It has been years since I left my abusive household to continue my duties as a full-time activist. But there are days where the trauma and other mental health issues cripple me and my work. I notice collectives suffering similar feats and are really struggling to face and overcome each of our mental health struggles and personal contradictions.
We would like to ask, how can we revolutionaries face our mental health struggles, as a collective and as Marxists? Your answer would mean a lot.
Thank you so much,
Allow me, first of all, to salute you for walking away from abuse. It was an act of strength and courage, and I hope you never forget: you are a brave woman.
When you left, you stood up not only for yourself, but also for the rest of us. You broke a cycle, and helped dismantle one aspect of a backward culture: that the youth cannot forge a life outside of what their elders carved out for them.
Someone once wrote that the young, as a rule, will always be more open to change than the old. Especially among those who live in relative comfort, there would be little interest in seeing a new world, much less in the idea of their very children facing danger in the attempt to usher it in.
We learn, however, that there is not much point to a life lived solely for oneself, that we all bear a responsibility to leave this planet better than we found it. I always thought it’s a sad day, when someone decides to stop trying.
When did our elders choose the path of least resistance? In our childhood we were taught to be honest and kind and generous, to share what we have with our neighbors. Then we grow up and somehow the rules change: We must now chase wealth and power for ourselves, mind our own business, and tolerate injustice and untruths. They say that is how not to die.
But as you already know, we all will – every single one of us. It’s only a matter of how and when, and we hope that on that day, we will have spent our lives meaningfully, and for the right cause. I think that’s why you’re here despite your difficulties, and I am proud of you. It’s all uphill from here, in a manner of speaking.
It begins with the acceptance that healing is a process. You will likely bear the wounds of your past for some time, but you will be alright. The even better news is that our load becomes lighter when we carry it with others, and in the movement there’s plenty of people keen on the idea of collective load-bearing.
As you bear your loads together, it’s important to manage expectations about what the journey would look like. There will, for instance, be sad days still, but the realistic goal is not to eliminate them completely, but for them to be fewer and far between.
It will help to discuss how you express anger or sadness or fear and your many other feelings. How would you like to be comforted when this happens? This way, you will know what to watch out for, and how to look after each other.
I know the idea is exhausting. Wouldn’t it be nice if other people were more sensitive to our needs, and figured these out on their own, in what we call pakikiramdam? But because you’ve all been through – and are still going through – a lot, articulating everything, so that you need not read each other’s mind, would be key.
Sometimes, for example, sad thoughts might come in waves, and in such moments it is perfectly normal to want space and quiet. For others it might mean wanting someone to listen without judgment as they talk for hours. Still others would want to sing or eat or cook their distress away. That is the beauty of humanity: we respond to stimuli in vastly different ways and if this were not the case the world would be such a boring place.
That said, may you have the patience to stay away when someone does not wish to speak, and just want to feel what they’re feeling. The Marxist way is the scientific, evidence-based way: conversations are best had when people are not highly emotional, and when they say they’re ready to talk. Science also says you cannot force someone to be ready.
I’ve written this before, too: when dealing with the blows of life, it helps to pursue hobbies in which you can “get lost,” so to speak, like the arts, sports, or music. I hope you are able to find the means for any passion, so long as it does not hurt others.
Collectives would also do well to promote a culture around health and wellness. Concretely, this would mean treating enough sleep, nutritious food, and exercise as daily essentials, and calling someone out when they engage in smoking or excessive drinking, or lead sedentary lifestyles. If your body is strong, you will be in a better position to heal inside.
From time to time, sit together to collectively assess your progress and practice. What techniques are working for you, and what aren’t? Which forms of support were most helpful? Be generous with compliments, as long as you mean every word. Be honest in your criticism, but dish them out with tact. Then, celebrate your wins, in rituals you can create, to replace your painful memories. And by win I mean to include each day you choose to be here, in this struggle.
Finally, I want you to believe, like the revolutionaries that you are, that complete healing is possible and that you all want it for each other. This way you can interpret actions with absolute faith in the good intentions behind them – no matter how confusing they look on the outside. I hope you nurture a comradely openness to each other’s quirks, and, at a more fundamental level, a deep appreciation for who you all are right now: beautiful humans, scarred and in pain, but determined to carry on.
Thank you for writing, and may you all find your healing.