Do­ing ac­tivism while men­tally ill in the time of Trump

Lots of ac­tivists live with men­tal ill­nesses – so why is so­cial jus­tice or­ga­niz­ing still so ableist?

The McGill Daily - - News - Writ­ten by Saima De­sai | Visu­als by Saima De­sai

Con­tent warn­ing: men­tal ill­ness (de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, sui­cide, eat­ing dis­or­ders, self-harm, bipo­lar dis­or­der, Post-trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der [ PTSD]), rape, po­lice and gun vi­o­lence, Is­lam­o­pho­bia and anti- Black­ness

Two days after Phi­lando Castile was mur­dered, I took my first an­tide­pres­sant.

I’d strug­gled with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety for years, mostly silently, and al­ways un­med­i­cated. I’d never con­sid­ered that my men­tal ill­ness could be linked to pol­i­tics, be­cause my de­pres­sion started long be­fore I de­vel­oped any sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness. But, last sum­mer, while ob­ses- sively re­fresh­ing Twit­ter for hours while cry­ing, I started to sus­pect that my so­cial jus­tice work and my de­clin­ing men­tal health had some­how got­ten en­tan­gled.

Now, as I write this, my so­cial me­dia is fill­ing up with the news of six Mus­lim men mur­dered at a mosque in Que­bec City. In the last two weeks since Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing on­slaught of Is­lam­o­pho­bia, racism, and misog­yny, I’ve felt hope­less, numb, ter­ri­fied, and over­whelmed. I don’t know if this is pro­por­tional shock to the state of the world, or if it’s my de­pres­sion. I can’t tell the dif­fer­ence – maybe be­cause they’ve started to bleed into one an­other.

I ex­plain to my­self and oth­ers over and over that de­pres­sion is a chem­i­cal im­bal­ance in the brain. I’ve been told that I’m just “too sen­si­tive,” that I should “snap out of it,” that my de­pres­sion can be cured by do­ing yoga or eat­ing kale or smil­ing more. Those messages are dan­ger­ous and in­val­i­dat­ing, tossed out ca­su­ally by well-in­ten­tioned peo­ple who in­sin­u­ate that I’m just “weak” or even mak­ing it up for at­ten­tion. I cling to that chem­i­cal im­bal­ance, to tell my­self that I’m not just del­i­cate, or self-cen­tered, but that my men­tal ill­ness is as valid and real and de­serv­ing of med­i­ca­tion as any phys­i­cal ill­ness.

And yet, I’ve be­gun to won­der if that’s the whole story.

Men­tal ill­ness is po­lit­i­cal

I’ve of­ten thought about the heavy over­lap be­tween ac­tivists and peo­ple liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness. For a long time, I as­sumed that this was be­cause so­cial jus­tice spa­ces, with their com­mit­ment to fight­ing ableism, were sim­ply en­vi­ron­ments in which peo­ple felt safe be­ing hon­est about their men­tal health. This is true in many ways – at The Daily, for ex­am­ple, we check-in with each other be­fore ev­ery meet­ing, and ed­i­tors of­ten re­mind each other to take their meds or ask for help dur­ing a dif­fi­cult week. Of­ten, peo­ple who have men­tal ill­ness that stems from trauma from sex­ual as­sault, or racist or im­pe­ri­al­ist vi­o­lence, be­come ac­tivists to fight for a world where peo­ple don’t have to live through what they ex­pe­ri­enced. Many of us are racial­ized, women, queer, trans, phys­i­cally dis­abled, or poor.

