Anxious Activist, Part 3: Fasting from Social Media

https://www.instagram.com/aeropostale/?crlt.pid=camp.RudLHVStwWiY

Aeropostale

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.

*****

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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Anxious Activist, Part 2: How My Part-Time Life as a Rogue Halfling Scribe Helps My Anxiety and Activism

https://geekandsundry.com/shows/titansgrave/

Geek and Sundry

Welcome to Week 2 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. This post focuses on gaming with friends.

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.

*****

Maryam Summerton is a halfling scribe hiding a terrible secret about the night her university was attacked. She’s a rogue fighter who travels the land of Valkana with a socially awkward elf/lizard-creature hybrid, a bloodthirsty orc, a quiet mage, and a couple of raucous elves.

Every few months, I become Maryam. My friend Scott’s apartment transforms into Valkana, and with our band of misfits, we fight monsters and unravel our party’s personal lives and motives.

I never thought much about RPGs (role-playing games) until I was in my late 20s. A combination of Stranger Things and Scott’s involvement with them piqued my interest due to the storytelling and fantasy elements. The act of building a character who embarked on quests, confronted problems, and wrestled with morality gave me all the theological and social justice feels, so when Scott asked my husband and I to join an RPG group, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’ve only played as Maryam on two occasions, but I look forward to those game days with great delight, and it’s not only because I love our DM’s storytelling abilities, the junk food we eat, and our friend Nick’s epic Orc costume.

Playing as Maryam engages my imagination. I have to build her character, from her backstory to her interactions with the party members and non-player characters. This engagement with her helps me become a better storyteller and a more empathetic person. The ability to hear and tell a story, first our own and then another’s, is an important gift to utilize in activism and mental health care. When we can tell our stories well, we can hear, understand, and share the stories of others in ways that do them justice.

When I act as Maryam, I have to look at a problem from another perspective. Maryam is as quiet as I am brash, so her interactions with others challenge me to confront physical, social, and emotional obstacles in ways which require more planning and subtlety. As a rogue, Maryam gets close to the action and fights hard, whereas I am more likely to step back and let others do the battle, after which I will tend to them.

This use of imagination assists both mental health and activism. Getting into a character’s head helps develop problem-solving skills. As activists, this helps us think of more creative and constructive ways to engage our culture’s systemic evils. As people living with anxiety, this assists us in our quest to learn as many self-soothing practices as possible and to understand that what might work for one person does not work for everyone.

Not to mention, playing with our imaginations is good fun. It calls us to a life in which everyone can play and be joyful. The time and space to play is a holy act of liberation, for ourselves and others, because it reminds us we are creative beings who experience joy when we create together and enjoy each other.

This is why the community involved in RPG games is so wonderful. Through Maryam, I am in community not only with other characters, but with their players. By succeeding in quests, building alliances, and sharing drinks at the inn, both the characters and the players who shape them grow in their bonds with each other. They realize the game would be a lot less fun if only one were playing, not to mention a lot more dangerous.

Instead of enabling my self-isolation, Maryam pushes me into community with my friends and their creations. She brings me into sacred, life-giving communion with others when I am tempted to withdraw from the world in all of its despair. Sometimes, she drags me kicking and screaming into it, but for the sake of my activism and my own health, I am thankful that she does.

We are still working out when our next game night will be, and we often have months between quests. But I know when we meet again, Maryam and the party will be waiting for me, and creating their stories will give me the imagination and joy I need to live my own.

Anxious Activist, Part 1: Gratitude as a Tool for Self-Care and Social Justice

For the next three weeks, I will be posting an Anxious Activist post on Wednesday afternoons, highlighting spiritual practices which could assist in better self-care and self-maintenance for activists living with anxiety. This first post will focus on the spiritual practice of gratitude.

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.

*****

Every night for the last six weeks, I’ve engaged in a daunting spiritual practice.

Each night, I’ve opened my pink Princess Peach journal and written down four moments for which I felt gratitude in the previous 24 hours.

They range from a clean house to a productive work day, hearing back from my therapist to playing a favorite song, even coloring a Pikachu page gifted by my colleague’s son and maintaining a collected mental state when I felt tempted to spiral out of control. My husband and his actions come up a lot, as do our Brooklyn Nine-Nine marathons and snuggling with our kitties. On particularly rough days, I find myself scraping the bottom of the barrel for anything positive to include, but I still write it down.

Gratitude as a spiritual practice has been on my mind for several years. I remember my friends from the Pentecostal church of my youth engaging in the practice on Facebook either for the month of November or, for the more ambitious types, a full year. They would post photos with captions about their gratitudes, and I found my timeline full of snapshots of children, steaming mugs of coffee and tea, spouses, life events, and clean kitchens.

