If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re involved in social-justice activism in some form. And if you’re involved, you know the personal drain that comes with the work. Longevity in social justice requires, among other things, thick skin, a hard head and a big heart. While these can all be indispensable qualities, they can also be hinderances. A thick skin can prevent you from realizing all the negative energy you absorb and internalize day by day. A hard head can make you think you can push through mental and physical exhaustion as if it’s only mid-afternoon drowsiness. And a big heart can make you not even care, so long as you’re helping those you love and making some difference.
“Ordinary” negative energy can easily build up and affect health. Existing in social-justice spaces will expose you to entirely new levels of negativity, from the constant stream of traumatic news and images you absorb, to violent interactions with people both for and against you. When you feel your body telling you that a little (or long) breather is necessary, listen to it. Otherwise, your mind may decide it’s had enough at any point during your day and take matters into its own hands. A couple of weeks ago I was re-reading everything published about Enrique Pearce for my blog post about him, and halfway through all of it I just started crying. Mostly because of what he’d done, was working up to do next and lack of concern over his whereabouts, but also because I was mentally exhausted from the election and everything else 2016, hadn’t had the sense to take a real break at any point and it was all catching up with me.
That’s the best-case scenario: having it catch up with you at home or similar, where you can catch your breath, sit back and relax for however long. It can also be much more serious than tears and having to get up and walk around for a bit. Don’t let it be if you can help it, though. If you feel increasingly overwhelmed, or like what should take five steps to accomplish is taking you ten for unknown reasons, don’t neglect yourself. Whether it’s taking a break in the moment to walk around, call/text a friend, or something later like gym time, a spa visit or just sitting in a chair and staring at the ceiling for a few hours, take time for self care. Caring for everyone includes caring for yourself.