This blog was originally hosted at Empty Cages Design.org as part of a series on Overcoming Burnout from 2016-2017. It has now been turned into a book that is available at: https://solidarityapothecary.org/overcomingburnout/
Last week I posted my first blog post about burnout, admitting to the world how I’m feeling. I’ve been blown away by the response. Countless comrades and friends messaging and emailing me saying how much my words resonated, or how they were in tears. Just disclosing my feelings and smashing the mirror that was lying to me every morning (the mirror being myself, my own worst enemy) has made me feel lighter and one step closer to recovering.
When someone shows me kindness, like people have been this week, it really moves me. Quenches an emotional thirst as if I’ve been denied it for so long. It’s made me reflect on how kind (or unkind) I am to others and to myself.
And it’s left me asking myself, when did I get so mean? When did I start demanding such hard work, high standards and physical effort of myself and other people? When did I get so judgemental and critical of myself? Since when did I value people’s worth based on their productivity or levels of commitment?
A big part of my work in overcoming burnout, I have recognised, is addressing root causes of my behaviour. As an anarchist that constantly seeks to draw back attention to systemic factors and root causes of issues. I know I have to try to find the source. This for me means looking at the underlying beliefs and worldviews that are driving me.
I tried listing some of my long held beliefs related to organising, or more generally work and life. I know a lot of you will cringe at how problematic these are, but like I said, radical honesty is how I roll:
- Struggle demands commitment and dedication. And hard work. They wouldn’t call it struggle if it was easy.
- This isn’t meant to be easy. It’s going to be hard/gruelling/challenging. If you think it’s meant to be easy you may as well stop now.
- There would be less X (animals abused, women assaulted, refugees dying etc) if people took struggle more seriously and actually got off their asses. If everyone that lazed around watching Netflix organised, pushed themselves, fought back, got off Facebook, X number of animals would be liberated etc.
- This isn’t a game. This is life and death. This is a war.
- This isn’t a lifestyle choice. I’m sick of people interacting with this struggle like it’s a hobby. Like they can choose which campaign to fight, or maybe fight is the wrong word, they can choose which campaign to be associated with and most likely do jack shit and use their involvement to score social points, get laid or whatever. And it’s mostly middle class people that interact with struggle like this. You’re never going to actually surrender any privilege for this struggle.
- Careerists can get in the sea. I think it’s disgusting how you use this struggle for professional gain.
- Why aren’t people more angry? Why don’t people want to fight harder? I don’t understand the desire to take drugs/party/laze about etc.
- People don’t know the meaning of hard work. People prioritise their creature comforts, their looks, their lifestyle over eradicating domination. People don’t want to surrender their privilege or risk anything to actually work towards liberation.
- People use low self esteem/mental health issue X as an excuse to not push themselves/take risks/organise. Literally just sort your shit out and get on with it. Everyone has bad mental health in capitalism. Jesus you should have experienced some of this shit I’ve gone through or my best friends in prison that have been to hell and back in their lives that you can’t even comprehend. They don’t moan or complain, they fight to survive and resist with all they have.
- Prison is just part of struggle. People going to prison is inevitable. People need to accept this and just get on with it.
- Do people really think we’re gonna bring down such an oppressive, violent system without hard work? Like this shit is going to magically change overnight without any effort, struggle, sacrifice on our part? Like we’ll just challenge the state and capitalism while still having nice picnics and watching shit on the internet in the evening?
- Being effective, achieving things, takes grit. Takes hard work and perseverance. People that drop out/whine/moan are weak and pathetic.
- Pushing yourself does mean missing out on certain things. It may mean risking your emotional or physical health. But it’s a necessary part of struggle.
- What I experience is nothing compared to the animals/ refugees/black folk getting shot by police etc.
So there you have it. Grim, ain’t it?
Writing these and reading these, yes I do cringe, I do feel shame. I can totally recognise that they are all problematic in multiple ways. Yet I feel them. And they taint my interactions with people. My comrade that cancels on me for a fundraiser because of period pains (default thoughts – half the people on the planet get period pains. Just take a painkiller/herbs and suck it up. You blatantly didn’t want to come and cook for 50 people anyhow, and just cancelled last minute and used your period pains as an excuse. Slower compassionate thoughts – aww mate I’m so sorry I totally understand. Rest up and get a hot water bottle!).
And then there are some of the above beliefs, that I still, well, agree with. I do hate it when people interact with radical politics like it’s a game, or a hobby, or a lifestyle choice. And my meanness/judgement seems to be for the selected few. I don’t feel judgemental when I organise with working class people, or when I’m supporting new people to get involved. I think it’s the self-identifying anarchists which generate my most internal commentary. And unfortunately, this means very close friends and comrades, and I end up hating myself for my thoughts.
It is clear that right now, none of these beliefs are serving me or the struggles I organise in. They are not helping me organise more sustainably, or be a nicer person, or enjoy my interactions with my friends and comrades. They stink of protestant work ethic, and instead of the church, I’m serving the non existent gods of anarchism.
As part of addressing these beliefs I’m going to try and:
- Identify the values I hold which might be underlying the belief e.g. I value hard work, honest communication, persistence and so forth.
- Identify where I may have collected this belief. Maybe it was a role model in my life as a kid, or in a political book/zine.
- Identify the harm this belief or worldview causes in movements and struggles.
- Re-frame this belief positively, deconstruct and reconstruct so that it is nourishing and useful. And try and find some new beliefs/statements about organising that value people and their energy.
I’ve also been trying to meditate, only 15 minutes a day, but at least to try and cultivate some mindfulness so my emotions aren’t so raw and reactionary, and I can find some distance from them before hurting people I love and care about.
And to anyone who has been on the receiving end of my judgement, who has felt they weren’t doing enough and lessened their self-esteem because of comparing themselves to me and my unsustainable way of life, or to anyone who has left a group because I set a brutal pace… I’m sorry with all my heart for the harm I’ve caused. That includes you Nicole Rose, you have received years of this self-battering, internalised oppression, never-doing-enough, complete bullshit. It’s time to change.