I used to be addicted to social media. But my usage wasn’t just your typical stalking your ex or comparing yourself to old classmates (though I did that too). No, I was addicted to something far more mentally draining: online social justice activism.
I didn’t identify as a feminist until I was 24 years old and didn’t start identifying as a fat activist until last year. For most of my life, I was blissfully ignorant to social issues that didn’t directly affect me. It wasn’t until some incredible social justice activists entered my life that I woke the fuck up. But because I spent the majority of my life being a turd of a human being and completely unaware of our problematic world, I felt the pressure to educate myself about everything as fast as possible to make up for lost time. And since I spend the majority of my life at a computer, social media seemed like a convenient conduit to put my education into practice.
It started innocently enough: updating my Facebook status with what I was learning, tweeting every time I had an “aha moment,” sharing insightful blog posts from activists I followed, reblogging a million posts a day from social justice tumblrs… you get the picture. But the more controversial the topic, the more dissenting views would pop up in response. At first, I actually enjoyed engaging in these discussions because I was happy to finally feel confident enough in my beliefs to participate. But one by one, friends and followers started revealing their true selves and accused me of being a reverse racist, a misandrist (ha!), overemotional, and a killjoy. The conversations soon became less about politics and more about name-calling and proving each other wrong. What started as me wanting to share information I felt was important to know in order to be a better human being turned into online yelling matches that consumed most of my free time.
Even though it was obvious I was getting riled up and losing my patience, people still constantly demanded I explain concepts they were too lazy to Google themselves. Some would even choose to play devil’s advocate just to get a rise out of me. And these people weren’t trolls, they were my “friends.” These arguments started happening almost daily and I would sneak off to the bathroom at work to post my rebuttals on my phone for fear of my silence being seen as backing down. I was proud and I was angry and I wanted to make sure people knew they were being giant knobs. Eventually, I became known for my ire and started getting tagged in conversations on friends’ walls to join their arguments.
On top of these online brawls, news updates on social media were a constant reminder of how horrible the world is. This both fueled the fire of my activism and made me really fucking sad. And keeping up with this shit show was really wearing me down. My depression worsened, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus at work, I was in a creative rut, and I probably wasn’t much fun to be around.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
Because of social media, social justice activists are constantly connected, which means we are constantly “on.” Many of us fail to consider the toll “fighting the good fight” can take on our well-being. If we don’t set boundaries for sustainable activism, it can consume our lives. And for activists, especially those already living with chronic illness or depression, self care is pivotal to keeping our heads above water. Sadly, many don’t prioritize self care because the act is often seen as selfish, or something that needs to be earned.
Self care is the act of attending to your physical, mental, and emotional health. It is different for everyone but can include activities like getting a good night’s rest, putting delicious foods into your mouth hole, going for a walk, watching your favorite movie, etc. And self care isn’t selfish. Taking care of yourself allows you to be better prepared for important things and relationships in your life. You’re doing everyone a solid by improving your well-being!
Self care has always been a struggle for me. I’m a people pleaser and I’ve always put everyone else’s needs before my own. The idea of taking a break from helping others made me feel incredibly guilty, and it didn’t help that I viewed self care activities as frivolous or as a reward. But self care is not a treat you earn for surviving a tough week at work. Self care is something you do to make sure you are able to survive a tough week at work, to recover from said week, and to prepare yourself for the week to come.
Around the same time I was experiencing activist burnout, I was also receiving treatment for PTSD. My therapist introduced me to the benefits of self care and would often assign self care activities as part of my “homework.” It was then that I was able to start unlearning all the negative associations I had with self care and finally start incorporating it into my life. And because a large source of anxiety and stress came from my interactions on social media, a huge effort went into “unplugging” as self care.
Unplugging from social media was definitely easier said than done. In fact, it was a task I struggled with for the majority of last year (and still struggle with from time to time). But I was determined to get my life back and to stop being so fucking angry all the time so I purged my friends and followers of toxic people, and set limits on the types of media I could consume and how often. Eventually, I was able to accept that not participating in social justice-related discussions or activities didn’t mean I was a bad person or “doing activism wrong.” I was no longer tethered to my phone 24/7 and soon the urge to check my notifications every 5 minutes started to fade away. I felt lighter and became less irritable and confrontational. I reconnected with friends and for the first time in months, I was able to enjoy social activities offline. I was no longer in a creative rut and since self care became such a huge part of my life, I channeled my creativity into a project that would later become a collaborative effort known as the Self Care Zine, followed by Self Care Zine: Food a year later.
