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Treating Identity-Based Burnout with Identity-Based Selfcare

New Professionals and Graduate Students
January 3, 2023 Steven Feldman

With the Great Resignation still barrelling through higher education and especially student affairs, it is even more crucial that we work to take care of ourselves. Many of us have experienced the crushing effects of burnout. In our day-to-day jobs, we often face daily stress as a result of problematic supervisors or coworkers, frustrating red tape and bureaucracy, and oppressive structures embedded in every fiber of the institution. But despite the fact that stress can impact each and every one of us, it can look differently depending on the kind of work that we do or the various identities we hold.

Throughout my career in student affairs, I have worked in a few different functional areas including LGBTQ services, academic advising, and undergraduate admissions. As someone who lives with depression and anxiety, I am no stranger to coping with stress and other mental health challenges on a daily basis. However, I found that my challenges looked different when I worked in an identity center.

I have always tried to achieve that mythical work-life balance. When the work day ends, I typically try not to do any work that isn’t a life or death emergency. But just separating myself from my work tasks and my email does not actually mean that I am not thinking about work. My work revolves around the lives of queer and trans people. And as a queer person, queerness surrounds my personal life. As I scroll through social media, I see content from a number of LGBTQ accounts that I follow like GLAAD, GLSEN, and Point of Pride. When I’m watching shows on Netflix or HBO Max, I find myself gravitating towards shows with prominent LGBTQ characters such as Sex Education, Feel Good, and Heartstopper. And when I wake up in the morning, I scroll through Twitter, watch the latest Stephen Colbert monologue, and am bombarded with news stories about the most recent shooting at an LGBTQ club or a new governor’s plan to ban trans people from accessing life-saving healthcare.

Oftentimes, when we talk about selfcare, we frame the conversation around doing something for yourself that brings you joy. And while my queerness brings me so much joy, I can safely say that the media I consume does not always bring me the joy I am looking for. After spending hours consuming stories about the never-ending attacks on trans and queer people, going into work the next day to sit in committee meetings where staff and faculty remain ignorant to the ongoing discrimination and violence on our own campus can be incredibly draining.

As a result, my selfcare as a queer person sometimes means taking a step away from my consumption of queer media. When oppression occurs, I believe that for folks with marginalized identities, selfcare can take the form of selectively disengaging. After all, as Audre Lorde says, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” On the contrary, I believe that for folks with privileged identities, selfcare must take the form of engaging in discomfort and educating oneself. Read books, watch documentaries, and engage in self-reflective activities.

As a white, queer Jew, I have reframed my conception of selfcare around my own advocacy. In relation to my whiteness, selfcare means sitting with the discomfort of my whiteness and challenging myself to continue to work to understand ideologies of both racism and anti-racism within myself. In relation to my queerness and Jewishness, selfcare means seeking out community, educating others when I have the capacity, and selectively disengaging when I need to recharge.

Author: Steven Feldman (he/they) is a PhD Higher Education student at Indiana University Bloomington and previously served as the Associate Director of the Center for Trans & Queer Advocacy at West Chester University. In their free time, they enjoy playing Pokémon Go and drinking iced coffees from Dunkin’. Steven can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter at @sfeldman990.