Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Avoid Activist Burnout

"The negative energy exuding from this group can be exhausting"

Not my words, but those I read in an international women's rights group this morning. This was the weary comment from one woman on yet another depressing article about the shocking abuse of a sex slave. Quick to jump were many who deemed her words uncaring and self centred, but others recognised that she spoke a truth. This stuff is exhausting and she was suffering from activist burnout. She had read one article too many for herself in that moment and she was done. Negative might have been a wrong choice of word, but she was right. It wasn't a positive. Any group filled with articles and posts on all the wrongs and horrors of the world is rarely going to exude positivity. And whilst I don't buy into the "surround your self only with positivity, spiritual by-passing, I'm alright Jack" vibe, there is something here that needs to be acknowledged.

To be at the frontline of raising awareness about injustice and abuse; taking action against horrid, mind blowing cruelty in the world; or caring deeply about the planet, or human and animal rights can come at emotional and mental cost in a world that at times seems hell bent on destruction, greed and harm.

Those that care profoundly are often those that surround themselves with images and stories of that which they wish to change. There is a constant reminder that it is an uphill struggle and no matter how many marches they go on, or petitions they sign, or letters they write there is an endless swathe of more to attend to. It is exhausting. It is soul shatteringly exhausting at times. Activists do burnout. It leads to depression or a kind of mania. The kind of depression where you've run out of anger and fight to do anymore, and you feel all action is hopeless. It is an overwhelming sense of doom and loss and grief.  Or it spirals into the kind of manic desperation where your life, your conversation, your thoughts, your words are consumed by trying to make change and get others to care about the things you care deeply about. This also becomes overwhelming and there can a loss of self in this. A loss of the things that make you whole.

Recognising the symptoms is key to stop the overwhelming grief and hopelessness. When you find it hard to be happy or have fun, because in the back of your mind are the things you are campaigning about, a constant pull or presence, then think about doing some of the following:

  • If you are frontline, as in a public face for a specific cause, it's ok to get help from admins, take time out from organising, blogging, vlogging and posting etc. It's defnitely ok to prioritise your safety and deactivate accounts if needs be in the face of bullying or personal attack.
  • Mute or unfollow certain social media chats and groups from time to time, you can still look when you want to.
  • Leave certain social media chats and groups and only stay in a few key ones if you feel the need. 
  • Hide or unfollow other activists who post a lot on your social media. Snooze them for thirty days on Facebook and give yourself a break from a full newsfeed.
  • Give your self time out, days off, weeks off, a month or two off when needed. It's ok to take a break. Real battles are won in separate campaigns, new strategies, and frontlines being held. Frontlines can be held in shifts and rotation. You don't have to stand there sleepless holding it solo. There are others who care like you. The whole thing won't fall apart if you take a break. 
  • Reduce the amount of imagery or stories you feed your mind with. Stop looking until you feel you really can. There is no obligation to damage your mental health by forcing your self to be aware of every bad thing in the world.
  • Pare your activism back to petition signing for a while via petition groups like Avaaz, 38Degrees or Change, without reading reams about each topic. Petitions do work. 
  • Choose a positive real time project closer to home for a while
  • Limit the amount of time spent on marches and vigils. Allocate a percentage of your free time and stick to it. Or only choose key ones to attend. 
  • Limit the amount of topics or problem areas you invest your time in. What calls you the most, honestly? Remember you can switch from time to time. Just trying to take it all on at once is asking for burnout.

Most importantly once out of the burnout or before burnout hits make sure the following is a priority:

  • Make space and time for the good things in life.
  • Make space and time for friends and family outside of activism.
  • Allow yourself to grieve, don't bypass the sad feelings just because others around you don't feel the same. Their being less affected does not invalidate your feeling that things are far from okay. 
  • Invest in your own self care via food, nutrition, relaxation therapies, exercise and uplifting activities.
  • Balance the sense of hopelessness by focusing on success stories and positive changes as well.
  • Get enough sleep and time in nature.
  • Ask yourself this every now and then. If the thing I'm trying to change was changed overnight  and there was no need for me to protest, what would I then do, and what life is there outside of me trying to make that difference? Make sure there is something. Maintain that something. 

Those of you reading this who have activists in your circle of friends and family, look out for them. Make them a meal once in a while. Make sure they feel cared about and nurtured. Thank them for their part in making change. Support their frontline activities. Share some of their posts. Pay for their transport cost of getting to a march. Buy them a massage voucher. Just because you can't do or choose not to do what they do, don't assume that they feel anything negatively about you. I see many close friends and family of activists look the other way because somehow they feel like it shames then when they do look. That's your stuff to deal with, often not to do with the activist themselves. Don't not support your activists because you feel like you should be doing more. Maybe the more you can be doing right now is actually supporting them. Make sure they have exposure and visibility in the things they are trying to change, ask them how it is going, take an interest, but also make sure they have fun and relaxation, and see them in their wholeness. Don't avoid your activists because they burst your bubble. They make you uncomfortable because they are literally pointing at things beyond your comfort zone. They highlight and wave flags in areas of life that are uncomfortable. They are the truth speakers in a world of veneer and glamour. Thank them for going into the darkness and shining the torch. Thank them for educating you and showing you a bigger picture. Thank them for holding politicians and corporations accountable. Don't turn away, they are not shameful. It is the things they bring a spotlight to that is our collective shame.

