or friends/family you could speak to about this? Maybe social communities that fight for causes can also offer support here — in making you feel like you’re not alone. What’s so powerful about every movement is the solidarity network it is built on; strangers come together to fight for something they believe in, maybe they can also help you feel loved and supported. Being an activist is about fighting for causes, but also fighting to protect each other. I hope you start with protecting, even preserving, your health and space.
As you said, it’s a long road ahead. But maybe the idea of companionship can offer some solace.
PR: I am sure it can be very taxing to be constantly fighting for what is right, as it has been. What can maybe help you is to see that activism is work you need breaks from. Take a step back and reflect. And I am sure, the work must be all-consuming, so much so that you probably don’t get enough time to rest, eat, sleep. Take help from mental health professionals to get better at understanding and dealing with your fears. Fighting for what’s right is important, but your health is important too.