Self-Care For The Political Activist

The subject of self care has come up recently, specifically with regards to political activism. With all that’s happening in the United States since our 45th President has taken the oath, it’s become all too easy to feel overwhelmed. Every day seems to bring new and interesting ways in which the current administration wants to dismantle so many of the environmental, social, and economic successes of the last several decades. We find ourselves in a world of “post-truth politics” and “alternative facts”, with an administration whose relationship with truth is sketchy, at best.

A friend planted the idea of a wellness checklist, so I went looking online to see if I could find anything specific to our current state of affairs. While I found many excellent resources for both physical and mental general health, I didn’t find any material geared towards the mental health of political activists.

What I did find was everything from the simple (take care of your body, do something you enjoy) to the complex (interactive games, multi-page PDF self-assessments), and there were many excellent individual points but none of it was quite enough. So here is my stab at Self-Care for the Political Activist. Please do share this far and wide, because we have a lot of work to do and we can't get it done if we all burn out along the way. 

Decide how and where your resources are best spent. You don’t have to do all the things in order to be an effective (or legitimate) activist. If you have anxiety in large crowds, or when talking on the telephone, then direct your efforts elsewhere. Do what you’re good at, whether it’s marching at an event, contacting representatives, engaging friends and family in discussion, or donating to organizations that support your issues of choice.

Decide which issues are most important to you. Think about what you value the most, and what issues align with those values. Pick the top 5 or so, and focus your time and energy on just those.

Set boundaries on the amount of time you spend each day being an activist. This includes everything from reading the news, contacting representatives, organizing or attending events, and even participating in conversations about politics. Remember that this boundary is an upper limit, not a minimal requirement.

Identify your personal trigger topics. If needed, set additional boundaries when engaging on those topics. If there’s a particular issue that hits too close to home, it’s completely OK to avoid engaging, or limit your engagement, if the stress is too overwhelming.

Disengage when you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or hopeless. It is completely OK to take a break, regardless of how near or far you are from your activism boundary that day. Remember that the fate of the country is not resting on your shoulders alone. While you rest someone else is still out there working, and when you’re ready to engage again you’ll be shouldering the burden for someone else who needs a break.

Do something nice for yourself after feats of activism. It can be draining to engage politically, so make sure you take time to recharge. Cuddle with a loved one or pet, watch your favorite movie, get a massage, take a walk along the beach, just do what makes you feel good.

Find or create a support network. There are thousands of groups popping up around the country, where people are gathering to share information, rally for a cause, or create a safe space for like-minded people. If you’re uncomfortable getting together with strangers, find a group online, or get together over tea with some friends.  (See the end of this post for resources.)

Check-in with yourself regularly. Are your boundaries set in a good place, or do they need adjustment? Are you doing too much, or do you feel you’re not doing enough? What needs to change, if anything? Daily journaling can be one way to help with these check-ins.

Look for the positive, and pass it along. Don’t just immerse yourself in news of what’s going wrong, but make time to look for what’s going right, and then share that with others. Whether it’s a news article on a court battle that went the way you wanted it to, or a representative taking a stand, or the media standing up for truth above political affiliations. Spread the love, because you’re not going to be the only one who needs to hear some good news.

Make sure you’re taking care of your daily physical and emotional needs. Use the resources at the end of this post to help you take care of all of your needs, because at the end of the day, if we haven’t done basic self-care then we won’t have the personal resources necessary to be effective, engaged activists.

 

Find others in your area:

Women's March Huddles

Indivisible Groups

 

More ways to get involved:

8 Ways To Meaningfully Support Social Justice Movements

How To Start an Activist Group

How To Become an Activist

 

General Self-Care:

Self-care Checklist

How To Do Great Things: A Self-Care Checklist

Self-Care Checklist

You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care Guide

Comprehensive Wellness Worksheet

Internet Self Care

on the solidarity of women and friends

(originally posted on FB)

Looking at all of these Women's March photos from you wonderful people, and seeing the solidarity of women across the world, has been such an uplifting experience. It's been amazing to see so many women surrounded by a community of loving, supportive friends who have their backs. 

At the same time, I'm reminded of a heavy loss of friendship a while back. It isn't something I've talked about much, but every time there is an article on female BFFs or the solidarity of women I feel a renewed sense of loss. 

Several years ago, I lost my best friend of nearly a decade and practically all of our mutual friends (mostly women). At the time, these folks were a huge piece of my support system. We vacationed together, spent every Sunday together, and discussed every topic imaginable from the intimate to the public. I believed that, whatever happened, these people had my back. I believed I could count on them when it mattered most. 

