Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

“Aftershock” and activist burnout

iguazu before the falls

A friend lent me a copy of “Aftershock” by Pattrice Jones, who helps run the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center. I just started reading it, but a couple of passages in the first chapter made me sit up and take note:

Often, activists hesitate to talk, or even think about, their own feelings because the suffering of others is comparatively so much greater. The motives for this self-suppression are altruistic, but the results can be counterproductive. When the physiological and psychological effects of traumatic experience lessens productivity or lead to burnout, what seemed like self-sacrifice can turn out to be hurtful to others.

I tend to talk to my friends ad nauseum about anything and everything, yet I think I do see in us a tendency to suppress some of our feelings about the horrors we face (even if from a distance) as we attempt to fight those horrors. A brief mention of how awful these things are, how awful people are for perpetuating them, and we then focus on the plight of the animals themselves.

The interaction between sadness and anger can also lead to depression. Loss almost always leads to some kind of anger. That’s because we get mad when we get hurt. The reaction is a natural one, but many of us have been taught to feel guilty about it. Then we turn the anger against ourselves in the form of depression. Helplessness, which we’ve already seen can lead to shame, also can lead to depression. Prolonged or repetitive helplessness leads to hopelessness, which is often experienced as sadness, lack of energy, and a feeling of futility.

That last sentence, about hopelessness and a feeling of futility, pretty much describes the way I felt this past fall for months on end, and how many of my fellow activists feel too much of the time. I knew I was depressed this past fall, and I even thought it was connected to my activism to a degree, but I wouldn’t have connected it to the degree that Pattrice Jones does. It makes all too much sense, however.

I wouldn’t have ever described myself as someone dealing with trauma, and my activism tends to be low-key, low-risk. Yet we all deal with the repeated trauma of facing what goes on in this world, to humans and non-humans, as we work to enact change. It doesn’t have to be something as obvious as being beaten by the police or rescuing animals at our own peril to put us in the position of dealing with trauma. And burnout.

I haven’t gotten far enough to know yet everything Pattrice will talk about or recommend, but I know one thing I’ve learned in the past six months is that taking time off to rest, and even to simply do nothing productive, is important for me to be able to keep going. Tonight I learned, by taking an unplanned nap, that the tension headaches I’ve been dealing with for a couple of weeks might simply be related to the fairly constant sleep-deprivation I let myself suffer.

The bottom-line is that we have to take care of ourselves to be able to keep fighting for the animals, human or not. I’ll be offline most of the weekend, hanging out with friends and eating as much of the great vegan food NYC has to offer as I can fit. This has been planned for weeks, and I have a feeling it is coming at a good time for me in light of what I’ve just read.

acorn in sun


3 responses to ““Aftershock” and activist burnout

  1. cherie January 28, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    I hope you had fun this weekend and glad to hear that your headache went away after a nap. 🙂

  2. Pingback: trauma and burnout: learning to tend the inner flame « burning for change, rooted in earth: phoenix and tree

  3. Pingback: Deep Roots » Blog Archive » Carnival of Empty Cages #6

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