When Activism Becomes Self Harm

02Nov10

It’s difficult to write this.

Many of us push ourselves. Hard. The things we fight for are precious and denied us so easily, so effortlessly. The pain and suffering we face is awful. Oppression is no joke. It shatters lives. So we fight, battle, educate, speak out and work to fix society or even break it and replace it. And then at the end of the day, we take some time to rest, tend our wounds of the body, mind and soul and wait for the next fight, the next goal, the next set of ignorant people.

Well, not all of us.

There’s no doubt that pain is an element in our motivations. And for some it even becomes a dangerous driving force. With me, it’s less of a fight or flight response making every battle a pitched and dangerous one and more of an entirely different effect from the same basic causes.

It’s no news to anyone that I deal with depression and anxiety and that I have issues with self harm. I work hard not to claw myself and do other forms of physical injury to me. I also try to avoid alcohol and drug use to a self harming point. I don’t succeed every time but I try in all of those areas. I thought I took good care of myself, as well as I could, but I was wrong.

Despite my own advice otherwise, I not only engage with trolls, I’m known for tangling with them. I’ve felt the effects of Anger Toxicity more than once and no doubt the constant toll of fighting every battle I can possibly see or encounter does damage as well. I realize now that keeping myself at this state of readiness always, entering into pointless or even worthless fights (like those with trolls) and pushing myself past the point of reason or function has worsened my situation intensely.

But this isn’t just a case of activist burnout. This isn’t just a case of poor self care. This is consistent. Not isolated. A frequent and chronic issue. And I’m starting to steadily realize that I’m subconsciously doing it purposefully.

I turned activism into another way of making myself bleed.

The most dangerous self harm is the one you can justify. The one you can rationalize so well that you don’t even see it as self harm. That you see it as a necessity. I never recognized how often the pain I put myself in, the burnout, the emotional harm from the insults and attacks slung my way had the same effects, emotionally and mentally, as the clawing, the heavy abusive drinking and other methods of self harm. Recognition is definitely one of the hardest parts though. Denial defined this situation for me and now I actually have an opportunity to change this.

I’m just not sure how. The purpose of this post is twofold. One, it’s to warn you of what I’m facing and showing the signs of it so that those who are facing similar can also address it. And two, it’s to announce a hiatus, effective immediately in order to enable me to rethink how I handle activism and how I handle self care. One post remains in the queue, it will come out both here and at TSC. I will likely be on tumblr occasionally but not for activism purposes, same with twitter.

I will also take guest posts while I am gone.

Anyone can contact me using my email but I will largely be avoiding this work until I can find a way to avoid hurting myself with it. Once I do that, I’ll return and continue my activism, in improved ways.

I think this is an important first step in that. Because right now I’m stepping away from activism to take care of myself. A thing I haven’t been able to do in a very long time.



24 Responses to “When Activism Becomes Self Harm”

  1. Honey, I’m very proud of you for seeing this trend and taking steps to keep from killing yourself. Burnout is real. We did it with Paganism about three years ago, and it nearly destroyed our marriage and life. Get the rest you need. Talk with friends, don’t work so hard and recover yourself.

    Love you much.

  2. If you need anything at all, please let me know, I’ll do my best to help.

    *big hugs*

  3. Bravo. Seriously, congratulations. Acknowledging the problem is always the first step to healing. Best of everything to you.

  4. 4 lemonadeandlemoncake

    love you, kinsey. hugs for healing and i hope to talk to you soon.

  5. This is a really great post. Now that you’ve brought this to my attention, I realise that I do a lot of this stuff, too. So, thank you for your honesty.

    Have a productive, centering, healing, much-deserved break, and I’ll look for your posts on the other side of it. :-)

  6. 6 Jemima Aslana

    I definitely recognize a few things here.

    I’m so sorry to hear you’ve gotten caught up in such a downwards spiral, but I’m also very glad to hear that you’ve identified the problem.

    I wish you all the best; including all the strength you need to fight your way out of this. I hope you win this fight.

    Do get in touch if you want. My Inbox is always open :-)

    (((hugs)))

  7. I’m very glad you saw this, I was getting a bit worried, but didn’t feel it was my place to comment that your activism had turned from enhancing your life to inhibiting it. Take care of yourself, dear friend.

  8. 8 Sophie

    Good call. I only just started following you on Twitter, but I absolutely understand the need to step away for a while.

    Take care of yourself!

  9. Woudln’t surprise me if I’m sort of doing this- but I can’t justify stopping, either. I have a hard time seeing something that’s broken when I think I might be able to fix it and just leave it broken, especially hwen leaving it broken might hurt me or someone else.
    Not healthy, but it’s how I am.

  10. 10 Adam

    Best of luck. I hope to see you back around with better perspective and whatnot; we need activists, of course, but self-care and emotional well-being are essential to an activist who wants to maintain the struggle; if you’re destroying yourself in the process, that does you no good and it’ll ultimately hurt the struggle in the end, so take care of yourself.

    Much love and remember, I’m pretty much always around, so feel free to IM me if advice or commiserating be your need.