When it really mattered most, though... they didn't show up. I felt abandoned. I was angry that people who could have claimed to be friends, who claimed to care about me, would not only take sides but never make the attempt to reach out to me, neither to check on my well-being nor to get my perspective on what was going on. (There were a couple of people who did contact me, but only one of them managed to refrain from being judgemental.) 

Since then there's been so much else going on in my life that I haven't really thought about what that loss meant to me. Sure, there's a large part of me that knows I don't need to spend time on people who won't show up when it counts. I don't at all believe that this speaks to my worth as a person, or a friend. Still... I lost my best friend, and a group of friends with whom I felt I could be my genuine self without judgement. 

So, as photos and videos from the Women's Marches popped up in my feed yesterday, I felt both uplifted and a little left out. I felt the loss of my female friends even more sharply than when it happened. 

Today, I realized that I hadn't really talked about that loss, except in terms of anger and "good riddance if they can't be bothered to show up". It feels good to get past the anger, and start moving past the loss. The reality is that I have a TON of amazing women (and men) in my life. People who are genuine, supportive, intelligent, kind, and with whom I can be my genuine self without judgement. I have friends and family who I know WILL show up when I need them, and who have done. 

It's time for me to let go of that old loss, and move on. If there is a takeaway from this, for you, let it be to remember that there is more than one side to every story, more than one heart at stake in any relationship, and no matter how roughly we show it, nearly every one of us wants to reach out and have someone take our hand to help us up. Lead with kindness, compassion, empathy, and generosity. Leave the judgements at home.

snake oil

I keep seeing these posts scroll by, from various clickbait sites with headlines like “20 Signs (S)He’s The One!” or “10 Secrets To A Healthy Relationship” or some other such nonsense. All of which imply we are a simple enough species that our social dynamics can be “solved” by some formula hitherto unknown to mankind, despite millennia searching for these very answers.

It’s all bullshit, no better than snake oil or that blogger who (falsely) claimed to have cured her own cancer. The thing is, we are a complex species, and we’ve been trying to figure ourselves out for thousands of years. I’d like to think that if there were a single, simple formula that works for everyone, then it would have been discovered long before the advent of Buzzfeed.

Do you want to know if your parter is “the one”, or how to know if your relationship will last? Invent a time machine, because there’s no way you’ll be able to make an accurate prediction without it. Until then, all any of us can do is love each other with as much compassion and honesty as we have in us, accept our failures with grace and forgiveness, learn from our mistakes, and hope for the best. 

Seems like a good plan to me.

(Originally written April 2015)

love does not discriminate...

Love does not discriminate. It doesn’t guarantee a worthy recipient, nor a love affair free from worry and heartache. Love is not a ward against manipulation and lies, nor does it ensure a happy ending. Love is messy, and unpredictable, and often arrives unbidden. It comes with baggage, and can expose our worst fears and behaviors to those with whom we’d only wish to show the best of ourselves. 

What we can get from love, though, is unique… It is a fire that can fill us near to bursting, and have us seek it out repeatedly despite the burns we may have gotten. There is such a powerful joy in loving another person, whether family or lover or friend, that it has moved mankind to great purpose for millennia. Love inspires us to create, to improve ourselves, to become more than we already are. It warms us, comforts us, assures us that we are not alone and that our worth is known, at least to a few. 

It is a gift that most everyone wants, and it is something I have never regretted giving or receiving, even in the darkest moments and worst trials.

(Originally written January 2014)

the invisible

One of the things that we, the privileged and gainfully employed, often don’t -really see- are the hungry and the homeless who live on the edges of our society. 

Tonight, while I sat snug in my long, clean coat waiting for my food at the taqueria, a man came in, walked up to the counter, set down a dilapidated can of chicken soup, and asked if they had a microwave.

He was covered in the familiar layer of grime that adorns most who live on the streets. His clothes had no holes, however, and while he walked with a bit of a hunch in his back, he was a tall man. He was also polite, and never once asked anyone else for money or food. 

Behind him were about a half dozen people waiting to place their orders. The restaurant staff were clearly a little uncomfortable and didn’t quite know what to do. The other patrons were doing their best to pretend he wasn’t even there. 

So I got up, and asked him if he’d like to have some dinner, which he very gratefully accepted. I bought him a burrito, and while we waited for our food I stood and talked to him about the distance he’d walked that day, how he doesn’t have a place to live but he has a suit that he keeps clean so he can go to church, and various other random topics. 