More re­cently, though, I’ve started to be­lieve that men­tally ill peo­ple don’t just self-se­lect or feel com­fort­able out­ing them­selves in so­cial jus­tice spa­ces. Maybe the high preva­lence of men­tal ill­ness is caused – or at least con­tributed to – by the na­ture of our work. Our work is to stare straight at in­jus­tice, to doc­u­ment vi­o­lence, to an­a­lyze both the po­lit­i­cal and the per­sonal through a lens of un­equal dis­tri­bu­tions of power. Work­ing in so­cial jus­tice spa­ces is in­tense be­cause your work fol­lows you home – you can never jus­tify not think­ing about

There’s a huge strain, all the time, just try­ing to ex­ist. —Maddie U1 So­ci­ol­ogy stu­dent

I need more sleep than I’m get­ting, I need more food than I’m get­ting, I can’t keep go­ing at this rate, but [...] it feels good be­cause I’m mak­ing a change.” —So­nia Ionescu Co­or­di­nat­ing ed­i­tor at The Daily

If one of the prob­lems I have is that ev­ery­thing I do is point­less and mean­ing­less and empty [...] this feels like some­thing that is clearly mean­ing­ful.” —CJ* Pales­tine ac­tivist

sys­temic op­pres­sion. There’s no con­ver­sa­tion that’s safe from an anal­y­sis of hi­er­ar­chies of power.

In Fe­bru­ary 2016, Mar­shawn Mc­car­rel, a 23-year-old Black Lives Mat­ter ac­tivist, com­mit­ted sui­cide on the steps of the Ohio State­house. It opened a con­ver­sa­tion about de­pres­sion and trauma amongst Black Lives Mat­ter ac­tivists un­der the hash­tag #Blmheal­ing. “In the move­ment you’re just con­stantly en­gag­ing in Black death, see­ing the com­mu­nal im­pact,” said Jonathan But­ler, the Univer­sity of Mis­souri grad­u­ate stu­dent who went on a hunger strike for seven days in protest of a se­ries of racist in­ci­dents at his univer­sity, in an in­ter­view with the Wash­ing­ton Post. “You’re be­ing faced with the re­al­ity that I’m more likely to be killed by the po­lice, that I’m be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against. You start to see all of the mi­croag­gres­sions.”

“White supremacy of­ten feels vast and hope­less. I be­lieve sui­cide is what hap­pens to some of us when our minds are in a place of, ‘We need free­dom, but we can never be free here,’” Angel Carter, a St. Louis-based or­ga­nizer, told the Pa­cific Stan­dard. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Al­liance on Men­tal Ill­ness, Black peo­ple are 20 per cent more likely to have a se­vere men­tal health con­di­tion than the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, and women of all races are nearly twice as likely to have clin­i­cal de­pres­sion than men.

As Laurie Penny writes in her in­cred­i­ble es­say on well­be­ing ide­ol­ogy, “The lexis of abuse and gaslight­ing is ap­pro­pri­ate here: if you are mis­er­able or an­gry be­cause your life is a con­stant strug­gle against pri­va­tion or prej­u­dice, the prob­lem is al­ways and only with you. So­ci­ety is not mad, or messed up: you are.” It’s even worse when you de­cide that you’re go­ing to be an ac­tivist, to ded­i­cate your­self to fight­ing the worst and most vi­o­lent in­stances of op­pres­sion, to field ha­rass­ment or hate-mail or shout­ing at your par­ents over the din­ner ta­ble about Ferguson. For me, that’s grounds for de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

Maddie, who worked at Planned Par­ent­hood on queer and trans ally­ship, and has worked with QPIRGMcgill on var­i­ous so­cial jus­tice ini­tia­tives, agrees that sys­temic op­pres­sion is a fac­tor in men­tal ill­ness. They have dealt with an eat­ing dis­or­der and de­pres­sion for five years, along­side life­long anx­i­ety, and they iden­tify as queer, non-bi­nary, and a per­son of colour. “Maybe some peo­ple are ge­net­i­cally more pre­dis­posed to men­tal ill­ness – but I think that liv­ing un­der this fas­cist sys­tem is a huge con­trib­u­tor to peo­ple’s ill­ness,” they told me. “I don’t see how it could be other­wise, if the world isn’t built for you to ex­ist, and you are con­stantly hav­ing to strug­gle to sur­vive in it. Some peo­ple don’t have to strug­gle so hard. There’s a huge strain, all the time, just try­ing to ex­ist.”

