Camilla Duke discusses the conflict between her love for political activism and her struggles with anxiety. Being active in trying to change the world, resist oppression and fight for the under-privileged can be difficult at the best of times. Fighting the system can often seem like an up-hill struggle, but it is only made harder if your social anxiety makes it difficult to even pick up the phone to call your local representative, let alone get involved in a protest. Camilla tells us how she manages to overcome these issues and continue to fight injustice while also looking after her own mental health.
Engaging in social justice work is really important to me, but I have often found it difficult to be diligent in my activism when my mental health is not at its best. Anxiety can make it incredibly difficult to take the first steps when taking action for a particular cause. For example, calling your representatives, senators, or MPs is a seemingly simple and basic way to make your voice heard on a particular issue. When anxiety kicks in, though, even picking up the phone to make that call can be a daunting task. Depression can make it even more complicated by convincing you that your voice doesn’t really matter and that it’s not even worth it to engage at all.
In my experience, though, I have found that engaging in activism actually helps to ameliorate the feelings of helplessness that often accompany depression and conquer the fears associated with anxiety. For example, last year I volunteered and later interned for a political campaign that I really believed in. The eventual success of the campaign brought a feeling of collective accomplishment that far outweighed the initial anxiety I felt when interviewing for the volunteering position. Like all habits that can improve your mental health, engaging in activism requires practice, but I believe that it is more than worth the effort.
One of the steps I try to take when I notice my mental health holding me back from being a good activist is to try to think of the big picture. If I look at the situation objectively, I can remind myself that anxiety breeds irrational fear, and that the real thing to fear is injustice. The temporary discomfort I may feel when calling my senator or attending a protest does far less damage in the long run than discriminatory legislation or oppressive social structures and policies.
This is not to say that anyone should disregard self-care or put themselves in deeply distressing situations. That would simply be counterproductive and harmful. In my experience, I have actually found it easier to practice self-care when I am contributing positively to causes I am passionate about. I started with simple actions like calling my representatives in congress and gradually progressed to more decisive action like protesting and volunteering. Over time, I have become more comfortable with the simple actions, although it is sometimes still difficult to make phone calls. The more I’ve worked on it, though, the more confident I have felt in my own capability to contribute meaningfully to the world, and perhaps more importantly, I have become more assured of my own value.
Starting the process of becoming a better activist when you struggle with mental illness can be overwhelming, but I have found the following resources to be invaluable.
This guide to making phone calls for the socially anxious (or simply shy) person provides a series of helpful tips.
This video expands on those ideas.
This video articulates more specifically the various ways to get in touch with congressional representatives, senators, and MPs.
Sharing your political beliefs to the proverbial echo chamber we call Facebook grants a sort of temporary satisfaction, but actual participation and action yields far greater and more meaningful gratification, for yourself and for the world.