CN (Content Note): This post talks about suicide and forms of oppression. Please consider this and the impact it may have on you. If you are feeling very depressed or suicidal, please seek help. This is a personal blog only, not a resource for professional mental health support.
In the wee hours of November 9th, I put myself to bed, full of despair. The election was not yet called but it looked bad. Really bad. I’d been there before, I could see the writing on the (electoral college) wall. In the early morning hours of November 3, 2004, the election was too close to call but it seemed likely that W would be re-elected. So in 2004 and with a heavy heart, I tried to go to sleep and come morning, I’d faced the dawn and reality that there would be four. more. years. So just a few weeks ago, I climbed into bed, knowing that when my alarm rang on 11/9/16, I’d wake to doomsday – to find that Trump had, in fact, won the election.
In those dark, early hours, I thought about throwing myself out of my second floor bedroom window. It was a passing thought but still as I thought of having to look at that nasty man’s face for the next four years, I panicked. I wasn’t sure I wanted to live under the rule of someone who so outwardly supports rape culture, who rape apologizes like no other. But the acute, life-threatening despair passed. I didn’t really want to die, though I was overwhelmed past the point of knowing how to cope. And I knew that I needed to stick around and hope and fight for things to get better.
No doubt the brevity of this suicidal ideation was a combined function of my privilege and mild depression. I’ve, fortunately, never been actively suicidal, I’ve never had more than passive, passing thoughts of suicide. And I don’t mean to minimize that experience, it’s still real and still painful. But it’s also different than someone who lives with severe depression and actively plans their death.
Still it was an additional punch to the gut when I saw a headline that white supremacists are promoting online harassment of Clinton-supporters in hopes they will kill themselves. The pain I’d experienced and still experience, the heightened depression, it’s real. To be so raw and to know people were delighting in my anguish was, and is, a terrifyingly painful and isolating place to be.
But the thing is, my isolation in that moment was an illusion. More people than not wanted Clinton to be president and even more people did not actively support either candidate. I know people who didn’t vote and were devastated that Trump won. The people I know who elected (wordplay intended) not to vote are people of color who don’t see this system as made for them nor valuing them nor actively promoting their participation in it. And they’re right. And they also know that Trump will exponentially maintain the system as one relevant to only white people, especially white, straight, able-bodied cis men. And they’re right.
So my point is many people are unhappy. More of us are dismayed than not. We are not alone.
The fact that white supremacists are actually hoping we’ll kill ourselves, disturbing as that is, means we’re doing something right. It means they have contempt for us yes, but it also means they feel threatened by us. We’ve barely even gotten started with a progressive, inclusive agenda. But we have made some gains and those gains have clearly scared the alt-right.
Don’t forget your power. Their backlash, their violence is to be condemned but it also shows the importance of you. If you didn’t matter, if you didn’t have strength, if you didn’t have something in you that challenges their power and their dominance then they would ignore you. They want you to be obsolete, to not matter, to not exist or rather to exist only in a way that justifies their superiority and ensures they always get their way.
But you do matter. And they know that. And it scares them. So they try to make you question your significance, your value. They make you feel like an outlier or isolated in your beliefs. But you are not.
So keep fighting. Because it’s working. Keep fighting because we still have a very long way to go. When they retaliate, feel the pain, feel the fear but never forget to feel the gain. Because backlash only occurs when progress has been made. And that is something that is worth fighting for.
And of course, people who engage in violent behavior must be held accountable. But accountability is different than retaliation or vengeance. And you know that. So be proud. Feel the power and compassion within you that lets you face horrifying contempt without succumbing to it. You know how to disapprove of someone’s actions and condemn their behaviors without demonizing or dehumanizing them. That is a powerful skill. So keep it, hone it and improve upon it. Be strong, be unwavering, be pragmatic, be kind but be no-nonsense about the BS. Be gentle but firm.
Recognize that your experience, what you offer to the fight and the boundaries you must set will depend on a multitude of things including the current quality of your mental health and the amount of privilege you have (or don’t have). Remember that if you have privilege and non-debilitating mental health then you have an obligation to get out there and use your resources to fight and you have a responsibility to not monopolize the fight nor take credit for the work of those with fewer resources and less privilege.