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Phyll: If you don’t exercise self-care, you will burnout

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of UK Black Pride, and Head of Campaigns at the largest civil service trade union. Here she describes the demands on her time, and how important it


Phyll Opoku-Gyimah is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of UK Black Pride, and Head of Campaigns at the largest civil service trade union. Here she describes the demands on her time, and how important it is to take stock and self-care.

Burnout and self-care are quite emotive subjects for me really. You know, my conscious doesn’t allow me to stop doing what I’m doing. So I’m sat here and it’s seven thirty – I’ve been up since five o’clock, writing briefs, doing all the things I need to, I’ve been trying to sort out UK Black Pride, I also mentor for a woman who is a survivor of domestic violence, and I also have to think about financing my daughter’s third year at university. And as
soon as I leave here, it’s going to take me another hour and a half to get home. I’m going to get on the computer, send fifty million emails and carry on organising. So I’m a crap example of what’s good and what’s not!

But there is so much going on in the world, and you want to be there for everybody. You want to campaign against the sodomy laws alongside your brothers and sisters in countries which still carry those laws. You want to ensure that society is fully accessible for impaired people and not just accessible in terms of a ramp that needs to be in the shopping mall. You want to make sure that you eradicate sexism and misogyny from society so that we can truly say we have equity or equality. We want to be sure that there’s equal pay, and a true living wage paid for real workers, that our young kids are not having to deal with zero hours contracts, not being used and abused and tossed to one side. We want to make sure our judicial system is not incarcerating young black people with impairments or mental health. We want to make sure that people are being given fair opportunity. And you know, that’s my life.

But at the same time, I understand about self-care. You know, you read what Audre Lorde says about self-care of the black woman, whilst being part of this society that’s perpetually so damaging. If you don’t take yourself out of that and exercise self-care, you will burnout. So on my Facebook banner header, I’ve got this diagram and ‘self-care’ is in the middle and all these different arrows pointing out to things like organising, campaigning, home, family, this that and the other. You know I look at it and I laugh, when it’s three o’clock in the morning I’ve just finished my seventieth email. Then I need to go to bed – I need to go to bed and take stock.

‘You don’t have to burnout’

I do say to people that you don’t have to burnout. Because then you’re no good to anybody. So you can say no. But its recognising when you’re starting to feel that, and when you’re an activist you want to keep on acting because you feel if you stop then everything’s going to stop around you. So the trick is – if it even is a trick – is to ensure that when you’re campaigning you build that narrative and that framework that will engage and entice loads more people so that they can do that work too.

There’s a biblical sort of poem about footprints and it goes something like, when I was weak and could no longer see the two sets of footprints in the sand I thought I was on my own, but instead it meant that I was being carried at a particular point. And whether you’re religious or not, that was saying God carried you through your hard times, well that needs to be the same for activists!

But even if you don’t see yourself as an activist, everyone has to do self-care. Everyone has to take time to just reboot, catch yourself, and take a break. Even if you sit somewhere for like fifteen minutes and just do nothing or listen to music. People ask how I get by – because I listen to music a lot. And it helps me in my train of thought. I also like to read.

Just do the things that feel very therapeutic for yourself. It’s about knowing what’s good for you. And at this point, this is probably where I need to get on a train, catch my tube and from the tube get a bus!

Read more from Phyll on the importance of political engagement here.


1000women is a platform for minority ethnic women to tell their own stories, on their terms. To find out more about joining the team or sharing your story, write to 1000women@naz.org.uk

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