On burning out (and phoenixes)

This post was written for the February 2017 Carnival of Aces on the topic of Resistance, Activism, and Self-Care.

Content warnings: discussion of anti-ace hostility and familial rejection, mention of sexual violence

It’s hard for me to pinpoint the moment when ace blogging stopped being fun and started being anxiety-inducing.  By the time I was writing my Ace Survivors as Rhetorical Devices series, anxiety had me checking and double-checking and triple-checking and obsessing over every single word–I’m proud of the end product, but getting to that product required way more energy than it should have.  But even before that, I think I was already starting to burn out.

It’s not hard to point at particular factors that led to burnout.  There’s the fact that I’m a healer in a community full of people who would prefer to DPS, that I’m trying to heal while being hit with friendly fire pretty constantly.  There are the waves of hostility/“ace discourse” (are aces queer, are aces oppressed, are aces invading LGBT spaces, are aces harming real LGBT people, etc.), which, while I’ve seen it all before, does wear on you, especially if your experiences are constantly being leveraged as “proof” of one thing or another.  There are the stresses of school–I passed my qualifying examinations last year, which ate up pretty much all of my time for 9 months and then left me wiped out.  Then the election happened in November, and I had to do crisis control in my immediate social circle (mostly successful) and try to shore up my already crappy mental health (less successful).  Obviously I was going to burn out–it’s only impressive that it took this long.

More than that, though, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to talk about anything that matters to me in ace spaces.  Part of it is just general anxiety and lack of energy.  Part of it is that a lot of the conversations being held in ace spaces aren’t ones that interest me.  But a large part of it is fear of the way anything I say can be used, especially in the constant, unending debates about asexuality.

Let’s take my family situation, for example.  Those of you who have been following this blog for long enough may remember that I came out to my family a few years ago and then…stopped talking about it.  Part of my silence was because it was too raw too talk about, but part of it was that I didn’t feel like I had the energy to discuss it with the required finesse.  I knew that anything I said would have to be checked and double-checked and triple-checked and obsessed over, read and reread to make sure that I wasn’t letting anything slip, and vetted to make sure that my words couldn’t be twisted and used as “proof” of anything.  After all, as constantly comes up in those fights on tumblr, nobody’s ever been disowned for being ace.

And here the anxiety comes in, the sense that I should soften my words or frame them differently, that I should add that I’m the one who cut off contact (sort of), that there were mitigating circumstances that were unrelated to my sexuality, that my coming out was only the precipitating event, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.  Do I talk about the explicitly anti-asexual statements one of my parents made for years before I came out?  Do I have to enumerate every part of the conversation, every mitigating factor and bit of ugly family history, that led to me fleeing my parents’ house?  Does it change the narrative if I say that losing contact with my family has improved my well-being?  If it’s overall a good thing (even if it led to a week of crying and sleeping on my friend’s couch), am I even allowed to talk about it or should I be spending my energy on more important topics?

When you’re hurting, you don’t want to spend a lot of energy figuring out how to present your hurt in a palatable way.  So I just…didn’t tell anyone.  Much of my immediate social circle offline doesn’t know–it gets awkward around the holidays, but otherwise I’ve gotten skillful enough at dodging the topic that no one catches on.  It’s always weird for me to read the arguments that nothing bad has ever happened to anyone for being ace, when, arguably, quite a bit of bad stuff has happened to me for being ace…but if I say anything, I run the danger of becoming an Oppressed Lamp.  It’s a profoundly messed up position to find yourself in–scared of how the community that is ostensibly supposed to be supporting you will weaponize your words even as that community is potentially the only place where people might understand what you’re going through.  It’s an even more messed up position when you find yourself holding back so many words, hiding or eliding so many experiences for fear of what people might say, that you can’t really talk about much of anything at all.

