What Do You Owe Yourself in Troubling Times?
I am not a political writer; I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome and feeling like my thoughts are "smart" enough to say publicly and wondering if my sadness comes from empathy or guilt. I have nothing new to say about Charlottesville. I have innovative to say about this administration. I have no idea what my message should be besides the usual ones of anger, horror, and sadness.
But I do know that I care deeply about the marginalized, none of whom are safe now. While this act of terror was being planned in Charlottesville, local Nazi groups were hanging signs in my so-called "Blue oasis" of a city "warning" white straight men about the homosexual menace and encouraging people to come to a meeting to learn to fight back against us. It was disgusting and terrifying. I cried for a day and a half when I heard. The biggest threat these groups pose is still to people of color and the event in Charlottesville was an attempt to claim white, racist culture as valid and scare black and non-white people into silence. It is revolting, and it requires every ounce of strength we have to fight back.
Which means that it also requires taking care of ourselves, without excuse, without getting "permission", and without regret. You can not fight if you're about to pass out. Stop when you feel overwhelmed and ask yourself "What do I owe myself today?"
I absolutely owe my future self the knowledge that I stood on the right side of history and that I fought for my rights and those of people of color and disabled people. I owe myself the better world I am trying to build. But I also owe my current self a full night of rest, a glass of cold water when I'm thirsty, to spend that unexpected tip money on a cold press when I'm dragging. I owe myself the acceptance of the love others give me. I owe myself the peace that comes from saying no sometimes. If I don't give myself those things, who will? Most importantly, if I don't give myself the things I need, I will be useless when directly faced with a fight. Activist burnout is so real, and complete exhaustion is the number one reason my clients who proudly belong to marginalized communities come to see me. As pressing and urgent as creating as much change as quickly as possible is, you absolutely owe it to yourself not to burn out entirely.
Maybe your needs are different. Maybe you don't sleep well anyway and need downtime instead. Maybe you hate coffee but need soda to keep you going. Regardless, you certainly deserve rest, to eat and drink well, to be loved.
And then, when you are rested and restored, remember: We do not deserve for bigotry and hatred to win, and most of us will not be able to live with ourselves if we don't do our part. We owe ourselves the things that make us feel renewed.
We also owe ourselves this fight.