By Ben Cartwright
Within a matter of a couple weeks earlier this month, so many things in my life changed. Without getting into too much detail, this change include separating from my long-time full-time job, paring back numerous community commitments, and reflecting on what I’ll do next at this interesting intersection of my life. At 39 years old, I finally came to the conclusion that I was tired, stressed out, and not taking very good care of myself … and it was time for a change.
Before I continue, I will note that I’m not going anywhere. I’m still living in the same place in University Heights, and I want to hear from and interact with everyone in the community as always. I plan to continue writing and some other scaled back involvements, and soon, I will return full-force to the community ready to take on the new challenges we face. But right now, it’s time to focus on me.
At 18 years old in 1998, I jumped hard into LGBTQ community activism. As a freshman at San Diego State University, the campus was lacking resources for LGBTQ students and the small number of students participating in the school’s LGBT Student Union (myself included) decided that we had to take it upon ourselves to provide resources in whatever way knew how, while advocating for our community’s needs at the same time. I did this work for many years, while slowly getting involved in the greater community, and I sure got involved!
Being intricately involved in San Diego’s LGBTQ community has been my entire adult life’s work, and doing this work has been a highlight throughout. During these 20-plus years, I also spent so much time helping friends, acquaintances, and other community members around with all sorts of needs ranging from houses, to finances, to connecting to resources, providing transportation, sharing my own financial resources, to being a shoulder to cry on and so much more. And I couldn’t have asked for any experience more fulfilling than being a trusted member of my community for whom those struggling could come to for just about anything. Being that person is at the core of who I am, and I plan to continue to share my life with friends and community members in need.
But I’m not perfect, and something I’ve done very poorly over the last 20 years is taking care of myself. Sure, I took some trips here and there, weekends off, participated in activities that some consider “self care,” but I wasn’t truly focusing on myself. I was ignoring my own anxieties and mental health challenges that were always trying to come up, I ignored my fitness goals, I overindulged on unhealthy substances, and didn’t allow myself to challenge any toxic relationships that came into my life. There was a period many years ago where I was physically abused by a partner, but I simply moved out after years of abuse, and continued my busy life — never stopping to reflect on what damage that did to me. I let some friendships suffer because I either didn’t make the time to nurture them as I kept myself busy suppressing my feelings, or I ignored their repeated calls to take care of myself when they recognized I needed a change.
I’ve never been one to ask for help — and it’s still hard for me to do so — but I’ve finally recognized that I have so many things I need help with so that I can continue to thrive, and I’ve finally done so. Over the next few months, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with friends and community members in more meaningful ways, reflecting on who I am and where I’m going, relearning techniques and skills to take care of myself, and then doing bigger and better things than ever before! While it’s sometimes hard to have stepped away from some of my major involvements (the world does go on!), I continue to remind myself that eventually, I would’ve completely burned out and been of no use to anyone. I’m using this opportunity to unleash an even better me!
Serving a marginalized community, whether professionally or as a volunteer, is fulfilling but exhausting work. We lose so many fantastic activists, leaders, and advocates all the time because people burn out. Once someone presents themselves as a trusted activist, so many people, groups, and organizations want a piece of their time — which is fantastic — but so many don’t have the skills to learn how to say no. I’m following the advice I’ve given to younger activists for years. Take care of yourself first!
Like I said, I’m still the same old Benny (just planning to emerge as an even better Benny) and I look forward to continuing to update you on my life journey as I move forward, connecting with many of you at community events or one on one, and of course, celebrating Pride next month with everyone!
Thank you to everyone who has been there for me or offered to be there for me. I’ve never been good on taking people up on their offers of support, but you might just hear from me!
— Benny Cartwright is a local LGBT activist and Nicky Award’s 2018 Man of the Year. Benny can be contacted at Benny.firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: Byline photo by Rob Lucas Modern Aperture Photography.
Graphic by www.CanStockPhoto.com.