“It was not only the realization, which maybe should not have taken so long, that the brilliant and charismatic young leaders of [Millennial Activists United] teeter on the edge of suicidal despair, but the fact that I recognized their despair. I had gone through it myself.”
-Kate Raphael, “Why do so many activists commit suicide?”
“Because the truth is, we need each other. We need each other. I need you and each and every one of you make my life more possible. We owe our existence to each other in so many ways. I don’t know how you have survived, but I am grateful you are here.”
-Mia Mingus, “On Collaboration: Starting With Each Other”
As with many things I write, I feel I must start with a confession.
Perhaps it is the ex-Catholic in me but it seems a good place to start as any. Both so that I can be honest with whoever reads this and so that I honor the time someone takes to read something potentially frivolous.
So here goes:
I think about suicide often.
There are days where I imagine wasting away and being forgotten by my friends.
There are days in which I can’t help but have knives and medication on my mind.
There are days it is impossible for me to imagine what being out of bed and being without some kind of pain are like.
There are days in which I just want the world to go away for a bit, or at least remove my involvement in it.
On those days, it is hard to imagine much will change and that the point in which I find myself now will not remain my fate for months, perhaps even for years to come.
And yet, I do not want to die.
I truly do not.
Although these are not days I look forward to, I have come to accept this is what many days will be like. For as long as I experience depression, anxiety, and all the other disability issues I deal with, there will likely be many days like this in my future.
In all honesty, I would like to imagine some kind of future in which I am happy. I would like to imagine a time where my partner and I are together, where I have good connections with my friends, and my family is a source of comfort in my life.
I want to imagine a future, even if the present makes that feel like the most guaranteed of impossibilities.
But why do I bring this up now?
Why, in the midst of winter and the post-holiday season, do I bring up such an unpleasant topic?
The simple answer is, oddly enough, a question.
And that question boils down to the following: how stable do my friends and extended support circles expect me to be in the midst of a world keen on reminding me of my inadequacy?
Or, perhaps said another way, what am I expecting of myself in terms of stability and productivity, particularly in light of the distressing relationship I find myself in to the world and others?
To be clear, I ask this not to ponder aimlessly about the human condition or simply dwell on unpleasant things. Instead, I ask this more to address an expectation I am finding to be more relevant to my life as a disabled, queer, and trans person of color with no employment. An expectation that, as I get older, feels impossible to ignore in light of the recent holiday season.
Having recently developed a rift with family members over my trans status, it was difficult to get through this past holiday season. Images of familial joy haunted every facebook status I read and it was hard not to feel a bit jealous towards those who could celebrate so casually with loved ones. As much happiness as I sincerely wished chosen family and those who supported me as I needed, I couldn’t help but carry a heavy heart throughout the past weeks.
However, although I still carry a heavy heart, I find I am troubled now not by sadness per se but a nagging curiosity. A curiosity rooted in something beyond just wishing I had the same happy family relations that other friends have.
As I continue to navigate personal relationships with friends, family, and other people in organizing contexts, I wonder more and more about what is expected of marginalized people beyond their organizing work. Not only in how they contribute their knowledge, labor, and time to movement work but also how they are expected to feel and act about this work.
By this, I mean to say that it seems the more I talk to people who put their hearts and souls into educating others and imagining better futures, the more I encounter a creeping sense of loneliness.
A sense of feeling left out in the cold.
A “sense of alienation” from those who once energized us and a feeling of being “unseen or underappreciated” when our passion runs low and we must face the reality of people who do not value our work the same way.
I am left wondering just how stable we expect one another to be in our lives outside the movements we cling to for care and support.
How stable and productive do we expect marginalized folk to be and act, especially those of us who are queer, trans, disabled, poc, or all of the above?
Many of us deal with low-income statuses or limited means of obtaining financial resources when needed.
Many of us have difficulty accessing needed healthcare or resources that would make the world more accessible to us.
Many of us have tense relationships with family or have long felt we can have only chosen family because of how our birth families demean us.
Many of us simply cut off connections to our birth family when we are asked to sacrifice too much of ourselves in order to make them feel more at peace around their inconvenient loved ones.
We put so much of ourselves into these movements. We devote time, effort, love, and more trying our hardest to imagine a world kinder and warmer than the one we have.
And yet still the feeling of isolation persists.
And yet still so many bodies are left to bear the cold of the world as they did before.
What can we expect of one another in a world that feels so lonely and cold on the best of occasions?
This is the question that so many unpleasant days and thoughts have led me to ask.
I ask because, in light of how bitter so many people can feel about movements and their stake in life, why would stability be something being asked of such strained people?
Why would we ask, or even implicitly demand, that happiness and consistent functioning be a prerequisite to engaging with one another in the world?
To be clear, I am not saying that we all need to be perpetually miserable and remain stuck solely in our bitter states of life. Such thoughts, while potentially productive, are draining and I would not wish that unpleasantness on any loved one or friend. I am also not asking that we all remain in poverty or not wish to improve our life conditions, emotionally or materially. As someone who has been unemployed over a year and needed to ask for help from friends on several occasions, I will be the last one to ask that of others. I want a better life and I think desiring a better life in general is worthwhile.
No, what I am asking for instead is for us to imagine something different entirely.
What I am asking for is that we imagine less demanded of those at the margins, of those already stressed out by a world that tells them how useless and unproductive they are.
I am asking for gentleness.
For something that is hard to describe but must be said anyways.
I am asking for love.
I am asking us all for a love that places those bodies most strained by this world at the forefront of people’s concerns.
I am asking us all to consider a world where people torn by such thoughts of loneliness, isolation, and dread are not asked to stitch themselves up together for the sake of a being convenient for those in more privileged social positions.
I am asking us to imagine what a world with love for these bodies as they are-not as people feel comfortable having them- would mean for the communities we create in the future.
How do we grow a love that says “I am here for you as you can be and not as I want you to be”?
How do we cultivate a love and world that, as disability justice writer Leah Lakshmi writes, “we all-in our individual bodies-get to be present fiercely as we make change,” even if perhaps we feel unable to live long enough to see that change?
How do we make room for the suicidal, the despairing, and those who can’t always imagine sticking around despite community support and yet still want to do the work of creating better futures?
How do we imagine liberation and love for this new world, without expecting everyone to manage a veneer of stability on every occasion?
In hindsight, asking one question about stability or marginalized folk in general always seems to prompt more questions in turn. Much of what I say here could in fact be very personal and only relevant to my own experiences with suicide and isolation from family, friends, and organizing.
But I am inclined to think otherwise.
I am inclined to believe that at times we ask so much of one another and forget what is being lost for the sake of appearing comfortable or avoiding difficult emotions.
As much as I know this world can and will be better with how much people fight for it, it wears us out.
It wears us out so much.
And there are times where appearing all put together maybe isn’t needed.
Maybe appearing to be a pillar of strength and stability isn’t needed when that means ignoring just how much you hold up.
Or how tiring that can be.
Maybe what we need is each other and to remember, as disability justice advocate Mia Mingus says, that if “we are truly committed to ending oppression and violence, then we must be committed to each other” even through the darkest periods of our lives.
If only so that when we imagine a better future, there is room in it for even those who couldn’t imagine being there in the first place.
If only so that at the end of the day “the movements, and the people in those movements, stay alive.”