Activist Burnout: When being green just feels really f**king hard

I’m tired.

Not the kind of tired you experience when you’ve had too many late nights, or not enough fresh fruit and veg. Nor the kind of tired you feel at 3pm on a Monday afternoon, when all you want is a strong coffee and a whole packet of Jammie Dodgers (and yes, they are Vegan!!).

I’m talking about the kind of physical and emotional exhaustion that an undernourished salmon feels after what seems like a lifetime swimming up a very steep stream. When you’ve depleted any energy and drive you once had to be who you are – or who you want to be – and no longer have the will to lift one eye lid up to see, let alone a whole arm to do.

But this fatigue – though it is spreading fast like a virus throughout my life– is not simply a result of working too hard, playing too hard or indeed life being generally hard. Its roots lie deep within; stemming from my increasing realisation that my attempts to live a green, waste less, compassionate life is surrounded by a million and one others who simply don’t give a shit. Apparently it’s called Activist Burnout, and I’m certainly not the only one who suffers from it.

Avoiding animal products – not matter how hard it is at times, and how awkward it can make me feel – feels futile when people around me openly admit they would just “rather not think about it”.

Ignorance is bliss. Indeed, it is for the ignorant. But once you have been exposed to certain truths, you can’t unlearn what you’ve learnt. It is those who care the most who often carry the burden for the rest of us; and this burden can turn into two trucks loads of anger, resentment and exhaustion that over time can literally sit on your shoulders like a responsibility which doesn’t seem worth it anymore.

Why should we avoid plastics when millions of others consume it like it’s going out of fashion? Why should we bother championing healthy, organic alternatives when Coca Cola simply change their packaging to green color and McDonalds brings out a new salad? While the minority (which is how I feel right now – small and insignificant)  fight upstream like eager salmon seeking to follow their hearts, minds and ethics; the rest of the world wishes us a sarcastic “good luck” and turns on its heels to continue the carnage we’re busy trying to rectify.

Despite the enthusiasm, passion and pure optimism I felt when I started my “green Journey” just over a year ago; right now I feel exhausted, ground down and nothing short of pessimistic. About life. About my fellow humans. And, more importantly, about myself.

When a friend recently, and rather innocently, mocked me for my veganism and my futile attempts to “save the world”, I wondered why I was even bothering anymore. If my friends and family could support me yet not really get it, let alone agree, what hope in hell did I have in inspiring the rest of the world? How can you possibly stay motivated when you’re fighting what appears to be a losing battle? I’m not blessed with ignorant self-confidence or an ability to brush myself off and start again. I’m a dweller, a brooder and often an embarrassing emotional wreck.

With the commitment to live by your moral and ethics, despite what others around you are doing, you really open yourself up to vulnerability. It’s like stripping off naked and saying “Come on over. Give me a hard old stare, and feel free to tell me what you really think about my body. It’s OK. I don’t mind. After all, I chose to strip!”

OK, so I think I’ve made it pretty crystal that I’m in a low place right now. I’ve admitted that my energy for green living – and any passion to show you the “lazy” way to master it – is currently somewhere far away (probably buried under a huge pile of singe use plastic water bottles…) But what am I going to do about it? They say the best way to feel better about something is to be open and honest.

To admit defeat, or at the very least a desire for little helping hand, can often be the first step to gaining back the confidence you need to crack on.  Sometimes you just need to say, “This is actually really fucking hard!”

And just because you have admitted you’ve met a big brick wall, and you have no clue right now how to get over it, it doesn’t mean that you’re admitting it clearly hadn’t been worth it, or announcing it’s the end of the journey. You are literally saying, “Gimmie a minute, I’m just going to eat this whole packet or Jammie Dodgers, then I’ll think about how to turn that frown upside down…”

Have you experienced Activist Burnout, or generally a feeling of green fatigue? I’d be interested to know what has worked for others.

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17 thoughts on “Activist Burnout: When being green just feels really f**king hard”

  1. So So So glad you posted this! I’ve been thinking the same way lately, like why am I bothering when no one around me is? Or people smile and say what I’m doing is nice, yet continue to throw out mounds of plastic.. that’s what I like about this blog, though. I get to read your guys posts and remember that there are other people out there who understand why I do this.

