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Pushing the Edge

Mental Health and the Weight of Activism

Mental Health and Activism 02

This week is Mental Health Week in Australia. Inspired by the many educators who have courageously shared the challenges they’ve faced on the mental health front, I offer one more tale – my own. 

Trigger Warning: Mental Health related

Sometimes it just feels like there’s just nothing there. 

I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know what to write.

It’s like I’m empty. 

 

It’s the night prior to my regular blogging day and I’m chatting to my partner.

Usually I’m full of ideas and the challenge is which one to go with.

Recently though it’s been different.

Something’s changed, something’s crept up on me, and decided to hang around.

 

Walking to work it almost feels like I’m walking on the spot: the distance seems further and further away. 

Running up that hill on my regular jog, and it’s like I need something behind me to push me.

There’s a heaviness here; a sense of utter exhaustion.

 

Tears – they flow so readily. 

Watching the recent incarnation of the tv series Roots – a show that has stayed with me from my youth – and it’s like a dam wall has broken.

Connections are made – memories are re-awakened – and losses still linger.

Regularly checking into twitter probably hasn’t helped either.

Incredibly cruel and horrific hate-speech and actions coexist alongside indifference that I struggle to reconcile.

It’s been too close, too present so my sense of being on edge (at times), as well as my sense of melancholy and the tears are probably not too surprising. 

 

Amidst it all, there’s the blood, sweat and tears of people just doing what they can for a better life:

  • For equality (on so many fronts) – for dignity and respect – for decent standard of life.

Day after day, year after year, decade after decade they strive to make the world that bit better than it’s been for them, their loved ones, their communities. 

The cost though is too high for some.  The hatred, the vitriol, the indifference. It’s so close.   

In the three years I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve lost count of the social-justice advocates and education reformers that have taken time out, dialed back their presence, or gotten out altogether.

I guess that’s the space I’ve found myself in and I’ve not really known which path to take.

Social justice is a core part of my identity – a core part of how I construct myself each day. So:

  • How do I step back when I feel compelled to step up – in so many arenas?
  • How do I resolve or get rid of that sense of heaviness within?
  • How do I fuel the fire of creativity once more, quelling that sense of emptiness?
  • How do I challenge and change my business as usual that’s not particularly healthy for me or my well-being? 

The weight of social justice activismYour Mental Health Matters 

Like many I’ve grown up in a time where silence prevailed. To share your inner world was to open yourself to ridicule and abuse. 

I don’t have all the answers – and I can only talk to my experiences. BUT if you’re passionate about social justice and education activism like me, and have been experiencing the toll of such:

  • know that it’s not all up to you, and that it is okay to take time out for you, or to walk away.

Talk

  • do talk to others you trust about how you’re feeling, about your frustrations, about the ups and downs.
  • Don’t hold it in. You’re not alone.
  • Others will likely relate to what you’re feeling and experiencing.

Reach out

Pivot

  • know that it’s okay to pivot, to take a different direction.
  • For me, the grass-roots activists (especially in women’s footy) have helped spark me when I’ve needed it this year. Who’d have thought it!

Turn it Up

  • up your focus of what’s good and working in the world.
  • up your time for you, for what lifts your spirit.
  • up your time of inspiring, gutsy quotes from social justice advocates. For me, it’s Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and Michael Kirby (former High Court Judge in Australia).

Reconsider

  • re-consider how you engage with media:
    • Maybe reduce the time you spend engaging with it.
    • Maybe set a time when you turn off social media each day.
    • Maybe re-consider the type of material you’re engaging with: 
      • Are you giving more time to challenging and potentially upsetting stories while..
        • giving less time to stories that are more positive, and showing ways forward?

Re-call

  • re-call the moments when others have told you how much of a difference you’ve made to them:
    • Sometimes we can tend to give less weight to such moments. Sometimes we can just get overwhelmed by the negative.
    • Give more space in your thoughts – to the times when your making a difference was noticed.

Thank You

To Joe Mazza and Corinne Campbell. Way back when – I watched and was so thankful for what you shared and wrote about mental health. Your honesty stayed with me.

To all the educators who’ve shared their mental health challenges via the #semicolonedu movement. Do check in and connect with them. 

Remember:

You can and do make a difference in all manner of ways but sometimes you gotta take care of you first. 

Listen to Pushing The Edge Podcast

I host a podcast called Pushing The Edge with Greg Curran, in which I speak to gutsy educators who are pushing the edge for innovation and social justice in education.

  • Listen in ITUNES or your favourite podcast app. And please leave me a rating or review. It really helps in terms of attracting more educators to listen in.

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Feedback

4 comments… add one
  • Barry Dyck

    I left teaching almost two years ago partly due to the mental pain of seeing adolescents daily de-spirited in compliance classrooms. I evolved and adapted a flexible learning environment for five years, where students led their own learning, a journey which inevitably was a journey of self discovery. I’m still involved in education and wonder how much more energy I have to create positive change. Tears come easy when I continue to see the oppression of students in the name of supporting the system as is. Where is the soul in teaching? We are growing humans not producing widgets.

    Reply
    • Greg Curran

      Barry – you capture so much of what I find challenging in teaching. It’s the reason why I often ask ‘Should I stay or should I go?’So often it can feel like we’re hitting up against so many walls – at the same time we’re creating rich, soulful classrooms like the flexible learning environments you mention. I keep asking myself, am I achieving something useful and worthwhile here. The answer has to be in the students in front of us – the possibility to see and be part of their ‘journey of self-discovery’ (as you say). There’s nothing quite like that is there but still the challenge remains. Thanks so much for being so frank and open. It’s so good to know that there’s teachers like you – & many, many others – out there.

      Reply
  • David

    Loved this article, so powerful.

    Reply
    • Greg Curran

      David – that feedback means a lot to me. Thank you so much.

      Reply

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