We need to think about men­tal ill­ness as the prod­uct of so­cial and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tions. Re­duc­ing men­tal ill­ness to brain chem­istry im­plies that the only way to man­age or cure it is by tak­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. Med­i­ca­tion is cru­cial to many peo­ple for man­ag­ing their men­tal ill­ness – but at the same time, it’s un­de­ni­able that the med­i­cal-in­dus­trial com­plex makes a stag­ger­ing amount of money off (over)med­i­cat­ing peo­ple. Re­duc­ing men­tal ill­ness to brain chem­istry also feeds the idea that we’re all re­spon­si­ble for only our­selves, an in­di­vid­u­al­ist ethic that’s the re­sult of ne­olib­er­al­ist cap­i­tal­ism, which re­lies on the idea of a mer­i­toc­racy to fos­ter com­pe­ti­tion and self-in­ter­est. It works to iso­late us from the broader in­jus­tices that are im­pli­cated in how shitty we feel – and pre­vent us from dis­man­tling them to­gether.

Trauma, psy­chosis, heal­ing, and ex­haus­tion

“Even when we do try to make room for peo­ple who are men­tally ill in or­ga­niz­ing, we usu­ally do it in the eas­i­est pos­si­ble way, by fo­cus­ing on de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety,” So­nia Ionescu, the co­or­di­nat­ing ed­i­tor at The Daily, told me. “It’s easy to iden­tify with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety be­cause ev­ery­one’s ner­vous, ev­ery­one’s sad. But not ev­ery­one feels the urge to hurt them­selves, or not eat, or ex­pe­ri­ences ma­nia – that’s a re­ally hard thing to grasp even a symp­tom of.”

“I’ve been self-harm­ing since I was twelve,” she con­tin­ued. So­nia has been di­ag­nosed with anorexia, chronic de­pres­sion, gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety, and so­cial anx­i­ety, with a pos­si­bil­ity of bipo­lar II dis­or­der.

“Of men­tal ill­ness, de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety are the most com­mon, and so it makes sense, in a way, to give them the most at­ten­tion. But also it’s re­ally easy to just ig­nore ev­ery­thing else if we do that, and to just pat our­selves on the back and be like ‘we’re be­ing in­clu­sive!’” I have de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety, and I don’t lack the space to talk about them, so for this piece I turned to ac­tivists I know who have more se­vere or dif­fer­ent men­tal ill­ness from me, and who work more di­rectly on spe­cific strug­gles.

Han­nah* is a mem­ber of the #Con­sentm­cgill cam­paign and has worked on sex­ual as­sault aware­ness and pre­ven­tion. “Two and a half years ago I was raped, and that has led to me hav­ing PTSD,” she told me. “I think one of the ways that I tried to deal with that was by re­ally im­mers­ing my­self in fight­ing the cul­tures that con­trib­ute to [rape].”

“There’s not a day that goes by when it doesn’t come to me in any shape or form as a re­minder that it hap­pened to me. But I re­al­ized why [Trump’s] elec­tion and the sub­se­quent ac­tions have im­pacted me so much,” she ex­plained. “It was the sin­gle big­gest re­minder I’ve had since it hap­pened to me that no­body gives a shit about sex­ual as­sault. When a man has twelve [al­leged] counts of sex­ual as­sault against him, and he gets elected as Pres­i­dent of the United States, with al­most half of Amer­i­cans vot­ing for him – it was just the big­gest re­minder that no-one cares.”

Dur­ing Trump’s cam­paign, and es­pe­cially the last month, Han­nah’s had to have more dis­cus­sions about rape cul­ture. “It’s re­ally hard hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with friends where they’re say­ing some­thing that’s re­ally of­fen­sive, es­pe­cially when it’s sur­round­ing sex­ual as­sault, but I don’t have the en­ergy or the strength at that time to talk about a sub­ject that’s so per­sonal to me,” she said. “In those sit­u­a­tions it be­comes a big moral dilemma, be­cause I can’t jus­tify stay­ing silent, but I also don’t feel strong enough to de­fend what I be­lieve at that time.”

The last week has been char­ac­ter­ized by a wide­spread sense of help­less­ness – a feel­ing fa­mil­iar to many men­tally ill peo­ple. I’ve heard from many who feel like they don’t know what they can do – and even when they do act, it’s never enough. “I feel very hope­less in terms of not be­ing able to do any­thing tan­gi­ble that will help – and for that rea­son, I feel less func­tional. A lot of my self-worth is tied to [so­cial jus­tice work],” Maddie told me.

