Understanding Burn-Out for BIPOC womxn

Wednesday, August 12, 2020 - 8:07pm

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Graphic by Hibah Chugtai

This summer has held some of the ugliest as well as the most radically beautiful moments of my life thus far. In its entirety, this season has taken it out of me. By it, I mean my energy, my tears, my heartache and my time. While I appreciated all of the work I was doing while trying to cope with living in a pandemic, I can’t say that I always did it well. I have a habit of dropping off the grid for periods of time, letting myself drift into a hermetic state and only popping back up after several days. It is even harder for me to name this as something that is a symptom of larger problems rather than a quirky flaw that I have. I get burned out, and instead of dealing with guilt or stress, I disappear. 

Over the past few weeks, I have had this conversation with multiple friends who identify as womxn, and there seems to be a recurring pattern. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the best students, look beautiful always, advocate for ourselves, live as models of what womxn should be, act as supports for our friends and family and thrive romantically. I am not saying all of these equally affect all womxn or that they encompass all of our troubles, but I acknowledge that they’re deeply real. The spinning plates of life are hard to grapple with and contribute to this burnout. When I say burnout, I am referring to the World Health Organization’s definition, of a syndrome of chronic workplace stress that has not been well managed and has led to energy depletion, exhaustion, as well as other symptoms. Women are more likely to experience burnout than their counterparts, particularly in the workplace. We hold ourselves to the highest standards, both at home and at work, and we so often are not recognized for our efforts. This is an exhausting cycle to live within, and it is impossible not to be tired from it. Womxn, especially womxn who identify as black, Indigenous and people of color, hold themselves to a standard that is unattainable, but we don’t know any other way to be. We were taught to try to thrive with breadcrumbs, tricked into believing there was only so much to go around so we would have to settle with less. We were made to believe that by making ourselves smaller, there would be ways for us to slip between the cracks and make it through. In reality, shaping ourselves to the cisgender, white, heteropatriarchal system only means erasing or drowning out aspects of our cultures, histories and identities. I think burnout in BIPOC womxn has everything to do with being told to change ourselves to fit an oppressive system. 

The first step in realizing there is a problem is naming it. Naming that we suffer from burnout gives us back our power. It lets us recognize that we are human and all of the effort and toil we put in does place stress upon us. I found that when I name my burnout and take care of myself best is when I am surrounded by womxn who are strong enough to know when to lean on others. They allow me to share how I am doing with them and affirm me in the direction I am growing. By working together to weave our own support networks and lift each other up when we’ve fallen, we can begin to change the narrative around how we talk about ourselves and the challenges we face. Going into this upcoming fall season, I will continue to appreciate the wonderful womxn who lift me up and I have the privilege of watching grow. Protecting those you love most has everything to do with preserving yourself and by giving the best version of you to those around you.