Jumping into the Bigger Picture—with Both My Feet, Radical Vulnerability, and Also a Team: Personally Avoiding Ace and Aro Activist Burnout (So Far)

This is a belated submission for the December 2018 Carnival of Aces on the topic of Burnout.


As the call for submissions for this month’s carnival topic explained, a “frenzied pace of activities”

can… be a major source of stress that can put ace activists at risk of experiencing burnout – the state that results when the continued stress of an activity becomes overwhelming, to the point where individuals may find themselves less and less able to continue with it.

In addition, as the Wikipedia article notes,

[o]ccupational burnout is thought to result from long-term, unresolvable, job stress.

But personally don’t feel that close to burning out. On the contrary, I think I successfully keep adding fresh fuel to my fire. I’m energized, fulfilled, and engaged. Most places consider “engagement” to be the opposite of “burnout”.

Most days, I am more optimistic and hopeful and energized to be an ace activist than ever. (I also recently realized, and have been trying to reframe my language to reflect, that I’m an aro activist at the same time.) I am able to envision an exciting queer futurity for people on the aromantic and asexual spectrums, and have been taking lots of active steps toward that goal and for my own personal goals too.

An event at the end of November 2017 left me in a state of overwhelmed traumatization and grief, but it also left me thinking about how to direct my future going forward and how I might heal, and then the first weekend of that December after being asked about if I’d start a new podcast after the death of my previous podcast co-host, I decided that I’d probably start a podcast about the intersection of asexuality & fandom sometime in the Spring of 2018. Sure enough, when those months rolled around, I did. I achieved my goal of starting the Aceterpretations podcast because I was able to do it at a slow pace with no huge pressure to keep up with unsustainable fast deadlines, and because  for every step along the way I have two amazing co-hosts and friends who make it such a great team project. Also because I am doing something I truly am passionate about!

That event at the end of November led to the fact that on December 1, 2017, the same day that I wrote this post on how I’d been crying for 95 hours straight, I sent an email to seven in-person ace activist friends of mine I’d made via my local in-person meetup group. I told them in my subject line, “Just wanted to give you guys an FYI about my mental state for the near future” and then discussed the national LGBTQ conference I was slated to present on two panels at in my role as an ace activist. And I was so fortunate to have seven ace activist friends to whom I could send such an email.

I said,

Hey all. I know Creating Change is coming upand so are holidays and times where tons of folks are busy.

I know I have two CC panels I kinda am… leading? And we’ve done no preparation yet.

I didn’t include [two people] on this email even though they’re on my panels because we’re not actually friends the way I consider all 7 of you certainly in the friendship category for me. I don’t want to crazy overshare with them but I kinda want to crazy overshare with you folks.

I know a few of you aren’t planning on coming to Creating Change but I’m including you so that you can read my blog post if you want.

[A few of you] basically already know all of this… but there might be slightly new info here for you guys. 😛

https://luvtheheaven.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/ive-been-crying-for-95-hours-now/

Needless to say I’m hoping things get better for me soon so that I can focus on all my exciting plans but… I might need a little extra help with things like… organizing a meetup or a private meeting of just the folks for one CC panel (OR one for ALL the CC panel related folks to come together??), or idk. Just in general, I feel like I need… less stress in my life for at least a few weeks while I recover from all this.

Thanks for being understanding.

I hope you all are having a Happy Friday.

~Emily

And I wrote all that in order to try to prevent myself from burning myself out when my mental health had taken a toll from a psychologically damaging event and I had less spoons than I often do.

I still, however, did a lot of ace activist stuff during those first two months, December 2017 and January 2018, because ultimately I found it came pretty naturally to me even when I felt constantly sad and other complicated emotions. I found the process of diving into it all to be, if anything, healing, especially since so much of it is also a social endeavor.

I have the personal motivation, passion, and dedication/commitment I need to be engaged because of how personal being an ace activist is to my core sense of history and self. I have other people surrounding me recognizing and appreciating me, and also being understanding of how we all need a “work”/life balance in these roles and that none of us on our teams of ace activists can be constantly on ace activism aka work mode at  all times. In Rowan’s submission for this month, they mentioned,

If we’re planning for the inevitability of burnout, we can look for ways in which projects can rest on contributions from multiple people and survive without any given person being around at any specific time.

And I think I’ve somehow managed to achieve this in all the ace activist areas that really matter in my life. Be it being one of many organizers for the Asexuals of the Mid-Atlantic meetup group, putting out my Aceterpretations podcast, or being one of a fair number of hardworking, volunteer, members of the board on The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP), I am able to keep my level of stress underneath “overwhelming” and “unsustainable” levels.

Sometimes I might approach the limit, and be very close to feeling like it’s all too much, but it’s important to me that I not burn out, so I take a step back in order to find fuel for  my fire. I am able to keep myself in check and sign up only to do pretty much what I can do and also back out if I have signed up for too much.