“A lot of the time I feel bad for not be­ing a func­tional men­tally ill per­son, which is fucked up,” they ex­plained. “I know so many peo­ple who also strug­gle with men­tal health, but they’re still able to do things, they’re still able to go to protests and demos that mat­ter. And then I ques­tion, am I re­ally putting in ef­fort, am I re­ally try­ing? I think that’s re­ally con­tributed to me feel­ing even worse.”

CJ* has been or­ga­niz­ing around Pales­tinian hu­man rights and the Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment, and Sanc­tions move­ment for three years. She’s had se­vere de­pres­sion for five years. “Yes­ter­day I worked for twelve hours, and then came home and cried, be­cause I was so tired,” she said as we be­gan our in­ter­view.

“Some­times I feel like there’s a never-end­ing amount of or­ga­niz­ing one could do. This is some­thing I feel I’m quite bad about, in terms of reg­u­lat­ing how much I do,” she told me. “I guess I re­ally strug­gle be­cause ev­ery­thing is press­ing and ur­gent. Pales­tine, which is what I usu­ally or­ga­nize around, is just so im­por­tant – and it feels more im­por­tant than me. And so I’ll of­ten sac­ri­fice my men­tal and phys­i­cal health be­cause I just know I’m con­tribut­ing to an im­por­tant strug­gle.”

“This past month or so I’ve been in a manic state,” ex­plained So­nia. “I feel like I can do so much more or­ga­niz­ing and [at­tend more] ac­tions, and the val­i­da­tion I get from con­tribut­ing to those things – not just from other peo­ple, but from my­self – kind of feeds into not want­ing the ma­nia to end, which is dan­ger­ous in that ma­nia is not sus­tain­able. It’s just not a healthy way to live – I need more sleep than I’m get­ting, I need more food than I’m get­ting, I can’t keep go­ing at this rate, but it feels good to, and it feels good be­cause I’m mak­ing a change.”

For the men­tally ill, so­cial jus­tice work feels like a con­stant coin­toss, where the two faces are be­ing ei­ther ex­hausted, de­mor­al­ized, and trig­gered, or gal­va­nized, mo­ti­vated, and hope­ful.

“So­cial jus­tice is one of the ways that I self-care,” Han­nah told me. “I was re­ally lucky in that sense, be­cause that helped my re­cov­ery and find­ing a re­ally healthy thing to pour my en­ergy into, and my anger into – be­cause there’s so much anger. Ob­vi­ously you don’t want that anger di­rected at your­self, and I don’t know who it was [that raped me] or how many peo­ple there were, so I can’t di­rect it at a spe­cific per­son. So I kind of di­rected it at the sys­tem that would be op­press­ing me and any­one else who ex­pe­ri­ences [sex­ual as­sault].”

CJ told me that even when her de­pres­sion made it im­pos­si­ble for her to go to class or do school­work, she was still able to or­ga­nize. “I feel like or­ga­niz­ing is maybe one of the best things that I can do for my men­tal health. If one of the prob­lems I have is that ev­ery­thing I do is point­less and mean­ing­less and empty, this feels like some­thing that is clearly mean­ing­ful, and has a point.”

On iden­tity and in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness

Over the sum­mer, when Al­ton Ster­ling and Phi­lando Castile were killed, I was work­ing in the News and Fea­tures ed­i­to­rial team at a high-pro­file women’s mag­a­zine in Toronto. The team met ev­ery morn­ing to pitch sto­ries and dis­cuss break­ing news that was rel­e­vant to Cana­dian women. The morn­ing after Phi­lando Castile’s mur­der, scrolling through my Twit­ter feed, I felt a mix­ture of deep rage and sor­row. But when I got to the morn­ing meet­ing, vis­i­bly shak­ing, no one said a word about the shoot­ings. I re­turned to my desk in tears.

