I describe myself as an activist. I am now admitting to myself, that for the last year, I would also describe myself as majorly depressed. I am trying to understand if, and how, those two descriptors can fit together.
Being involved in reproductive health and justice means that you are faced with intensely personal and sometimes difficult realities; you see the failures of our social systems, you see the pain, up close, that reproduction and sexuality can puts us through. Being an activist in our community requires you interface with and think about inequality, misogyny, and racism. And if you think about it all too much, sometimes, it’s depressing. But the difference between depressing and depressed is huge. I use to find that working against the ugliness, and making improvements actionable would make me feel usefull, even joyous. But those feelings have been replaced with overwhelming feelings of guilt and regret about not doing or being able to do or say enough, with not knowing what is right. My depression has displaced my activism.
I want my activism back so badly, but it’s hard to know what to do. Because while staying away, not being involved in a community you love and care about hurts, engaging in it hurts too. I miss the passion and comradery I felt when I worked on a petition, or a blog, or for an organization that I knew would bring light to someone’s life. But at the same time, every time I sit to write or engage in some act of work or activism (even as small as responding to an email), I question my words, my validity, my worth. I have a miniature existential crisis that nothing we do matters, that our efforts are all a waste.
I know now that the existential feelings and the lack of worth are the depression, not the reality about activism, or about me. I know that the activism, research, and practitioners that I use to believe brought so much goodness to the world are still brining that goodness–it’s just that my mind’s eye is so out of focus that I can’t see it right now.
So, I am working on getting back in focus, and then I will try and re-find my place in reproductive health and justice work. My conclusion of my struggle with depression so far is that activism and untreated depression are incongruent. I don’t believe you can work on making the world a better place unless you believe in your (and others’) capacity to do so. But when I look around, I realize I am not alone, and that gives me hope for reengagement. I am beginning to see the positive, like my new belief that experiencing depression will ultimately make better advocate, activist, and one day, hopefully, a better abortion provider. Recognizing that committed activists, who seem eternally optimistic and happy, also struggle with depression is part of understanding the world of activism. I am learning and growing from depression, and in addressing my depression I am practicing qualities fundamental to activism: love, kindness and hope.