My depression has always been more severe during the winter but last month I was hit with a really awful episode. I withdrew from everyone and everything I cared about and my insomnia returned with a vengeance. I stopped going to therapy. Most days, I lacked the will to get out of bed and I spent my free time either napping or planted in my recliner binge-watching tv shows on Netflix. It was bad.
I knew a huge part of this depression stemmed from loneliness. There were casualties on my quest to purge myself of toxic relationships. I lost a lot of friends, some I had even considered family at one point in my life. They weren’t keen on my activism and didn’t agree with the way I was living my life or how vocal I was about injustices in the world. Some even went as far to admit that they didn’t agree with my fat activism because they saw fat people as a drain on society who did not deserve the same rights as everyone else. I was absolutely gutted when I realized that these so-called friends saw me (and people like me) as a second class citizen and eventually, interactions with these people only served to upset and hurt me. It was clear they couldn’t support me the way I needed friends to support me so I made the difficult decision of moving on without them.
At the end of October, I was forced to leave my apartment when my building came under new management. They were kicking out all the old low income tenants so they could flip the units and rent them out for triple the amount we were paying. Luckily, I was able to find a place to live in the short 20 days I was given to vacate, but my new place was almost an hour and a half away from all of my friends. When I lived downtown, friends would occasionally visit. Well that’s not entirely true. I’ve only had maybe two people visit me in the past two years, but I digress… Now that I lived hella far from my social circle, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see anyone unless I was the one to make the drive up north, and I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to make the effort any more. I was hurt, resentful, and lonely as hell.
In December, my company generously gave us two weeks of vacation for the holidays but I was beside myself. How would I cope with being alone for so long with nothing to keep me busy but my dark thoughts? I racked my brain for a project I could focus on. I wasn’t being very good about taking care of myself so I knew I wanted to work on something about self care to remedy my situation. Creating the Self Care Zine series has helped me tremendously in the past but I didn’t have the time to coordinate a new project with multiple contributors. While queueing up posts for the Self Care Zine tumblr, I came across a scan of a worksheet titled, “Cognitive restructuring: learning to attack unhelpful thoughts” and had a lightbulb moment. I decided to create a self care “journal”: something that would help me process my feelings and cope with my depression without the pressure or commitment of a daily journal. I was so stoked about this project that I spent the next 72 hours frantically working on a draft of the journal and within a week, it was copyedited, finalized, and sent to the printer.
I was tremendously proud of what I had created. The two week wait for the hard proof was excruciating but it finally arrived and I was ecstatic. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. I immediately took a selfie with it and shared the journal all over my social media.
The reception of the book was something I never anticipated. Despite the awful experiences I’ve had with social media lately, I have to admit it had a HUGE part in spreading the word about the book. On Tumblr alone, the original post is already at 30,000+ notes! In the first week, the book shot up to the #1 spot on Lulu’s Top 10 Self-Improvement Books list and held the #3 spot on their Top 100 for two consecutive weeks. The journal has reached audiences I wouldn’t have been able to reach on my own and is finding homes all over the world! It is also being used as a tool for educators and mental health professionals! The overwhelming response to the book just goes to show how important the concept of self care has become and how much of a need there is for more easily accessible self care tools. And I am honored to be able to play even the tiniest role in destigmatizing self care and helping others on their self care journey.
Self care saved my life and is critical to my survival as a queer woc activist. This experience has helped lift me out of one of the lowest times of my life and I am so unbelievably grateful for everyone’s support during the past few weeks. I’ve received some of the most touching emails from people sharing their experiences with me and how important self care is to their life. Your strength and perseverance is truly inspiring. Thank you for allowing my work to be a part of your lives and I hope the journal helps you as much as it has helped me. I’d like to end with one of my favorite self care quotes:
“Most of my life has been spent trying to shrink myself. Trying to become smaller. Quieter. Less sensitive. Less opinionated. Less needy. Less me. Because I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want to be too much or push people away. I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be cared for and valued. I wanted to be wanted. So for years, I sacrificed myself for the sake of making other people happy. And for years, I suffered. But I’m tired of suffering, and I’m done shrinking. It’s not my job to change who I am in order to become someone else’s idea of a worthwhile human being. I am worthwhile. Not because other people think I am, but because I exist, and therefore I matter. My thoughts matter. My feelings matter. My voice matters. And with or without anyone’s permission or approval, I will continue to be who I am and speak my truth. Even if it makes people angry. Even if it makes them uncomfortable. Even if they choose to leave. I refuse to shrink. I choose to take up space. I choose to honour my feelings. I choose to give myself permission to get my needs met. I choose to make self-care a priority. I choose me.” -Daniell Koepke
Yes. Today, I choose me.