Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Anger, activism, and taking care of ourselves

hal dust bathing

Anger and activism is something that came up in one of the sessions at AR07. I remember one woman worrying about a question that was brought up in this video – that if she stopped being angry, her activism would lose steam.

I think we can all understand that, because I imagine we have all had one or many pivotal moments where we experienced various degrees of anger, outrage, quite possibly hate, and these pivotal moments often spurred us to become the people and activists we are today. Do we hold onto that anger to fuel our activism? Or will that lead us to burnout? Do we let ourselves feel it, and then let it go, trusting that our activism won’t fade just because the anger doesn’t burn continuously?

Buddhist thought probably isn’t for everyone, but it is still a perspective that is worth listening to. The video is about 10 minutes long, and around minute 4 or 5 is where they talk about anger and activism.

And you might want to read (or reread) one of pattrice’s blog entries on nurturing activism. If you haven’t read “Aftershock” yet, you should do that as well.

I’ve recently made some big changes in how I take care of myself, and rereading pattrice’s entry on nurturing activism had me nodding my head. I never disagreed that it would be a good thing, but I don’t think I realized just what a toll was being taken on me by my constant sleep deprivation and my lack of attention to my water intake. From pattrice’s blog:

Your brain is part of your body and its functioning depends on how you treat your body. If you’re going to be as smart and creative as you can be, you have to take care of your brain. Take a multivitamin to make sure you’re getting all of the micronutrients you need. Be sure to get your essential fatty acids, since your brain is mostly fat. (I take a vegan DHA supplement just to be sure.) Don’t forget to drink your water, since dehydration slows down brain functioning. Do take my advise about going outside, since moderate exercise like walking helps to oxygenate your brain.

As logical as these words are, having felt the very real change in the past few weeks as I’ve made it a point to take better care of myself makes these words feel revolutionary. A friend forwarded a New York Magazine article to me today, on sleep deprivation in children and how it impacted cognitive abilities.

Sleep loss debilitates our body’s ability to extract glucose from the bloodstream. Without this stream of basic energy, one part of the brain suffers more than the rest: the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for what’s called “executive function.” Among these executive functions are the orchestration of thoughts to fulfill a goal, the prediction of outcomes, and perceiving consequences of actions. So tired people have difficulty with impulse control, and their abstract goals like studying take a back seat to more entertaining diversions. A tired brain perseverates—it gets stuck on a wrong answer and can’t come up with a more creative solution, repeatedly returning to the same answer it already knows is erroneous.

I am not a child, but I have experienced that brain-in-a-rut syndrome as a side-effect of sleep-deprivation. This is one of those things that seems so obvious, and yet I have had such a habit of sleep-deprivation that I had forgotten what my thoughts and thought-processes felt like when I was rested. The difference wasn’t slight, it was significant.

Sleep is a biological imperative for every species on Earth. But humans alone try to resist its pull. Instead, we see sleep not as a physical need but a statement of character. It’s considered a sign of weakness to admit fatigue, and it’s a sign of strength to refuse to succumb to slumber. Sleep is for wusses.

But perhaps we are blind to the toll it is taking on us. The University of Pennsylvania’s David Dinges did an experiment shortening adults’ sleep to six hours a night. After two weeks, they reported they were doing okay. Yet on a battery of tests, they proved to be just as impaired as someone who has stayed awake for 24 hours straight.

Dinges did the experiment to demonstrate how sleep loss is cumulative, and how easily our judgment can be fooled by sleep deprivation. Nevertheless, it’s easy to read his research and think, “I would suffer, but not that bad. I would be the exception.” We’ve coped on too-little sleep for years and managed to get by.

I’ve been living on 4-6 hours of sleep a night for years, with some extra on the weekends. “I don’t need as much sleep as most people,” is one of the things I told myself as I struggled to concentrate at work. In the past few weeks I’ve been teaching myself to go to sleep earlier, and mostly have managed 7 – 7.5 hours of sleep per night, which is better but still not ideal. The nights when I have slipped back into the trap of going to bed later than I intended and got only 6 hours of sleep, I could feel a difference the next day. Why have I let myself get so little sleep for so many years? The reasons were layered, but in a way, it comes back to this, which bears repeating:

Sleep is a biological imperative for every species on Earth. But humans alone try to resist its pull. Instead, we see sleep not as a physical need but a statement of character. It’s considered a sign of weakness to admit fatigue, and it’s a sign of strength to refuse to succumb to slumber. Sleep is for wusses.