I enjoyed seeing their photos and gratitudes, but I often worried that they acted more as signs of privilege and remedies to “first-world problems” instead of actual examples of God’s grace. Since I’m a person with a significant amount of privilege as a white, cis-gender, heterosexual, and able-bodied person, I didn’t think it right to broadcast what was going well in my already great life and call it a manifestation of God’s favor. It didn’t seem to do any justice or provide any assistance to people with less power and privilege. Not to mention, I was already a major cynic at this time, and expressing gratitude for such “mundane things” seemed beneath me and my nihilistic worldview.

But as I began to engage more in political and social activism and dealt with the constant threat of burnout, mental exhaustion, and apathy, put into hyperdrive with my anxiety, I thought back to those past posts of gratitude and wondered if these folks were onto something.

I thought about the posts from people of privilege living in their safe and secure walls, and I also recalled the examples of grace expressed between groups of marginalized people. I thought of the Black Lives Matter youth rallying support for all victims of police brutality, the strength of LGBTQ+ siblings who continue to engage with faith communities who cannot decide if they want to include or exclude them, and the radical and vulnerable expressions of love Muslim leaders showed to victims of anti-Semitic persecution.

So when I finally decided to take up a gratitude journal, I decided not of focus solely on the tokens of privilege in my life. Instead, I learned to focus on the gracious actions done by people around me, and the moments of grace I extended to myself when I was less than “perfect.”

Practicing the art of gratitude can be a positive influence for our activism. When we note moments of grace and mercy in our lives, we become more gracious and merciful people, first to ourselves, then to each other. When we remember to accept the cup of water handed to us, we might be more inclined to share some sips from it or pour a cup for someone else in need.

This practice can also remind us we are not alone in this life or in these struggles. Noticing how others have reached out to us in our difficult times, through a message, an embrace, a gift of food, or practical assistance, we might begin to notice how even in our most anxious moments and in the most troubling times, there is someone by our sides who is with and for us. We might even become inclined to be that support for another who is marginalized, either by a systemic issue or their own trauma and pain.

And, perhaps most important of all, practicing gratitude will remind us to extend grace to ourselves. Perhaps we will be more gracious with ourselves when we deal with anxiety, burnout, failure, and other traits and results normally deemed “undesirable.” Perhaps we will learn to accept we are both holy and dust, divine beings in limited bodies and spaces, and we will learn to be gentle with instead of rough on ourselves. We need the strength to keep going, and self-expressed grace can be the balm to soothe and heal our wounds that we might otherwise seek to make worse.

And as I look at these moments of grace extended to others, I learned more about extending that same grace to myself, because how can I give a cup of water to another when my own cup is bone dry, and I am dehydrated?

Gratitude is a radical action, for the one in a position of power and the one on the margins. When we remember we all belong to one another, we express gratitude for God’s loving presence among us. When we remember we as individuals are beloved by God, in our divinity and our humanity, we express grace to ourselves when we are not at our best. And it could whet our appetite enough to seek more grace not only for ourselves, but for those to whom little grace seems to exist.

Mental Health Tips for Activists vs. What I Actually Do

Binge

1. Fast from social media, for minutes, hours, or even days at a time.

What I actually do: Refresh my Facebook and Twitter feeds all day every day, when I get anything resembling a breather or a break at work, or when I’m not stimulated enough by the world around me. You don’t want to miss anything after all, right? What kind of an activist would you be if you missed something BIG?

2. Designate time every day to practice deep breathing and meditation.

What I actually do: Hit snooze an extra ten times in the morning, because focused breathing is too much to ask me to do before 8 AM.

3. Meet with a therapist to process the highs and lows of your activism.

What I actually do: Drag my feet on finding a new therapist, because the new one “won’t be the same” (read, “as good as”) as my former one.

4. Make time to connect with friends and family. Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself.

What I actually do: Hide in my room and binge-watch Netflix and binge-read Buzzfeed. 

5. Remember, self-care is an act of resistance. If you want to sustain yourself in the fight for justice, you must take care of yourself, and these steps (along with others) can help.

What I actually do: Allow “white guilt” (I’m sustaining an oppressive system and don’t deserve rest) to paralyze both my activism and my efforts and self-care while attempting to tell other people to do for themselves what I won’t do for myself.

Where Do I Begin?

Antifa

NY Magazine

Where do I begin?

Do I begin at St. Paul’s on Friday night, when the white supremacists surrounded a sanctuary of worship after beating up a gang of peaceful students, threatening and intimidating the people who came to answer the call of the God of justice?

