Burning Out

I was sick all weekend with a nasty cold, including low-grade fever. As I often do when I get sick, I tried to figure out what happened. I quickly realized that I had burned out. All this anger and fear was creating a lot of stress in me – and stress is probably the biggest factor in most diseases, major and minor. I decided to step back and evaluate because there’s too much at stake right now. I don’t want to keep getting sick. I want to figure out a sustainable way for me to remain active.

Then on Sunday, someone posted a plea to Facebook. They were scared that people on the very margins of our society will get left behind because there’s too much going on. Except that’s not how they put it. Instead, they pleaded to not take a break until we verified that all fires were covered. I noticed how reading this plea was inducing shame in me: I wasn’t working hard enough. I was taking a break, how dare I! Part of my burnout came from those inner voices, of course, however there also seems to be something inherently ablist in activism: There is an assumption that when we take a break it’s because of our privilege. Worse, it seems that taking a break is a sign of failure, of not being committed enough to the struggle. Even the language implies this: Activist, struggle, fight.

Activist burnout is a real thing. While guides (like this wonderful one) are helpful for individual activists to find balance, it might also be important to question the underlying assumptions of activism that seem to leave little room for those of us operating without a full set of spoons. Instead of, for example, making coverage the responsibility of individuals, let’s make this part of our organizations. So, the responsibility of individuals rests on ensuring that our groups do that, that we’re holding them accountable.

Ultimately, I want my activism to reflect the world I want to live in. I don’t want it to be all fight and struggle. There has to be a way that we can include joy, food, and dance as well. Honestly, I haven’t figured out how to do this – yet, hopefully. Now I know that I am looking, though, which makes it more likely that I’ll find it.

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