Activist Burnout

I know this is a cliché, but I’m still going to tell you: working on this blog has been incredibly rewarding. My posts here have sparked conversations with friends and strangers. My perspective has been challenged and I’ve learned a lot by listening to different points of view. Sometimes I get messages about topics and current issues I should cover, and I’ve found that I’ve become much more aware of gender and social justice issues in the news and my daily life. I have a huge stack of books, articles, and objects strewn about my home waiting to make an appearance here. I haven’t been absent for lack of interest or material.

The title of this blog is somewhat of a joke- folks who know me personally know that I generally maintain a quiet and gentle disposition. I can’t remember the last time I actually yelled at anyone. The conversations I have, even when they’re heated and passionate, are still rational and don’t involve personal attacks. It’s no secret I’m a feminist, but I don’t think anyone in my personal life would have ever called me an Angry Feminist Killjoy.

But just because I’m gentle doesn’t mean I’m not genuinely angry about the state of social affairs today. When I first started working on this project, I did reading about the role of anger in activism. Anger, I learned, is a great motivator. When we get angry and actively choose to throw aside complacency, we can create change by challenging and dismantling oppressive structures.  When this project was just beginning, one of my advisors warned me that this activist anger can seep into our personal lives, exhausting and depleting our mental and emotional stamina.

I thought I was handling the personal/political/professional crossover perfectly well. For every positive comment and message I receive here, I also get one utterly vitriolic personal attack on my character. You don’t see them show up here, because they’re in clear violation of the House Rules. For the most part, these nasty messages don’t bother me. They’re a good indicator that we need to keep having these discussions. My feelings aren’t hurt when a stranger on the internet calls me a cunt/bitch/whore/slut/etc. It’s another sign that we need to keep doing work in this area. But there’s also this swelling feeling of panic and nausea every time I get a new comment notification. Waiting to see if the new message will garner productive discourse or more personal attacks makes my heart do this really uncomfortable jump. My hands shake a little bit. It’s all very fight or flight. Even though I can brush off the hate and move on with my life… I don’t like that it happens. It’s exhausting and draining to know that there are so many hateful people lurking around.

And then my depression showed up. I’ve had depression for years, and I’ve luckily reached a point where I can manage it rather adroitly- ie: no self-medicating or self-harming, yay! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy when it shows up. My depression has this way of showing up out of nowhere, so I go from perfectly content to full existential crisis overnight. Suddenly, looking at the piles of books and articles and objects waiting to be blogged about wasn’t exciting; it was overwhelming.  Every developing news story about injustice made me feel hopeless and heavy. I turned my phone off and slept for something like 20 hours the other day, because moving (not to mention acknowledging the harshness of society) felt like too much to handle.

I’ve held off making this post, because I can only imagine the kind of messages I’ll get, wielding my little hiccups in happiness as veritable proof to invalidate my thoughts.  There’s also the fact that I don’t like talking about my depression with anyone. But as the personal, professional, and political continue to intertwine in my life, and because you’ve all been supportive and generous readers of this site, it only seems fair to be a little vulnerable and provide some kind of explanation.

 One thing I’ve learned about my depression is that it gets much worse when I stop doing the things that make me happy. Unfortunately, I have a way of convincing myself I’m not really happy, and then I abandon things I love. Writing these posts and connecting with all of you really does make me happy (regardless of what my brain chemicals sometimes try to say) so I’m going to stop listening to so much sad indie music and jump back in. Maybe a little more cautiously this time. I think I need to make sure to step away often enough to keep that activist anger from consuming my personal life and pushing me into a giant pit of sadness.

I’ll see you soon. Remember that you can always submit ideas or posts to In the meantime, let me know what you do when the personal becoming political becoming professional overwhelms you. How do you avoid activist burnout? 

3 thoughts on “Activist Burnout

  1. Lydia, I’m so glad you posted this, because I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed, half-starting a bunch of posts, and not posting anything on my blog. For me it’s been more anxiety than depression–I lie awake at night with my mind swirling with “the future,” as well as the million things I want to write about, not able to focus on any of them. What I’ve been unable to do is write a post like this–which I really think is the first step to getting yourself out of the rut. I think anger can become depressive when you can’t find a way to express it, so I imagine this blog is a tricky thing to navigate alongside depression.

    I think I mentioned this to you, but in case I didn’t, here’s a FB page called Feminist India that often navigates some pretty awful hate-comments, and does so publicly and deftly:

    I wonder if there’s a way to showcase the awful comments in a tab above as a way of demonstrating why we need feminism. I get not wanting to pay them undue attention, but I think they’d be pretty shocking to someone who thinks that “women are liberated and should stop complaining”…

    anyway, please keep writing – I’m reading!

  2. Nice post, and keep up the good work. Depression is a turd that seems to float to the top of the swimming pool no matter how many times you think the filter has taken care of it, and even I, as a privilege-toting cis white dude, get bogged down in the “everything is terrible so why even fight for change” blues. But hearts and minds can be changed, and this is important work you’re doing, and I respect the hell out of anybody who has the constitution to tackle it day in and day out. Don’t let the turds get you down (easy for me to say); they just prove you’re ruffling the right feathers.

  3. I have been struggling with this for a long time and am trying to find tools to help me through it. This year I was given a book about the use of Mindfulness to get through depression and prevent it from coming back over and over stronger every time. I was surprised at how strongly this book resonated with me and how useful it was in helping me think about patterns that used to happen within my mind that I was not aware of and that feed the depression and the cycle. I feel that in my part of the world, and in the form of activism I have been involved in, there is an expectation for people to be strong and depression or any form of emotional response for that matter, seems to make you appear weak and there fore not as trustworthy. I am not sure if this is true or just in my mind but any how, I believe that a lot of work has to be done to acknowledge activist depression and create the proper support in our communities to prevent this from happening and to help those who are going through it.

Comments are closed.