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/
I’ve never been one for dwelling on regrets, after all life really is too short. However I thought it might be useful to identify some of the patterns in my life that ultimately led me to this point of feeling burnt out and experiencing chronic chest pain over the last 4 months. Not for self-flagellation, but for learning, and so that hopefully some folks reading this might feel some affinity and make some changes in their lives before fully burning out. What is really exciting is now that I’ve identified these, and hopefully learnt from them, I can really re-design my life to be more joyful, whole, and effective. Hurrah to hindsight!
I know some people might laugh at these and think ‘no shit sherlock’, but actually, when you’re a million percent passionate about your work or organising, when you’re so used to and socialised to care for other people and put their needs above your own, this ‘self-care’ becomes harder and harder.
So here we go…
- I wish I had really, deeply grieved for my best friend after she died rather than trying to block it all out and keep going. I wish I had taken some solid time out from work and organising. I wish I’d read some books sooner on recovering from bereavement and I wish I’d sought support rather than trying to cope alone.
- I wish I’d timetabled in more rest and recovery time inbetween events, and not been so arrogant to think that I could just keep going with a back to back relentless schedule.
- I wish the collectives I work with had a more supportive expenses policy – that I wouldn’t feel bad about spending group or campaign funds on proper food for myself while on tour or at events. I wish I had spent this cash on decent wholesome meals and healthy snacks, rather than going without or buying the cheapest things possible that gave my body nothing of value other than enough energy to get through the day. I wish I’d paid more to get trains at sensible times that didn’t exhaust me in the same way as the late nights and early starts.
- I wish I had nourished my body with more herbal tonics, wild plants and organic produce rather than trying to save time, money and energy going for poorer quality food. I wish I had really taken vegan nutrition advice seriously and not thought I was super healthy just because I wasn’t eating kebabs. I wish I’d taken B12 and other vitamins sooner.
- I wish I had talked to my friends about my feelings way before they spiralled into something more serious. I wish I’d talked openly in my groups and projects about the despair I feel, about how emotionally difficult organising around prison struggles can be for me, and how much I carry the weight of the workload. I wish I’d communicated to my workers’ cooperative about how unsupported I felt.
- I wish I had stretched more, or done some form of more gentle nourishing exercise to counteract the intensive circuit training and kickboxing I was doing. (And again, not stretching properly before/after to save time, so I could do campaign tasks on my computer etc.). I wish I had valued the importance of massage and chiropractor treatments and accessed support for my neck and back pain from too much driving and computer work.
- I wish I had just listened to my body and really observed how exhausted and run down I was feeling.
- I wish I had read or learnt more about the effects of long term stress on the body, and been more self aware about what I was subjecting myself to for so many years. I wish I didn’t take my health for granted and assume health meant the absence of illness.
- I wish I had started counselling sooner after prison so that I didn’t hurt so many people I love, through my failure to commit, feel vulnerable and let myself be close to people. I wish I hadn’t been afraid to tell people I love them.
- I wish I had taken more time off and actually spent more time with people I love. Like swimming in rivers, hanging out at the beach or just spending more time in my garden. Not many people say this, but I actually wish I’d just gone out more partying and hanging out with my friends. I wish I had prioritised going to hardcore shows. I wish I’d just stayed in bed and had morning sex rather than be a workaholic. I wish I’d loved my partners and friends more fully, been more available to them, and opened up to more love and care that I denied myself.
- I wish I had prioritised my sleep. I wish I had told work and campaigning to wait until I’d got all the hours my body needed.
- I wish I had not let the fear of judgement from my friends, or the anti-spirituality nature of the anarchist scene, repress my own connection to the land and my spiritual practice/feelings.
- I wish I had been with my best friend when she died rather than organising a Reclaim the Fields Gathering. I wish all those days I’d been too busy to visit because of organising, that I’d spent them with her.
- I wish on my most recent tour where I got sick, that I had just cancelled one or two events, and prioritised getting better and recovering. I wish I’d articulated to my hosts that I needed more fruit and veg, more nourishing food and more rest.
- I wish I’d told my friends in prison that in order to support and care for them over the long haul, that I needed some actual time away, even just a week, out of prison island UK. I wish I’d been more honest sooner about my financial circumstances and how it was completely unsustainable to support them alone, and that I needed to visit less to save money. I wish I’d asked for more help from my friends and family to cope emotionally with the weight of supporting them over the last 8 years.
- I wish I’d set more boundaries between all my different roles and my own down time. I wish I’d overcome the guilt and emotional barriers to doing this. I wish I felt more confident to say no and to call people out on things they hadn’t done, rather than constantly soak up the slack.
- I wish I had taken my own personal finances more seriously sooner and recognised the long term impact of living with scarcity and poverty. I wish I’d unlearnt some of the psychological trappings of earning money when you’re an anti-capitalist!
- I wish I’d recognised and celebrated more of my achievements, as an individual, and within the projects and collectives I organise with. I wish I’d had more mentors or more external feedback to say “actually, you’re doing great”, rather than feeling lost at sea or on a treadmill of never-ending organising.
- I wish I’d known as a younger self that to be effective doesn’t mean all or nothing struggle, and the total repression of the self. That actually we are most effective and have the most potential for revolutionary impact when we are whole; our own passionate, authentic selves.
Now I’ve listed all of these, do I feel full of regret? No! I wouldn’t have learned these if I haven’t had taken risks. There is a Stay Gold song where it says: “Only cowards make their choices out of fear”. I’m not into the whole ‘cowardice’ framing of behaviour, however this song has always played out in my heart, because I’ve never wanted to not do something because I was afraid. I could have easily gone on tour, fought off the infection and be merrily not experiencing pain right now. But I wouldn’t have had this rich learning. Learning that will hopefully change my life forever. I hope people reading these can start to make some of these changes in their own lives too. So don’t beat yourself up. No regrets. Just learning.