    I find that a new project helps me to refocus – I went to a composting workshop last night and bought a proper composter for my worms, which brought back some of my motivation. I also find that doing stuff with people that isn’t so obviously “green” is a good way to bond while still bridging the gap. My boyfriend and I are going to build a garden bed this weekend – I’m interested in growing my own organic vegetables and eventually being self-sufficient but he’s just there to hammer stuff and play with dirt. When our grocery bill is halved thanks to our garden he will likely be much more interested!

    Hope I was a bit of a help at least 🙂 and know that your not alone when you’re frustrated and worn out!

    Kelly

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    1. Thanks Kelly, its so helpful to hear others feel the same, and it sounds like you have some really positive solutions to beating the fatigue! Really great idea to join a group and be inspired by others too. It can feel lonely sometimes and nice to connect with others with a similar passion 🙂

      Thanks for commenting and cheering me up 🙂

      Trudi xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been a sustainability professional consultant for a long time as well as a personal ‘greenie’. What I have found is that burnout happens when I think that there is only one way to do something. I was a vegetarian and vegan for over a decade and suffered poor health and have started eating locally, pasture raised animal products at the urging of my doctor. So, I realized that to make a real change to CAFO meats is to urge people to eat responsibly, instead of all or nothing. Plus, animals provide a complete ecosystem and help restore topsoil, whereas many vegan staples are monoculture crops and rice farming is a disaster to the environment. The real problem with the food system is the inefficiencies of Big Ag and overpopulation. So, it is important to see all tradeoffs in any ‘green’ movement.

    Also, when greenies start preaching about ‘carbon free’, ‘plastic free’, ‘zero waste’, etc… they are really setting an impossible goal. Even No Impact Man agreed that he can’t literally live and have “NO” impact. So, he did volunteer work to try to even out the playing field.

    Others feel they are being judged, so they will try to find something on that person… i.e. ‘well you still travel’, ‘you don’t eat 100% local’, ‘you do this or that’, etc… The only way to have a ‘zero’ impact is to not be born or go live in a cave somewhere. We are unfortunately stuck in an overpopulated, modern world.

    I have found that the key to making a difference and to get people talking and thinking is to let go of the ‘activist’ part and just focus on simple living while reading as many different view points as possible and talk about all options and how I am not perfect either. It is about progress, not perfection, if we want to make a difference. At least this is what has worked for me to get over green fatigue.

    I personally have found that people respond better to increasing their health, wealth and happiness with a simple lifestyle rather than identifying their specific environmental footprint.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your reply, it makes me feel better to hear from someone who is a professional and has found the green world equally tiring at times. Sounds like you’re finding the right balance that works for you. i think for me, its just as much about the energy needed to live by what i believe in, than others reactions (though that obviously influences me too). I don’t want to eat meat or dairy personally, for example, but the world isn’t always so accommodating and that can be hard.

      It’s so funny how many times I’ve tried to explain to people that rather than me judging them, its me who feels expectations to legitimize my lifestyle! I guess we all want to feel free to live or lives without judgement but often allow our passions to project on our expectations of the world at large!

      I suppose i need to be realistic, as you say, about my goals and what can humanly be achieved; but not give up on what I believe in

      x

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  3. Great post – and i know exactly what you mean 🙂 although I can’t give any advice I will say that you have renewed my resolve to keep being green, because it does matter no matter how small an impact we make we are doing something 🙂

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  4. *hang in there lazy green-going girl!* I hope the act of writing this and putting it out there will help you re-inspire yourself. the vulnerability and the loneliness are part of it, sure, but I’m guessing you also have a load of moments in the past when you really felt connected and influential even? I’ve only started following your blog recently — so you could count me as a small incipient victory if you choose!! I’m a yogini rather than a greenie, and through my yoga starting to care increasingly about how to live and the impact my life has on others (in all senses, environmental and on..). No real advice to give — you just have to keep on doing it cos it’s what you believe in and you can’t not, even on the sh*tty days when you don’t much feel like it.

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    1. Thank you! As my mum always said “its better out than in” and I certainly feel better letting it out 🙂 i wouldn’t say I feel influential but nice to know that some of my ramblings are of use to people once in a while!! It’s interesting actually that due to low funds I’ve been missing my yoga classes for the last month in favor of home practice. One huge thing I missing is the spiritual guidance from my teacher – makes such a difference to my mind set! Agree sometimes you just have to accept its a shitty day, and crack on! x

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  5. Trudi… I experience it pretty much every other day. As you say, you cannot unlearn what you’ve learnt! I too am in a dip at the moment. I spoke to my dissertation supervisor early this week and rather than talk about the dissertation, we talked about the overwhelming workload and sense of responsibility and very rare glimmers of hope. Apparently there are whole swathes of academic literature devoted to this!

