Balancing School, Anxiety and Activism in Tumultuous Times

 

shira-spring-headshot a short reflection by Shira Devorah, Women’s Center student staff member

This semester has only just begun, and I’m already feeling pretty anxious. Granted, I’m usually pretty anxious – but this feels different.

If you’ve been following the news recently, you may understand. For many marginalized groups, it’s hard to feel stable right now. While I’m privileged in many ways, integral parts of my identity are under attack right now.  I’m proud of being a queer Jewish woman, but these parts of who I am feel very vulnerable and exposed at the moment. My uncertainty is manifesting as physical sensations. There’s a constant tightness in the pit of my stomach, and it’s hard to focus on things outside of the instability surrounding me. This is a difficult moment in time, and I want to be doing something about it, but my mental illness flare-ups make me question my ability to do so. I want to help, but  I also have to take care of my anxiety.

Amidst the current chaos, it is also my last semester at UMBC. If I know myself at all, this means I may be more susceptible to anxiety attacks during this life change. School work is a balancing act for me, and while I’ve had a few shaky semesters, I care a lot about my education. Most of my anxiety is tied up in how well I do, and this is my last chance to (literally) make the grade. UMBC students are held to a high standard of excellence, and I want my last semester to reflect this. To meet my personal achievement goals, I have to put a lot of energy into my studies. This can be draining and difficult to juggle with clinical anxiety.

I’m sure I’m not alone – Many people, especially women, deal with anxiety.  I’ve talked to a bunch of friends who live with similar anxiety conditions. We’re all struggling to figure out how to contribute, how to be present for people and speak up. It can be really, really difficult- but I know it isn’t impossible.

I’m aware that I haven’t been as active as I would like to be. My form of anxiety feels like being blocked up, like all of these things are happening at once. Everything becomes muddled and difficult to parse. I’ve been mostly absent from social media as of late, because it’s been difficult to come up with the words for what I’m feeling. I have not attended any protests, as I get very overwhelmed in large crowds. Sometimes I feel like I have to remove myself from political conversations and go hide away. I know I’m just trying to consider my mental health, yet I have this nagging sense that I’m not doing enough. I want to be a more  prepared and available activist, but my identities as a student and mentally ill person have a habit of getting in my way. When I’m not exhausted from a full load of classes, I’m immobilized by my anxious mind. Things can get overwhelming very easily.

Even though it’s hard to be fully present at the moment, it has been possible for me to do some really small things without exacerbating myself. While I’ve more or less stayed off of Facebook, I’ve been able to use other platforms like Twitter and Tumblr to spread information and support. With Facebook, I feel pressured to add my two-cents to everything I share or to write something from scratch. This can be very anxiety provoking for me. So instead, I’ve stuck to the classic ‘read and re-tweet’. This way, I get to stay informed and promote the work of activists without having to author anything personally.

active-while-anxious

Here’s an example of a doodle I made for this blog post

While I can’t really go to protests, I follow them diligently. If there is a live stream, you can bet I’m watching it. I have a hard time making phone calls, but I can sign a petition or send an email like a champ. I’ve been coming up with ideas for art that I can make, which is usually a therapeutic process for me. Mainstream forms of protesting are not the only way to contribute to a movement. I know my strengths lie in my artistic capabilities, So I can maneuver around my anxieties and continue to create and share activist art. I know that I am far more than my mental illness, and anyone going through a similar time can use their own strengths in similar ways. Working at the Women’s Center makes me feel like I have the capability to do good things and give support to people. So even though I know I’m limited in the activist work that I can do right now, this doesn’t mean I have to stand still.


If you’re going through something similar, I just want you to know that you aren’t alone, and there are valuable contributions that you can make in this difficult time.
Just because your form of activism might not look the same as others, the work you do isn’t any less valid. Everyone has the capability to help in different ways. What is important is finding a way accessible to you, while taking care of your own needs. I know I’m not always going to be able to write the right words or yell in a crowd, but I can do something, and that something can make a difference.

*****

If you’re interested in more resources on how to get involved if you have anxiety, check out the following resources!

Bustle wrote about protesting while socially anxious

Everyday Feminism on how marching isn’t the only way to be an activist

How to call your reps when you have social anxiety

four tech tools to help you get involved

Check out the Counseling Center- they are hosting a variety of  mindfulness workshops this semester

 

spring-counseling-center

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