Some musings on activism and staying afloat in a horrifying world

Had a few friends recently confide that their social media and news feeds were upsetting and depressing to the extreme… but they felt like they would not be “good allies” if they unfollowed any of it.

I went through this same dilemma a few years ago, and the thing that helped me decide what to keep and what to remove from my feeds was: what did seeing it make me DO? When I got online to catch up with friends, only to be flooded with a hundred new stories about political unrest, environmental devastation, intolerance, homophobia… did it inspire me to go out and protest and donate money to the cause?

I realized, it did not. It just made me feel overwhelmed to the point that I melted into an anxious, soggy lump of depression, crushed under the horror of the world, unable to get anything done for the rest of the day. And then I felt guilty about being depressed, which made me more depressed, which made me even less functional. At most, I would reblog the article to my Tumblr… uselessly preaching to the choir.

I really wanted to be the “good ally” who was tireless and vigilant to every new injustice. It seemed insensitive or uncaring to ignore any of that pain and suffering. But the fact was, my good intentions simply did not translate into real action. I was falling apart instead of accomplishing anything.

I eventually realized I needed to focus on outcomes. What does this content actually accomplish? Did seeing all that stuff day in and day out actually help me be more politically effective, or did it just sap my time and energy? Was that reblog actually “spreading awareness,” or was I just shouting into an echo chamber? It seemed noble and virtuous to spend so much energy on these subjects, but at the end of the day, I was just typing uselessly on a keyboard instead of actually going out and making a difference. Some people used their typing to accomplish great things… but I was not one of those people. I was just wasting my time and stressing myself out while doing it.

Nowadays, my online presence is nearly politics-free. I aggressively keep it out of my view until I choose to go looking for it. And because I have space to breathe now, I’m more politically active and effective than I ever was when my online feed was crammed with outrage and tragedy. I can focus my time where it matters, instead of squandering my mental health on 1,000 pointless Twitter threads.

If just going online makes you stressed and sad… please, consider curating your news and feeds. It’s not mean or arrogant. Your mental anguish is useless if you let it burn you out. You already know the world is terrible; nobody is helped if you wallow in the horror of it until you drown. Find the balance that lets you actually engage and make a difference.

Sometimes that means stepping away entirely for a few years to focus on your own mental health. It’s okay. Work within your means, and be kind to yourself. Don’t feel bad about needing breaks if that’s what helps.

Good luck, and take care of yourself, everyone.