Refusing to become invisible; or (re)finding myself after losing my activist identity

Middle-aged woman living in the Middle East. With a resident’s visa that read “housewife” as occupation.

That was what my life had become. How much my life had changed because of my decision to follow my husband to the United Arab Emirates for his work. I had been an activist, fighting vocally for marine conservation in my home country of Australia, securing the support of celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Richard Branson, featuring in various documentaries, interviewed regularly, and making policy change to boot. But now my activism activities would need to be watered down, as what I had successfully achieved in Australia by using my experience and voice, were considered illegal in the country I had moved to.

For five years I voluntarily organized beach and ocean clean ups, educated the public, and was able to utilize interested media channels in the Middle East to continue to raise the voices of the marine creatures I served to protect– but I was reminded regularly that things were now very different to living and working in Australia. Realizing that any difference I could make would take two to three times longer than initially planned, I walked away from the organization I had built from scratch, with no plans other than to give back to myself.

You see, I had spent the past eight years raising the voices of the voiceless, but it was my own inner voice I had drowned out in the process.

My activism was rooted in years of grief after failing to become a mother through eight in vitro fertilization attempts. While I directed my anger at weak environmental policies in Australia, I had managed for years to keep my head afloat, while my grief had threatened to drown me. Grief masked as anger, depression, and anxiety, all of which had served me well at times, but I was due for a much-needed break.

I cried. Oh my, how I cried.

At first it felt like it was because I was a failure, or because I had no idea what I was going to do now, but as I forged a new path, rooted in positive affirmations and healthy activities such as yoga, meditation and journaling, the grief still weighed heavy on my heart. What I was grieving had changed, however. I was no longer grieving the loss of motherhood, but the loss of my voice. For years my voice was my greatest gift and without a role in activism, no matter how small, I had lost my soapbox. Was this my ego, I pondered and if so, why had I attached so much of my self-worth to my role in society?

Thankfully my newfound passions allowed me time to find clarity, becoming introspective, writing down things like my values, thoughts and feelings.

The more I wrote, the more I healed, and the more I shared on social media. I received some great feedback and had people urge me to write more about wellness and overcoming adversity.

I was six months into my healing journey when I finally got the courage to reach out to editors I had formed a connection with through my volunteering work, and actually utilize my Graduate Diploma in Journalism. I had received this certification 21 years ago, but never thought my writing was worthy of earning an income. I had also got so used to doing things for free after years of volunteering, that I had lowered my feeling of worthiness, literally to nothing.

As I realized, with blinding lucidity, the impacts of volunteering my skills and experiences away, a fire grew within me, to protect myself and put my values and my worth first. In complete contrast to my previous situation, my number one value, it turns out, is security. While I had the security of my husband, I had allowed my independence to slip away every time I gave my services away. My self-esteem and bank account had been severely hit as a result. There was to be no more volunteering until I had secured a constant income flow, I told myself. There must always be an exchange for services, even if it’s an energy exchange.

As if the universe had heard my new pledge, the very first editor I spoke to agreed to commission two articles.

But it was my third article which taught me all I needed to learn about freelance writing– Busy editors with hundreds of pitches from freelance writers a day, weeks where you won’t have any success in getting commissioned work and weeks when you get commissioned pieces all at once with competing deadlines. But the joy I got from writing, the worth I felt whenever an editor agreed to pay me, the pride I had whenever seeing an article printed, made my heart sing. Finally, I had discovered what my next career journey would be and with it, I reclaimed my identity. I have found a different way to use my voice. A softer (yet in some ways more powerful) way to convey a message, and one which isn’t illegal in the country I now call home.

By learning to say no to volunteering, I had learnt to say yes to myself, and the more I did this, the easier it became. In fact, it really was small changes such as setting healthy boundaries, incorporating positive self-talk and affirmations, meditation, journaling, and a heightened self-awareness and stillness into my daily life that created the necessary change to reclaim my sense of worth after feeling so lost. These small changes have now become habits, which ensure that I am consciously making choices that align with my values– knowing that only when I put myself first, can I be of service to others.

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