My order arrived first, and as I said goodbye and wished him a nice evening, a look of profound gratitude and sadness came over his features and he hugged me. As soon as he stepped back, he seemed to become certain he’d done something wrong, and apologized for being dirty and sweaty. I put my hand on his arm and assured him that it was fine, and to please just sit down and have a hot meal. 

These are *people*, and it’s heartbreaking that they’re so often treated like something distasteful to be swept under the rug.

(Originally written in 2013)

love

 

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; 
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again; 
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, 
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; 
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. 
It well may be that in a difficult hour, 
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, 
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power, 
I might be driven to sell your love for peace, 
Or trade the memory of this night for food. 
It well may be. I do not think I would. 

- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love is an emotion, a state of being, a motivation, and a gift. Love is the thing that drives us towards one another, whether for a fleeting, burning moment or for a lifetime. Love is what powers friendships, flings, romances, and lifelong partnerships of so many different flavors. We will chase it through fire and rain, sacrifice pieces of ourselves just to hold it, start wars for want of it. It warms us, gives us light in darkness, empowers our spirits, and in its absence leaves us in the coldest, darkest places.    It is impossible to say love is THIS or love is THAT. It is all, it is the best and the worst of what we have to give one another. 

(Originally written in 2013)

On autonomy, harassment, and kindness

I’d like to say that this election didn’t result in any “lost friends,” but that wouldn’t be the truth. It is true, however, that the disagreement over politics wasn’t the reason I lost that friend. It was his behavior towards me, in point of fact, his repeated harassment of me, that was the breaking point. Politics, in specific HRC, just happened to be the topic that started the downward spiral. 

That broken friendship isn’t exactly the point of this essay, though. It’s merely the latest in a long line of harassment/abuse I’ve experienced, and it led me to some important realizations. 

I strongly believe that, even in the face of hostility, we must be compassionate and kind. Hatred and hostility cannot be defeated by more of the same, they just amplify each other and make everything worse. If someone behaves awfully towards me, I will do my best to give them the benefit of the doubt, make my boundaries clear, and allow them the opportunity to do better the next time around. 

I also happen to be the sort of person that, when I care about someone, I’ll give them many, many chances to do better. In part, it’s because I hate losing people, but it’s also because I’d want those same chances given to me. I’m not perfect any more than the next person. As a result, I’ve been in relationships where I was verbally and emotionally abused, gaslighted, manipulated, and as a result pushed well past my boundaries, all while making excuses for my partner’s behavior and/or accepting blame for their actions, and hoping that the next time would be better.  

One of those things we are implicitly taught is that, as women, to speak up for ourselves is to be considered selfish, brash, and unattractive. Men, when they speak up for themselves, are brave and strong. Men who stick to their goals/boundaries, even at the expense of others, are considered innovators. Women who stay firm on their goals/boundaries, even when they do not impinge on others, are not given the same glowing assessment.  So, without realizing it, I learned to constantly shift my boundaries to accommodate others. I learned to be flexible, and I learned that on my shoulders rested the onus of being humble (humiliated) and responsible (blamed). 

The problem was that I had no idea this was happening. If anyone had asked me, and many did, I would have said I’d never allow someone else to manipulate me for their own goals. In point of fact, I was vociferous about my own autonomy and boundaries, certain that I was an independent woman with agency. In some ways that was the truth, but in many others, it was not. When I did reach the breaking point, many of these self deceptions became evident. The excuses I’d made, and much of the blame I had shouldered, simply fell away. I have experienced few things more devastating, but my dedication to compassion and kindness, and second chances, has remained. 

Fast forward to this recent presidential election. HRC has been a polarizing figure, and I have several friends who believe that she’s unqualified and unfit for the office of the President. I don’t take any issue with that opinion, though I don’t share it, and I have had several constructive conversations with people who dislike her and supported 3rd parties, and even with some Trump supporters. I don’t shy from those who disagree with me, and neither do I avoid discussing hard topics with them. I look forward to those discussions, because I want to learn what is important to others, discover things I didn’t know, and generally expand my world view. 

One person could not keep his comments based in fact or civility, and despite many chances given, repeatedly violated my frequently stated boundaries and attempted to incite me into arguments with him. He apologized a few times, but would return to the same trolling behavior days or weeks later. I finally lost all patience with this behavior on election night, explained one last time how his behavior was unacceptable, and thought I’d blocked him. I hadn’t. He later replied to one of my comments on another friend’s post, where I had been talking about treating each other with compassion and kindness, with a sarcastic comment about how I hadn’t afforded him that benefit. 