This is all to say, I’ve disengaged from ace communities.  Or, at least, comparatively disengaged–obviously I’m still engaged to the extent that I can run linkspam, but I read a lot less these days and (obviously) write a lot less.  At this point in my life, I’m a lot less interested in debates and theory than I am in very practical questions: Where can people like me go to get support?  What resources exist for people in situations like mine?  How do we best support aces who need help?  That isn’t what ace communities seem to be focused on right now, so I’ve stepped out for a bit.  It’s a lot less stressful (and I need all the stress reduction I can get), but it’s lonely.  I don’t have an offline community at this point, other than the LGBTQ friends I’ve surrounded myself with (none of whom are ace).  I also don’t really talk about my personal life anymore–it’s easier to self-censor than to figure out how to frame everything.

Instead, I’ve been focusing on other things.  I’m putting energy into making sure that my students get the education they need–recently, we’ve been working on thinking critically about primary sources and the perspectives and biases of their writers, a skill that has, I’m sure, absolutely no real world applications.   I’m putting energy into trying to improve the (frankly dire) situation in my department–from making sure that students get the information they need for every step of graduate school to trying to convince the administration to occasionally pay us on time (the latter is harder than the former).  As it turns out, doing crisis support for ace survivors makes me pretty well-equipped to deal with panicking grad students, and facing down department administration is nowhere near as nerve-wracking as getting up in front of a room of strangers to talk about my sexuality.  I’ve also been writing a lot of fiction recently–mostly fanfic, but some not–and have been consuming a lot more media (books, TV, movies); when I was younger, escapism through fiction was my primary form of self-care, and it’s what I’ve returned to now.  Mostly, though, I’ve been trying to keep my head above the water and keep surviving.  It’s not particularly glamorous, but, as my friends keep trying to remind me, it’s a kind of resistance too.

I like stories with clear narrative arcs.  I, probably like many other people, like being able to narrativize my messy and disorganized experiences into something with a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Kid discovers asexuality, doubts it because of crappy boyfriend, but then triumphs and embraces ace identity.  Trauma survivor forms a community and heals alongside like-minded others.  Activist changes the world a little bit at a time.

I don’t know how this story ends.  I’ve always liked phoenix imagery–burn out and rise from the ashes–but I don’t know if I’m a phoenix.  Maybe I just burn out and that’s the end.  I’d prefer not–that’s not a very good story and it would kind of suck for me.  Or maybe I’m not burning out–maybe this is just a hibernation.  It seems like the whole ace community is going through a bit of a hibernation right now; blogging, on the whole, has slowed down in the past year.  Maybe we’ll come back in the spring, better and stronger than ever.  I hope so.  I hope that if (when) we come back, there’s more focus on support, more focus on protecting our most vulnerable community members, more focus on reaching out and connecting with other communities and sharing our combined resources.  I hope there are more healers.  We can always use more healers.

About queenieofaces

QueenieOfAces is a graduate student in the U.S. studying Japanese religion. She is a queer asexual. She also blogs over at Concept Awesome and runs Resources for Ace Survivors. She is never quite sure what to write in these introduction things, but this one time she accidentally got a short story on asexuality published in an erotica magazine.
This entry was posted in Articles, asexual politics, Community, personal experience. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to On burning out (and phoenixes)

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post 🙂 keep your head up

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this, Queenie. While my own situation is different, a lot of this resonated with me. I hope that you will be able to continue moving towards a place of greater stability and happiness in your life.

  3. Sara K. says:

    Helping students and insisting on being paid on time are extremely worthwhile pursuits. While nobody knows where you story will end, I wish you the best of luck.

  4. luvtheheaven says:

    I love the way you worked the phoenix concept into the idea of burnout. I also really can see where you’re coming from and I’m sorry you’ve had to endure all this. I can really see how and why you’d feel the way you do after tumblr’s climate around anyone who blogs about asexuality turned into what it has, plus everything else in your life.

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. I hope things change with the timelines of you getting paid soon and I think it’s wonderful that you’re writing fanfiction or whatever else lately. I think as long as it continues to feel like a good place to focus your energies, then it is. 😉

    As you are aware, I can relate to aspects of your family situation and I would never wish a fraction of that stress on anyone, even just the holidays part of it where people around you expect certain things you’re defying…

    I really sincerely hope for the best as you move forward in your life, and I hope you can eventually, one day, feel much more comfortable and free to blog about what you want, if blogging in that manner is what you want to do again.