Do I begin on Saturday morning, when the group with which I came couldn’t even get to Emancipation Park, the original site of the rally, because they knew they’d be marching to their arrests at best and their deaths at worst?

Do I begin when we finally got to the streets as the white supremacists were on their way out, and the white people put their bodies between the black and brown ones so the neo-Nazis couldn’t threaten them physically but could still taunt and demonize their sacred humanity?

Could I even begin when we got back to McGuffy Park after the white supremacists left and had a golden half hour of peace and joy, where we traded snacks and stories as if it were just a normal Saturday spent amongst friends?

Should I begin when we took to the streets again so we could meet some friends in need, when we marched and chanted and for a few shining moments held our fists up in victory?

Do I begin with the terror and chaos, the crashing cars, flying bodies, and screaming voices, of being separated from my group and not knowing if they were alive, injured or dead, of not knowing what the hell was going on except it was something awful?

Or must I start at the beginning of our nation’s history to unearth white supremacy’s origins, which have been embodied over and over again, from Native American genocide and slavery to Jim Crow laws and police brutality?

Where do I start? Where do I stop?

*****

DavidSmash

New York Times

The events are too much to recount. Should I begin with the people instead?

There was my main group, three activists from Black Lives Matter (BLM) and four from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). The BLM folks strategized where we would march and stationed themselves on the front lines during confrontations with the white supremacists. My fellow SURJ Care Bear and I provided snacks, water, and Aspirin to our Direct Action friends. Two SURJ de-escalators put their body between the three men in BLM and hoards of neo-Nazi, fascist white supremacists. We were seven brave souls doing God’s holy work of justice and mercy, demanding the acknowledgement of the sacred humanity of black and brown bodies, and handing out cough drops when the yelling broke our voices.

One of the BLM guys loved fruit snacks and always gave me a hug when I handed him a pack. He was always at the head of the pack when a confrontation with white supremacists occurred, at great risk to his own life. Another man had such a calm demeanor that I wondered what he was even doing there, until I heard him passionately chant and yell whenever he was on the front lines. Another carried a megaphone and led the whole community in our cries and made us double over with laughter at his witty one-liners. He’s a theater person like me, and he told me about the August Wilson play he’ll be performing in for which he hasn’t even begun to memorize his lines. (#Relatable).

My fellow Care Bear carried copious amounts of water and trail mix in her bag. Our de-escalators ran after our BLM comrades everywhere they went to make sure they stayed safe.

The so-called “evil” and “violent” Antifa prevented the white supremacists from beating clergy and stood by us when the alt-right passed us on the street, making sure we were safe and supported. They took control of the streets in the chaos following an act of terrorism, administering first aid and keeping people off the streets so fire trucks and ambulances could get through. We refused to go anywhere without them.

The people of SURJ made sure we all stayed together. After a terrorist drove through our fellow protesters and had us fleeing for our lives, they ensured that everyone was accounted for before seeking a safe house.

A seminary friend and community organizer prayed with my BLM friend after he witnessed the collision. Another seminary friend was the first familiar face I saw after escaping the chaos and the one I clung to in a desperate, terrified hug.

The family that housed my friends and I let us sleep on their furniture, breathe in their lavender and sage, gobble up their dark chocolate and honey, and rest in the sanctuary of a scenic and peaceful landscape after the chaos and hatred of the day.

In less than 24 hours, these people became my family and my great protectors.

I would march with them again any day.

*****

Is now the time to talk about returning home? Is this the end of the story?

On Saturday night, my fiance held me, the tension of watching and waiting finally over, his relief literally collapsing into me.

On Sunday, we watched movies and cooked meals together, and he kept looking at me and saying “You’re home,” as if he didn’t dare to believe it, because if circumstances had been different, it wouldn’t have been true.

On Monday morning, I used my prayer beads to pray in gratitude and in pain, for justice and for the steadying of my own heart, for myself to keep doing this holy, difficult, important work and for the families who have lost their loved ones to this same work.

On Monday afternoon, I went to work, and one of the first things I saw was my co-worker, a woman of color, leaving her lunch in tears because of a stray “…but don’t All Lives Matter” comment.

And then later that night, all my colleagues held a surprise bridal shower for me, and we ate cake, drank wine, and played Utter Nonesense for hours.

On Tuesday, I saw the posts and comments lumping my BLM friends and Antifa accomplices into the same category as those that threatened to and even succeeded at killing them. I read everything from “they’re the flip side of the same coin” to “everyone is equally responsible for making this happen,” as if our very presence in the face of evil was something to demonize and condemn.