    When I’m this pit, Mr M always reminds me that a/ we have to work with the crooked timber of humanity and b/ that change marches on the feet of doves. Stories do build momentum and make a change, so stick with weaving and sharing your story!

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  6. I often have moments of doubt when I wonder what is the point of writing my blog. I wonder if anyone being inspired in any way to live a greener life by it. That is one of the frustrations of blogging – it is very difficult to measure the impact of it and it is all very well thinking if I do this then maybe other people will copy me, when I have no evidence to show that is happening at all!

    That said I rarely question living a greener more eco-friendly life. For me it is a moral and ethical issue. I think for example, that buying something that has been made in a foreign country by people working in poor conditions, using up precious resources, probably polluting the planet as well, then which has been transported miles and miles to get to me to then be used for a very short period of time and then discarded (e.g. a plastic bag, a toy which breaks within minutes, plastic packaging etc) is immoral and wrong. Just because other people around me don’t recognise this it doesn’t mean it is ok for me to do it. There are plenty of things that other people do that I would never dream of doing.

    I accept that it is isn’t always possible to do the ‘right’ thing (and at times I don’t always want to take the most eco option) and when I find myself accepting a plastic bag or some awful packaging or do something which isn’t eco-friendly at all, I try to learn from it and work out ways I can do better next time if possible.

    I also try not to judge other people for not taking the eco option – it frequently isn’t made easy or obvious to most people because we live in a society heavily influenced by organisations whose main goals are making money often with little consideration to their impact on the environment. Plus a lot of the stuff they are selling is highly addictive – aside from the obvious cigarettes and alcohol – tv programmes, junk food, smartphones and fashionable clothes for example are all very cleverly marketed and designed to get people to consume way more than they need. So even when it is spelled out to someone the damage their habits are causing to the environment (and probably their health as well), their addiction to those habits can be really difficult to recognise let alone overcome.

    I have found setting myself specific eco – challenges which have been out of my comfort zone has been a great way to keep me motivated towards becoming more eco-friendly and another motivator is that I find usually the eco option saves me money and is better for my health as well.

    I hope this comment was helpful – keep up the good work – it is worth it!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi,
    So you and me are cosmic soulmates. I’m a zero waster blogger from Montreal, Canada, and I have kind of a popular blog. I get tons of messages, comments, encouragements and good feedbacks on my project, yet sometimes, I feel just like you. Sometimes I crave sweets that are wrapped, junkfood take out and processed foods. Sometimes I just want to forget I once set myself this challenge and just go back to living a normal life. So then it will be easy for me to do grocery, shopping or just go out with my friends like it used too. Than I feel guilty for even thinking about it. And what about the thousands that follow me? What if they knew it’s not all green, de-clustered and zen? What would they think of me? Thank for sharing this. It gives me the courage to one day, me too, talk about the “activist burnout”, and hopefully make someone somewhere feel like guilty, alone and troubled for feeling the same way. Thanks a million times, Charlotte xxxx

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  8. God, I understand to a degree. I’m a recent college graduate who moved in with her parents (not for long I hope). My mom will tease me in front of others, treating my lifestyle goals as a phase. They actively resist giving up bottled water along with loads of other lifestyle changes. But I receive little bits of hope now and then that something is changing. When I get down, I like to think of how nonexistent organic produce and green practices were over 5 years ago and how much that industry has grown since then. There’s change, but it goes so slowly it can be hard to notice. Hopefully it is gaining exponentially! Thanks for fighting the good fight.

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    1. I love the saying “even when it feels like its just a small drop in a massive ocean, remember that even the biggest ocean is made up of small drops” everything counts even if we can’t always see the bigger picture 🙂 x

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  9. I’ve just stumbled across this post two months later. Most of my own green burnout has been driven by whole-life burnout, but I know how disheartening it can be. One of my favourite quotes about activism is this: “Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.” (you can read the full quote here: http://blog.gaiam.com/quotes/authors/edward-abbey/47282)

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