This article was originally published in Austin Lawyer Magazine-December 2020/January 2021 issue. Linked here: https://issuu.com/austinbar/docs/al_dec20jan21-digital/s/11407515
Over the last several months, many of us engaged in deeper conversations about diversity, representation, systemic racism, equity, and inclusion. While some of these conversations occurred with strangers on various social media platforms, many discussions happened within our homes, among our peers, and with our co-workers. These conversations were both eye opening and difficult. There was an understanding that, although the topic of race is difficult, its complexity cannot preclude the discussion’s necessity. When I consider the intersection of diversity, racial justice and wellness, the question at the forefront of my mind is: “how can we protect our mental health and emotional wellbeing while we engage in vulnerable and difficult conversations?” Even if this question does not resonate with you personally, consider the following as a useful guide in responding to the emotional toll your colleagues and clients of color are shouldering.
At our core, lawyers are service providers. Our days are consumed by solving the problems of others, which means we often forego necessary self-care. We push forward until we are emotionally exhausted and burned-out. Whether you actively fought for racial justice your whole life or joined the conversation this summer, please take the holidays to invest in your mental health and emotional wellbeing. Below are three steps for avoiding emotional exhaustion while fighting for diversity, equity, and racial justice.
Rest: Take time to relax, recuperate, and recover. Relentless forward progress requires moments of rest. Social justice author and artist, Cleo Wade, writes, “and if you have come a long way – rest don’t stop. ‘As the saying goes, you didn’t come this far just to come this far.’” Persistence in the fight for diversity and equity will lead to results, but even the most focused and dedicated minds need to pause. Rest is our first step in warding off emotional exhaustion and burn-out. Rest is a service to ourselves and an investment in our future endeavors. Intentionally carve out time for yourself. If necessary, step away from social media arguments. Allow yourself the space to say, “I need to take a break and relax.” Taking time to rest does not mean you are stepping out of the fight for racial justice all together. You are not giving up or giving in. Instead, you are choosing to pause in order to refresh yourself and continue later.
Replenish: Dedicate time and energy into refueling and refilling the emotional energy lost. There is a common saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” After taking the time to rest, the next step is to replenish and rebuild your emotional resources by focusing on who or what brings you joy. The truth is, regardless of your race or personal perspective, honest conversations about racism – whether you are sharing or listening – are strenuous and can leave you emotionally depleted. It is necessary to replenish the emotional energy spent over the past several months. Similar to a runner after a hard sprint, you need to take time to refuel and replace the energy used in your previous effort.
How does one go about refilling and replenishing their cup? It may vary from person to person. It may be as simple as reading your favorite book, or watching a movie, or laughing until you cry with a friend, or playing your favorite song on repeat. The specific activity or interaction is not as important as the effect. Whatever brings you joy, a sense of peace, and reignites your hope for a better tomorrow, that is what you need to do to replenish your emotional energy. Remember that finding joy is anti-racism work. Joy is a form of resistance. Take the time to replenish, refuel, and refill your cup with joy.
Continue: The third and final step after you rest and replenish, is to continue. Continue to push for racial justice and equity. Continue the dialogue you began in 2020. Continue to hold your peers accountable. Continue to actively fight racism in your day to day life. The demand for diversity, equity, and racial justice is not a fad diet, it is a lifestyle. As you head into 2021, continue to engage in hard conversations with family, friends, and colleagues. Seek to amplify diverse voices. Listen with empathy, learn, and continue to educate yourself. Understand that change only occurs through sustained effort. Even then, change can seem slow and incremental, but the fight for racial justice is more of an ultra-marathon than a sprint. Lasting change does not happen overnight and it is never easy. To that end, it is vital that you take care of your mental and emotional health so that you can play an active role in long-term change. We need every voice. In Where to Begin, Cleo Wade writes, “Change-making does not belong to one group of people. Change-making belongs to us all.”
If you are interested in supporting mental health and wellness initiatives dedicated to communities of color, I recommend the following: The Loveland Foundation established by Rachel Cargle; and Therapy for Black Girls founded by Dr. Joy Harden Bradford.