The Emotional Cost of Being Woke

The World Awakens (kind of)

In 2018 it sometimes feels like we are in the midst of a social awakening like never before. From the painful awareness brought by Black Lives Matter to the anxiety of Brexit, the horror of the migrant crisis and the instability of a fragile economy we are all at risk of having our realities shattered as we are faced with the ever raw realities of modern living. Issues that may once have felt distant and theoretical  have now become implanted into our daily lives and consciousness  and things we never saw before suddenly can’t be unseen, at least not for the walking Woke among us.

Last year the Oxford English Dictionary added a definition of Woke to its annual update;

 ‘’In its modern-day, politicised context, ‘woke’ is defined by the OED as ‘originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’. The Urban Dictionary, meanwhile, explains that ‘being woke means being aware… knowing what’s going on in the community (related to racism and social injustice)’.’’

From celebration to satire, #woke is all around us. But it’s not all Trump protests and #bbqbecky memes. Being Woke can feel like an enlightened gift but it can also feel like a burden, kicking up a hornets nest in our sense of identity and security in the world around us.

Where have I been all my life?

Discovering a new context within our local and global community can feel enlightening and invigorating. But it can also raise a lot of questions about the authenticity of our existence in the world thus far. Have we been living a lie? Have we based our moral codes on misinformation? Have we put up with way too much BS because we didn’t know better? These are questions that often come with an increase in our awareness; there can be joy but also sorrow as heralding a new world can simultaneously mean grieving for our old one, even if it now feels like an illusion.

Regrets, I’ve had a few

This can create a sense of regret about the choices we’ve made in life before we were Woke. Maybe we would have taken different paths that may have brought us to a different destination than the one we currently find ourselves in. This sense of regret can be particularly strong if we are in our later years. ‘’Why wasn’t I wiser before now?’’ ‘’Am I too late?’’

Who ARE these people?

Our world is made up of people and if it starts to look different so do our relationships. It’s unlikely that our entire social network (the human kind not the Facebook kind) has become Woke in stereo and we may start to wonder if differing political and social views will overpower other elements of our personal connections. There can be fear that our new sense of self may be rejected or cause friction. Maybe we are used to being a peacekeeper or an observer but now we can’t hold back the strength in our voice. Can we create harmony with our loved ones, our colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances or will it fall on deaf ears? Or worse, will our voice be ignored or drowned out?

Is anybody out there?

This can leave us feeling awfully lonely. If we feel different but everyone around us stays the same then it can be incredibly isolating. We may feel that we need to revert to our pre-Woke identity and maintain the status quo, therefore sacrificing ourselves greatly on an emotional and existential level or we may feel that we need to start replacing our network with those of a like mind. Beginning anew in any relationship can be daunting, and if we are looking at several relationships then this can seem entirely overwhelming.

Fight mode

In this era of Social media it can become almost impossible to switch off. If you are following Social media accounts dedicated to highlighting social and racial injustice then the bad news can seem never-ending. Every hour seems to bring new insults and worse crimes and we have access to this information like never before. The grenades can seem relentless and we never know where they will come from next-a politician, a policy, the police, our favourite celebrity. The only thing that starts to seem inevitable is that there will be another attack on our very existence at any moment. We may find ourselves constantly braced for attack and ready to defend ourselves. After all we haven’t gone through all this pain of being Woke just to sit back and take it have we? In this mode of being it’s not surprising that we may often notice ourselves feeling tense, angry and on edge.

Empathy level-0

At the other end of the scale we may find our humanity becomes overworked to the point of burn out. We start to switch off and passivity becomes a welcome friend. Our emotions are dried out and we’ve reached our limit of information processing. Our empathy levels hit 0 and we move from Woke to Compassion fatigue.

Whatever next?

It’s not just anger that can become a constant companion when we are consistently alert to society’s pain. Anxiety over what else may be around the corner can leave us feeling afraid and insecure about what kind of crisis may hit next. Relationships can become strained as it becomes harder to trust and feel understood and in addition we may feel hyper-alert to cues of ignorance and micro-aggression that may previously have gone undetected.

Can I go back to sleep now?

‘’The implication is that once someone has become woke, they can’t easily go back to sleep. For instance, people describe themselves as ‘being woke’ as opposed to ‘being awake’ or having ‘woke up’.’’

So is there a middle ground somewhere between wokeness and overwhelm? Of course not everyone who describes themselves as woke experiences the issues mentioned so far, but for those that do it might be useful to consider how we manage our personal levels of tolerance, exposure and activity in the era of being (hashtag)Woke.


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