Fighting injustice is hurting my mental health

I was born with my life’s difficulty setting set to “Easy”

White - check
Male - check
College Educated Parents - check
Stable Home - check
Loving family - check

Since then I have added to that list

Happily Married - Check
College Degree - Check
Good Job - Check

Other than a life-long struggle with depression and anxiety, my life has been, compared to many, a cakewalk.

I am incredibly privileged and I try my best to be aware of this fact. That is why I have struggled with the following emotions so much lately.

One of the biggest triggers for my depression is injustice. Whenever I hear about abuse, I get angry; I start to obsess; I try to find ways to help but often I end up drowning in my own sadness.

So, when I see something like the recent sexual assaults at code-mash I want to do everything in my power to help. I retweet things, I call people out when I see them being hurtful and I try to engage in discussions with decision makers.

Outside of that I try to encourage my company to adopt hiring practices that are more sensitive to equality issues and mentor people who are trying to learn programming.

However, despite all this, when I read Shanley Kane, Ashe Dryden and others (most of whom I’ve met, like, respect and support their work both verbally and monetarily) I can’t help feel directly responsible for the problems plaguing our industry. (Note, this isn’t an attack on them and I don’t want or expect them to change their tactics)

It feels like an “us vs them” type struggle. Where either I’m super angry all the time and I fight these things publicly and actively in ways that are very detrimental to my own mental health or I’m just another white dude-bro supporting the patriarchy.

This leaves me feeling helpless and sad.

So I have the following questions:

Is my help wanted/needed?

How can I help in a way that doesn’t put me in position of choosing between my mental health and social justice?

Should I get out of the way? <- Not a trolling question, if leaving the community would help, I’d leave

Usually when I have feelings like this, I write about them. Is there a way I can express myself, non-anonymously that won’t hurt the fight for equality in our community?

Honestly, I feel the same way and I’m queer and I have a uterus. It gets really exhausting to read tragedy after tragedy and to feel like you’re up against an unstoppable force.

For what it’s worth just seeing guys support this stuff makes me feel better. I know how hard it is to overcome your privileges and prejudices and get educated on this stuff. A lot of it is really hard to hear, goes against so much in our pop culture or whatever, and it’s so easy to fall back on strawmen or whatever to dismiss it all. Not everyone has the time, energy or ability to be a constant crusader for justice. I know I don’t.

I think to a degree you have to take care of yourself first. In myself, I notice myself using stuff where I am playing on easy mode (ie, I’m white) as an excuse to self-flagellate or fuel my self-loathing. Not only is that making it worse for myself, it’s missing the point of whatever I’m supposed to be fighting about. It’s not ABOUT me and I shouldn’t make it about myself. It’s a really easy trap to fall into and no one really wants people to be driving themselves deeper into depression for this stuff. Given the amount of fighting and arguing even within social justice circles it can be really difficult to process and deal with. A lot of it is very subjective and contextual and there are no absolute answers a lot of the time, which I think can make us more STEM-inclined people very uncomfortable.

The guidelines I use for my participation in social justice stuff is to primarily focus on how I behave. I’ve tried to go on crusades and be in the thick of things before, but I just don’t have the guts to subject myself to the constant attacks or criticism from bigoted assholes. Hell, I’m enough of a chicken to use androgynous or masculine names/avatars wherever I go just to avoid that crap. So nowadays I try to just focus and be aware of how my privileges work and problematic things I see and what’s influenced me in bad ways. I can’t stop sexism, but I can try to stop sexism from me.

Ultimately if you can take what you’ve learned and use it to guide your own behavior as a person, I think you’re doing better than a lot of people.

It kind of feels like a cop out but I don’t think it’s our fault that, as individuals, we end up with racist, sexist, etc ideas. We live and grow up in a racist, sexist society and it’s no one person’s fault - it’s just this collective poison that gets in our brains early and is very, very hard to remove. It’s good to remind ourselves of that whenever our depression wants to latch onto this stuff and use it as fuel to tell us what awful terrible people we are. We don’t get to pick our privileges. Most social justice is just asking us to be aware of them, I think.

I’m in a very similar boat. This particular issue is a minefield because of the animosity all around. Lots of very hurt, very angry people. It’s easy to try to do the Right Thing, but if you don’t use the Right Words you can get eviscerated by folks you thought you were helping.

For my emotional well-being, I had to stop participating. I had to stop following or blocking people I had considered friends. I had to ask that my my name be removed from donation rolls. Even seeing certain people’s avatars was triggering severe anxiety with physical manifestations (nausea in particular, something I usually don’t have much problem with). I have family obligations and work obligations that come first, let lone other advocacy work I do. These were being severely compromised.

I may continue doing anonymous donations to groups I feel do good, positive work. I will be very, very leery of ever getting involved in public conversations or advocacy work anymore.

That’s what I had to do for me. You have to figure out what you need to do for you. And no matter what anyone says, that’s enough.


The other thing I want to say: it’s important to acknowledge your privilege in certain areas, but it’s also super easy to turn that into “I have to just suck it up and deal with it, because I have it easy.” Maybe you do and maybe you don’t.

I have had a lot of privileges in my life. Supportive, non-abusive family. White, male, economically stable. I also constantly deal with anxiety, ADD, and depression. Self-loathing is a common state for me. Intense emotions sabotage my relationships. Other shit I’m not in a place to talk about.

Do some people have it worse than me? Oh hell yeah. I’m pretty lucky. That doesn’t mean I have it easy. I try to help make people’s lives better because I know I’m in a position to help, and I think that’s why I’m here. I find it really rewarding. But sometimes I have to bow out, not because I want to, but because I have to. I’ve had people tell me “that’s your privilege.” Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. It’s hard to think of bowing out of a conversation because you’re crying and having panic attacks as a “privilege.”

Don’t let anyone tell you your pain is less real or powerful or hard to deal with than anyone else’s. You need to make decisions about what you can do and what you need, and no one else is in a position to judge you for it.

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Hey concussed,

It’s so great to read about your awareness and support of social issues and of your own privilege. I find it helpful to remember that feelings of guilt and shame are a symptom of depression, and the self-critical voice does not represent truth. It can be hard to tease out what is true (I do have privilege based on my race, gender, SES), from the voice of depression (I am a worthless human for having these things, I am responsible for fixing the broken world).

I am actually a psychotherapist married to a developer (hence my interest in devpressed, although I’m mostly a lurker). One thing I’ve seen over and over in my work is that no one does any good in the world if they are not taking care of themselves first and foremost. I work with people who are on the front lines of battling poverty, homelessneess, sex trafficking, and it can be very hard for them to give themselves permission to disengage from the hard conversations, to take themselves out to a movie, to eat and sleep well and exercise regularly, to leave work for the night even if they are leaving behind families who are in crisis and a system that is still so unjust. When we see injustice, a common response is “What right have I to be well?”

Taking care of your mental health is not the same as denying your privilege or refusing to participate in making the world better. It does not hurt anyone for you to say, “I need to retreat from this conversation and take care of myself. I look forward to re-entering when I’m able to be more helpful.” In fact, it gives everyone permission to do the same.