By this ripe old age of 29 I like to believe I have learnt some stuff about my strengths and weaknesses. I mean, even if I just consider how many times I’ve had to answer this question in job interviews ranging from KFC to mental health work, not coming up with something would have been impossible. I know, nobody necessarily has to give a rats arse about this, but hear me out because I am hoping to use this as an opening to a larger, more universal point. Maybe.
So weaknesses first. I am not the best at knowing things. I know some things, but there are many more things that I don’t know than things I do know. I am not at all good at ice skating, I fall all the time. I read quite a bit, but I really struggle with recounting the things I have read to anyone else, which doesn’t, however, necessarily put me off trying. What about my strengths you ask? Well, I can swim pretty well. I am pretty fast at typing. But there is one thing I think I can say I have been consistently good at through the years, and that is listening, specifically listening to people. I have done a lot, and I mean A LOT of listening to people. I even received a fair amount of education and training in how to do it well. I really wish I could say I received some prizes for listening, but I don’t think they exist.
And about art I’ve been told that it’s best to write what I know. I’ll be honest; I try to understand politics, I try to educate myself about political theories and concepts, but I’m not very good at talking about them. I lose my temper and I lose my grace and worst of all I tend to lose the specifics, the detail, I lose what I know when I try to talk in terms of theories. So I decided I will say what I do know, explain what I have learnt from listening to people.
I worked in a range of roles for the last 8 years in which I was supporting some of the most vulnerable people of our society. It was this kind of work that brought the concept of ‘politics’ to life in front of my eyes. A small side-note; if ‘politics’ is an abstract, unimportant, marginal concept to you, it’s very likely that you are protected by some kind of privilege. Which is not an accusation, just a small observation. Because if you are poor, disadvantaged, vulnerable or are in any way different enough from the majority to live on the margins, ‘politics’ is the difference between your death or survival. I wish I was being dramatic. The most vulnerable people of this society are being systematically killed off by those who decide to cut or suspend their benefits, to erode workers’ rights in creating the most precarious working conditions, to systematically imprison those who aren’t White or are born in the ‘wrong’ place, to punish, ignore and disadvantage those that are different, to create and perpetuate living conditions for working and non-working people of such misery that it pushes them to the decision to end their own lives. Deprivation, racism, sexism, fatphobia, heterosexism, ableism, transphobia (to name just a few) create a suit made out of lead that goes with you everywhere, limiting every move and every decision you make. It decides what you eat, where you go, where you live, who you know, it robs you of health and safety and hope and energy and joy.
To borrow Hannah Gadsby’s words from the incredible sledgehammer of a performance Nanette; I am fucking tired. By Friday I am so exhausted I can barely function. And if I ever have trouble producing work you know what I am likely to be told? That I burned out because I did not do enough self-care, or that I didn’t do the correct kind of self-care. Or that I can’t cope. Either way it’s likely going to be my own fault.
Fuck that. Us workers in helping professions don’t burn out because we don’t take care of ourselves, we burn out because every day we’re seeing all these people drowning, and we’re trying to help, and we’re pulling them out of the rushing water with one of our hands tied behind our backs by targets and limitations and cuts after cuts to our services’ resources. There are so many people drowning, and the more you look the more you see, and then you start to wonder; why are all these people in the rushing river in the first place, what’s going on upstream? And if we manage to turn to look for long enough, we see a monstrous, powerful machine, operated by frighteningly powerful and brutal individuals, who are gathering all these people and smashing, smashing them into the rapid current. And we get tired from trying to pull out person after person, and we don’t have the resources to leave the people drowning to run off and fight the big titanium machine upstream. And we’re facing a terrible decision; when is a good time to leave the banks of the river, and leave the drowning people to try to address the root cause of the whole problem? And when are we broken enough to leave the banks to save our own selves before we fall in? So fuck the self-care argument of burnout; I refuse to accept my own struggle being sold back to me as my own private problem!
You know, I feel super responsible for what I write here, what I put out to the public, because I realise that ‘the public’ consists of humans, each with your own struggles and heavy burdens to carry. And every time I thought about writing something like this I thought Adri, if you’re going to write something like this, you have to provide some solutions, some hope, something, so that it’s not just depressing and sad and heavy for the people that might be reading. But I figure I can’t give anyone advice, not least because I believe in people finding their own solutions. I believe advice is most often unwanted and even more often the opposite of helpful. You have to decide. I am not saying do this or do that, I am not even saying you have to DO anything at all. I don’t necessarily know you, I don’t know what you’re going through, so it would be incredibly unfair of me to advise you on what to do. Maybe just listen. You have read this, that’s amazing. Let it work through your thoughts and in your heart. Then do or don’t do what you feel is the right thing for you, and for the specific situations you find yourself in. But do listen, and do speak because our stories are valid. Nurture and protect your humanity and those of others, because it is revolutionary. And if I do burn out or if I am already burning; I will put all my energy into feeding this fire, because it is mine and it is important and it is human and therefore our shared responsibility.