Despite giving evidence that the BLM chapter of Charlottesville committed no violent acts, despite video footage of white supremacists viciously attacking people of color and other protesters, they didn’t listen. The president condemned us all and gave us a name associated with the evil we had encountered, as if we were worse than them.

And to add to the heartbreak and pain, to poison an already salted wound, the people saying and accepting these falsehoods claim the same “Christian” title I do.

We’re barely halfway through a new week, only days separated from Charlottesville, and still the tensions simmer. Still, the battles continue, not on the streets, but in the office and over Facebook and even in our own homes.

Now that I’m home, how do I keep fighting? Must I fight my own people?

Where do I start? When does it end?

*****

Do I conclude with a prayer, a prophecy, or a call to action?

Do I conclude with anything, or do I just let this be?

Do I tell you what to do next, or do I leave the choice up to you?

Do I remind you that real activism isn’t fuzzy hats and fuzzy feelings but hard, heartbreaking work that isn’t about you at all?

Do I dare give you an ending when this is far from over?

Water for the Fiery Soul: My Brief Break from Watching the News Everyday

Active.com

When Mom was pregnant with me, she swam daily laps in the community pool at her Orlando apartment complex.

And as she swam, I kicked and tumbled within her womb like a wild child.

Water has always been my favorite element. But me? I’m not like water. I’m like fire.

I burn. I blaze trails, burn bridges, and destroy foundations. I engulf my surroundings and heat them up to their melting and warping points. I don’t change for them; I make them change for me. I leave trails of ashes, kindling, and charred remains. I leave behind smoke that chokes throats, stings eyes, and makes people gasp for breath.

Water is my opposite. It can flood, damage, and drown, but it also cleanses and flows. It takes the shape of its containters instead of forcing them to adjust for it. It is a habitat and home for a variety of creatures. It cools, refreshes, gurgles, and comforts.

I am fire, and I love water. But if I’m honest with myself, I spend more time in the fire, especially in the past year.

I’ve been following the news everyday, especially as it relates to civil rights activism, Islamaphobia, and police brutality. And it’s burned like the fires of hell. One week, it burned white-hot, and I felt its pain and consumption. I realized I was very thirsty. I wasn’t quite parched yet, but dehydration was close.

So in the past few weeks, I stepped away from the fire to partake of the water I love and so desperately need.

I’ve gone swimming in my future in-laws’ pool for various get-togethers. I watered my mother’s plants while she was away on vacation. I planned and helped execute a summer day camp with my co-workers and some amazing volunteers, during which I drank gallons of water.

I began a new fantasy series. I binge-watched American Gods and Preacher and am in the process of re-reading the later’s comic series.

I began moving out of our current house and moving in with my future in-laws as we search for our first home as a married couple.

I added to our registry and began a honeymoon fund. I spent time looking through old pictures of myself and Bryce to send to my cousins as they prepare my bridal shower, and I’ve seen how much the two of us have grown in a million ways. I ordered invitations, cake toppers, and ring bearer boxes, and I browsed wedding rings. In short, for the first time in this process, I thoroughly enjoyed wedding planning.

After a long time dwelling in the fire, the water quenched my parched throat and washed out my stinging eyes. It flushed away the soot and cooled my burning skin. It carried me to new places I would otherwise avoid and ignore. After the fire’s deafening roar, the water spoke softly to me.

When I jumped into activism, I kept hearing pleas to be careful, to remember the discipline of self-care and protection from burnout, to treat it like a marathon and not a sprint. And I said, “Yeah, OK, Mom, I’ll be good and I’ll be fine.”

And this still happened.

I’m afraid to go to the waters and partake. After all this time, I’m still afraid the world will stop turning without me and my voice, opinions, and actions. I’m afraid people will become more racist and hateful if I don’t constantly remind them of how messed up the world is because of their hardened hearts.

I’m afraid to take a break from being God. I’m still recovering from this freaking Messiah-complex.

But I remind myself that while in the water of my mother’s womb, I wiggled and played as she swam in the water of her community pool, relishing in its coolness and flow, wanting to join her out there in that big, scary, mysterious world. Mom had a little ball of fire in her womb, and all that firecracker wanted was to swim in that refreshing pool of water with her.

I am still a ball of fire who yearns for the quenching water, a raging inferno that desires the easy, steady flow of the river. As I’ve drank deeply of the water, I’ve wondered how to reconcile the fire within me and the water that brings me such joy and contentment. I’m still figuring out how to swim in the water without extinguishing my flames.

Maybe, one day, I’ll be ready to embrace both my inner fire and my deep desire and need for the flowing water.

At least until my dominant fire takes over again and I have to burn for a while before I realize how parched I am.

And then I begin again.