What happens when you want to join in the fight, but your anxiety holds you back?
I was not introduced to feminism at a young age but I was openly welcomed into the arms of anxiety as soon as I could walk and talk. For me, anxiety is a younger sibling, constantly begging for attention. She makes simple situations unbearable and uncomfortable. She likes to whisper things into my ear whenever she has the chance – Chinese whispers, half truths or no truth at all.
I am majoring in Women’s Studies and I have yet to meet a single person that, I think, is like me – although of course, anxiety takes many forms. Every person that I meet in my classes is talented, understood and wise. In comparison, I feel like a little mouse that can barely squeak. But when I think of an activist I do think of myself; I want to identify as one, but not because I recognize myself in other activists. When I think of them I think strong, knowledgeable, involved and informed. When I think of myself I think I can be strong sometimes, but I like to be involved in the side lines; I do not throw myself blindly into the middle of it, right at the front cheering. So how can I call myself an activist if I don’t speak up as much as everyone else? Do you have to be loud to speak up?
Being at university I feel as though I watch all the young people around me, in class and online, understanding their own thoughts and knowing exactly how to put them into words. It can be unsettling when you don’t always feel like you can do those things confidently; sometimes it’s just a feeling. Knowing that people I envy are everywhere, not just in my classes, doesn’t help. I see activists all over my social media – it’s become a massive platform for protest, speaking opinions and speaking up against injustice. Social media has become such an important method of giving progressive thoughts the path to become viral, spreading the word like wildfire and connecting like-minded groups of people. I applaud people who will stand up and speak, but sometimes the only thing I feel comfortable doing is sharing a video. I want to think that I would be able to get up on my feet and yell, throw my weight around, but then anxiety taps my shoulder and reminds me that I can’t. She just won’t get off of my back.
I’ll sign up for the “Take Back the Night” walk in my first month back to classes but she’ll make me bring her with if I want to go, so I stay in. Instead of walking with my classmates and taking back the night, I’ll like their photos of the event. I’ll tell my friend’s mom that of course I will speak at her church about transgender person’s rights but anxiety wants a front row seat. I don’t want to bring her so I’ll check out the video that the church watched instead of listening to me speak.
I have my own thoughts but I’m not always fully understanding of them or as to how I should express them. Let alone actually bring Anxiety with me for the experience. I am 100% aware of the fact that everyone expresses their opinions differently, yet it still feels that, if I don’t put myself out there physically and be loud about issues that concern me, I’m just not making the impact I should be. It’s a dilemma; how can I advocate for issues that I am passionate about without being completely uncomfortable?
For most, activism seems to be about putting yourself out there and getting a little uncomfortable. The issue is that I’m already a little uncomfortable with the simple daily tasks; most people who suffer anxiety are. Discomfort is not some boundary pushing feeling for me; it’s the everyday norm. The reality is that if we want people to become involved in movements for change, they must be accessible; protesting is not just about yelling. In an online world where social media is the main means of communication, there are ways to speak out without raising your voice. Now, the way I advocate for feminism is mainly online. I sign and share petitions. I share informal content through social media so that my friends and family will see it, so it will gain some traction. In more personal settings with immediate friends and family I’ll talk about what I’ve either learned in class or online – debates with family are important, and altogether less frightening. With these same people I find I can even comfortably correct them if they’ve said something that is offensive and let them know why. Maybe I’m not brandishing a sign on the street in a crowd of thousands, but maybe that doesn’t mean I’m not saying something. Giving progressive messages a wider audience is the most important thing, and it’s how change is implemented.
I am an activist, and I am shy, and I have anxiety. I won’t settle for it, and I will keep trying to push my boundaries because I want to continue to learn and develop my own understandings of activism. For now, social media and the online world has created a community where I can be that person who wants to make noise and make a difference, without forcing me into a zone well beyond my comfort. But any which way you decide to speak up, remember that we all have our own way of making a difference; you may not be like everyone else in your approach, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
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