 And when you hear the call and cannot ignore it any longer. Take your own action. No matter how small. Thank you for all you do. Take care. Go gently. Take steps to avoid activist burnout.

Heidi x

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Granny Smith

Today and tomorrow I celebrate Samhain (SOW'en), the Celtic cross-quarter day that marks the beginnings of Winter, the end of one year and the beginning of the next. A liminal time, like the twilight is to the oncoming night. a time of betwixt and between, where the realms of ancestors are distinctly felt by the living. It's good to remember that ancestors are for life, not just for Samhain though, but still we are drawn to reflect and remember and celebrate more so this night.

Later I shall honour those dear and dead with a small ceremony and a feast. Candle lights will be placed for them on my altar, and I will listen to any wisdom that drops in.

Let me tell you though about one special ancestor of mine. Granny Smith. A woman of great fortitude and short stature, much sparkle and smile, and one who took a big family secret to her grave. That's a whole other story. There is so much that is a whole other story. But for now just this ...

As a child I always thought it marvellous that Granny Smith had apples named after her. I remember the day of discovering this was not the case. One of those moments when the childhood blinkers fall slightly to one side. That's still not the story. This is ...

Granny Smith was my great grandmother on my mother's side. She lived in a caravan, a largish static caravan in East Sussex. My grandfather also lived there at the time, looking after her till the end. We would go and visit, and I would be enamoured with the trinkets and charm and the garden. But more importantly I was enchanted by the twinkling, dinky woman in the back room. Her gentle sing song voice and her humour, and it was there in the back room, in her bed, surround by her sewing boxes, and fabrics, and buttons and trim, and glitz that my grandmother taught me to make peg dolls.

A quick rewind. My grandmother was known for her dolls. She dressed dolls. In her younger days, as I remember it told to me, she had boldly walked to Harrods with a suitcase full of them and persuaded them to sell them to their clientele, which they did for years and years. Her dolls were splendid and dressed in finery. Victorian; Edwardian; from around the world; ball-gowned and up-towned; all laced, and feathered, and sequined, and beaded; and hand-stitched. I wonder where all her dolls are now.

She also made peg dolls. And it was this that she taught to me when I was little and she was elderly. The first one I made with her was a nanny. With tiny babe in arms. I remember it took us hours and hours. And I wore her out. Her teaching me patiently. Prompting me to focus and pay mind to task. Be neat. Finish the details properly. And voila. A doll. A little doll with a life of it's own. And that was a magick moment gifted to me by an equally magickal lady.

I then went home and made another nanny on my own.

Then I made a whole load more. Grand ladies with feathers and lace. In the mix a Scottish one for some reason and attempt at a Flamenco dance with cardboard castanets,  a blushing net curtain bride, and lost somewhere, there was once a Japanese inspired one, with a white kimono and a cocktail umbrella parasol. The magick of these dolls, as is the spellcraft of all dolls, took me to worlds I had not seen and a life out of reach. And the joy of making. Of being crafty. There is more in those words than we think. Of bringing imagination to manifestation. And the unfolding of something in your own hands, taking form and becoming. Looking back I can see that's a subtly empowering feeling to a child. To be a creatrix of your own world and tiny people.

Then in 2016 when I started the Mini Maidens Girls Circle of our Red Tent I took my peg dolls and the tale of Granny Smith to the first four girls there, ages between seven and twelve at the time. I taught them over the course of a year about the four feminine archetypes, and each season they made peg dolls. They made Maidens in spring, Mothers in summer, Enchantresses in autumn and Crones in winter.

And the loveliest thing, two of those girls have now had their menarche, and those archetype dolls were brought from home to place on our altar for their first blood ceremonies.

I may not be able to pass on the peg doll making to my own daughter, but in memory of Granny Smith, and possibly because of Izzy, it's my joy to teach it to other girls.

So this sacred day, I honour my beloved dead, and am grateful for their imprint on my heart and soul, their whispers in the wind, and the imaginings I still venture into.  I shall tend a flame and raise a glass to you, my Isadora Magdalen Moon, and to you, my Granny Smith.

