Saturday, May 31, 2014

From self-care to community care

I'm tired, y'all.  Not physically tired, and not drained soul is just tired.  It's telling me to be quiet, to hibernate for a moment, to sit and read books unrelated to the issues that I care about most deeply.  To write until I find some stillness.  Until I can put my finger on what it is that's nagging at me.  I took a long walk last night, and then sat outside with my journal until it was too dark to see the paper.  I wrote a little, but I mostly just sat and stared and thought.  It's been a long time since I've just sat and stared and thought.  Today, I went to yoga, and left a bunch of garbage I didn't need on my mat.  I feel lighter, and my thoughts are clearer.  I'm feeling about ready to re-engage with the world.

I'm friends with lots of awesome people.  I read a handful of really awesome blogs, and I have found/created a community of people who care a great deal about the same issues I am passionate about.  Considering there was a time I felt extremely isolated in my caring about these issues, this is awesome.  Really.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.  But -- it also means that my Facebook feed, my email, the conversations I's all centered around the same issues.  This week, those issues have exploded: sexism, rape culture, is all over everything.  People are talking.  Some people are listening.  Other people are being assholes.  Still others are not getting it.  Others are arguing and saying everybody has it wrong.

In other words -- hold on to your hats, people -- the internet is still, officially, in working order.  There continues to be the correct percentage of agreement, disagreement and trolling that seem to keep the internet waves in place. 

I posted here about something awesome and wonderful that happened for me.  That thing is still awesome and wonderful and important...but it also made me realize that there is still so much work to be done.  There is always more work to be done.  Always more, and more, and more work to be done.  In part, that's where the burnout comes from, right?  Seeing failure and seeing victories, and knowing that always, always, ALWAYS there is more. 

It's a hard thing to see your reality -- your often undiscussed, often ignored, often silenced reality -- reflected across every inch of everything you read.  It's hard to struggle with the reality of "other women are acting and speaking and telling their stories...and what am I doing?  Why can I not tell my story?  Why can I not act and speak and tell?"  It's hard to see some brief Twitter statement that makes you realize things about your own story.  (Full disclosure: I don't twitter or tweet, so I don't really understand it...but I've seen a lot of #yesallwomen tags posted to Facebook or in articles I read).  This reading, this witnessing, this awareness raising, this conversation-having...this is also a type of work.  It's hard work.  It's hard work because it's hard to witness the suffering, and the anger, and the injustice.  It's hard work because it's hard to reflect on your own suffering, and anger, and injustice.  It's hard work to see the ignorance, and the hatred, and the violence.  It's hard work to see the resistance, and the backlash, and the fighting against every step forward.  There are times when the resistance, the counter-arguments, the backlash feel like a push to keep me moving forward.  There are times when they feel like a slap in the face.  There are times when they re-ignite the spark of righteous anger in me, and there are times when it feels like a deep and painful violation.

I care about many issues.  We all do, right?  But I've realized: as deeply as I care about disability rights and advocacy, and as much as I care about calling out ableism, my relationship with this is entirely different because I am privileged enough to take a break from it.  When I need to take a break from advocating and discussing and reading about it, that's all I have to do: take a break.  What a tremendous privilege.

The issue with sexism, and women's rights, and rape culture, is that (to a large extent) I can't take a break from it.  (Okay, so compared to others, I am incredibly privileged in that I live in a pretty safe area, I am not facing violence or sexism in my home, I live in a country where I have basic human rights, etc, etc, etc).  But -- largely, I feel I can't take that break.  Even when I don't engage it mentally, the facts behind this issue live inside my bones.  They are part of me.  Taking a break feels like letting others down.  It feels like selling out.  It feel like not caring enough, not being active enough.  Taking a break means I'm not this big strong person who has a voice.  It means I fill that stereotype of victim.  It means that I am allowing myself to be silent or silenced.  Who knew there could be so much shame here?  Who knew this act of gathering strength could feel like so much more?  Therein lies the exhaustion.  Therein lies the burnout.  Therein lies the desire to hibernate sometimes: it feels like the only way to escape this reality, without having to face the shame of letting others know I need a break.

But the thing is: we all feel this way.  We have to.  There is no way we can all soldier on without this sense of overwhelm and exhaustion regarding whatever our passions or "hot button issues" may be. 

Of course, the response everybody has (including me) is "practice good self-care."  And let's say we do -- let's say we take deep breaths, and we meditate or go to yoga, or we write or run or walk or sing, or whatever it is we do that makes us feel whole again.  It's awesome, right?  But sooner or later, we're going to feel empty again.  Sooner or later, our cup will be empty, we will have forgotten our oxygen mask, we will be back where we started.

 We forget to mention, too, that activism IS self-care.  For me, learning to have a voice, learning to speak and write and be this person I am becoming -- that has been the most important act of self-care I could possibly imagine.  And yet -- there are also times that it is not the type of self-care that I need. 

So even when I write about self-care here, I am thinking and planning and community organizing in my head.  It is who I am.  So this is what I came to on my drive home from yoga today: this burnout happens in community.  As a result, I can only imagine that the cure also comes from community.  We need our activism to be a self-sustaining, self-perpetuating cycle of filling us up.  We need to find a community self-care.  I can think of few things more radical!

We need to find a way of caring for each other that moves like geese in formation: one of us will lead, and then, before we get tired, we'll fall to the back of the line and someone else will take our place.  There is no shame in falling to the back of that V -- it is expected.  We all take a turn, and we all care for those of us who have most recently run out on the frontlines. 

What would things be like -- how could we imagine this sort of world?  How could we create an intentional community in which this is the way we support one another?  How do we see and respect the burnout in others?  Can we name it for ourselves without shame?  Can we name it for others without insult? 

I don't have answers, friends.  But I'm willing to ask the questions.  I'm willing to call myself out on this shame and hesitation associated with stepping back and breathing.  I'm willing to say that what I need is individual self-care, but also community self-care.  Will you meet me there?  Can we step forward into this place -- and further still into whatever lies beyond -- together?

1 comment:

  1. On Twitter one day, well before this horribleness at UCSB started the latest round of conversation, I got in a discussion about feminist activism. I coined a term, almost out of desperation: "Empathy activism."

    I cannot work from anger. Yes, I sometimes get a sudden spark of energy from it, but it does not sustain me or serve a larger purpose well for me. I understand anger can be a tool for many but for me (for any number of reasons, the largest of which is: I have no good paradigm for working with anger so it overwhelms me) it doesn't work well. It doesn't serve.

    The I'm not sure that's the right term...the ideal I'm working towards (I think, on my best days) is a place where we have these conversations without rancor and hatred and hair-raising. (I am thinking that mainly means: not on the internet. Twitter activism is a WHOLE OTHER THING I'm trying to figure out. It's got very good and very bad sides.) And I see your point about community, too. It is a great way to foster empathy.

    I have no "elevator speech" for what empathy activism is. It is: being a person who wants to reach out, in each conversation, and have the most important thing I can do be to have everyone walk away feeling as if they have been truly heard. To come out of fostering understanding of where the hurt and anger and hair-raising come from.

    It seems to me not something easily done alone. Strength in numbers is a cliche for a reason, I think. =)