Trigger warning: mention of bullying and Meghan’s suicidal thoughts
Have you been feeling raw this week? I have. It’s not just because it’s been exactly a year since we all erased ourselves from public life, though that’s a biggie all on its own. How we have endured this lack of connection will fill many tomes before the next year is done.
But it’s also a kind of terrible trauma. We had to do so much to get to where we are. We had to keep away from people while also collaborating with them so we could educate our kids, mitigate a tidal wave of a death toll, and yes, do battle with some of our own leaders, who proceeded with their own vaccination schedules and excellent medical treatment, while watching us tremble even to be around other people long enough to buy food, because we had no guarantee of receiving care should we need it, and we were often forced to be around people who believed the pandemic to be a hoax, and refused to follow precautions. Then we had to watch an insurrection play out, a cat and mouse hunting game that almost ended in mass murder. And we had to believe and hope and act so that blatant voter suppression wouldn’t cut off the one path we had to end this long nightmare.
In the face of all these unbelievable events, normalcy is difficult to grasp. I get exhausted going out even for quick errands. I am forced to actively ignore the cognitive dissonance of people who thought the recent leadership had some good points, but are now racing to get vaccinated, and lecturing us about getting along so that we won’t remind them of how their fence sitting helped create the chaos we are now crawling over PTSD shards to survive. I struggle to believe in the good that is already unfolding while we abide continually at home, keeping A in decent spirits, and nothing material has shifted for us. Of course a sense of ease is an elusive thing. Instead of grasping at it, I’m just going to try to be still and wait for my tiara to regenerate. Until then, I can’t be sparkly, and that’s okay.
I’ve described my mental state on purpose because I want to continue some thoughts from my last two posts. If you remember, I was connecting Meghan and Harry’s interview to commonplace assumptions about mental health. Specifically, I wrote about how we desis can do better at supporting one another’s wellbeing.
As I’ve reflected on the jokes and snarky opinion pieces and etc about the royal family, and how they have been denying that they are racist, other stuff receded, and what I am left with is this thought: most of the attitude in the reactions can be traced to the unease which comes up when we realize that something we have said or done might have contributed to someone’s despair.
This isn’t something only adults know. How many times have we read accounts of school aged bullies who snidely exhorted their victims to kill themselves. This also isn’t information that only millennials and Gen Z have. Older people are guilty too, for example when they scoff at the idea that their shaming and judgment might push a young person to self harm or disordered eating. “She should be more resilient than that. I have been through worse with my schoolmates/mother-in-law. Everyone is so fragile nowadays.”
We all have power, and we have all misused it, sometimes knowingly. It’s unlikely that most of us wished someone would be driven to self harm by our words. But just by being in relationship with other people, we have an impact. I think it is very disingenuous of the royal family to say they will handle the issue privately, thus taking a potshot at the public interview with Oprah, when the queen’s ex daughter-in-law was driven to her death, photographed while she was dying, and no obvious lesson was learned from the tragedy. For the tabloid press to now be offended by Harry speaking to an American interviewer makes me laugh. Why would he speak to an entity that stood by and watched his mother die, and would have gladly documented his wife’s breakdown too, had they had access to her? The royals knew what they were doing when they removed Harry’s security detail.
But more to the point I am trying to make, the family is squirming because they are reluctant to see how their actions directly led to this situation. And this is why so many desis are vibing with this moment, however insensitively. Because we are so used to some people in our communities causing damage through vicious words, cruel shunning, covert and overt mockery, and constant shifting of moral goalposts to suit the moment, then refusing to face how serious the impact of such warfare can be. We have the meme-worthy language of tv soaps because the soaps are just portraying in melodramatic form the contempt and power mongering that are easily perceived around us.
Of course uneasy participants and bystanders would fear the fallout from someone finally speaking up about what it did to her. And rush to cover it with laughter. With protestations that they were merely acting to uphold cherished traditions. A way of life.
Such defensive maneuvers are usually accompanied by reminders that the tormentors are good folk. They gave a lot of money to good causes. They are so good to Other People Who Are Not You. You too could have experienced their good side, but you didn’t follow the social code. Your suffering is of your own making. Shoulda stayed in your own sphere and not aimed too high, Icarus.
There is also the fact that we don’t actually have a way of knowing which things we say or do might cause such a level of despair in someone. And this is why, when the royals are being offered an opportunity to make amends, one hopes they take it, and not give in to the ease of rigidity. If someone tells us we hurt them, we have options. And if our intent is to dial back harm, we know very well which choice to make. But because it involves giving up privilege and admitting wrong, we want to believe that we can hold onto the way things are AND preserve life.
We all fear that people will see only the wrongs we committed, and not the good we have tried to perpetuate in our world. But the fact is, when we have harmed someone, everything else must fade away. There is only you and me, and I owe you more than the weight of my identity. I owe you a setting down of my history of trauma. I owe you a laying aside of my fear, which I have hidden with condescension and silence. Until I do that, nothing I say is truly reparative.
Do the royals need to play this out in front of us? They do not. But something very precious has been offered to them, and they, with their history of wiping their feet indifferently on the bodies and spirits of Black and brown people, are not filling us with optimism that they will make the choice appropriate to this moment in history.
So we cannot worry about them excessively. What we have been doing collectively is harnessing their current situation to the larger mental health discourse, and I think that can be fruitful.
People who undergo intensive therapy often gravitate to others who have as well. It is just such a relief to talk to people who have chosen to live and communicate with less toxicity. Honoring one another’s vulnerability is the most profound treasure we can seek.
On the flip side, we can sound really goofy to our family and friends. And that’s where the humor often stems from, as a means of blocking the honesty, which feels like the softest and most devastating accusation, and lands with the closest precision.
We can understand all the perspectives, and yet sometimes, there is still only one answer. When people display incredulity that someone they consider beneath them is actually asking for humanity, there is a lot of work to be done. Denial is not life sustaining. So we can talk and write about suicide prevention all we want, but what are we going to do differently inside our own hearts and communities and spheres of influence?