It likely helps that in 3 weeks I’ll be 29 years old, and that I’ve had multiple years of adulthood in order to figure out what works and doesn’t work for me before diving into this ace activist full time lifestyle.

I maybe, sort of, began to experience the type of burnout known as compassion fatigue or “secondary traumatic stress” after volunteering for over a year on RfR’s helpline as both a phone and chat hotline agent, which led to me, in my second year, trying to shift my focus to where I had the power to help. I fundraised for suicide prevention research because the number of suicidal people were draining to try to help. I started a podcast where I could more indirectly feel like I was helping people instead of having to be fully present in the moment for the helping task. Even that I stopped feeling the passion for at some point though, and currently the only atheist activism I do is regularly hosting non-religious meetups to help provide community for people. I still love having deep philosophical conversations, and finding like-minded people with whom to form community. When no one shows up though, when the meetups I host are “failures”, the risk of burning out from that sneaks back in and I consider if I should quit rather than subject myself to the frustrated emotions of all of it. Lately they have been more successful again, so I’m feeling like I can keep up the hosting forever! Everything feels goodfor now. But if that changes, rather than give myself depression via burnout, I will change my circumstances and situation. I will quit hosting it if I feel I need to. I am prepared to do so in part because I am educated on burnout in the first place.

Similarly, part of what’s helping so much with my ace activist endeavors, is that I feel like I am making a difference, that my endeavors are successful the majority of the time, like I am always accomplishing things. I can see my work as useful and see my value in the projects I jump into. These 10 Tips to Overcome Obstacles in Your Life and be more resilient (check both pages) include things I see myself having, in greater and greater quantities each year of my life perhaps. I especially see:

4. Stay Connected. Nurture your relationships with friends and family. When you’re going through a hard time, don’t withdraw from other people. Accept help from those who care about you. Resilient people have at least one or two people in their lives they can turn to for support

Because my social calendar is just exceedingly full with all the meetups I go to, and I am very connected on various social media platforms with deep, true online friendships as well.

In fact, in order to get more accomplished in the rest of my life I will likely soon need to be cutting back on my number of social obligations, but the reason I keep obligating myself to so many things even when I check in with myself as I start to feel stressed about my schedule is that I conduct a mental pro/con survey and find the joy, sense of connection, personal growth and fulfillment I get from continuing to go to all these things is worth it, is worth more than not going and taking more time to breathe.

6. Have a Sense of Purpose. Do things that bring meaning to your life. That may be spending time with your family, but volunteering or other work for a cause can also make you feel stronger. People who’ve had a serious illness often find that being in a marathon or walk to raise money for a health-related charity makes them feel better. “Volunteering can help … by giving you a sense of purpose and often a feeling of mastery”

Is one of the items of the list that being an ace and aro activist really gives me in a wonderful way. I feel actively, so many days of the week, like I’m making a difference. Being a blogger to some degree has done this too, but (for instance) doing work with TAAAP with others who clearly feel the same as me is a really heightened way to achieve that emotional experience. We know many things just would not be happening for groups of people if not for us putting ourselves out there and doing it, and it’s making a difference in the world, and it feels wonderful.

There are other ones too though. I think I’ve always kinda generally been an optimistic person, growing up in the dark cloud of my abusive mother’s pessimism, I held onto seeing the hope whenever I could.

One of the biggest things I think I’ve unintentionally done to help myself avoid burnout is also though, as the call for submissions suggests:

have safe places to vent, away from the communities that are the center of the stress.

And the way I’ve achieved this is practicing a lot of radical vulnerability in both my online and offline life, and being out as asexual to nearly everyone I meet, as well as disclosing my self as the survivor of stigmatized types of loss and of child abuse at the hands of my mother whenever it’s relevant, and in being an open book. I know not everyone feels “able” to be that open and also I might be judged sometimes for being too open but ultimately, in the long run, I think it’s really helped me a lot.

Being this radically vulnerable allows me to find those people to vent to who are away from the sources of my stress. Every time the stress pops up, I’m already aware of who my support system is, because I’ve constantly been testing the people in my life to see who can provide that for me. And being radically vulnerable, that act itself, is getting “out” the things stressing me out, eating me up inside, and threatening my mental stability and ability to appreciate my life.

Along the way I also have been taking a step back, seeing the bigger picture, and letting myself know that it was okay to skip doing anything for Asexual Awareness Week this week, because plenty of other people were working on that side of ace activism. I’ve been allowing myself to not feel like it matters if I’m not blogging as often, because I take inventory of all the stuff I am actively doing. I still fail to exercise and sleep enough way too much of the time, which isn’t good for me, but I have enough of the good for me things in my life that I’m… okay. And I think I’m going to stay okay for a while.

I think I can prevent myself from burning out, and most likely continue to find the work of ace and aro activism to be fulfilling and worthwhile for a very long time.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s