Heidi x

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Just Watch Your Witchin'

We move ever closer to "sexy witch" time of year. See me roll  my eyes; gesticulate dramatically in a two-handed facepalm; and then see my cross witch face as I get out my waggy telling off finger and point in the general direction of countless seasonal aisles across the country, and at potential Halloween party goers and parents of mini trick-or-treaters.

There is nothing wrong with being sexy.
There is nothing wrong with being a witch.
There is nothing wrong with being a sexy witch.

But ...

There is a whole lot of wrong with the"sexy witch" Halloween costume. Not least cos a lot of it seems to be aimed at a rather underage market. Why are you trying to make your nine year old a sexy anything? And why are all the commercial Halloween outfits always a "sexy something" for the women and femmes. Jeez. Can we move past sexual objectification of women already?

But there's more ...

Witches are currently portrayed in two ways. One as the ugly old hag, crooked nose, warts, probably evil as fuck, and a bad thing. That trope has been around for over a couple of hundred years now. It says witches are bad. Being old is bad. Straying from the socially acceptable norms of appearance is bad. Magick is bad. The old ways are bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Witches. Not a good thing. And then there was a kind of reinvention, a reclamation of sorts, of the witch. In 1964 Samantha t-witched her pretty little nose, Morticia flirted darkly with Gomez, and hey presto, the witch was back, but only the sexy version: the tempting scorceress or the cutesy, ever-so-husband-helpy housewife. Not abracadabra, the witch is back in her personal power just for herself. Nope. Only if she appealed to men and they could imagine her in their beds. And there we have stayed. Old witch or sexy witch.

And in those two popular media portrayals we have that old patriarchal bullshit of "old wise women are bad, sexy young available women are good" .  Women's power and wisdom once again sidelined and dumbed down to black attire fit for a kinky bedroom session.

Here's the undumbed down truth. Being a witch is a way of life. Once, it was a way of life, a beingness that got you killed. In some places it still does. Here in the UK around five hundred were hanged for witchcraft during the dark times, and in Western Europe around two hundred thousand hanged or burned. Elsewhere, the number of false trials, torture and death toll mounts up further. That wound and trauma imprint still resides within the familial and cultural psyche. Having stood on several witch hanging spots, I can tell you it sits heavy in the landscape too. The shame of the wise women still makes it hard for certain people to walk their truth tall and proud, stepping out of the shadows and not hiding their shine. The fear may seem irrational, but having seen many women, and experienced it myself, sense the noose tight, the knot at the back of neck, the choking, and the subsequent clearing of the throat, during certain energy work or ceremony, I can tell you that  fear is still there in our national psyche. It's going though. Many of us work to clear it from land and place and person. There is nothing sexy about a hanging, innocent , terrified woman.

The other truth is that witches are not a thing of the past. The witch exists now. Some are old. Some are sexy. Some are old and sexy. Some are young. Some are middle aged. But honestly you are more likely to be stood next to one in the supermarket queue and not know. The ordinary witch. How the hell do you dress up as that? I can tell you now the last thing you are wearing when gathering herbs or the morning dew is a skimpy bit of black lace and a pvc bra. High heeled black boots and a crushed velvet cape is also a fairly useless look when stood out in the pissing rain in the middle of the heath on a barrow at midnight chatting with the old ones. Most witches don't dress up. They just put on clothes. Sometimes we have fancy shmancy ones for special days, and they may or may not be little black dresses made of shimmer and see-through, but on the whole not so much. Sometimes we do have pretty wowy ceremonial clothes, but there is too much playing at being a witch out there, full stop. Not just this time of year. The social media culture of sexy witch ignores much of this real chosen path. The ones who hone their craft. The ones who know the true meaning of "spelling". The ones who cut their herbs with moon. The ones who reassure the ailing. The ones that sit as hearths at the centre of community. The ones that go unseen in landwork and sacred activism. Some are even working polarity sex magic, which honestly is full of fucking shadow work and horrid self realisation, and often rather the opposite of sexy.

Anyway ...

Go buy your Halloween outfit. Dress up. But pay mind to the witch. Hold all this in your heart and honour the life and the source of your costume. Read up a little for yourselves on that you wish to be for one night of the year. Tell your daughters and sons that witches are real. That you may even know one and not know it. Tell them that witches are wise women, healers, valuable assets to community, wayshowers, wisdom keepers, land protectors, sacred activists, and have probably fought frontline for some of the rights you now have. Tell them also, not all witches are women.

Just remember that your dress up may borderline on badly stereotyping a well loved life path and a spiritual belief system for many. Bring honour and truth into your costume. Wear us well. Go be a sexy witch if you must. Or take inspiration from a recent picture of me out on a pre-sunrise walk, looking rather fetching in a blanket, wellies and pyjamas. Nah, go and look fabulous. Feel magickal. Go and step into power. Just watch your witchin'.

Heidi x