It was late last week where I realised I had hit the wall. I, like many others, have been trying to continue working, homeschooling small children, and still stay on track with the work that I am doing. However, what I hadn’t taken into account was the ongoing emotional cost of working in such a sensitive and personal subject matter as domestic violence and abuse.
I have worked in the gender-based-violence sector for my whole working life. At different points this has taken different forms- from front-line community support, to refuge support work, policy work, and now teaching and research. The subject matter is always personal- the personal is always political after all, and it is almost impossible to take a step back from it as an activist, a woman, a survivor. When my career started to take a step back from front-line advocacy, to go ‘up river’, I remember thinking that the intensity would cease- I was no longer wondering who would pick up the phone to seek support, what unknown traumas and difficult circumstances I would assist a woman to navigate. Working in policy and training was more emotionally safe, problems were more rationalised, the barriers more predictable.
However academic life is about intensive knowledge production- it is about writing and writing and writing some more- designing, delivering, then responding to research- thinking through writing. Shoe-horning this into a full life with other commitments and responsibilities is one thing, but doing it during a lockdown, no schooling or outside support, no breathing space, is another entirely. I have found myself writing about DVA every waking moment that I am not dealing with home-schooling and I have found the intensity to be both triggering and unsustainable.
When I was thinking about writing about hitting my own wall last week, I thought about those who were still on the front-line but now working from home- offering advocacy and emergency planning with no separation from their private lives and those they are dealing with. That too must feel a monumental task and I hope those who are carrying that burden at the moment are finding time and space to look after themselves.
Sometimes ‘self-care’ can just feel an added pressure in the modern world- another chore for us to be doing when there are so many more pressing matters. Indeed, ‘self-care’ has become commercialised- buy this diet, pay for yoga classes, be better, pressure.
But going ahead in this lockdown I have realised I need to prioritise my own well-being more when working with such sensitive data and material. The DVA sector and those within it rightly pride ourselves for being a sector led by survivors- but we need to consider the personal costs this involves to keep going for years to come.
These are not normal times and sustaining our wellbeing longer term is a must.