Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 25, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY

BlogsActivism 101

Let’s Talk About Activist Burnout

Hi there, blog. Do you remember me?

I’ve missed you. I really have.

Each day I tell myself I want to blog. I tell myself that today will be the day that I post. I have lists of blog ideas in my notebook right now. I have written many blogs at my job. I have mostly-completed blogs just sitting on my desktop.

Blog 2

But each time, something stops me.

A few days ago I read a passage in Roxane Gay’s book Bad Feminist that really seemed to describe what I’ve been feeling but never knew how to explain:

“We all have history. You can think you’re over your history. You can think the past is the past. And then something happens, often innocuous, that shows you just how far you are from being over it.”

Lately certain events and random occurrences in my life have dragged old, distressing memories to the forefront of my brain.

We all have moments that brought us to care about the things we do, to fight for the things we want to fight for. For me, a lot of what brought me to do the work I do—which mostly involves engaging people in conversations centered on equality, gender, healthy relationships, and activism—came from those memories which have me a strong desire to fight back, to take experiences that once brought me pain and use them to help people.

My drive to keep pushing forward for change came from those memories. But now my drive has been slowing drastically. And I hate it.

A few days ago I bought tickets to play inside the ball pit inside the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. The ball pit was essentially a giant pit of balls exactly like you would see in McDonalds but bigger and deeper and kind of dangerous.


One moment you could be standing and totally fine and the next you could be slowly sinking, getting stuck and buried beneath a million tiny white balls. I would start to slip beneath the surface and then I would fight to break free.

That’s how I feel right now.

I feel like old memories and little things—that remind me how messed up the world still is and how much work there still is to do—keep piling up, threatening to bury me and I keep having to fight to break free to the surface again.

I know this post is metaphor-heavy but I think that’s what it needs to be.

The weird thing about the way I feel right now is that I don’t feel unhappy. I have many good things in my life and I’m aware that I have many good things. I feel more confident than I ever have before in my life.

But right now I also feel buried by all the things that still need to change.

This weekend was rough. I realized how much I’m chained to my anger. Nothing huge happened. Instead, it was a collection of occurrences that added up.

I felt anger at  the men who cat called me outside my metro stop—just like they do every time I walk home alone. I felt disgusted by all the men who felt they were allowed to touch me because I was wearing a tank top. I felt gross and objectified by the men who grabbed me to get me to dance with them even when I screamed the word “Stop” over the loud, thudding music. I’m furious that this behavior is normalized and allowed—and I have the right to be. I’m having trouble letting myself take up that much space.

This is just one example of how backwards everything is. This is just one example of what I’ve been experiencing lately.This isn’t even close to the worst injustices out there—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

It just means that I can’t give up yet—or ever.

But the way I’m feeling right now is telling me that I need to make some changes. I’ve written advice blogs on staying motivated before, but I missed something very important—I never talked about how critical it is to validate and address the way you feel.

All too often, when I try to call out something problematic, I’m just the annoying feminist activist who needs to chill, who doesn’t understand that that’s just the way the world is. And this happens frequently to anyone who dares to object to sexism, racism, ableism, etc.

Being silenced will not change anything, staying silent will not allow you to help make things better.

When it comes to feeling burnt out, take a break if you need. Reflect on the way you feel. Talk to others who will understand.* Find an outlet. Realize that you have a right to feel the way you do. Let yourself feel it.

Then keep going when you’re ready.

My voice is one of the few things I have among all the things in my life that I can’t control. I’m not going to give it up.

I’m ready to keep going.

*Although it is sadly stigmatized, seeing a counselor or mental health professional is always a good option when it comes to self-care and burnout.