I burnt out.
I bloody well burnt out.
I don’t think I’ve ever burnt myself out before. But I did. I bloody well did. You may detect by my fondness of the word ‘bloody’ in relation to this topic that I’m not particularly proud of my burn out.
In truth I’m not yet sure how I feel about pushing myself to a point where I couldn’t think, where I was ill. At first I felt alone, then scared, then ashamed, then I think I was in shock. Now, though, I’m starting to think that it might be one of the best thing’s has happened to me.
Before the burn out I was, of course, on fire. I didn’t need rest, I didn’t need food. I didn’t have time! I was working on a campaign that I’d started. No More Page 3. Because the largest female image in the most widely read newspaper in the country shouldn’t be of a young woman showing her breasts for men, at least not if we want to encourage women into power, into equality, into loving themselves for who they are. But anyway that’s another story.
I was on fire. I was on it. I was on bloody everything. On Twitter. On facebook. On email. On trains. On radio. On telly. And always, with the exception of when I was asleep, on the internet. Oh, hang on though, there was some waking time when I wasn’t on the internet.… when I was on the phone. Actually that’s not strictly true…..very often I was on both.
Oh yes. Oh ho ho, yes. So much frickin adrenalin. The adrenalin when you are about to go on breakfast telly and the researcher says ‘it’s an audience of 7 million’ and you really care about your argument and you really, really don’t want to cock it up and you’ve been up since 5.30 doing radio interviews and you feel a bit sick.
Media is manic. Traditional media and social. Both of them. Proper manic.
My mac dictionary thingie says this about the word manic
*Showing wild and apparently deranged excitement and energy
*Frenetically busy; frantic
*Psychiatry – relating to affected by mania
And reading down that little list kinda charts my journey as I threw myself into a world that revolved around media. I had boundless energy and clarity to start with. Then I got really, really busy and somewhere along the line I started drowning in it all.
There were little moments where I should have realised that I was getting out of control.
*The times at 4pm when I suddenly felt out of control and started crying and then had a sandwich, felt better and carried on.
*The time I’d been to a meeting and felt as though I wasn’t fully there, like my head going burst somehow. But I rushed off after the meeting to get a train when suddenly I went whoosh and well, sort of collapsed.
*The night I was on a train to Brighton. I live in Brighton but I hadn’t made it back there for the last week. I’d been staying in London where so much was happening. And a friend called and said ‘how are you doing?’ and found myself telling her that I felt like a failure, that I didn’t know what to do, that my shoulders were up round my ears and had been for days.
But the real burn out happened in Africa. I go to Ghana every year to help my friend with her NGOs children’s party. She feeds and gives presents to nearly a thousand children. I go there to help her, to wrap the presents, to be an extra pair of hands. I do it because I so admire her and the work she does and because the children are glorious. But this year I went. And…oh… it was inevitable. It was so completely inevitable. Especially when even at the airport I was trying to finish off a blog post, burn a DVD to post to someone from the airport and do some Christmas shopping. Ironically, amongst all this, my computer crashed. As I was about to.
So yes, I got to Africa and I got ill. Really scarily ill. Luckily I wasn’t as scarily ill as I thought, but realising that you’ve not looked after yourself to such a point that you could be a real liability for the people you’ve come to help, and being in so much pain you’re sweating and screaming to the invisible powers about you ‘I get it! I get this is a lesson! Make it stop. Please!’ is a wake up call.
I burnt out.
I felt too ashamed to admit it at first. But then I found myself telling another woman who’s been campaigning for women’s issues and she said ‘yeah, you got to watch it, activists burn out, it’s a thing, people talk about it and fear it.’ Since then I’ve been quite open about going splat against the invisible wall. In fact, I keep talking about it to other women campaigners and what I keep hearing is “yeah, that happened to me” or “yeah, I’m about worried about myself but I can’t stop because there’s so much to do.”
Studies show that it will take at least 30% representation to achieve any real change. Currently we only have 20% female MPs, perhaps this is why so many people are fighting until exhaustion for causes that affect women.
I don’t want anyone reading this to think “oh, I was going to start a campaign, sounds like too much work, I won’t bother.” Start that campaign!! Women have had enough of being sidelined, we’re worried how fraught becoming a woman has become for teenagers. There’s an incredible thirst for feminism at the moment. So start that campaign! Please! Just know that it’s ok to turn the computer off every so often.
There’s an expression ‘I’ve got your back’.
Let’s have each others backs.
This really is an exciting time for women and feminism and we need our strength to use it wisely and enjoy it!