Dear Activist: A Look at Self-Care
This article was written by Kira G and was originally published on kristenwilliamsdesigns.com in September 2016
As we wrap up the Heart of Health Exchange and approach the November vote about medical cannabis, we are taking a moment to remind you of the importance of self-care when it comes to advocacy.
I see you. I see you and your social activism, your start-up company, your non-for-profit, your demanding job in the public sector, your blog, your in-depth posts on social media about how now is the time — let’s come together, let’s take action, let’s make our world a better place.
I see you, and I’m with you.
As different as our ideas and approaches about “world-saving” might be, I feel that ache in your chest you wake up with each morning, that desire to be a damn good human being and to help others do the same by example.
I also feel the meticulous details, the endless appointments, the flurry of emails, the winding conversations, the doubt-choked hours where you work to turn that do-good energy into a concrete plan for change.
I see you at your best, rallying people, organizing the cause, helping your neighbors, loving your friends and family and community, and giving away all your generosity and passion without restraint.
I also see you denying yourself food, rest, sleep, and peace and quiet. I see you at your worst, frazzled and overwhelmed and short-tempered. Yelling at someone because you’ve held in a lot worse through the course of a day. Slumping through a happy moment because you’re thinking of the million things you need to get done to clean the house and the world before bedtime.
I see the way you ignore the voice in your own head, the voice of intuition that says, something is wrong here. Why am I striving to put so much good in the world, and why do I still feel empty, perpetually drained?
I get you, activist and do-gooder and aspiring role model, but I’m also calling your bluff.
Unlike the more selfish members of our society, concerned only with their own prosperity and security, numb and indifferent to the world unfolding around them, you place a lot of your self-worth in others. Who have you helped today? Who have you made smile? How has the world been saved in your name?
These are the stories our souls cling to — the stories of who we have helped in order that we can gratify our own existence. While some people seem content to take and take during their time on Earth, others feel that they aren’t really complete, full people until they have done what they can to assist those around them.
What a beautiful sentiment.
Yet, upon deeper examination, not a perfectly thorough sentiment. Because even though agape, selfless love, and activism are some of the highest callings in the human experience, they are not the first call we receive. At the heart of it all, the first mission any person is born with is self-preservation.
You can’t take care of the world’s problems until you’ve taken care of your own.
Until you have met your own needs, analyzed your own thoughts and biases, felt your own feelings and wishes, and preserved and cherished your own self, your efforts to change the world outside your self will be futile. You may accomplish some things. You may have an impact on your environment. But without stepping back and caring for yourself, honoring that you are just as inherently valuable as anyone, without accepting that sometimes self-preservation is the only option, you are going to burn out. Your self-sacrifice will leave you with nothing, and then what do you really have to give?
After the martyrs have sacrificed themselves, the rest of us still go on, protecting our own health and wellbeing as best as we possibly can, relying on others to help us, helping others to help ourselves. We go on doing what we can, sometimes failing, always trying. We give and give. Then, we step back. We give to ourselves, and we can see more clearly how the people around us might be hurting and tired, because we’ve addressed it on our own.
It is all related, which is why self-care is never selfish.
Care flows constantly in both directions, as it should. Don’t forget your responsibility to your own wellness. No one else can fight for it the way that you can.
I see you. I see how you have chosen to keep the world on your shoulders. I know that’s a heavy weight to carry, and I know that you know it’s too much for you to bear alone. But you choose to carry it anyway.
I know you’re not giving up. But I also know that sometimes you just have to shrug. Sometimes you have to go down on the floor and stretch and rub and love on yourself, and let the world momentarily slip off. Let it disappear, then reappear, scaled down in size, pinpointed from cosmic, global problems into your own heartbeat, steady and patient, working for you through the days and nights.