  5. Sciatrix says:

    *fistbump* I know you know this, but I’m right there with you, right down to the wire, right down to the family crap, right down to every single gasping, sobbing breath for air grasped while fighting the waves to stay afloat one moment more. I am with you. I’m with you.

    I keep catching myself laughing on the edge of exhaustion. I just cut ties with my extended and immediate family of origin in two months over two incidents. I haven’t got anyone left who I trust even a little to stand for me in my family except my partner right now. I don’t know how much of it was down to me being ace, but a whole lot of it was me being queer, and a lot of the second-guessing about whether I did the Right Thing anywhere I sit came straight out of internalized ace-invalidation bullshit. And trust me, there’s been a lot of fertile ground for second guessing.

    I’ve picked up the lessons I took from ace blogging and fallen into a wellspring of holding-the-line actions trying to keep my neighbors safe in a time of terrifying legislation raining from all sides, a time of ICE raids in my city. (We see the cops everywhere we turn around now, and we’re desperately hoping it’s because they’re trying to keep ICE from having an excuse to pull *anyone* over.) My partner thought they’d lost their wallet yesterday, with their green card inside as is legally required under threat of deportation, and I spent a day with my heart in my throat thinking of the $600 replacement fee and what the hell they’re supposed to do while it’s being replaced. We found it, but I haven’t stopped being scared and tired and desperate.

    I don’t know if ace blogging will resurface in the spring; I think maybe there are a lot of folks like me, whose energy for ace community is either being channeled into community or into activism to hold more immediately threatened lines as fascism swells right now. I know that in my own offline meetup, I can think of a couple of people who are channeling their own desperation into making sure that other members of our ace community are taken care of, making sure that there are opportunities for joy and laughter and love to spring up and places for people to go where they can get support. But I was burned out well before the election–I was promising my partner I’d take a step back then, when it was over, and then it wasn’t–and the political climate certainly isn’t the only exhausting burn that wore me out.

    Hell. I’m just. I’m so tired, and I can’t deal with tumblr anymore–the whole thing gave me panic attacks by the time it was done, I seriously avoid it for mental health reasons–and I can’t always be perfect and that’s what I feel like blogging demanded of me by the time I was done with it. Not so much on the wordpress circuits, not necessarily here, but certainly around the bulk of my audiences. The thing that keeps echoing through my mind is the refrain “we fight for bread but we fight for roses too,” these days; we push not just for survival but for joy. And I ran out of joy in the online blogging circuits, I’m afraid. Without joy, it’s hard to keep stumbling on.

  6. tmezpoetry says:

    Just read your post twice and here to call you out on the diversions 🙂 While I agree it is sometimes good, healthy and necessary to distract from stuff, what I hear in this post is distraction to the detriment of pushing down everything that has to eventually get out. I am reading and watching an over-analyizing process move at full speed. Moving away from stressful things help, definitely and I see that as good. But if I were talking to you privately I would say, girl just get it out and in the open just as it is. I am not asexual – I’m a lesbian (or bi-sexual depending on the timing because I was married before). Labels get messy because life gets messy. But I’m happy with that one. I think God made me a female because with the high sexual drive I have… I would have probably been a man whore and unable to control it with testostrone hehe. We are who we are. Hope this didn’t bother you, I’ve been called brash before but that is not how I mean to be, just upfront. And I hope you find the rest from burnout.

    • Talia says:

      I don’t understand why you’d want to “call out” someone for their healing process. We all know what is best for ourselves and I think Queenie is doing a ton of introspection, critical thinking, and important work even while burning out. Even if she wasn’t, some times you just need to do nothing because that’s what’s best for you. I don’t see over-analyzing. I am reading and hearing in Queenie’s post a heartfelt sharing into an inner process I feel honored to be allowed access to.

      • tmezpoetry says:

        It wasn’t meant the way it is being perceived, However, if it is being perceived that way I get it, I am a part of that, I am responsible for that. And I am agreeing with the feedback here. None of us are perfect, that includes me. I get it after reading the posts and feedback.

