Anxious Activist, Part 3: Fasting from Social Media

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It’s the third (and final) week of my Anxious Activist series, in which I highlight spiritual practices which could assist in better self-care and self-maintenance for activists living with anxiety. See my first post here and second post here. This post focuses on fasting from social media.

Please note: I am a bi-racial (white/Arab American passing as white), cis-gendered, heterosexual, and able-bodied woman who writes through those lenses. I know there are a number of mental health conditions which could be discussed in relations to self-care and activism, and I will be writing only about anxiety, as a person living with anxiety and not as a medical professional.

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Every Sunday, I go on a social media fast.

I read books and catch up on TV shows. I snuggle with my cats and go on dates with my husband. I call my family members and friends, go on walks, tidy my planner, and do household chores.

For 24 hours, I give myself permission to lose my phone and my constant connection to the digital world.

This is not a post slamming social media, and it’s definitely not a post in which I say I will walk away from social media forever.

I’m thankful for social media, as an activist and as a person living with anxiety. This digital age has connected so many of us and brought that which was once in darkness into light.

The too-common stories of police brutality are brought to the eyes of the privileged through smartphone cameras and live streams. Hate crimes against Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color are brought out in their unflattering light.

Hashtags have brought out the stories of the marginalized and kept them in the national spotlight with enough fervor to topple those in power. The Parkland shooting survivors used their media platforms to prevent their incident from becoming a one-day headliner. Ahed Tamimi’s viral resistance to the Israeli army kept her imprisonment and trial, and the plight of Palestinians, a regular topic of conversation.

Social media broadcasts stories of struggle and healing, which help those of us living with mental health conditions feel less alone in our ordeals and provide more tools of assistance. Online counseling and mental health tracking apps put coping and coaching mechanisms right at our fingertips.

In so many ways, for activists and people living with anxiety, social media can be a gift.

But it can also be one of our worst triggers.

When we are inundated with intense stories, and our news feeds are saturated with the pain of the world, emotional exhaustion and burnout are almost inevitable.

We compare our own raw and challenging lives to the filtered ones of our friends, and we wonder, aloud or to ourselves, “Why am I not as happy/as successful/as good as they are?” Self-doubt trickles in, followed by self-hatred, and we spiral into despair. Likes and comments, not our own character and talents, become our affirmations.

Relationships become less about checking in and more about tweeting and retweeting each other to gain more followers and credibility. Conversations become arguments. We draw lines and choose sides, and those on the inside can find themselves ostracized the moment they express accidental ignorance or do not know all the right words to say or things to do.

(This is not to minimize the effects of people whose ideologies and actions are hateful. We do not need to be accommodating to every ideology and every person who espouses it. But I do think we still struggle with allowing space to question and struggle, even in so-called “progressive spaces.”)

The more I have engaged with social media, especially for the sake of my writing and activism, the more I realize I treat people like pure social capital. I do not interact with others for the sake of community or communion, but for the sake of building up my own brand.

I notice myself looking at people as pawns instead of peers.

Instead of mastering the tool of social media, it has become my master. It has mastered how I look at others and at myself. It has mastered how I treat others and how I allow them to treat me. It has gone from being my tool to a weapon I use to tear myself down.

When I fast from social media, I give myself 24 hours to remember who I am.

I remember to look at myself as a divinely made human being, and I am one person who can only do so much. I am my own person, not one owned by the opinions and “likes” of others. I am God’s child who owes allegiance only to the coming Kin-dom.

And like our holy Creator, I need rest.

I cannot carry the weight of the world on my shoulders every day, or any day. It is not in my human capacity, especially as someone with anxiety, to take in all of this information and process it in a healthy way.

So once a week, I cater to my dusty nature and lay down the burden not meant for my shoulders.

Those 24 hours cause me to look at my peers the same way; as holy ones made from dust, who are worthy of the same dignity with which I struggle to show myself, who are as finite and fallible as I despite the pedestals I make for them. I relieve them of the burden they were never meant to bear: to make me feel fulfilled and loved, to give my life meaning, to make me “enough.” I let them be themselves, as sacred and messy as they are meant to be.

I’m still going to use social media. I have a blogging presence to maintain, family and friends to which I must attend, stories to hear and make heard, activism and advocacy to do.

But I will start to master this tool so it will further my activism, creativity, mental health, and community.

I will work to control it so I do not use it to control others or my own sense of self.

I will not let it be my master anymore. I will master it.

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Country Roads and Labyrinth Paths, Take Me Home

Rita Robinson

Photo by Rita Robinson

I knew I had arrived in Harrisonburg, Virginia, when I rolled down my windows and the pungent scent of manure smacked me in the face.

I knew I was back at my seminary when I walked through the doors and inhaled the sweet smells of coffee and books.

I knew I was back with my people as I sat through my friend’s profound capstone presentation and embraced and reminisced with old friends, remembering how loved I am and how well I have loved others.

And after the reunions took place and everyone had returned to classes and homework,  I felt the call of the prayer labyrinth.

I’ve written about my experiences with my seminary’s prayer labyrinth in the past. It was one of the few spiritual discipline with which I could authentically and regularly engage during my dark and stormy nights of the soul. One of my favorite qualities about walking the labyrinth was how I didn’t always walk away with new insight or even necessarily feeling better about the state of things when, but I always left feeling God’s presence more than I had previously.

I’m not in a dark or stormy night as of now, but the labyrinth is still a part of my seminary home, and I missed it as if it was a friend. So I walked up the steep hill to it, and when I arrived, I stood and beheld that space of grace and transformation once again.

From my first step on the first stone, a flood of memories began to wash over me.

There were early memories of the young man in college who showed me how to play a guitar while ordering a cheeseburger, and the later memories of the two of us exchanging marriage vows. I turned a corner and felt the nervous giddiness upon walking through the seminary doors for the first time and the heaviness of leaving them for the last time. I gazed out at the Blue Ridge Mountains and remembered the professors who taught me to doubt, to believe in myself, and to look critically at my whiteness. As I caught a glance of the gazebo, I recalled the conversations I had there with my now-husband over the phone, wrestling with our respective callings and vocations.

The labyrinth took me on a journey through key points in my faith journey, with the choruses of both Michael W. Smith’s “Heart of Worship” and Gibbons’ “Almighty and Everlasting God” providing an eclectic soundtrack, because they, too, were part of my journey.

When I found myself in the labyrinth’s center, I did not bow down like I normally did. Instead, I stood tall, with my shoulders back and head high, as if to look God right in the eye.

And as I gazed upon the face of God, I met Her back with a bright, thankful smile instead of my usual snide smirk.

I made the sign of the cross to mark the moment and myself as holy, held my hands out open and wide to accept the grace of the moment, embraced myself in God’s love, and gave a small bow, all to say.

And for the first time in a long time, I said these words without a trace of irony, and only pure gratitude and love:

“Thank you. I trust you.”

As I took the winding path out of the labyrinth in preparation to return to my home in Ashburn, I felt more confident in the fact that I am loved and have loved others well. I walked away knowing I was leaving this home for my other home, and it would still be here to welcome me back again.

I understood that even as I move forward, there is always a home to which I may return.

Thanks be to God.