(For anyone wondering, yes, that’s a Fallout: New Vegas reference.)
I usually hesitate to call myself an activist. If I do, I like to qualify it as a casual activist, or everyday activist. I haven’t been to protests in person so far and my support for causes usually looks like small donations of money, relatively small donations of time promoting things online and in my everyday life, and a lot of time spent working through anxiety and grief surrounding an issue. I try to be an activist by being visible in the world, and being unapologetic and unafraid to talk about issues that are important to me. I usually don’t feel like my contributions make much difference to the world around me; I do occasionally get feedback from people that’s really positive and those small notes are part of what keeps me going.
Most of the feedback I’ve gotten over the years is negative. I’ve been abused and harassed for my weight, mostly by people I know rather than strangers out in public; as harassment and danger goes, I’ve had it pretty easy. I hear more criticisms socially; I have heard many times that I’m too sensitive, that I’m unpleasant to be around, and of course, that I’m wrong. I’ve had lots of friends leave in anger because they felt my hurt or concern about an issue was a personal attack, and several more simply fade away because they felt they were walking on eggshells around me, that I was too politically correct, or they weren’t interested in discussing or resolving issues, concerns, or hurts I had.
Being an activist can be a really lonely road. You often end up at odds with family members and having to set hard boundaries that family in particular struggle to respect or understand. Your friend and peer group can have rapid fluctuations in number and closeness. Your partner may not understand the issues that are important to you or why they’re important to you, even if they want to support you.
If you’re naturally a likeable person that makes friends easily, the burden of being an activist may be slightly less lonely (at least, I imagine it is). Place these issues on top of being difficult to like, introverted, socially anxious, and having different social habits than most – and it may feel unbearable when the very slow pendulum of your social circle swings into a “sparse” period. Having few friends and close family members might mean going from 5 people you talk to daily to 1 or 2, and knowing that it may take a year or more to build that back up to a level you find secure and warm, both in intimacy and in amount of socialization.
With the recent election of President Elect Donald Trump, I’m coming to terms with just how homogenous, fearful, and unfriendly my local area is. I’ve struggled to find groups of peers that are not online. I’ve discovered repeatedly that local hobby and support groups are unfriendly, not only to my refusal to body shame but also, now, my personal attempts at intersectional friendliness, protection, and accessibility.
I want to call out to other socially anxious, introverted activist – you are valuable.You are enough. Your sensitivity is something that benefits you and your world community, even if you are penalized for it. Try not judge yourself and your contributions based on what other people you admire accomplish; if you are giving what you can to the best of your ability, you have reason to be proud and to consider yourself an activist. Doing the right thing is a fire that can warm you when you feel alone. If you are lonely, know it will pass. Believe in the power of finding the right people and connections at the right time. The sparse times will still be difficult, but the pendulum will keep on swinging.