I know better now. It might take time to kick the habit of sleep deprivation completely, but at least I recognize its importance now. I believe in sleep, and I’m stronger for it.

chicken barn at ps

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8 responses to “Anger, activism, and taking care of ourselves

  1. beforewisdom October 23, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I remember one woman worrying about a question that was brought up in this video – that if she stopped being angry, her activism would lose steam.

    Is being angry necessary for caring?

    People do huge things all of the time for loved ones, without being angry, because they care.

  2. Deb October 23, 2007 at 9:07 am

    Caring had nothing to do with it. The question was energy, as TNH addressed.

  3. beforewisdom October 23, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    I’m not referring to THN’s opinion. I’ve wrestled with similar issues as the one you posted about when I was younger.

    At one point in my life I discovered that many positive things I was doing had their roots in false beliefs and negative emotions. I was terrified that if I completely left behind those beliefs and emotions that I would lose my motivation for the good things that came out of the negative feelings.

    It didn’t happen. For me it was about valuing something enough, caring about it, to motivate me to put in the work.

  4. Deb October 23, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Asking whether one needs to be angry to care was certainly a tangent, then, since the question was whether one needed to be angry to have the energy. Caring was never in question – not in the interview, and not with the woman who struggled with question at AR07. Nor is caring alone enough for most people to become activists and stay activists.

    Struggling with anger is something most of us are familiar with, but to ask whether we have to be angry to care just doesn’t make sense. It sounds like you were able to resolve whatever your issues were, but struggling with anger does not mean that people don’t care or that they don’t value things, which is what you’re implying. I don’t believe we should pretend that anger doesn’t exist, and I also don’t believe that we should refuse to allow ourselves to feel it.

  5. Mo October 23, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Deb, I’ve had a lifelong relationship (or struggle, depending on the topic and perspective) with anger, and for me it’s a very big deal and does motivate me to do many things, but it also keeps me from doing a lot of things I’d like to bring about positive change (in relation to animals especially). I look forward to watching the video…I don’t have sound at work so will check it out later.

    The sleep thing is sooooo big…gets pretty complicated for me, and this is helpful – just SIMPLIFY the thought process!! Well…it would be a lot simpler if I won the lottery and could just sleep whenever my mind/body wanted to, rather than having to force it into a pattern because of a job. I know most folks’ bodies’ go by an internal clock related to light/dark/day/night, but I believe mine is off that timeline…doesn’t work the same way.

    I’m sucking down water now, in between typing words, thanks to this reminder. 😉

  6. Deb October 23, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Mo, I agree, anger is a sort of tricky thing. It can fire us up, but it can also burn us out. I really like what TNH has to say about it, and it is more or less how I have begun to interact with my own anger. I look forward to hearing what you think of it!

    If you can find a way to sleep more, you’ll be amazed at how much more energy you have (mental and physical) and how much more you can get done in less time. It isn’t just about being efficient (if that is our only focus, we can forget to enjoy things, and that is important too) but letting ourselves get sleep deprived thinking we’ll get more done turns out to be a fallacy. The more sleep deprived we are, the less we get done and the less effective we are!

    So, drinking water is excellent, and finding a way to improve your sleep is next. Listen to Daemon! We already know he’s smarter than us! 😉

  7. Mo October 26, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Deb, I really liked the TNH video…I’ll have to watch that a few times! Really good stuff.

    I’m still trying to sleep more, but I’m listening to Daemon much better! If I just get myself into a pattern…. BTW, he drinks a LOT of water, so he totally knows what’s good him. 🙂 (he’s not diabetic and doesn’t have kidney disease, he’s just a big boy and loves water) You’re right, and I find if I get ‘more’ (not necessarily ‘enough’) sleep for two nights in a row I’m much more motivated, efficient and effective…and I actually know what I’m doing when I’m performing tasks…at least I think I do, which is better than KNOWING that I don’t know what I’m doing. 😉

  8. Deb October 30, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Mo, I’m glad you liked it! Take care of yourself!

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