Part of my rage was be­cause dur­ing the course of that job, even as an in­tern, I felt un­fairly bur­dened with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ad­vo­cat­ing for cov­er­age that ac­knowl­edged is­sues of race. I was one of the very few women of colour on the ed­i­to­rial team, and there were no Black wom-

en work­ing at the mag­a­zine at all. At a mag­a­zine mostly run by – and mar­keted to – white women, I felt that if I didn’t talk about race, no one would.

The next day, I didn’t go to work, be­cause I woke up and im­me­di­ately started hav­ing back-to-back panic at­tacks that made it im­pos­si­ble for me to even get dressed. In­stead, after years of re­fus­ing med­i­ca­tion, I went to my doc­tor and got a pre­scrip­tion for an an­tide­pres­sant.

I’m not a Black man liv­ing in the U.S. un­der the in­creas­ing mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the po­lice. I’m not a refugee, or a Mus­lim per­son, or an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant fac­ing de­por­ta­tion un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. I’m not one of the women or other peo­ple liv­ing in the Global South who will be con­demned to death by his global abor­tion gag or­der. So why is my men­tal health so deeply af­fected by th­ese atroc­i­ties?

I worry that it’s a per­for­ma­tive mourn­ing: that I’m par­tic­i­pat­ing in an econ­omy of hor­ror and out­rage that’s not sin­cere, and fo­cuses at­ten­tion on my­self rather than on the af­fected com­mu­ni­ties. This is the voice that tells me that my men­tal ill­ness is a ploy for at­ten­tion – a self-in­dul­gent wal­low­ing in mis­ery or angst. I worry that my anger and sad­ness is only con­tribut­ing to a voyeuris­tic cul­ture that loves to spec­tate, con­sume, and com­mod­ify the suf­fer­ing of marginal­ized peo­ple. This is the voice that tells me that my ac­tivism and com­mit­ment to so­cial jus­tice is in bad faith. All th­ese voices in­sist that I should care less – that the pain I feel is in­sin­cere or ex­ag­ger­ated. Against th­ese voices, how can I jus­tify feel­ing af­fected?

Some of th­ese con­cerns are valid – there’s a way that the priv­i­leged can (and do) ap­pro­pri­ate the pain of marginal­ized peo­ple, and turn the at­ten­tion back on them­selves. There’s a way that sup­port floods in for af­fected com­mu­ni­ties in the days after a well-pub­li­cized mass mur­der, but dies out as soon as the topic dis­ap­pears from the main­stream me­dia. In a cou­ple weeks from now, non-mus­lim peo­ple ex­press­ing out­rage fol­low­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tack at the Que­bec City mosque will move on, and we’ll go back to not talk­ing about Que­bec’s long his­tory of state­sanc­tioned Is­lam­o­pho­bia.

And yet, while I’m a pro­po­nent of stay­ing in one’s lane and not

speak­ing over those with lived ex­pe­ri­ences of a cer­tain form of op­pres­sion, I also be­lieve that there must be a way for us to feel the pain of an­other com­mu­nity with

out it be­ing self-serv­ing. In Notes To­ward a Per­for­ma­tive The­ory of

Assem­bly, Ju­dith But­ler writes: “No one per­son suf­fers a lack of shel­ter with­out there be­ing a so­cial fail­ure to or­ga­nize shel­ter in such a way that it’s ac­ces­si­ble to each and ev­ery per­son. [...] This means that in some of our most vul­ner­a­ble ex­pe­ri­ences of so­cial and eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion, what is re­vealed is not only our pre­car­i­ous­ness as in­di­vid­ual per­sons – though that may well be re­vealed – but also the fail­ures and in­equal­i­ties of so­cioe­co­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions.”

This is not a new idea – that one’s life is not lived in iso­la­tion, but is al­ways al­ready a so­cial life. The in­jus­tice levied against a sin­gle body is al­ways in­dica­tive of sys­tems of in­jus­tice that we are all im­pli­cated in. By no means do I pre­tend to feel or un­der­stand the pain of those di­rectly af­fected by Trump’s agenda. But I un­der­stand that my life does not ex­ist sep­a­rate from the lives of other marginal­ized peo­ple fac­ing more di­rect vi­o­lence. That I, a brown woman in Canada, am en­gaged in a com­mon fight with the same sys­tems of white supremacy, misog­yny, and bor­der im­pe­ri­al­ism that threaten Black peo­ple and trans femmes and Syr­ian refugees. That the sys­temic op­pres­sion that un­der­girds my men­tal ill­ness also works to up­hold po­lice vi­o­lence and fas­cism.