  11. 11 Mangia Italiano

    As much as it pains me to say this, watching you bleed isn’t fun. I used to follow you more frequently, but stopped due to seeing the self-destructive path coming up. I’ve recently stopped following a lot of other transpeople and have focused on other aspects of my life; this is mostly because I’ve noticed that such activist-rage toxicity appears to be spreading throughout people that I know online. I had tried to mention it to a couple of people that I was close to, but was met with great opposition when I said anything.

    Good that you’ve figured out that it’s another way of bleeding. A lot of people don’t realize it and end up drastically shortening their lifespan due to it. Suffice it to say that I’m glad you are able to see the problem and are attempting to fix it. I wish you well, Kinsey!

  12. Thankyou so much for this post. I really needed to read it. I think I need to take a long hard look at my life and reasess how I manage the activism side of it. Take care.

  13. Take care of yourself.

    And, yes, your presence has made a lot of days better and not only your activist posts, either.

  14. I really needed this too…thank you Kinsey.

  15. Recognizing that there is a problem is such a significant step, Kinsey. Good for you on taking it!

    Just be careful out there; too many will try to take advantage, plead with you not to change and try to persuade you otherwise. Keep at it all; I hope you can find the help you seek. Don’t worry if your first efforts aren’t successful, sometimes it can take awhile.

    I’ll be thinking of you. I wish you strength and courage; I know you have them, just be ready to marshall them for yourself.

    Carolyn Ann

  16. ::hugs tight:: You have already done so much, Kinsey. Your words have inspired; comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. You’ll be missed, but I begrudge you not a second of deserved rest and healing time. You do what you need to- it’s because of trans folk like you that I feel perpetually able to stand up and be counted, and that I have a voice worth hearing.

    You’re in my thoughts and I send you my fondest wishes, good vibrations and all the rest. =) This cannot have been easy for you to face up to and I think it’s an abyss a lot of us stare into at one time or another, to varying degrees. You have tremendous courage and introspective ability, and it will serve you well as you heal and negotiate with this problem you’ve found.

    Rest for now, my dear, you’ve earned every moment. I look forward to your return. ::hugs more:: If you need anyone to talk to, my IM window’s always open! ::waves::

  17. 17 Alex

    I am a Women’s Studies student at the University of Michigan doing research on trans-issue blogs and the community that surrounds blogging. When first beginning research on my project I believed that there can only be positive affects from activism online but I did not consider the reverse side of things until I read this latest post.

    My question to the community is this- Do you feel that activism for any sort of inequality leads to a backlash of stress for the activist? Does anyone else feel this way? Or do you feel relief and support through your online community?
    Feel free to respond!

    Wish you the best of luck Kinsey! Your words are an eye-opener for an outsider like me so I hope you feel on top of your game soon enough.

  18. 18 @omnesensual

    Poignant and Personal. Thank you for sharing. Your honesty is illuminating.

  19. 19 Christina Shannon

    Congrats, Kinsey; not everyone has the capacity to recongnize self-destructive behavior, much less that kind of psycho-emotional pathology. I’m not saying this is pathological for you necessarily; I’m not in a position to know, but the symptoms you describe sound fairly familiar to me. I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict, co-dependent, and adult child of alcoholics, which means I’ve engaged in my share of validation-driven self-destructive bahavior that isn’t too dissimilar to activist-driven self-neglect and/or destructiveness in effect. I’m also transsexual, so validation and activist issues have driven me along these lines, as well, to a dangerous degree that I characterize as at least resembling a pathology, if not actually pathological.

    So, I deeply appreciate your insightfulness and courage and mostly your humility to make the decission to take care of yourself. It’s not only the right thing to do for yourself, which is the most important thing, but it’s also a wonderful example to the rest of us justice-driven trans-issue-aholics out here who just don’t seem to know when to pause long enough to take a breath and heal. After all, our quest is to try to heal our community in particular and attempt to heal the divisions that have developed between our community and other oppressed communities that actually have more in common than the (sometimes bigoted) differences that tend to separate us from working together for human rights and dignity for all. How can we be truly effective in this if, as individuals, we ignore our own health? How can we fight the good fight if we become so sick we can’t function effectively?

    I’m a relative newcomer to the blogosphere, but even I recognize how toxic all of this on-the-front-line blogging, etc., can get in short order to an activist trying to negotiate all the intricacies involved without going bonkers or going on extended rage rants in frustration with trolls and the politically dim.

    Best wishes and hope for a speedy and sufficiently thorough recovery. You are an inspiration to many and we need you, but not so much that we want to see you martyr yourself for the cause.

    Long live diversity in all its beautiful forms!

    Love always,

    Christy

  20. 20 Christina Shannon

    You know, I just realized that you posted this back in November, so I presume you have had pleanty of rest by now, if not sooner. My apology for not noticing this sooner; my comments on my previous reply would’ve been only slightly different, though.


  1. 1 Trans 101 « Binary Subverter
  2. 2 Trans 101 « a genderqueer transition
  3. 3 Where’s the problem? « Jiontari
  4. 4 Activism vs. Self Care | High On Clich├ęs

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