We all have days or weeks (months or years, even!) during which we feel that we are failing, struggling, drowning. Fighting a battle that cannot be won. Maybe you felt that way upon hearing that Yanelli was deported, despite the phone calls we made and the emails we sent. Maybe you felt that way after hearing that the Komen foundation defunded Planned Parenthood or when the Florida Dream Act (SB 1018) was voted down in committee or when ethnic studies books were banned in Tuscon schools. I’ve been feeling that way a lot recently, especially after yesterday, when I had to say goodbye to one of my favorite students on the brink of his expulsion from my school. To sum it up in one word, it’s depressing.
Immediately following these defeats, one of our first reactions is to come back stronger — work longer, sleep less, shut ourselves off from people not involved in the struggle, and shut down our emotions. We tell ourselves that we must have made a mistake somewhere along the line, something that caused us to fail at our task. We tell ourselves, “I should have made that one extra phone call… I should have posted that link on my Twitter more than I did… I should have donated more money… ” We schedule more meetings, brew another pot of coffee, and stay up until all hours strategizing, planning, picking apart our decisions to find the weak spots.
This is dangerous.
There is a difference between thoughtful self-scrutiny and scapegoating ourselves to the point of unrecognition, between constructive criticism and feedback and continuously volunteering to hold the world on our shoulders. We must always reevaluate tactics and plans after a defeat; but we have to take care of ourselves while doing it, we have to take a moment to breathe in, breathe out, before we dive into the fray again. Otherwise, we risk running ourselves into the ground at a time when our voices are necessary to put out inequality and hatred. We risk burning out, that scary word that means we’ve given up. Don’t let it get to that point.
Recently, I talked to another teacher friend who had just gotten a recommendation for a therapist. Why? Because she’s a teacher in a high-need school in East Austin and comes home every day beating herself up, constantly worried about her kids, stressed out by the situations they are put in. She was depressed. At first, she told herself that she didn’t have the time to make appointments with someone, that it wasn’t really a problem, that she didn’t have the energy. But you know what? Now that she’s in it regularly, I think she feels a lot better; and I’m about to jump on the bandwagon with this one.
That’s not to say that all progressive activists need therapy in the traditional sense of the word… But… what’s your therapy? Making a cup of tea and drinking it in silence? Calling your best friend to catch up on the gossip? Going for a run at the end of the day? Spending a day in bed with a good book?
There are so many defeats in this work. There will always be defeats — some more painful than the last. We don’t give up. We keep fighting, we keep organizing, we keep making those phone calls. But we have to pause between sprints, catch our breaths and tell ourselves how strong, beautiful and AWESOME we are — how important the work is that we are doing — and how, somewhere along the line, the victory will be so, so sweet.