*title references a blog post by Heather Watkins
For the longest time, I have wondered what a better future would look like, for myself and for all the Queer and Trans folk of color like me. But more often than not I have never actually been able to imagine myself as a part of the future. Whether it was death by the world crushing me under its heel, someone killing me for wearing the wrong outfit in the wrong place, or simply committing suicide, I could never imagine a future where I would be around long enough to see a better world.
I can’t say that is the case anymore.
But this change hasn’t come to me all at once. It has come in bits and pieces, in moments of rest that have become more meaningful over time. And, most importantly, it has come as a result of slowing down and taking time to work on myself despite many pressing material needs at hand. I had to slow down and rest, make peace with some issues I had not wanted to address, and give space for healing that I didn’t want to give before.
If I am being completely honest, I’ve never been comfortable giving myself this healing space. I get antsy after more than a few hours of nothing to do. Every large period of time spent not being productive feels like giving into apathy, like demonstrating my extreme lack of care about things that matter to me. A lack of productivity feels like pulling my own teeth out and turning my back on the world, as I imagine is also the case for people who have organized around social issues so close to home.
But I had to slow down. I had to, or else risk continuing to push myself to the brink of exhaustion and strain what little stability I had gained in previous months.
And so I slowed down.
I gave room to rest.
I gave time to heal.
And I felt better.
I feel better.
I sense I will continue to feel better here on out, with or without an occasional drop in stability as is prone to happen with my depression.
And, as a result, I return, as I always seem to do, to thinking about mental health and care for myself and the communities that I belong to.
Because as I reflect on all the inspiring work so many movements across the US and around the world are doing to create better futures, I wonder now where the place for healing is.
Where is the space to slow down and process this world with care, all without losing sight of work that needs to be done?
And I say this not because I advocate apathy over engaging with the world as it is. There is too much at stake, even when it comes only to mental health, to ever stop caring about the world.
I can’t forget the many disabled women of color I know who will be negatively affected by the coming attacks on healthcare.
I can’t forget about how so many trans youth of color would rather commit suicide than continue to face the trauma of a world that reminds them every single day that they are better off dead than living as who they are. Having lived the past few years trying to navigate the world as a trans woman in hiding, I don’t think I have ever had the luxury of forgetting this reality.
Even when I turn to look at my field of psychology for signs of hope, I can’t seem to escape just how much needs to change for the world to be better. Whether it is for Latina teens who face some of the harshest rates of depression and suicidal ideation, low income Black populations who face a harder time than white populations receiving calls back on psychotherapy appointments , or people of color navigating the aftereffects of racism often ignored by mental health professionals, it is clear just how much is at stake. And just how many people would face harm were I to simply tune out the world and not care.
So I have to care.
I must care.
I must stay tuned in…but how do I do that and not risk myself?
How do I care and not create a pattern of behavior that leads me unable to ever care about anything ever again?
Having remained in touch with different friends who organize and work across college campuses and as part of various social movements, I have found myself constantly wondering how people are managing it all. Not in terms of how they manage to care about or work on so many issues but rather where they find the strength keep going
Chalk it up to the mothering tendencies I have but I can’t help but worry about whether many of the people I know in these movements will live to see the just futures they fight for.
How many of them will be given space to step back and heal the parts of themselves that need care and attention? How many more people have to bury themselves in movement work only to avoid being considered apathetic? How many more have to perform the “appropriate” way to be involved in movements before we realize this is not sustainable?
Something is wrong with how people view apathy.More importantly, something is wrong with what it means to care without expecting self-destruction and burn out as a given for activist work.
As I left college, I wondered what it would mean to continue fighting for a just world now that all the spaces i once organized in were no longer available to me. Having no real sense of what jobs, work, or even survival would be available to me post-grad, I struggled often with showing what it meant to properly care about all the issues going on in the world. With less money, less access to transportation, and even less stability at times than I had before, it felt lonely and even shameful telling myself I just couldn’t be involved in things anymore. Survival took priority and yet it felt impossible not to feel as though I had stopped caring because I didn’t go to protests, plan meetings, talk about twelve different issues everyday, and have the greatest insight on every new political catastrophe occurring in the world.
Slowing down felt like sinking into apathy and it has taken me more than two years to realize that isn’t the case. Slowing down doesn’t mean you stop caring about the world. It just means you made enough room to actually care about yourself as well. And, conversely, being at a high speed, overly productive state of being doesn’t automatically mean you care more.
What message do we send to each other by saying that the only “badge of honor” that shows we care about movement work is being stressed out, worn out machines that have value only so far as we destroy our bodies?
What do we risk by instead centering our wellbeing and celebrating a practice of sustainable care for our mental health rather than high paced burn out?
I go back and forth daily about how strongly I believe this world can change. Before, I would have said everything feels so overwhelming that there is not time to take it all in. There is no time to grieve, only time to push through the pain of a world so cruel that our only hope for survival is fighting back just as hard, just as cruelly. It feels like it is only with burnout and strain that we all can hope to leave behind a future that is less horrible for those coming after us.
But I think there is a place for grieving, for holding that pain close to our hearts and slowing down to make peace with it. Not to wear ourselves out and keep producing movement work that merely hides a need to rest and be tender but to sit with the pain and grow from it. Not to hide from the strain but make room for more care for ourselves and, by extension, for other people.
If feminism and care for social issues in the world can mean anything nowadays, it must mean living with “what we wish to transform,” with ourselves and our movements to create a vision of our new world through our “struggles to exist.” It means holding space for healing and a work pace that leaves room for people to imagine lives outside of constant burnout and stress. It means creating a “life project” that not only allows us to name unforgivable harms inflicted through systemic oppression but work from “where we are,” with those who can carry heavy loads and those who are fragile from this life’s work.
If we must live in this world and struggle to realize just futures, then let us make room for tenderness and slowing down, if only to offer ourselves more ways to care than public self-destruction.
Let us make room for grieving when we cannot be the same person we were and then celebrate the new person who emerges even more wonderful than before.
Let us make room for naming our struggles as well as naming how we might move forward with healing.
Let us grieve not to succumb to despair or apathy but to acknowledge where we have been hurt by the world, and one another, in movements, to learn to grow from it.
Let us grieve to be free, to bear witness to a cruel world with bold healing and give voice to how we might offer relief for ourselves and future generations. )
I grieve over who I cannot be anymore. I grieve the loss of who I was.
But I also know that things can and will be better for me now.
I believe the same can be true for the movements and people I care about.
Because while grief can be healing, it can also provide prophecy of what good can lie ahead.
If only we can slow down to take it all in.