Activism and depression

24 Oct

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.

4 Responses to “Activism and depression”

  1. Steph October 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Thank you for being brave enough to write this, Deva. I also struggle with having depression while doing work that is often depressing, and sometimes it can get too overwhelming and I need to step back. I know you spoke truth to power her for many MANY folks, and I’m so glad we have your voice here at the Abortion Gang! Much love and respect.

  2. Oubli October 25, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    How to recharge your activism, what I have done at different points in my life to stave off the depression and recharge.

    ~Be clinic escort. Be an abortion hand holder. Start a local abortion fund. Basically try to find a completely different avenue on which to proceed, change your direction (radically) in abortion care. Sometimes depression creeps in because we are bored with our everyday. Change it up.

    ~Be vocally pro-choice all over the spectrum. Be pro-choice for birthing options (home birth, hospital birth, midwife, OB, unassisted) and pro-choice when it comes to circumcision ie His Body, His Choice (circumcising removes the penis bearers choice).

    ~Have an abortion. Okay this wasn’t planned or done solely for a recharge but it was an unexpected catalyst into further activism for me. Having an abortion made me appreciative of my right and need to protect it for other women.

    ~Bring a pregnancy to term and have a baby. Protective postpartum instincts drove me out of my PPD and back into the reproductive activism field to vehemently protect my daughter’s choice.

    ~Take time off from it, abjectly and completely. For 30 days, ignore all things abortion and when you find yourself feeling guilty about it, log it in a journal and let it go.

    ~Use abortion/reproductive health humor to lighten it up.,,,

    ~Sting a CPC, I’ve done it and it was an incredible high, it invigorated me to stand in front of my municipalities Town Council and demand accountability and legislation (local ordinance) to stop the misinformation.

    and finally

    ~Learn how to preform an abortion. Knowing how to do this has kept me from slipping into a depression about our reproductive rights being chipped away bit by bit over the last several years. The knowledge that, no matter what happens politically and legally with our right to privacy/abortion, I could preform a surgical abortion, correctly prescribe the abortion pills or provide herbal remedy to terminate an early pregnancy keeps me from falling to a depressed funk. (If the Republicans have their way their will be loads of women Vera Drake-ing it in America.)

    Fight the burn out any way you can. Good luck.

  3. Laura October 29, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    This is a very interesting post. I too sometimes feel that nothing I do matters, and the efforts are wasted. And I sometimes feel that I don’t do enough, that I don’t care enough.

    What did you mean when you said sometimes you don’t know what’s right? Sometimes I feel that way too.


  1. Daily Press Clips – October 24 | Trust Women - October 25, 2012

    […] at the Abortion Gang has a fantastic piece about activism and mental […]

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