THE BLOG

Activist Burnout: Have I Gone Off The Deep End? (Or 'The Unbearable Heaviness of Being')

18/11/2014 16:21 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Sometimes I worry that I've become nothing more than a human embodiment of a 'worthy cause' telethon.

The issues which I feel so passionately about solving continue to worsen, and seem so daunting that it is easy to believe that they might never be solved, and that everything I post/share/write is, at best, nothing more than shouting into the void - at worst, foolish, misguided, boring, annoying, naive.

I've certainly lost a couple of friends along the way since deciding to speak out and stand up.

Perhaps understandably, other people (who may not be affected, interested or who simply may not care) can become tired of hearing about it, and consequently you find yourself drifting in a seemingly unstoppable way from those who do not have your same level of passion or drive to learn more and change the status quo. Friends and acquaintances may feel personally insulted or attacked by your cause, and react accordingly.

Sometimes, it can get nasty - I've been there; from falling out with friends who make it abundantly clear that they neither value your opinion nor presence now that you have something to say, through to discovering that people you thought highly of hold world views that are simply incompatible with your own, and leave no room for openminded discussion. Even those who first rallied behind you may start to drift away.

It's not so much annoying as it is heartbreaking and exhausting.

From the moment someone starts taking a genuine interest in political activism and social causes, they face the prospect of Activist Burnout; it's seldom recognised that being an activist impacts hugely on your everyday life. The reality is that it would be much easier to turn back, to decide that social activism is just too much effort, that it's easy to get too emotionally involved. Life is busy enough as it is without taking on a cause - no one is forcing you to care about other people's problems, so why do it?

If you're reading this, chances are you know all of this already - which means you'll also know that it's not as simple as 'stopping caring'.

Once you take the 'red pill of activism', there's usually no turning back; you become acutely aware of how social issues affect everything. You can't turn on the TV without noting gender stereotyping, pick up a new lipstick without feeling a pang of guilt, do your weekly shopping without having to carefully analyse the origins of what you're buying, or walk through town without spotting a hundred signs of economic inequality. It's all-pervasive and all-encompassing, and there's no turning it off, as far as I can tell.

So what can you do to help combat Activist Burnout? 

There's a simple and effective starting point, which a lot of activist literature points to; know yourself. Be realistic, and approach your life in an honest, critical manner. As The Owl Report suggests, evaluate your causes, your abilities and decide not only what you are willing to do but also what you can do. You may want to save the world single handed, but you may also need to do laundry. Finding the balance is key to being truly effective in achieving the long term goals you have.

Remember:

"Through out history there have been icons of movements, people who are credited with making dramatic changes. They are inspirations for us all, but they were not alone in their efforts. Just as they had others standing with them, so do you, you are not alone either. Allow others to carry the load when you are tired, and carry it for them when you are strong. This is one of the things the great leaders of history understood and did so well and why we are able to remember them for their accomplishments.

Admit and discuss in honest terms with others when you are feeling overwhelmed. You may feel obligated to be positive when talking with those who are working on the same issues, to always inspire them or keep them going. Chances are those very same people are dealing with the same feelings and would find relief themselves by understanding that they are not alone in this. Others may just be waiting for a chance to show you that they can inspire you if they understand you need this as much as they do. Being human is far more beneficial to your cause than trying to be perfect is" - The Owl Report.

It's okay to turn off your computer - in fact, it's healthy to. The internet is a marvellous resource for researching, gathering information and talking to like-minded people, but it's also something that it can be hard to disconnect from.

Add to this that you're allowed to have fun. It's okay to not feel guilty for a while. Let's be honest here; the internet will still be there in an hour, your cause will not have magically been solved in the time you pop out for a pint,  and the world will not come to an end if you make time for yourself, friends or family. So, do it - I promise this isn't a trick.

Don't forget the most valuable asset you've got when you are feeling crushed by the weight of it all; the friends you make along the way.

Part of the upside and the pleasure of engaging in political activism (and there are many, despite how this article may make it sound!) is the pleasure of meaningful friendships, of having a community to turn to in your time of need who understand exactly what you are going through. Political communities are not just spaces for political activism and debate; they are also important social networks.

Engaging in social and political activism can often be an incredibly bonding experience - situations fraught with emotions, high stakes and the sense of 'someone in your corner' all work together to create lasting relationships built on mutual respect and an appreciation for the bigger picture. These are people who understand the laughs, frustrations and heartbreak that go hand in hand with it - perhaps in contrast to some of the friendships you may have lost along the way.

Have enough faith in and respect for your cause to know your own limitations and realise that the cause will not crumble if you need to rest.

Have enough faith in and respect for your activist community and friendships to reach out to them in your time of need. 

Finally, have enough faith and respect in yourself to give yourself a break.