    • Sciatrix says:

      Dude. What the hell is wrong with you that you feel compelled to comment on someone who is saying “I am exhausted, I am working hard, but I am burning out” by saying you’re “here to call you out on the diversions?”

      Seriously, what made you think that was a good way to engage with someone?

    • Adding my voice to say that I think this comment was ill-judged and that I hope you will reflect and consider why you felt the need to criticize a person who is sharing their vulnerability with the world, rather than offering support.

    • queenieofaces says:

      This is a very good example of the kind of response that makes me less inclined to disclose anything to anyone. I urge to reconsider your method of engaging with tired, vulnerable people.

  7. Talia says:

    There were so many statements in your post that resonated with me and I’m so glad you shared this. My favourite part was: “It’s a profoundly messed up position to find yourself in–scared of how the community that is ostensibly supposed to be supporting you will weaponize your words even as that community is potentially the only place where people might understand what you’re going through. It’s an even more messed up position when you find yourself holding back so many words, hiding or eliding so many experiences for fear of what people might say, that you can’t really talk about much of anything at all.” Although for different reasons I’ve felt a similar difficulty of sharing in the only place that has the capacity to understand, and yet also a place where my words could do things I’ve not intended and get stuck with fear before I ever type them.

    I share your hope for an ace community focused on support, reaching out, and connecting.

  8. AceAdmiral says:

    “At this point in my life, I’m a lot less interested in debates and theory than I am in very practical questions. […] That isn’t what ace communities seem to be focused on right now, so I’ve stepped out for a bit.”

    This really jumped out at me, because I hear this a lot, and obviously I think so myself. I think a lot of the people of our “cohort” are just done with the “discourse” turbulence. But if so many of us think so, why are we all falling away instead of creating a new conversation?

    I don’t know, what do I know, I burned out in 2012 and am actually violating my own moratorium writing this comment right now, so. Just, I hope things get better for you :/

    • queenieofaces says:

      I think, in my case, I’ve tried to start new conversations for years. They just…don’t seem to catch on, and trying over and over just to be ignored in favor of rehashing the same arguments for the fortieth time is disheartening. Also, a lot of the conversations I want to have (sexual violence, family crap, the intersection of asexuality and queerness, etc.) require such a large amount of vulnerability that I don’t feel comfortable putting myself out there knowing that the most likely outcomes are A. be ignored or (worse but less likely?) B. have the conversation be pulled in a direction I don’t want or distorted for “proof.” I think finding out that someone on tumblr had been reblogging a bunch of my writing on asexuality and sexual violence and tagging it “evidence of asexual oppression” was actually one of the most anxiety-inducing experiences I’ve had with ace blogging (it was right in the middle one of the big “ace discourse” blowups).

      I think, in some ways, I might be happier if I didn’t do linkspam–I’ve cut back a lot on what I read in the past few months, and have started intentionally scrolling past certain things, but. Knowing that the majority of the conversation in the community is not only stuff that is not relevant to my interests but also is sometimes directly harmful to me is really not good for my overall anxiety level and sense of belonging.

      (For what it’s worth, I reread Asexual Koan once every few months and I’m like, “Dang.” I really love what you’ve written, but I also understand the moratorium. I really miss the folks from our “cohort” of bloggers but so many people of burned out or dropped off the map at this point. And some of it may just be a question of our stage in life–a lot of us are grad students and dealing the stresses of grad school. But also some of it is definitely…fatigue and burn out. And that shouldn’t be happening.)

      • AceAdmiral says:

        I mean the practical conversations in particular. I agree with you that convos on things such as what you’ve enumerated above require a MUCH more mature space than we have now (as unfortunately the comments on this very post demonstrate >:|). But I’ve seen a lot of people say that they’re kind of done with arguing about theory and terminology, and especially in my scholarship efforts (which, I mean, was created entirely out of this sentiment but yet has somehow been baffling to people working on the visibility side? I digress) I’ve seen an appetite for very practical questions of what resources do we need, how do we get them, how do we distribute them, etc.

