Thursday, 11 October 2012

Depression and Do-Gooding: Activism as therapy

I don't volunteer because I'm a good person. I don't do it out of sheer altruism or so I can feel smug about all the awesome things I do to make the world a more awesome place.

I volunteer because it's the bare minimum I can do and not hate myself.

This is a judgement I would never make of anyone else: any money you give to charity, any volunteering you do, any activism to make stuff better for the next generation - that's amazing. Anything is better than nothing. And if you do nothing - that's your choice. I haven't a clue what else you've got on or what your reasons are for your level of involvement and it's absolutely none of my business.

It's a depression thing, I think: applying incredibly harsh judgements to your own behaviour that you'd never dream of applying to anyone else. So if I did any less - gave less money, spent less time volunteering, made any less effort to spread awareness and change minds - I'd hate myself. I'd berate myself for being lazy and tight-fisted and caring too much about myself and not enough about everybody else in the world. (Which is a great way to head straight for burnout, by the way - I don't recommend it.)

This is in no small part a very gendered neurosis: I am only worthy if I am helping others.

And since I've been doing all this, I don't really think that much about how rubbish I am. I mean, I still get the acute pangs of embarrassment over something idiotic I said in 2002 and give an involuntary embarrassed groan while I'm paying for my vegetables - it's not like there aren't still days when it feels like 30,000 people are chanting YOU'RE SHIT AND YOU KNOW YOU ARE in perfect harmony inside my skull. But it's been a long time since I've been crippled by the certain knowledge that I am a terrible person with no morals who has no right to speak or opine or even exist.

Which is partly because I'm just better: my depression is nowhere near as severe as it was.

But I'm certain that I'm better in no small part because I'm active. Donating and volunteering and activising are proofs I can throw in the face of my depression: solid evidence that I'm not absolutely the worst person who has ever lived. Activism as therapy.


  1. Hmm that sounds like a really good idea. Although yes, I can see there would be a really fine line to tread between doing too little and doing too much.

    I find I'm worst when I have a longish period to myself, especially when I'm at home. I can sink very quickly from 'perfectly fine' to 'I'm useless and horrible and everything is awful', and that happens most when I'm inactive. I hadn't considered that activism might kill two birds with one stone - help others and perhaps even help me. Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. Thanks for reading! I'm the same with depression getting worse when I'm on my own for a while... but unfortunately spending a lot of time with other people is utterly knackering. So basically CFS & depression require diametrically opposite 'treatments' in that respect - wouldn't it be fun to just have one thing wrong with you, eh?

    Let me know how you get on, if you do give this a go... good luck! xx

  3. An interesting read! :)
    I've been medicated for depression and anxiety in the past, and my mum was diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder when I was very young, so I'm no stranger when it comes to depression.

    My personal opinion is that it's important to remember that life is short. Its great that you do charity work etc. but please make sure you don't look back on your life in a few years time and wish you had been elsewhere, or done something different.

    Next time you hear that self-talk, remember that I think you're awesome! :) x

    Perhaps read this blog of mine, if you have a sec:

  4. Happily this is actually what I want to be doing - it's not like I'm suffering through Do-Gooding while secretly wishing I could bugger off and work in the City. And thanks fer reading! x