Listen, all of us in the US have been going through a religio-political apocalypse for the last few years—it’s been almost three years for many of us white people in the US (muuuuch longer for POC and other people in marginalized communities). In this article, I’m going to talk (as someone who studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication) about why it’s so reasonable that we’re so tired, explain some communicative signs and dangers that can occur when we’re all tired, and provide some tips toward persistence.
None of This Is Easy
I don’t know about you, but I came into this particular period with eyes wide open because of my expertise and also coming out of my own personal apocalypse, so I was already very “woke” but also tired coming into this period.
Still, even when you’re fully aware of what’s going on and have resources for coping, dealing with this sh*t is NOT EASY. It is exhausting. And even more so for those who have learning curves in coping with it all and learning the skills to fight our visceral impulses toward unhealthy Nice.
Many of us (me too) came into this religio-political period already traumatized for a wide range of reasons, and have valid fears for ourselves and others in the midst of all the crazy sh*t that goes down.
It’s Hard Not to Pull Away
I’ll confess that I’ve been keeping up with it all less well lately. I had already moved from TV and NPR news to digital formats since that creepy performance at the 2nd presidential debate.
But lately? I’ve still been sharing a lot of news on my personal FB feed, but I’ll confess I haven’t been reading as much of it.
As a result, I’m out of a few of the in-jokes as well as the latest news-reported apocalypses. I have noticed some signs of hope–as I’ll explain, I never stop looking for those–but frankly, without the context of reading quite enough news, I’m feeling a little numb about the hope too.
Hard to Stay in the Race
This is not surprising. As my students are learning, interdisciplinary stress studies show us that a lot of stress can easily lead to outrage fatigue, compassion fatigue, burnout, etc. Burnout particularly can be seen and felt in exhaustion, not doing quite as good a job as before, and depersonalizing others, among other signs.
As we get overwhelmed, it’s hard not to pull away a bit.
It’s just hard to keep up the stamina for this relay marathon we’re in sometimes. And even more so for those of us who came into this period with existing trauma we’re trying to recover from while in the midst of ongoing triggers lurking everywhere in the news cycles.
Those Spouting Fascistic Rhetoric Want You Tired
I hate to tell you this, but having studied the rhetoric of conspiracy and fascistic rhetoric (and if you want a good general audience primer on fascistic rhetoric, I suggest reading the book How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley)—exhaustion of the good people is a good part of the goal of those in charge right now.
It’s important to remember that those who enact fascistic rhetoric use techniques that are very similar to narcissistic abusers–just on a bigger scale and in more specificity–so reading up on those would help you grasp it all too.
But yes, fascistic rhetoric specifically keeps so many things going on, so many blatant untruths and horrific things that are said, etc. etc. etc. that it becomes like a waterfall coming at us day in and day out. The hope is that we’ll all be silenced from dissent, either by being cowed and/or rabid supporters of the current leader or by sheer exhaustion from too much going on.
The Danger of “Eating Our Own”
I’ve also seen the other dark side of the exhaustion of those dissenting from the current administration, which I’ve talked about before—some call this the “eating your own” phenomenon.
In other words, those who are on the same side, exhausted from everything that’s going on, start to pick smaller battles with those who are closer rather than offering social support and task support and encouragement to each other.
I hate to tell you this, but that’s another projected goal of those who perpetrate fascistic rhetoric—they’d rather have us fighting each other or comatose with exhaustion than fighting the actual toxic crap that’s still pouring over us in overwhelming quantities.
Relay Marathons Are Not Easy
Sigh. None of this is easy. At this stage, it’s not easy even if you came into this period fully alert and energized, much less if you came in already recovering from other things.
And “our side”—those who are looking out for the common good—is filled, I hate to tell you, with people who are already ready to be triggered at a moment’s notice. (Which can help us work through our traumas, but is also really inconvenient!)
Sadly, There Are No One-Size-Fits-All Solutions
To make it more complex, we all have different traumas, so there’s no nice one-size-fits-all solution so that no one will be hurt by anything we say.
And the more messy things get, the more exhausted we get, the easier it is for some of us to look for others who will handle things for us, one-size-fits-all solutions for us, strong leaders who will step in and take over the burden for us.
