Confessions of an emotionally wounded activist
I've hesitated a lot before writing this post. Partly because it's been in my head for such a long time I'm worried about getting it out right. Partly because it's so hard to talk about. Mostly though, because I've been scared to face up and own the truth.
I'm going to start right back to the beginning, but first I just want to make something clear.
This isn't a rallying cry to stop people from going into activism or becoming an activist, or working for a cause they believe in. It's my honest account of how activism and the charity world has changed me. We all need the people who were born to set the world alight, but in hindsight, I wish I'd gone into the storm braced with the right gear, the right footwear and a bit of prior warning.
Always an activist
There are many people out there who were born to set the world alight, but we need to start treating ourselves better and each other better to really be the change we wish to see.
I always knew I wanted to 'change the world'. At school, when most other people in my class wrote their debate piece for English Lit on boxing and fox-hunting, I wrote piece on ending the sex trafficking of children. While other people used creative writing time to write about holidays they'd been on, I was writing about domestic abuse, mental health issues and self harm. I was always an activist.
A need to change things
It all came from an innate feeling deep inside of me that wanted to change things, and understand how these deep injustices could be changed.
Now, I've written here before about changing the world and how it's come to mean different things to me over the years. But that desire for change has always been there.
Like many many people reading this, I'm a natural carer. I'm self-aware and all too aware of the feelings of others. I've spent much of my life putting other people first and neglecting myself in the name of 'helping others'. I've ignored my own mental health issues, used food as a coping strategy and just 'soldiered on'.
In my head, injustice has always gone hand in hand with a million-miles-an-hour need to shake shit up and improve things.
I go from empathy, to anger, to a desperate need to change things.
It really is no surprise that I ended up heavily involved in the world of activism.
By the age of 18, I was marching the streets in a protest to make streets safe for women at night, lying in the middle of main roads to protest cuts to disability benefits, writing articles about injustices done to women all over the world, coordinating feminist festivals and shouting (and singing) as loud as I could.
The elephants in the room
But here's the things they don't mention when you get into activism as a way of life. The things that aren't being spoken about but everyone's thinking.
1.The guilt of not being able to do enough, or change things enough. Oh the guilt, the endless guilt
2. The fact that you will be continually slapped in the face with further injustice, which makes any successes seem pale in the comparison
3.The amount you will be relied upon as a passionate person with a never-ending supply of energy
4.That to really feel like you're getting somewhere, and feel like you're doing your bit for the cause, you have to put the rest of your life on hold. Either that or the rest of your life need to be related to ending said problem. Bye bye self-care. Hello burnout.
5.Sometimes the people around you just don't get it, and that can make you really angry. When you're totally involved and they don't seem to care, it can cause rifts, resentments, and just problems.
I also can't deny how leading a march with rally cries behind me was exhilarating, how there were days when I couldn't sleep because my mind was brimming with creative ideas and ways to change things, how I felt like I had found my purpose, and how fucking good it felt to feel part of a community.
But for those highlights, I put my whole self, and sanity on the line.
And when you get into actually working for the cause, it's a different ball game altogether.
Especially when you're working somewhere where people are burnt out but feel too much guilt to leave, where staff can't be truly appreciated because of the sheer demands of funding and stress at management level and where you end up de-sensitized to the cause you're trying to fight because that's the only way you can get up in the morning.
And especially when you start working in a paid capacity for the cause at a very young age and you enter wide-eyed and eager only to leave feeling like you're a shell of the person you started out as.
I don't mean this to sound bitter, I'm writing this post with the earnest aim of being honest but I can't hide the ugly stuff.
In the past year and a half, I haven't been able to go to a protest/march without feeling like a piece of me is being torn apart. And for the last year, when I can, I've stopped going. I've stopped associating with people who were a large part of that life. I have just wanted out.
When I get involved with any of it, it's just too painful. It reminds me of what could have been and how I really felt like I'd found my life calling, and brings the truth too close to home.
Part of me feels broken now. I feel like I've been shattered, and I'm trying to put the pieces together, but there's no instructions, there's no guide of what it's meant to look like.
I feel like I've lost a huge part of my identity.
I know so many awful things are happening in the world, and it's just easier to look away. Sometimes, I get trapped into thinking that I'm apathetic, that I just don't care anymore.
But I do, and most of the time I'm too afraid to admit it. It's just a hell of a lot easier to put it at the back of my mind and just let it go.
See, when you break something, or something becomes broken, there are usually 3 reactions.
1. To put it back together, in the same way as before
2.Find someone or something to blame.
I've done all three.
Putting myself back together in the same way hasn't worked, and I don't want it to work. I can't be in that space, so I need to make a new space.
Finding someone to blame provides an outlet, but it doesn't let things go. Sure, I'm really angry about a lot of things that have happened, I'm angry at specific people, and I'm angry that I'm left feeling like this. But at the end of the day, there's no one thing or person to blame. And I don't want to spend my life absorbed in bitterness.
Walking away has helped the most though. Choosing to leave was a fucking brave thing to do, and a bit ridiculous when you look at how rare it is to find permanent work in specialist areas, but it was the right decision.
If nothing else, I know the bright-eyed version of me before all of this would be seriously disappointed in me if I continued to work and fight with a lack of passion, and two flying fucks.
A new story
So instead, I've taken the time to work on my own stuff. I've worked hard to find a new voice and a new story. Of course, That Hummingbird Life is a big part of this new story for me. So is taking the time to have fun, doing creative things and enjoying things without feeling guilty.
I've learned the hard way that you can't change the world, or change anything for that matter if you can't help yourself first.
It's been a long road, and I'm not ready to leave the pain behind just yet. There's a lot I have to share that can be of immense value. There are so many things I wish I knew, and so many things I know now that I want to share about changing the mindset of activists before they get burnt.
And I will, but it's going to take time.
I just hope, that if you're one of the many people working hard to change things, to change the world in however you make sense of the phrase, that you stop to take time for yourself and enjoy the good things in your life. Like the people around you, sunny days and songs that make you feel alive.
Not just appreciating and feeling grateful for the good things in your life in due regard to acknowledge your privilege. But actually holding on to them with two hands and not letting them go.
Because at the end of the day, two of the most basic human needs is connection and the need to feel valued.
Don't let that go, or sacrifice that for anyone, or anything.