“Bod­ies in the streets” and the ableism in or­ga­niz­ing

Our worth as ac­tivists is mea­sured by our abil­ity to throw down in the street, to stand at vig­ils or strikes for hours in the cold with­out food, our will­ing­ness to risk be­ing ar­rested or pep­per sprayed or ket­tled. We’re ex­pected to be con­stant- ly ac­tive on so­cial me­dia, con­stantly de­bat­ing and ed­u­cat­ing our less-po­lit­i­cal friends and fam­ily, con­stantly up to date on the news, con­stantly of­fer­ing emo­tional sup­port to af­fected com­mu­ni­ties. Phys­i­cal, emo­tional, and men­tal ex­er­tion are used as yard­sticks of com­mit­ment to the cause – with­out tak­ing into ac­count our dif­fer­ing abil­i­ties and skills. It ends up repli­cat­ing struc­tures of cap­i­tal­ism, where our bod­ies are juiced for labour and then dis­posed of when they can no longer work – the work­ers be­come what Marx, in Cap­i­tal, calls the “con­scious or­gans of the au­toma­ton.”

“There’s a hi­er­ar­chy in men­tal ill­ness, where the peo­ple who are the most pro­duc­tive are at the top, and the peo­ple who are the least pro­duc­tive are at the bot­tom, which is in­grained in us by cap­i­tal­ism,” said So­nia. As a re­sult of all of this, a lot of the dis­cus­sion around ac­tivism and or­ga­niz­ing is in­cred­i­bly ableist. It’s com­ing from sea­soned or­ga­niz­ers as well as the re­cent in­flux of new ac­tivists that per­haps haven’t done the work to in­ter­ro­gate their ableism.

The rhetoric of “bod­ies in the streets” ac­tivism most strongly ex­cludes peo­ple with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties and mo­bil­ity re­stric­tions, as well as many un­doc­u­mented, racial­ized, and trans folks who sim­ply can­not risk ar­rest in the way a white dude can. But ableist ac­tivism also af­fects those of us with men­tal ill­ness. Peo­ple with anx­i­ety are ex­cluded from protests. Peo­ple with PTSD are sideeyed for not shut­ting down a sex­ist com­ment at a din­ner party. Peo­ple with bipo­lar dis­or­der are judged for not show­ing up for the vigil, when in re­al­ity they couldn’t get out of bed that day.

“I feel like there’s no room for peo­ple who can’t make those protests for var­i­ous rea­sons. And even if peo­ple say that they don’t have that men­tal­ity, I think it’s very in- grained,” Maddie told me. It’s the men­tal­ity that cre­ates the idea of the Pla­tonic form of the ac­tivist: a young white man who’s nec­es­sar­ily able-bod­ied and in­fin­itely re­silient, who can scream at the cops with­out risk­ing be­ing beaten or de­ported. “That’s def­i­nitely in­ter­nal­ized in many ac­tivist com­mu­ni­ties: that you need to put your body on the street, you need to be out there, and be ready to face vi­o­lence,” Maddie con­tin­ued.

For those who or­ga­nize in com­mu­ni­ties or along­side friends, with­draw­ing from high-in­ten­sity work means not only feel­ing like a bad ac­tivist, but a bad per­son over­all. “We have to keep lov­ing peo­ple when they’re not able to or­ga­nize, and not able to do as much,” CJ told me. “And I think that’s hard be­cause I def­i­nitely idol­ize or deeply re­spect and ad­mire peo­ple who spend their life or­ga­niz­ing, and re­ally do a lot – but that’s also just not pos­si­ble for so many peo­ple, for so many rea­sons.”

