Advice to activists risking burnout
Save yourself first. You won't help anybody else if you get so burnt out due to lack of self-care that you stop caring at all.
A good friend of mine recently attempted suicide. He claimed he did it because the world was "too painful to live in" as a result of ongoing environmental catastrophes that he was powerless to affect. But under the surface, he also revealed that he had all kinds of personal demons totally unrelated to "the environment," which he was really wrestling with.
I felt a great deal of empathy for his suffering, none of it seemed alien to me. Yet at the same time, I also felt that he was deluding himself by telling himself and others that he was "powerless," and deluding himself and others by imagining that any of his problems were really because of external factors like politics, climate change, etc, etc, etc -- except in the most general and tangential ways.
There are so many ways we try to substitute outside forces for self-care, externalize our suffering, and come up with cop-outs for intelligently facing our own problems.
There is an observation made by flight attendants at the beginning of all commercial airline flights that has great relevance for life in general:
"In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, be sure and place an oxygen mask on your own face before assisting children or other passengers."
How true that is! Unless and until we have thought carefully and taken careful actions to safeguard our own physical and mental wellbeing, we probably won't be able to do anything effective for others!
It is regrettable that all kinds of obstacles arise to distract us from this crucial priority. We come up with outside excuses. We let misguided food fetishes or political obsessions like vegetarianism or veganism distract us ( http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2009/12/396282.shtml?discuss#363978 et al). We neglect to listen to feedback from our own bodies.
Whenever our ideology and reality come into conflict, it is time to check the ideology at the door and look soberly at reality itself. Anybody contemplating suicide because they claim that the world is too harsh and they can't make a difference is most clearly deluding themselves. But you don't have to reach such an extreme. You can delude yourself and others for years before you ever reach such a low point.
There are such an assortment of things today that can adversely affect both our
mental and physical health. Everything from diet to daily activity, being either too sedentary or too repetitive and unvaried in our physical routine. Hell, even too much repetitive mechanical motion, such as bicycle riding, can be harmful. Staying up too late under artificial lights messes up our metabolism and health, too. Our whole way of living is a giant, uncontrolled human experiment in which we are all guinea pigs. No wonder we are so messed up!
We live in very artificial environments today, most of us even here in Portland never fully experience the greatest natural features of our own city, the rivers that run right through it.
The human organism requires a variety of mental and physical stimuli. Too little leads to atropy and damage, just like astronauts in sub-terrestrial gravity or zero-G environments. The average hunter gatherer got more varied and complete, full-body physical stimuli and excitement in a single day's big game hunt than the average city dweller gets in a lifetime. Playing Nintendo or watching movies on the widescreen is no substitute.
We've got to reconnect with our own senses. Partake in varied physical and mental activities. Get out on the rivers. Paddle, fish, swim, cross-country ski, even hunt(!) Learn about our natural environments, our food, our water, air, and soil.
We're not safeguarding our own mental and physical health at all like we should. We overlook numerous hazards that sometimes we are maybe not even aware of.
There are restaurants where you least suspect it, even locally, that are pouring literal poisons into our food, but still we go to them, innocently unaware of the hazards. How many people are aware that numerous imported Chinese products are laced with industrial carcinogens? I love Asian food, but many Asian restaurants use flavorings imported from China. You can't trust them. You should quiz the wait staff and/or chefs at any restaurants you go to. Or better yet, just avoid eating out. You'll save money and your health.
And toxins that affect your body also affect your brain and mind.
Most urbanized Westerners are suffering from a severe excess of Omega 6 fatty acids and too little Omega 3. This contributes to a raft of physical and mental problems, including chronic depression, along with numerous autoimmune related diseases involving inflammatory response (arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, Alzheimers, etc, etc, all "diseases of civilization" practicaly nonexistent among our hunter gatherer forbears). The Omega 3s and Omega 6s are both necessary for good nutrition, but an excess of 6 and too little 3 overstimulates the immune system and the body's "fight-or-flight" response.
Save the poor. Save the workers. Save the animals. Save the Earth. Sure, that is all well and good. But first, better save yourself!
Maybe you'll object that some of this is just paranoia. All I can say is, do the research. Lots of information is out there. I'm not going to compile a list of references for you. You wouldn't necessarily believe me anyways. Hell, you shouldn't!
Go out and do your own homework! You'll see that many many Chinese products are being recalled because of contamination. But still the FDA and USDA do no thorough inspections of any imports. Loads of poisonous shit slips through the cracks. Even radioactive shit from hospitals, like Cs 137 and Co 60, gets recycled illegally in scrap metal yards and turned into consumer products in countries like China and India! No shit!
Lack of sleep and certain wavelengths of ambient light late at night (particularly the shorter wavelengths, like green and blue LEDs) wreak havoc with our hormonal cycles, especially our melatonin levels, leading to all kinds of risks, like cancer. Etc etc.
You can't shelter yourself in a pristine and immaculate bubble from all of these hazards. But you can and should educate yourself to minimize these risks, and develop a personal lifestyle that protects you to the greatest practical extent.
Of course you could also object that this is a bunch of hypocritical hooey, and runs the risk of bourgeois complacency of the same sort that led the great Baby Boom generation down the primrose path followed by the likes of Jerry Rubin straight from Counterculture icon to Wall Street stockbroker in no time flat. The 70s "human potential movement" all over again. Sure, but anybody with those tendencies has got problems to begin with one way or another. Papering them over with another empty political pep talk or shaming ritual won't help. If you have to drop out of "activism" to save your own life, better now than never. You won't be doing anybody else any favors anyways if you just burn out and/or kill yourself.
If you're at risk of burnout on the activist trip, come back to activism once you're emotionally and physically stable enough to actually be of any use to anybody else. Until then, stop kidding yourself.
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