Activists and group leaders are always going to be prone to getting burned out. We do so much work in our own free time. This is often done on top of full time work or family responsibilities. It might also be done under the pressure of unemployment and living on a very small income. As there are no funded bi groups in the UK and no bi groups run by a LGBT centre or organisation, this means that we run them using our own energy and resources too. We have to start and set up all of them. We have to keep them running.
This is all in addition to the poor rates of mental and physical health bisexuals suffer because of biphobia and bi erasure too.
The thing that I find the worst about bi group work is that the constant erasure and biphobia is exhausting. Nothing comes easily. I feel like we have to fight ALL THE TIME for bisexuality to be included or even mentioned. It makes me sad, angry, fed up, and frustrated. It wears me down over time.
This piece by Psychology Today provides a really good introduction to what burnout is and what the tell tale signs are: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201311/the-tell-tale-signs-burnout-do-you-have-them
Their summary looks like this:
- physical and emotional exhaustion
- cynicism and detachment
- feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
The article elaborates on what these three things look like, e.g. forgetfulness, anxiety, isolation, depression, increased illness, irritability…
Here are a few examples of how it might manifest in terms of running a bi group:
- you don’t enjoy running the group any more
- it’s starting to take up more and more of your time
- it’s difficult to stop thinking about your plans and to do lists
- you want a long break from it all, yet struggle to switch off and stop logging into your social media accounts for even a short amount of time
- you notice you are starting to accidentally say or do stupid and hurtful things, and maybe even burn bridges and damage professional relationships (because you feel so tired, frustrated and fed up all the time)
- your group work is starting to come before other important life priorities, such as finding a better job, or attending friends’ social events.
I’d also bet money that perfectionists and people pleasers are especially vulnerable. For example, I personally can’t bear to let people down so I have to work hard to make sure I don’t commit to things others want or need at my own expense.
As the article I linked to says, burnout doesn’t just appear out of nowhere and go BOO! It’s a long and slow process that builds up over time. For ages you feel down but can’t figure out why. Everything seems “fine” right? Sometimes when I’ve been burnt out I haven’t really felt anything at all – just awful! Lots of tears at the smallest things. Everything feels like a hurdle to be overcome. Exhaustion all day every day. Not listening or concentrating on anything. Sometimes feeling suicidal during the worst moments.
It can take a really long time to put the pieces together and realise you’re burnt out. It can take even longer to get your life back to normal too. It won’t happen overnight, but little by little you can take the steps you need to find the right bi group-life balance for you. Or maybe take a break for a while. Or maybe stop what you’re doing altogether.
If you’re burnt out:
- Can you delegate some or all of your tasks and responsibilities? (Perfectionists, you can trust other people to do the things you do!)
- Can you arrange fewer events, such as holding a meet up every other month instead of once a month?
- Can technology help you save time? E.g. I used to retype out a Facebook event for every pub social until I found the “copy this event” button!
- Self care by eating and sleeping as well as you can. Make uninterrupted time for YOU and uninterrupted time to do your favourite things. Treat yourself.
- Schedule time to spend on bi group work…and stick to it! Do whatever works for you, such as only doing work on a Sunday or only doing 15 minutes a day.
- Assert your boundaries, needs and wants. I used to be terrible at this. Lately I’ve learned I can just say no and I don’t have to give a reason! I’ve also learned I can change my mind! (Eg. “I know I said I’d make a bi display for the library for next month, but for personal reasons I’m going to have to pull out. I’m so sorry.”)
- If you are feeling emotionally burnt out, redirect the person who needs support to speak to someone else, or some kind of organisation or listening service. For example, I will no longer talk with people who are feeling suicidal, but I will give them phone numbers to call and will check in on them later.
- If you use the same smartphone for your personal life and bi group life (which I don’t recommend!), it might be worth buying a second £10-20 phone if you can afford to (or using an old phone if you have one lying around). That way it’s easier to keep the two things separate. You can switch off the bi group phone and be free from messages, calls and emails instead of getting sucked back in through real time alerts.
- If a second phone isn’t an option, log out and/or remove email & social media accounts relating to your bi group from your phone and only look at them during your allocated bi group time.
It can be really hard to take a step back, especially if taking a break or stopping altogether means the bi thing won’t happen any more. Try not to feel guilty if this emotion is affecting you. We live in a world where bisexuals have to struggle and fight just to get by. Doing activism or bi group work is great but it’s not a requirement or a necessity. People who don’t or can’t do activism & bi group work are just as awesome and worthwhile. So do as much or as little as you want. Do as much or a little as your are able. You come first. You are the most important thing.