He’s blocked now, of course, but this experience led to a few realizations: 

Men who behave this way online are much more likely to behave this way in person, and much more likely to disregard physical boundaries as well as emotional. Intellectually, I realized this long ago, but somehow it took his behavior to really drive it home emotionally. There are some who will say this is taking things too far, but the truth is that I no longer feel safe in this person’s physical presence. I know how to defend myself, I’ve done it before, but why should I take the chance, however slim, with someone who has proven he can’t treat me with respect? 

The follow-on realization, here, is that my knee-jerk reaction was to chalk this up to “bah, he’s just a jerk online.” To make excuses for how this exchange couldn’t possibly indicate any tendencies to physical harassment. To sweep it under the rug, and pretend it isn’t a real risk, because accepting that as a possible reality is so incredibly upsetting and uncomfortable. What cemented this was talking to someone who works in a security organization. She immediately began giving me information on how to get help if the situation devolved into a threat to my physical safety. She’s a practical, skilled woman who has dealt with these kinds of situations before. If that’s her immediate reaction, there’s a good reason for it.  

I also realized that, in the eyes of many people (particularly men), compassion & kindness are incompatible with standing up for yourself if you’re female. In other words, by disallowing his abuse I was no longer behaving with compassion or kindness. Women cannot have boundaries and be kind. To be kind is to allow others to treat you however they want, and if you stand up and say “No” then you’re a bitch, and a hypocrite. 

Lastly, I do not OWE anyone my friendship. Also something I understood intellectually, but now it’s really hit me emotionally in a way it hadn’t before. What I owe others in this world is limited to compassion and kindness, and anything else is given by my own choosing. That doesn’t make me unkind, or weak, a hypocrite, or a bitch.  It makes me strong. 

I choose to be strong. To stand up and make my voice heard, with love and kindness, but to be firm in my convictions and my boundaries. To show my daughter that she is more in this world than what others tell her, that she is the only one who gets to decide who she is, that she can be strong as well as kind, and that kindness isn't the same thing as weakness. 

one of those days

This is one of those days when it's hard to concentrate.

I wake up in a fog, knowing that I have a busy day ahead of me, but not yet able to recall what day it is or what comes first. I know that my iPhone will tell me, so I grab it off the night stand with the intention of looking at my calendar. Once unlocked, it shows me that I have new email, and new Facebook notifications. Ten minutes later I remember to check my day's schedule, and then look at the weather forecast so I can decide what to wear.  

I put on a pair of pants, and stand for a moment staring at my closet. Do I wear layers, knowing it's always cold in the office, or do I wear something with long sleeves? Do I wear something frilly, lacy, plaid, comfortable, dressy? What shoes do I want to wear, and what about the jewelry? I have to drive somewhere in the middle of the day, and it's going to be hot outside, so I opt for layers that I can peel off while I'm out, slip-on shoes, and a simple necklace & earrings. I check my phone for the time, and realize I've just spent 35 minutes on this decision, and now I'm running late.

Once dressed, I grab my bags, running through my mental checklist of what I need for the day. (Several hours later, I'll discover I forgot an essential item that I'll have to make time to go back and pick up.) As I'm walking out the door all I can think of is coffee, and I weigh my options for picking some up along the way to work, or waiting until I get to the office. I decide I don't have enough time to stop on the way and coffee can wait a bit longer.

The fog follows me to work, and I spend my day chasing tasks and thoughts as they appear and disappear from view. At several points through the day I'll realize that I spent 5+ minutes staring at my computer screen without any idea what I was about to do. I pick another task and move on, knowing that whatever it was will come back to me eventually, but that I still have plenty to get done in the meantime. I get a decent amount of work done, but not as much as I'd like. At the end of the work day I have a monstrous headache and all I want to do is go home and go to bed. 

These days are among the hardest. I hate when my ability to function is limited, when easy things become difficult and time slips away from me in large chunks. I feel incapable and inept, and I don't want anyone else to be able to see how hard I'm struggling just to keep up with myself.

As much as I want to, I know I can't just check out of these days. I have commitments to my work and my family. I have to show up and do my best, even and perhaps especially when all I want to do is crawl back into bed and go to sleep.

So I do my best to keep moving forward, knowing that tomorrow will be better and today is almost over...