From the end of 2017 to mid-2018, I was assisting politicians in campaigning for Aboriginal rights and ecological sustainability in WA. During that time, I learned to identify flawed arguments, put together questions for parliament, write speeches and how to follow the subjects I needed to make statements on current events. In a volunteer capacity, I assisted the political party in fighting for queer rights, specifically regarding transgender and gender non-conforming people. I subscribed to Pink News, OUTinPerth, SBS and ABC email updates. I signed up to google alerts for the subjects of “transphobia”, “homophobia”, and “queer rights”, which were directed straight to my personal inbox. Even though nobody had suggested it, I felt like I had to be up to date with all the horrible shit going on in the world to be good at my job.
It was hard for me to understand the deep feeling of relief that occurred to me when I lost my job in August last year. I thought I was happy doing my job; I felt like I was making an impact, doing a good job and I felt like my work was worthwhile. I didn’t realise that the ways I’d been going about it were unhealthy until a few months after, when I was talking to my therapist.
“I never wanted to be an activist, I never claimed that; it was given to me, it was thrust on me, simply because I talked about my experiences,” says the YouTuber Stef Sanjati in one of her many videos on the subject. She’s a trans YouTuber I admire, and a lot of the beats of her path as an “influencer” have serendipitously lined up with mine as an individual. Around the same time that she realised activism wasn’t her calling, I discovered that I felt the same way. “I never said ‘I want to be a voice for the community’. I never said, ‘I want to be a champion and an activist and suffer for the cause’, and I did for a bit. I really did, and it almost killed me. So, I had to take a step back and say, ‘Ok, I cannot be on the front lines all the time’.
“It was having serious effects on my mental health, on the pressure that I felt, to save everybody, and it’s not healthy.”
I’ve had to learn how to take care of myself between news of transphobic, racist and senseless murders, forests burning down, sacred trees being threatened and icebergs disintegrating. It was hard, but I think this is advice worth sharing, especially for people like me who still feel the need to be up to date with everything. This is what works for me.
Read the whole article
This one sounds obvious, but I’ll give you an example. Upon reading a stomach-churning headline—‘Japan’s supreme court rules transgender people still have to get sterilised’ in this case—my first instinct was flight. Upon reading this article though, I discovered that the justices who enforced this ruling “offered a sliver of encouragement to trans activists by saying that the legislation was invasive and should be reviewed regularly as cultural activists shift over time”. This does not make the original infringement on autonomy alright, but knowing more about the subject can sometimes make you feel better, as opposed to the opposite. However, some articles just get worse as you go along, so pay attention to what newspaper or magazine you’re reading and who their target audience is.
Control when and where you read bad news
Unsubscribe from news alerts that go straight to your DMs and your inbox. It’s important to be able to control where and when you engage with news, and you can tailor your experience with it online fairly well. You can unfollow pages that frequently publish distressing things, and you can also block certain tags in your feed (depending on the platform). Getting notifications featuring distressing headlines, or frequent updates on the tweets of bigoted and ignorant politicians will eventually wear you down and your engagement with the above should be a conscious decision. You should not re/traumatise yourself by reading shitty stuff that happens to people like you, people you care about and to the world in general.
It’s well-known that being exposed to traumatic events can affect the mental health of witnesses, even if the event is experienced indirectly through social media or reports. This is known as vicarious trauma and is common among journalists—who are often left unprepared by journalism university courses—and therapists. Something similar may be happening if you’re constantly on the receiving end of bad news, so it’s best to make sure you have a plan to deal with the after-effects (for example, therapy). Trauma can also affect your ability to absorb the things you read, making it even harder to be aware of things through news media.
You don’t need to know everything
Remind yourself that you don’t need to memorise or internalise every single piece of bad news that happens around you to be a good advocate or ally. You don’t need an arsenal of every bad statistic and every politician’s bigoted quotes to be knowledgeable.
On this note (and the ones above it), know that journalism is based on documenting uncommon or abnormal events. They will not report on “business-as-usual”, journalists will be writing on horrible things because it is important to have that information publicly available. There are a lot of good things that happen in the world that don’t get any publicity, any air time. Small things like animals from rescue shelters finding new and warm homes, to phenomenal reforestation efforts.
Make sure you know and play to your strengths
This one is a little more nuanced, and it might involve you ignoring some of my previous tips. If you want to do advocacy work, then you have to find a way to do it without making it hard to get out of bed in the morning. If you have a crafty side, help students make posters for protests or print T-shirts and designs for other campaigners. If you have an excellent analytical brain and are not emotionally fazed by much, then you can engage more with statistics and probabilities. If you’re a good debater, you can write persuasive letters and speeches. Figure out what good you in particular can put into the world, and do that.
It’s all the same fight. As Oliver Thorn puts it in his most recent video, ‘Climate Grief’: “one of the advantages of facing the overwhelming, grief-like nature of climate change is that once we realise it’s all one problem we have a lot more allies than we thought. If you campaign for migrants’ freedom of movement, you are fighting climate change. If you support Indigenous people’s right to self-determination, if you support your local antifascists and people fighting police brutality, if you support demilitarisation and nuclear disarmament, it’s all one planet.”
On that note…
Find your people
Finding a person or group of politically-like-minded folks to bitch with is one of the most therapeutic things I have ever done, and potentially my most important piece of advice here. You can vent your frustration together, and support one another when everything going on in the world seems dire. There are millions of people around the world trying to make the world a better, safer place for everyone. Connect with them and make friends; there’s no way to do this all alone.
Levity is your friend
Green shirt guy (see below) and Egg Boy have the right idea. You’re allowed to laugh at people trying to hurt yourself or others. You don’t have to take arguments against fundamental human rights seriously. Laughter debases their argument, so that’s something you can enjoy too.
Self-care is not just bath-bombs and hot chocolate (though they do help from time to time). Hope is not easy, but it is important. The future is not set in stone. Just because bad news happens, doesn’t mean there isn’t good work do be done to make this world better. We can all start by keeping ourselves safe.