In a recent email exchange with Queerie, I mentioned I’ve come down with a vicious case of feminist writer’s block. It might just seem like a turn of phrase to excuse why I haven’t been posting lately, but it’s far more insidious than that.
I’m usually fairly good at taking care of myself—I try to sleep enough, give myself a bubble bath if I’m feeling stressed, treat myself to a latte if I’ve had a bad day, and work out any lingering frustration with a long run and a weight-lifting session. Other little habits (seemingly unimportant) have become methods of self-care: sitting in the sun until I start to sweat, listening to my iPod on the train instead of trying to socialize, and even just the tiny act of using my hands on myself rather than a toy.
Sometimes self-care is isolation—making sure those around me are aware that I don’t want to be touched—and sometimes it’s community—asking to be held, or eating with a friend rather than by yourself. Whether I’m dealing with too much homework, family struggles, friend drama, relationship nonsense, or just a cramping uterus, some magical combination of these methods usually does the trick to lift my spirits.
But I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed lately, snuggled up to nothing but my own stress and loneliness. And I have no good reason to do it. Or do I?
I attended a conference last year that offered a session on Self-Care for Activists. In an ironic twist of fate, I ended up being too busy with other projects to attend that particular session, but the title got me thinking. I’ve been doing a lot of activist work lately, both in my community and in others, and it’s taking its toll on me.
Here’s the thing: caring about other people is hard. It’s exhausting. And to deal with the eternal plight of the activist—namely, that 95% of your actions have no immediate positive consequences—is to shoulder a great deal of emotional responsibility. Sometimes I get stuck in a horrible headspace, lying in bed for days on end and wishing that somebody else (ANYBODY else) could do my work for me. Somebody else could spend their time wishing on what you think is a gleaming star but realize over time is just an airplane. A toxic one, pumping out smoke, hatred and bigotry all over the world, making your task seem increasingly impossible.
It happens to all of us at some point, whether we’re activists or just people who care for others in our everyday interactions—as friends, lovers, family members, and so on. Some people call it burnout; others just call it getting stuck in a rut. Whatever it is, it leaves us feeling exhausted, miserable, and incapable of giving one more hug, signing one more petition, or writing one more article.
Do I have a good reason to lie in bed pitying myself? I don’t know. Probably not. But at least I have some insight into what’s stuck me in this rut. Without proper self-care, we activists will inevitably suffer the worst kind of burnout: apathy. We need to develop better methods of activist self-care. We need to keep our fires burning.
Writing this piece is a first step—maybe reading these words will remind me of how insignificant my problems are in comparison to the ones I’m trying to solve (even if I’ll never fully solve them).
And my next step is to get the fuck out of bed.