Part 1, written almost 4 years ago.
Last week was not a great week for celebrities, was it? First Kate Spade, then Anthony Bourdain. Both deaths were unexpected. Both deaths saddened. Cue the endless posts about suicide help lines and knowing one is valued and matters. Which is nice, but mostly beside the point. Most people don’t kill themselves on a whim. Knowing there is a 1-800-number out there is nice, but is unlikely, MOST OF THE TIME, to deter someone who is too exhausted to live. Someone who commits suicide might be very aware that they matter, they are loved (or not), but that isn’t what they are trying to avoid. They are trying to end the sustained misery and agony that their brains are inflicting on them. Incessant pain, physical or emotional, distorts reality to the point that suicide becomes an act of mercy – granting oneself peace and saving friends and family from the burden of worrying about the one’s sickness.
MommaBear who is part of my dance school shared an article about Kate Spade’s death, with the following comment, “Euh, WTF… So you’re successful and suicide… so much energy, hard work, notorious… no…”. I like MommaBear, I do. She is fiercely protective of her cubs, be they her own children or girls she meets on the dance floor. Given her deep capacity for love and loyalty, her comment struck me as one of ignorance. Some ppl really don’t get depression and suicide. My uncle doesn’t: he made a very similar comment following Robin Williams’ death. So, I commented, gently, that success has nothing to do with the burden that a person may be called to carry, or the demons they must deal with.
MommaBear: I know, but so much work, all that energy… If a person was doing fuckall, I might get it (the impulse to kill oneself). Nobody admires a person that doesn’t succeed, nobody will listen to the advice of a person that doesn’t stand out in society. If you succeed, you can latch onto that success as a life jacket to get you out of the current.
Vanilla: No, not really. Success can become a burden in and of itself. A responsibility that suffocates you even further.
MommaBear: I’m a single mom that got played by her husband and has 6 children, of which 2 are autistic. You can betcha I will fight till the end to do my best.
Vanilla: Yes. There are tangible demons and burdens, like the experiences you just described. But there are also demons and mental health burdens that are intangible, not easily identified, but just as hard to manage. We must never deem monetary or societal success as a reliable indicator of the mental health of an individual. Never.
MommaBear: So, based on what you’ve just written, you are comfortable hanging out with people that have not succeeded in society? People that in no way stand out in society? You could spend time with a man that looks like a hobo, and not care what people think of you? (P.S. I would have preferred to talk about this, but I guess Facebook will have to do 🙂 )
Now. I’m extremely wary of Facebook bitch-fests. I don’t want another pointless repeat of this incident. Sides, I was aware that MommaBear had attempted to diffuse the situation with her little P.S. addendum. MommaBear is good people. I like MommaBear.
But. But. But.
Her comment pissed me off. SO MUCH.
That one comment made it very clear how she perceived me. A spoiled, well-off, white girl condescendingly preaching empathy from her comfortable ivory tower, blissfully unaware of what suffering could possibly feel like. Who was I to talk?
Never mind that the last 2 guys I’ve dated do not have university degrees. Hell, Beaut barely finished high school. Beaut came from a broken childhood, foster homes, poverty, worlds apart from my life. He worked HARD to make ends meet with that kind of background, stopped at nothing to gainfully and legally provide a comfortable existence for his daughter, a loving and devoted father… But he didn’t have a kitchen table. He can’t write one sentence without making grammatical or spelling mistakes. Doesn’t have the traditional indicators of success, yet has managed to carve out a good life through sheer stubbornness and struggle. I was proud of him, proud of his perseverance, his unwillingness to let life, and all the shit thrown at him, stop him from doggedly pursuing his goals. I’m impressed by the life he is building for himself, bit by bit, patiently.
Never mind that my mother with her poor health couldn’t hold down a job from the moment she had me, for the rest of her life. The knowledge that she was a drain on society weighed heavily on her conscience. Her health was so bad, she could barely walk, and as a result, her physique shamed her. Most days, she could only summon the energy to put on baggy jogging suits. I’ve witnessed people speak to her as though she was mentally impaired, because apparently walking slowly with 2 canes is correlated to one’s intelligence. #goodtoknow. A cop once threatened to have her do a drug test because he thought she was some druggy, with her wheezing breath and sweaty face (brought on by the extreme pain attack she was undergoing). Was I EVER ashamed of her? No. I prided myself on being her bodyguard, physically protecting her from oblivious people, and ensuring people addressed her with the respect that was her due. As an adolescent, its true, sometimes I would dread running into schoolmates, but that was only because I kept my family life a secret. It was too complicated, too painful and private to share. So I hoped we didn’t to run into people. But never, not ever, because I was ashamed of my mother.
Never mind that my father worked his whole life in a blue collar job, 38 years of exhausting physical labor with no social distinction whatsoever, to ensure that his wife and his baby girl could live a comfortable life.
Never mind that when I met MommaBear I was in the throes of the worst depression of my life, a few weeks away from my upsetting diagnosis. Never mind that I HAVE A BLOG DEDICATED TO MY MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES. Which obviously MommaBear has never read, as is her right.
None of that mattered. Because despite spending anywhere from 5-15 hours with me every week for 5 months, MommaBear couldn’t see past my skin color and my professional title.
I’m upset, deeply, not because I got misjudged according to another person’s bias. Nah, that’s cool, I’m aware I get to live my life mostly immune to that sorta thing, so when it happens, I really can’t be that offended.
I’ve always naively clung to the belief that for social change to successfully occur, for racial bias to be dismantled, yes policy matters (which is why Trump is so worrisome to me) but that really, change would be inevitable the more people interacted with individuals that are not part of their socio-ethno-econo demographic. One on one interactions increase the likelihood of recognizing an individual’s humanity, which is something we all share, and to the extent that humanity is present, it creates cognitive dissonance with wtv prejudice and false beliefs are held about that person’s demographic, and thus change in opinions and a broadening of world views are possible. Schindler from Schindler’s list was a Nazi sympathizer. This has been my core belief for as long as I’ve lived, the result of my upbringing. I recognize that it is not a perfect solution (mingling between demographics is not always possible or probable, or else #whiteprivilege wouldn’t be a thing). But, to the extent it occurs, I remained hopeful.
Y’all. I live in Montreal. My dance school has every possible nationality amongst its students. And yet. On a Facebook post about suicide, we failed at recognizing each other’s humanity.
I feel defeated.