Part of this ableist rhetoric of ac­tivism is the idea of “slack­tivism”: post­ing, shar­ing, lik­ing, or do­nat­ing via so­cial me­dia, which is con­sid­ered ‘lazy’ or ‘shal­low’ ac­tivism. But cre­at­ing a hi­er­ar­chy of ac­tivism, where vi­o­lent protest is at the top, not only ex­cludes those who can­not at­tend protests or smash win­dows, but also un­der­es­ti­mates so­cial me­dia’s value as a tool for or­ga­niz­ing and com­mu­nity-build­ing.

“Dur­ing high school I iso­lated a lot from my phys­i­cal com­mu­nity be­cause of my de­pres­sion, but I did a lot of on­line com­mu­nity stuff; I had this screen and I felt more com­fort­able be­hind it, and I didn’t have to move out of my bed, also,” Maddie told me. “I cre­ated a com­mu­nity through Twit­ter and Tum­blr – that was my ini­tial in­tro­duc­tion into so­cial jus­tice spa­ces.”

Protests and vig­ils are won­der­ful and nec­es­sary forms of po­lit­i­cal ac­tion. But we also need to value other forms of re­sis­tance, and make space for peo­ple to re­sist in what­ever ways their bod­ies and brains al­low – lest our work be­come anti-op­pres­sive in name alone. This has never been more im­por­tant to un­der­stand than now, when mass protests are erupt­ing in Mon­treal twice a week, when we’re in­un­dated with calls to “step up,” and “show up,” when tap­ping out of vis­i­ble, high-in­ten­sity, or phys­i­cal ac­tivism is seen as in­ex­cus­able. When Trump has a his­tory of mock­ing dis­abled re­porters, his pos­si­ble re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act will strip many dis­abled peo­ple of health­care, and his fed­eral hir­ing freeze is go­ing to make it even harder to ap­peal for So­cial Se­cu­rity Dis­abil­ity In­sur­ance, ac­tivists need to make sure that we’re not ex­clud­ing the very peo­ple whose rights we should be fight­ing for.

Stay­ing sane in the time of Trump

I have a lot of friends who have never been po­lit­i­cally en­gaged be­fore who are com­ing to me and ask­ing how to at­tend a protest for the first time, or which grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions to vol­un­teer with. I’m re­ally ex­cited about this wave of pop­u­lar re­sis­tance, but I also know that this in­ten­sity of fear and rage amongst ac­tivists is not sus­tain­able. I know that this work erodes your san­ity. If we don’t start talk­ing about men­tal ill­ness in ac­tivism – and not just as a throw­away ac­knowl­edge­ment, not just as an af­ter­thought – then we’re fac­ing mass burnout in the near fu­ture.

This chunk of writ­ing is how I’m stay­ing sane in har­row­ing times. I’m writ­ing to try and open a more hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about men­tal ill­ness amongst ac­tivists, but I’m also writ­ing to help my­self un­tan­gle my com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with the pol­i­tics of men­tal ill­ness. I’m writ­ing be­cause I feel help­less and sad, and jour­nal­ism is my ac­tivism and my cathar­sis. This is my act of re­sis­tance – against Trump, against ableism, against burnout and de­sen­si­ti­za­tion, against my own creep­ing de­pres­sion.

CJ told me, “it would be good for me to pri­or­i­tize my own men­tal and phys­i­cal health. I should do that for my own sake. But also to ac­tu­ally do the most good, my or­ga­niz­ing has to be sus­tain­able, and I have to find ways that it doesn’t kill me.” Four years is a long time to keep up a fight, and it’s im­per­a­tive that our work sur­vives – but to do so, the ac­tivists have to sur­vive too.

* names have been changed

When i got to the morn­ing meet­ing, vis­i­bly shak­ing, no one said a word about the shoot­ings.

Our bod­ies are juiced for labour and then dis­posed of when they can no longer work.

“That’s def­i­nitely in­ter­nal­ized in many ac­tivist com­mu­ni­ties: that you need to put your body on the street, you need to be ready to face vi­o­lence.” —Maddie U1 So­ci­ol­ogy stu­dent

We need to make space for peo­ple to re­sist in what­ever ways their bod­ies and brains al­low – lest our work be­come an­tiop­pres­sive in name alone.

Am­bre Bat­tis­tella | The Mcgill Daily

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