When you feel helpless and overwhelmed by the world
Dear lovely reader,
The terrible events of the world never stop coming at you. It’s not unique to this time in history – really it isn’t – but the Internet has made it almost impossible to not feel inundated and overwhelmed, angry and helpless.
It becomes so hard to be just one person doing what you can do given your one person energy and body and time and resources.
You know this and yet it can still flatten you. Thoughts of “What more can I do?” or “I don’t have time / energy / health to do much right now” or “If I get involved again, I will get sucked dry and get sick again” can make you feel like poo.
Or you want to do your creative work and you feel guilty about it. You might think, “But it’s my time. I want to do my own work. I’m not turning my back on the world but I need to focus.”
I’m writing to you to say I get it. I so get it.
As someone whose top values include justice and fairness, it used to feel off to me if my work didn’t directly center around related issues. I often felt guilty. I tried several times to make my work more directly about activism, but it never stuck.
What I realized eventually, after only 25 years (what can I say, I’m a quick learner), is that my work has been about justice and fairness all along, in the name of helping women free themselves.
You see my mom wanted to be more than just beautiful. But no one, not her family, not even my dad who loved her so much, supported her to be more than. And when I look at my body of work, I see my mission has been to support women to be more than. More than the culture says, more than their families of origin want or expect, more than their own minds.
I tell you this only because I’ve been wondering a lot about what it means to do enough and be enough as a world citizen. I love that so many people are waking up to activism – again or for the first time. And I also see a lot of shaming and righteous moral indignation floating around out there. Which makes me worry. Because that is not the way to help people become and stay engaged as moral citizens.
I am not advocating for us to throw up our hands and do nothing. Never. What I want to be a voice for is how we can support ourselves and each other to play the long game. To use our voices for justice and fairness for all without sliding into burnout or feeling helpless – or moral superiority (which never ends well for the people or causes we want to support).
To that end, I came up with a few question I’m asking myself that might be of use to you:
- Who uses their voice and influence in the world in a way that I admire?
- Who uses their voice in a way or form that I might enjoy, too? (Writing, singing, working with kids, putting on political theater, cartooning)
- Where do the people I admire show up? (In the school system, the city council, in my neighborhood, The Onion, Women for Women International…)
I’m looking for the intersection between these questions to locate where I might engage in justice work in ways that feel good to me. Yep, that might sound selfish (feels good to me) and you may disagree, but for our activism to last, I believe it has to have some deep desire attached to it. And a kind of pleasure.
I do believe in the power of our individual actions. I do find it hard to understand when people throw up their hands and do, say, give, nothing. And I also wonder how often that is because they don’t believe that they themselves matter.
But of course they do. Of course you do.