A year into the pandemic, I found myself on a leave of absence, staring at a tree in my front yard (it’s a lovely tree), occasionally listening to that Dolly Parton podcast (episode 2 changed everything for me), but mostly sitting quietly. I read Burnout by the Nagoski sisters. When I picked it up at the bookstore, the owner (a friend) said unprompted, “It’s not in your head, Danielle. The patriarchy is killing you with a thousand papercuts.” My eyes welled up with tears. She hugged me, despite the social distancing protocol. After a decade and a half of working in human services, it happened. Years of doing “all the things,” then suddenly I couldn’t do anything. Some days I didn’t even shower.

I could write a whole post about what shifted in the nothingness, in the sitting still. Certainly, I had to confront the ways I’ve been complicit and reinforced the very systems that I want to dismantle. Painful stuff. But the result was that I eventually started to dream. I had grande visions of being in community with the amazing women whose leadership has inspired me for decades. I noticed that my confidantes also longed for a release, for a new way of showing up. What we’re doing isn’t working, we agreed. Can we collectively imagine something different?

What we’re doing isn’t working, we agreed. Can we collectively imagine something different?

When I started at AMRF about 5 months later, I nervously pitched the idea of an unconventional gathering for women who work in the behavioral health and homeless-response systems. I framed it as an opportunity during a moment of political transition (Newsom, Biden) to “think big,” breathe deeply, and build relationships across key leaders in California. I remember being taken aback when my Board President, a trailblazing woman herself, said bluntly, “You want to provide respite for burnout women who work on homelessness and mental health? Yeah, that sounds great.” My internal monologue responded, “That doesn’t sound bananas? We could really do it?”

And so, we brought on Diana Zúñiga, Lucky Michael, and Stephany Ashley to co-create a multi-day retreat in the desert for 16 women in our sector. When family and friends asked about it later, I simply replied, “Pure magic.”

What I had envisioned as a “finale event” of a year-long process was, in reality, the beginning of a new journey with a cohort of badass women. In our final pre-event email, we had closed by quoting Audre Lorde: “We must recognize and nurture the creative parts of each other without always understanding what will be created.” Indeed. I had no idea those words would be so auspicious.