I’ve been thinking long and hard for a long while now about my place in protests and social justice as a whole. Once upon a time I was way more active on that front than I am now. I was extremely vocal on social media (I’ve been called an “evil SJW” more times than I care to remember) and I participated in anti-war protests and marches back during my freshman year in college.
Now, I’m not saying I was perfect at all. Even I had an “asshole internet atheist” phase that was not pretty at all. What I’m saying is I was “out there”. I was out front, fighting the good fight, doing battle with assholes as much as humanly possible. What I didn’t pinpoint at the time was the extreme toll it was taking on me physically and mentally. It’s very draining.
What some scant few people out there may not know is I have a laundry list of things that are wrong with me. Back in the day, I didn’t know this. I’ve lived with these things, undiagnosed and unrecognized, for years. I bought into the guilt trip that if you weren’t on the “front lines” you weren’t doing your part. So I pushed myself to do things that I wasn’t totally comfortable with, that drained me, that triggered my anxiety, and that worsened my depression.
Eventually, I talked to a doctor about how I was feeling. She sent me to a psychiatrist, and she was the one who diagnosed me. That saved my life. Through medication and therapy I figured out that I needed to take a step back and take care of me and that it was perfectly fine to do that.
So I did. I cut back, focused on myself and my child, and tried to take care of me. Now, most people who have been on mental health medication know that you soon hit the “I feel fine, I don’t need these” phase. I hit that and believed I was totally okay to go back to doing the things I used to do because I was “totally fine”. I was wrong.
At that point, I still fully believed in the “if you aren’t actively engaging every prejudiced person, you aren’t doing anything” rhetoric. That line of thinking is pervasive in social justice circles and it made me feel guilty for taking so much time to myself. So I went right back to doing what messed me up in the first place and it was even more draining the second time around.
What made matters worse was that was around the time that the “anti-sjw” brigade decided to harass every “sjw blogger” on tumblr. The messages I got were horrific. The worst ones were deleted immediately, but there’s still some horrible stuff in my archives. At the same time I was dealing with a twitter account that was getting bombarded with gore from “prolifers” and tweets from racist atheists. This time, I realized I was headed down the same rabbit hole and I needed to make a change. Fast.
So I changed the name of my blog (twice) to throw off harassers and created a new twitter account. I also sharply cut back on how much I engaged on social media. For the past few years, it’s worked great for me. I still do what I can for the causes I believe in. The key phrase there is I do what I can. I know me and my limits now better than I ever have. I know what I can and cannot handle.
There are times where I don’t name names because said person has followers that would engage is massive amounts of harassment. There are times where I don’t use hashtags because I know people comb through them just to find and harass people they don’t agree with. I know that if I tried to go to a protest march right now, I’d completely melt down and be useless to everyone, including myself.
Putting a priority on me and my mental health is important and in this country (and the world as a whole) it is a radical act. Being out front isn’t feasible (or healthy) for everyone and that’s okay. Some of us have to help in different ways and that’s just fine.