About a month ago I transferred my blog to a new site, wrote an enthusiastic post, and swore I would stop posting political articles on Facebook. But that never happened. The stream of links on social media kept strong, while this blog was silent. I tried writing a few times. Posts went unpublished on veterans day, after the Republican debate, and in the wake of the Paris terror attacks. I have spent week searching for words that sound like me and coming up with nothing. I have been completely burnt out.
I am an advocate for reasonable honestly online. I discuss my health condition, my fears, my aspirations, and the challenges in my work. Through all of this I appear as a ceaselessly passionate person. I like to assure myself that in the face of life’s problems I am driven my sense of purpose, my *unwavering* belief that I can have a positive impact on the world. Rarely, but sometimes, this passion wears out and when it does I clam up. I cannot write, because I do not sound like myself. Without my drive I am different, but I think discussing this is important.
When I first decided I wanted to work in human rights everyone warned me about burn out, my family especially. They worried that devoting myself to such an unforgiving cause at a young age would wear away my wonder in the world. These concerns came from a place of love, since they didn’t want my work to ruin me. I cavalierly thought that that could never happen to me and in some ways it hasn’t.
I have never burnt out completely, instead I am worn down. It happens infrequently, less than once a year, and lasts for a thankfully short time. I am left to reflect on who I am and what my work means if I am no longer passionate about it. Then there is always something that comes and picks me back up. A human interaction, a story, an experience that reinforces my belief in the goodness of people. Then I am back in full force, a bit more hardened but ready for the next battle.
This past month when I was feeling worn out, I was having trouble articulating why. Then I read a poem by Nayyirah Waheed which read, “all the women in me. are tired.” In a few words she articulated the feelings I had been searching for. I was exhausted. I was tired of waking up every day and being a feminist, an activist, a liberal, a student, and so many other characters. I was tired of these performances of self. I wanted to spend a few days as a person and nothing more. Additionally all the women I represented were tired, all the women in my family who came before, all of the struggle for better, greater, more equal futures. Those women were tired of this battle that at time seems stagnate. Waheed’s words were painfully true.
I kept expecting to feel enlivened by the issues around me. One of my favorite cities in the world was a victim of a brutal terror attack. Violence, terrifyingly reminiscent of 1994 Rwanda, broke out in Burundi. Donald Trump channeled Hitler and suggested that all Muslims bear badges. Still the women in me were tired.
I tried writing an op-ed about for a local paper about the situation in Burundi and why it mattered. My words sounded weak and passive. I called my mother frustrated, brimming with emotion. “I’m broken mom.” I was so disappointed in myself that I couldn’t articulate my message. Normally 800 emotionally convincing words on a conflict would be easy for me. “Are you not angry enough?” She asked, knowing that in the face of injustice my anger helps motivate me. “No I am. Civilians are being murdered. I’m angry enough.” Neither of us knew what to say.
My drive came back to me last night in the strangest of places. I was sitting in the library at 2 o’clock in the morning, working on a final paper for a class, when I got up to fill my water bottle. I walked through the stacks, skimming the titles, walking through rows on history on the United States, Eastern Europe, Jews, Russian, and by the time I reached the water fountain, China. I walked a different route back to my desk this time passing centuries more knowledge. I sat in front of my computer for a few moments with an odd sense of happiness.
I was surrounded by all of this knowledge, that had been created by all of these individuals lives throughout human history. Each of these authors contributed to human understanding through the tireless and noble pursuit of their subject. I thought that perhaps each of them were as passionate about their topics, as I typically am about my field of study. I was awed and reassured by the human pursuit of intelligence.
Leaving the library, I felt better. All of the women in me had awoken to fight the next battle, to wake up as a feminist, an activist, a liberal, and a vocal member of society. Each period of weariness teaches me something new. This time I learned about that periodic fatigue is part of the process. Pretending that I am a ceaselessly passionate and driven person serves no one. To the public it encourages a false and enviable sense of perfection, and internally it makes me resent myself when I fail to meet my own standard. Exhaustion is part of the human experience, but it is not permanent, and it will not deter me.
Temporary burn out is an emotional reminder to be kinder to ourselves, kinder to our failures, kinder to our faults, and kinder to others in their pursuit to contribute to the awesome body of human development.