LGBTQI Activists and Self-Care – When young LGBTQI+ people decide to engage in activism, in order to advocate for their rights, contribute to their community, or support each other, they encounter the concept of burnout. I was first introduced to burnout by other young LGBTQI activists, when I joined my local organization. At that point I couldn’t possibly see it coming. Joining this organization seemed – and remains – one of the best decisions I felt to have taken in my life, and I wanted to give all of me to its work.
I did everything voluntarily – I was never pressed into doing something I didn’t want to do. About nine months later I signed up for the board of the organization. That was completely voluntary – it was me finding a way to offer even more, it was what I wanted. Yet burnout came only a couple of months later. I struggled – a lot. But I’d heard stories of people dropping out of activism because of burnout. I considered giving up several times. But every time after an anxiety episode or a weariness breakdown I realized that there was nothing that would make me more incomplete as a person than giving up on the one thing that was my choice 101%; the thing that was for me, for the recognition of my identity, for my partner’s rights, for my community, the people I love and admire.
I decided to impose my limits and try my hardest – a very difficult quest, sometimes – to learn how to say no. I realized that taking up on one less project might fuel you for more energy to focus on what you’re already caught up with. One person can’t do everything. I decided to take breaks whenever I felt it necessary; better several small breaks to recharge than a huge one – completely disappearing because you can’t take the pressure anymore.
So, what is there to do if you are a young activist in order to maintain the enthusiasm and dedication that comes with all beginnings? Hopefully, there are things.
- First of all, what is burnout?
According to Lifelong Activist, “burnout is the act of involuntarily leaving activism, or reducing one’s level of activism”. It is furtherly explained that burnout is not a conscious, personal choice due to a change of priorities or a shift of time/energy distribution in one’s life. It is much rather an “I can’t take the pressure anymore” reflex. Burnout is often experienced by physical and mental health professionals, volunteers and activists. It is very common in voluntary work that requires socialization, personal involvement because what you’re fighting about affects you directly, advocacy, support and helping work.
A burnt out activist doesn’t only suffer from mental instability and weariness – which negatively affects their wellbeing to an extreme. They also stop being able to offer anything to the movement.
The number one most important thing to keep in mind if you feel burnt out is that none of this is your fault. You’ve probably reached this point, not because you haven’t given enough, but because you’ve given too much to the movement, probably more than you were able to in the first place.
- What does burnout have to do specifically with activism?
I went through serious burnout a couple of months ago: I lost all motivation to do good work, to even do the things that make me happy and relaxed, like organizing a LGBTQ+ book club which was my initial goal.
After that Pride came, there were certain events that included my partner’s safety being at stake because of how dangerous what we do can possibly be with the current situation in my country, and our organization having to spend sleepless nights to respond to countless attacks and blames from people that either deemed us as too politically radical, or not enough.
There are certain points when you are 22, mentally ill, experiencing homophobia and transphobia every day in a hostile society, studying and working two part time jobs to financially support yourself, haven’t slept in days and have to respond to the insults of 50-y/o lawyers while making sure that fascists don’t find you in the street, when you just wanna give up and crawl into your room for decades.
When you do something that you are interested in and work for social issues that personally affect you or your community, when you get into something so excited that you forget how to give time to yourself and instead take up on more and more projects, you end up spending all your energy way too fast, and you are left feeling breathless and lost, and trying to find your initial purpose in what you’re doing. Most of the times you don’t know where burnout comes from, especially considering that you’re doing something you love. This activist culture that leads to burnout is the one that prioritizes being on the front line all the time, and never stepping out of an activity that will benefit our cause.
Burnout comes from not being able to set your personal limits, or to balance your personal life, your academic and professional life with your activism and volunteering. But that doesn’t mean you don’t care enough; it’s more than okay to have a hard time finding that balance. It’s only normal when our lives as people are so multidimensional. It takes a lot of time and experience in order to figure out limits and balance, and even then it’s probable that we will still miscalculate.
- How to tell you are experiencing burnout?
Burnout is a different and unique experience for each person, so don’t expect your feelings of discomfort to be identical to those of your pal’s. For me and for many other people, it was losing interest in what I was doing even though it was what I genuinely cared the most. Burnout is distinguished by bad days in that it persists for a long time and might get worse while time passes without an actual and mental break. As this article indicates, it may consist in feelings of anxiety, guilt, isolation, irritability, pessimism, fatigue, lack of motivation, and other negative feelings that you may experience all at once, one at a time, or none at all.
- The importance of self-care
Learning how to care for yourself, hearing your own needs and prioritizing them, is vital for your survival in the activist lifestyle in order to not feel like giving up what you care about the most. You need to remember that there is nothing to feel guilty or selfish about when you simply need some time for yourself. We are human beings; not robots. We live multi-dimensional lives, with problems, needs, relationships and obligations. We need to feel stable and balanced in ourselves first in order to be able to contribute to our cause and communities. As Audre Lorde, a brilliant black lesbian poet, feminist and activist famously said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
So, how does self-care work?
The first step is realizing that you need self-care – that we all do – and try to undress this need of the guilt. Then, it is important to ask yourself what you need. Hear your specific needs. You might need less socialization because it has exhausted you in its excess, or you might need more of it because at this point you value human contact and support from your community more than other things. Hear your body, soul and mind. No two people’s self-care can be identical. It’s also hard to put self-care in your schedule, particularly when your schedule is full enough to not have time for enough sleep or food. But these are forms of self-care as well. Make sure you find time for sleep, eating properly, drinking enough water, maybe exercising or meditating, catering to one’s specific mental health needs whether they may be therapy, socialization, time-out, or medication. Sometimes you may struggle to find some time to fit things you like doing in your schedule, but it is vital that you try to make up time for it.
Self-care may be doing something relaxing that does not require much concentration, like reading fanfiction or scrolling down on Tumblr. It might be watching Disney movies, reading your favorite author or merely staring at the ceiling doing nothing. It might be eating something that you don’t usually eat, or a simple stroll at night with your friend, dog, or partner. Self-care is learning how to say “no” when you can’t take more pressure and responsibility, without feeling guilty that you’re putting yourself first for once. It might be art, reading, writing, socialization or isolation, pet or nature time, or simply watching vlogs and taking the time to cook for yourself.
Self-care is a form of resistance, and you can find countless ways to perform it with a simple Google search. You are not spoilt or whiny for needing some balance in your life before going on with doing what’s important. Your deserve this as much as your cause deserves you.