The necessity of unplugging

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

A couple of weeks ago I found myself feeling really angry and rundown, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was causing these emotions.

It was unusual for me because despite my Type A tendencies, I’m actually pretty laid-back. I’ve always been good at processing negative feelings (anger, sadness, resentment) quickly and getting them out of my system in order to move onto more productive pursuits.

I’ve written before about the importance of focusing on the human cost of racism instead of dealing only in abstractions, but an email I received from my friend Pamela Slim made me realize that I seem to have underestimated the impact of racism on my own psyche. Here’s what she wrote:

I believe very much that the work you are doing has an underlying role of healer. The history and related emotional energy that created race tensions today (slavery, genocide, rape, subjugation) is extremely deep and powerful. There is no way to do the work you do and not feel some of that energy. It is not for the faint of heart. And many, many people are afraid of it, whether they want to admit it or not.

Healers in my husband’s tradition do a lot to protect themselves and stay grounded in what they are doing. So make sure you always are kind to yourself, connected to your greater purpose and clear that what you are doing is facilitating this interaction, not controlling it. This may take the sting out of taking things personally.

Many, many people from different backgrounds are thankful that you are doing this work on their behalf. Visualize their faces and hands on your back when you feel down. Trust me, they are there.

I wanted to share Pamela’s email with you because you may also be feeling frustrated and exhausted.

This has been a grueling year for people like you and me — folks who are passionate about fighting racism and creating social change. While this election has given many of us cause for hope, it has also brought out a lot of ugliness around us.

My advice? Don’t be afraid to take a step back every now and then.

Over the holiday weekend I did a pretty radical (for me, at least) thing: I abstained from all email, internet, newspapers, magazines, and TV news for a solid five days. I came back refreshed and re-energized, with my sleeves rolled up.

I understand that not everyone has the luxury of being able to unplug completely, but every once in awhile, try to cut back your media consumption just a little bit. Sometimes you need a break from our always-on, 24-hour-news culture.