        (I am… shocked and humbled that my writing has that kind of value for you. Thank you. My moratorium has less to do with burn out, since I have basically been Done since 2012, and more to do with the fact that {{{{I’m in the middle of a mental breakdown shhh don’t tell anyone}}}}}, but, yeah, I do think life stage and circumstances have made it so a lot of us now just don’t have the time/energy)

        • queenieofaces says:

          Yeah, I do wish there more focus on practical stuff, and I don’t entirely understand why so few people work on that, other than it’s not particularly glamorous and won’t get you as much attention? (Plus you can get weird hostility from people for assembling resources–see the number of “why are you assembling resources for ace survivors when [insert other category of people] also get raped” messages I’ve gotten.) Just from my experience with RFAS, the people who are most gung-ho about assembling resources are often the ones who are most directly impacted by issues, which means they’re also the most likely to burn out frequently without support. And a lot of the projects to gather or (especially) create resources need more than one person working on them.

          (Shh, you’re one of the bloggers I always rec to people for 201 stuff; your writing has a lot of value. But, yeah, I hear you on the mental health end as well, and that sucks. =/ I hope things get better for you.)

          • AceAdmiral says:

            If we’re going to be completely cynical for a moment, I think the reason it’s hard to get community resources together is that it’s a lot more groping the the darkness than the relatively simple, straight-forward, plenty of precedents visibility/education side. If you’re a new person who’s fired up and ready to help, visibility/education is much more accessible and does not require, just to pick a random example, reading IRS Publication 557. (And you are of course totally right that the visibility side is way more glamorous.) You can easily find someone doing that work and say “how can I help?” instead of having to figure out what the community’s needs are and then stumble around trying to organize a solution.

            And, you know, as I read college student #3867284’s essay on Why Visibility Is The Most Important, I remember that new, nervous energy of wanting to Tell The World… but I also feel like there is at least a dim awareness of what our community could be if it had just a few more people working on infrastructure. (Uh, also, maybe if more of us were working on building up the community instead of slashing and hacking all the h8rs, there wouldn’t be as much of this friendly fire that we need as much as a collective hole in the head? /just a bitter thought.)

      • Sciatrix says:

        I think, in some ways, I might be happier if I didn’t do linkspam

        I can state outright that the Writing From Factor X linkspams were one of the biggest factors that pushed me into the burnout I haven’t really recovered from since 2012. There’s something about going out and pushing yourself to look at everything happening on a regular basis to do that reporting that really makes it hard to keep yourself safe from exhausting and depressing repetitive conversations–it makes it very hard to set boundaries on discussion, too.

  9. Rachel says:

    Thanks for sharing. Actually being down-in-the-trenches inevitably effects you differently than being a blog-lurker and occasional commenter like me. I wish you the best.

  10. tmezpoetry says:

    I read the comments and what everyone said in the replies was right. I seen someone frustrated and took a subjective way as to seeing that in my own past because I personally was stuffing and not having been able really feel free in talking about things (as I interpreted here) someone had ‘called me out’ meaning that they gave me an opportunity just to talk about it. I’m sorry, I meant no harm. It is so very difficult to fully translate intent, subjectivity, objectivity, sensitivities and compassion perfectly online. I can take criticism, and I also can listen and learn and move in a coercive manner after understanding an unintended offense. My apologies to all~

  11. tmezpoetry says:

    Note- corrective manner rather than coercive manner I meant to say – spell check does that before I got a chance to correct it. ugh

  12. Pingback: Losing Access to Therapy, Quietly Resisting Anyway | Prismatic Entanglements

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  14. Cracticus says:

    Wow. So many other aces with family problems. Could we form a support group or something?

    • queenieofaces says:

      That would be lovely, and i know a lot of aces who could benefit from that (including multiple of my co-bloggers). But I, at least, have nowhere near enough energy to organize something like that right now.

  15. Pingback: February 2017 Carnival of Aces: Resistance, Activism, & Self-Care | The Asexual Agenda

  16. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    Thanks for this – that’s a lot of food for thought. Promoting not just visbility, agreeing on some stance as to the “are we queer” thing and then do stuff that’s actually helpful to your own people instead of engaging the critics whenever they want to have a discussion and distract you …
    Also, I hope this story, too, has a good ending for you.

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