Sometimes we only realize the way that we have been treating ourselves when we are out of the environment in which we fail to do so well. On a few day break from college, I was reduced to an exhausted, frantic mess as soon as I was removed from the obligations on my campus and an intensely rigorous academic schedule. Everything I had pushed aside to “finish this paper,” “teach this session,” or “go to this meeting” now had no barrier and came rushing to the conscious part of my brain. I was confounded. Overworking myself is nothing new, but after adopting daily meditation and reflection, I was surprised by the extent to which I had still been able to rationalize depriving myself of rest and pushing myself to participate in every opportunity I could.
Added to this localized problem, the buildup of continuous tragedies and shocks has made me and many others feel as though we are in a constant state of crisis. From the hurricanes and horrendous treatment of Puerto Rico to Las Vegas and the Harvey Weinstein scandal, pain has layered upon pain, inevitably influencing anyone who feels others’ suffering. I feel so fearful and empathetic toward those affected by some of these not inflicted upon me and experience my own triggering from ones that do. I began to be completely overwhelmed by these bursts of horror in recent weeks when it seemed there was nothing to be done and almost apocalyptic, a view of the world I have never embraced.
I was reacquainted with what should be on my mind midweek when a mentor reminded me of what I do and what I am passionate about. Yes, I need to take the time to process and to rest. I need to avoid using activities and work to distract from anxiety or distress to deal with emotion and maintain adequate resources within. While that is important, reminding myself of the advocacy work I do daily and making sure I take the time to acknowledge the good news that does continue to exist despite enormous negativity.
DeRay Mckesson said on this week’s episode of his podcast, Pod Save the People, that hope is not magic—it is work. If we’re hopeful, it doesn’t mean that change will come without a struggle or through some sort of miracle. It means that we believe our efforts have the possibility to make change. When I heard that, it made me think about what I do and why I do it. Combined with my mentor’s reminder that I am working most days on issues I am passionate about—social justice and violence prevention on campus—I realized that for anyone to keep working this way, they must be hopeful.
Our efforts often don’t have results we can see, and we do see things like a grieving family thrust into the spotlight because the president is accused of demonstrating yet again his complete lack of empathy and not because we are honoring service or loss. That is hard to work through, especially when that work requires we educate and empathize with people who do not return the curtesy. But we hope, and we learn, and we go back and try again. After this week, I want to take some more time to rest, reflect, and go back hopeful. That’s all any of us can do.