Dear Meg

Dear Meg | Sleepless activist

October 17, 2021

Rest is all the more important if you’re fighting for a new world.

Art: Ken Bautista

Dear Meg,

Can I ask a question?

I’m feeling like I’m burning out like a slow candle doing the work that I’m doing in that I’m irritable, not sleeping until 3 or 4am. And at the same time still enjoying the work and feel the constant challenge to meet the need in the communities we work alongside — sudden alerts, arrests, killings, etc. are so common these days. I almost feel guilty to rest. I think you’re familiar with our political context. How do you find discipline to rest and play when the work is heavier than ever, when the need to unite with others is clearer than ever?

Thank you.

A


Dear A,

Thank you for writing to me, and I hope you’re having a lovely weekend.

I skim through your letter and smile: even in seeking help, you were being efficient. In one paragraph, you captured the complexity of your predicament – including your conflicting feelings. But there’s no way you’re dwelling on them. You want to get to a solution, fast.

That single-mindedness. Most of the time, it’s what sees us through stormy days, amid poverty, hunger, and tyranny in a burning planet. We focus on what needs to be done, our feelings be damned. Our bodies, however, are another story. They will not be damned.

Once in a while they will remind us to breathe, and something tells me this is the case for you right now. You wish to keep going, but your body’s complaining. On its behalf, I would then like to say: it’s alright to take a break and feel your feelings. It’s alright to be a human being.

How are you feeling, A? In your letter I hear excitement, fulfillment, happiness. There’s probably sadness, anger, and grief, too. In case it’s ever weighed on you, nothing’s wrong with having any of these emotions, even those that are difficult or unfamiliar. Our feelings do not make us less brave or strong or committed – only more human.

And so we welcome them like house guests, with a cup of coffee, and a warm seat. Some of them were not exactly invited. But they are here, calling our name, and we will listen to what they have to say.

From this place of acceptance will spring our sense of control. By recognizing and embracing our feelings, we give ourselves a better shot at understanding what we can do for them. If we are, for example, grieving devastating losses, then perhaps we need a good cry, or someone to talk about it with. If we’re filled with worry, then we lay down our fears, allowing our hearts to beat fast, then build scenarios around them. It is, of course, perfectly possible to not wish to deal with feelings this way. But we must give ourselves the chance to try.

Rest creates the opportunity for such an attempt. It lets you accept the here and the now, including what you feel. When resting, you need not explain yourself to anyone, even to yourself. Indeed if you find yourself subjecting your form of rest to reason, you’re most likely doing it wrong.

Rest is all the more important if you’re fighting for a new world. On a daily basis, your body will hold so much tension, as you go against deeply entrenched systems and beliefs. Imagine putting yourself through this stress many times over, during challenging times. When there’s a lot going on, our bodies become doubly alert, to be able to deliver a response. The brain tries hard to make sense of what’s happening. Rest is how we’ll regain the strength we lose this way.

Too, rest lets us take a step back, and look at problems from different perspectives. Rest will help us think outside the box, which a revolution demands. To rest is not to give up. It’s precisely what we do to not give up.

I know it takes time to adopt this view of rest and self-care, which the world order peddles like a commodity. It is not. In the society we’re building, rest will be our right as human beings.

In the meantime, while learning to reimagine rest, I invite you to consider it your task: with a strict time allotment and expected outputs: a journal entry, an artwork, a ‘highest score’ status in a game, a signature dish.

Would being a better activist also be a good motivation? Then I’d say rest, so you can be calm. A jittery cadre is of little use in times of crisis. If you’re restless, you’ll be acting in a fight or flight mode – defensive towards others, protective of your ego, and blind to the nuances of situations. You will make rash decisions, while being sensitive to criticism and cavalier with other people’s feelings. Meanwhile, a well-rested comrade is able to take care of others, see an opportunity for growth in every experience, and laugh even in the face of misery and challenges.

All easier said than done, I know, like many things in life. I guess I will not add to the pressure you’re already putting on yourself. Instead, I leave you the reassurance that through constant practice, you will get there.

Thank you again, and please rest whenever you can.

Meg

P.S. I posted something about exhaustion amid political work. Hope it brings comfort, too! https://bit.ly/3lrWyz8

*Thank you to Kenikenken for the custom artwork.

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Dear Meg

Meg holds a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Psychology from the University of the Philippines. She loves music, visual arts, literature, and psychology, and is passionate about endeavors where these are used to improve the plight of the marginalized.