The Danger of Removing Ourselves and Others from Social Support
We start—understandably—to check in less on the supportive groups like AS that feel like they demand things of us. We avoid places where we are likely to get drawn into fights of all kinds, even if the results would be likely to benefit the common good.
In short, some of us, when we get tired, we get tempted to quit. (NOTE: This is sooo me.)
The Danger of Getting into Fights with Good People Who Are Coping Differently
The messier things get, others of us get our fight modes on—if not to actually fight with others on our side, sometimes we try to take over tasks and get hella frustrated when others who are having the opposite reaction aren’t jumping in to keep helping in solving these huge problems we’re dealing with.
(NOTE: This is soo me as well—after all, I’m reliant on others wanting to stay involved in doing what they can to keep this project active and moving onward and upward.)
Both Things Can Be True at Once
So yes, now that I’ve thrown down some sunshine on all of this, 😉 often many of us are both things at once. We want so much to live by our values, to be engaged, to speak up against the toxic crap and make space for a healthier world down the road. But it’s so hard to keep strength for this relay marathon we’re on, isn’t it?
Gathering Inner Strength and Good Advice for the Journey
Here’s the thing: neither fighting people on our side nor dropping out entirely are great options.
Rest, Don’t Quit
Here’s an alternative—stop, rest, and ask for help and encouragement and motivation from others as needed.
We need to take a nap and then fire one another up to take the baton and get back on the road for this marathon we’re in.
We may not be that very fit Kenyan dude who just finished a marathon in under 2 hours, but we can push ourselves to do what we can toward helping ourselves and others at least finish the race.
People of Color and Other Marginalized Communities Have Good Wisdom on Joy in the Tough Times
Speaking of that record that was just broken, people of color and other minority populations have been playing the resilience game for much, much longer than many of us, and we would do well to sit at their feet and ask for advice in help in continuing the fight for social justice.
The wise Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes just gave this wise advice at a session on “Justice, Deconstruction, and Soul Care” at the Evolving Faith conference I was glad to attend a couple of weekends ago. “Privilege robs you,” she said according to my notes, “from the day to day experience of living with joy in the midst of pain…which isn’t to romanticize that.”
Dr. Walker-Barnes went on to say that it’s important for white folks “to be pastored by [marginalized communities] as to how to find joy in pain.”
Looking for Expert Knowledge of All Types to Cope with Hard Times
It makes sense—after all, marginalized communities have much too much long experience of dealing with these relay marathons.
I’m not quite ready to learn how to run a real physical marathon, but I was very glad to hear these words about running a social justice marathon from a wise woman of color. I do want to point out that pastoring ought to include consent, as many of these communities are tired of pastoring to white people for good reason.
Overall, I will take this advice, which boils down to the advice I’ve given before: look for the helpers. Look for those with experience. Acknowledge their expertise in these matters. Listen to their stories.
I’ll add that it’s good to look to those who study stress and trauma and how to cope with that. Because I can assure you those people are listening to those who are coping and looking to how it’s working best.
The Hurricane Study and Doing What We Can
Speaking of trauma experts, I think I’ve referenced it before, but one of my favorite stress and trauma studies is the hurricane study. In looking at people living through crises like hurricanes, those who were allowed to help had fewer illnesses down the road than those who weren’t.
It’s worthwhile to remember that yes, we need to rest. But the stress of this era is giving us energy to rise to the occasion and do what we can do. It will help both us and others if we both focus on others doing what they can do, encourage one another, and join together to continue to do what we can.
We Can Do This Thing!
Overall, when we need to, take that nap, then get up off of that mat, friends. Rest, don’t quit.
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. When we don’t, the world is a worse place. We can do this thing.
Need some advice about the stressful task of dealing with conflict online or off? Sign up for our email newsletter either in the top bar of this site or by checking the box when you comment on this or any other blog post on this site. Once you’ve done so, confirm your email address through the email you’ll receive, and then you’ll receive a link to the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email.
You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around and stay in this relay marathon. We are coming up with plans to provide more resources and encouragement for the journey in the coming year so we can all stay in the race.