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Tag Archives: interrupting the cycle

Like so many others, I woke up to the news about the Orlando shooting today. It is heartbreaking, shocking, gut-wrenching, awful. And I am sure in the days to come, after the deadliest mass shooting in American history (and let’s face it, we’re a world leader in mass shootings), there will be so many calls to action. We will shout at each other about gun control, about terrorism, about homosexuality, about politicians. Somebody needs to do something, we will say. What will it take? How many people have to die before someone does something?

Problem is, we can’t agree on what someone should do. Take away all the guns? Give everyone a gun? Give guns to only the good guys and ask them to protect the ‘normal’ people from the bad guys? Send away all the people who don’t look like us? Kill the people who kill people, to show that killing people is wrong? Demand that our society do more to support mental health services? Address homelessness and abuse? Abolish religious extremism? Legislate morality?

Truth is, none of that will do any good. None of our grand plans for saving the world will mean a damn thing, because there’s one thing we refuse to see and refuse to change.

We have to stop de-humanizing the people we disagree with.

But of course we do. That’s obvious. Those people, those other people, they need to stop dehumanizing LGBT people and people of color, people of size, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, people who work in the sex industry, people who want to make choices about how and when and why they reproduce. Of course, it’s obvious. The problem is hatred. If we could only eliminate those other people with the hateful world view. Get rid of them. Change their minds.

Yes, society needs to stop de-humanizing all those groups, I agree. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Look. Everyone killed or injured in the Orlando shooting today… each one of them was a human person. Each one of them had a childhood. Each one of them has family. Each one of them loved and was loved by other people.

But the same is true of the man who shot them. That man is a real human person.

The Stanford rapist is a real human person.

The San Bernadino shooter is a real human person.

The Boston marathon bombers are real human people.

The killer in Charleston is a real human person.

This is not an excuse for the harm they’ve done. This does not forgive, nor cover, nor condone, the reprehensible actions these people have taken. It does not restore the lives they’ve taken or ruined or altered irrevocably. This does not pardon the hurt they’ve caused. This does not absolve them of responsibility. We condemn those actions, and they deserve condemnation. This does not change any of that.

But these people are people. And we must remember that.

We must remember that one killer with religious views does not make a religion of killers.

We must remember that if the rape of a 23-year-old woman is unconscionable, then so is gleefully wishing rape upon a 20-year-old man.

We must remember a sexist culture wounds and oppresses all who live within it – male, female, and everything in between.

We must remember that violence and vengeance are a never-ending cycle; those who live within it may never escape it.

We must remember that it is all too easy to point the finger at other groups of people. All too easy to blame them for our misfortunes and rationalize a hatred and fear that is, at its heart, irrational.

It’s not easy. In our shock and fear and pain, our immediate reaction is to lash out. Call for blood. Point the finger. Shift the blame. Convince ourselves more than even that we are right and those who oppose us are wrong. Convince ourselves that we know the answers. That it could have been prevented, had we only woken up, had we only taken action, if only they’d listened to us and done XYZ.

There is no law we can enact or repeal that will force us to see the humanity in everyone – those who disgust us, those who insult us, those who hurt us, those who are frightening and unknown to us. Those who wound us. Those who shock us. Those who oppress us.

When those people cease to be people to us – when instead they are a monster or a monolith – that is when we most risk losing our own humanity. That is when we begin to follow the same path our shooters, our rapists, our bombers walked down. That is when we heap upon others the fear and hurt and anger that someone else heaped upon us. That is when we perpetuate the hatred that so wounded us. In putting a murderer to death we are all murderers.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that until all the world learns to see all the world with compassion, these horrors will continue.

Greta Christina wrote this amazing post a few days ago on how she re-organizes her priorities to manage her depression. It’s a great read, and I think her strategies are spot-on. Self-care is so incredibly important in a lot of ways, and doubly so when you’re dealing with  big difficult shit. So it hit me right in the feels when, at the end of the post, she talked about how she second-guesses this strategy of re-prioritizing: how she feels like the people around her probably expect more out of her but she can’t tell if they actually think that or if it’s just the depression talking. She talks about how she doesn’t have a reliable barometer for judging that; how she doesn’t have a clear sense of which expectations are external and which ones are internal.

So, Greta, this is what I think. (Since you asked.)

Depression loves to make you second-guess yourself. Depression loves to convince you that you can’t make good decisions for yourself. There’s nothing Depression enjoys more than reminding you of all the ways you screwed up and what a mess you are.

For instance, when I ask myself, “What should I do today?” Depression answers:

Well, you need to get some writing done, you’re out of backup posts. You were supposed to keep on top of this and always have your writing done a week in advance. It’s been a busy week? Oh, yeah, sooo busy volunteering for extra hours at your part-time job, and going shopping with your friends and going out to dinner even though you can’t afford it. You lazy ass. If you were any good as a writer this wouldn’t be a problem. Plus, it’s not like you’re breaking any new ground – you just read other blog posts and spend 2378 words saying some variation of “Yeah, what she said.” You never have anything good to say, and you’ll probably just end up surfing Facebook anyway. What, you want to knit? Oh, yeah, because knitting is totally a great way to achieve your goals and make money and pull yourself out of this pit you’re in. What a waste of your fucking time. Plus, I know you want to knit yourself a new scarf but you promised your co-worker you’d knit him a plushie, and I’m pretty sure your friend is still waiting on that sweater you told her you’d make for her birthday, and weren’t you going to knit a blanket for that one friend’s wedding? Oh, yeah, good idea, maybe you should just read all day. That’s productive. You should be cleaning the bathroom, you failure.

Depression makes you doubt yourself. It tells you that you’re not good enough. It tells you that if you’re not doing The Most Important And Fulfilling Thing That Also Changes The World, then you’re being frivolous and stupid. Depression is the ultimate manipulator: it makes you doubt your reality. It convinces you that you’re lying to yourself. Someone complimented your outfit? Psh, they were just being nice. Someone tells you they love you? Huh, they must want something from you. Someone recognizes your work in a meaningful way? Eh, it wasn’t that good, they just have really low standards. They don’t really know what they’re talking about, it’s not like they’re an expert in the industry.

Depression is also really good at making you believe you can’t live without it. It reminds you that you should be humble, that you shouldn’t toot your own horn, that there will always be people who are better than you at everything. It tells you that people don’t really like you; they just act like it because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. It tells you that you shouldn’t ask people for what they need, because then you’ll be sooo needy and pathetic and gross and everyone will hate you. Depression convinces you it’s your only friend. Depression likes to separate you from your friends and family; the people in your life who support you and love you. It convinces you that they don’t really care about you. It convinces you that they only want to take from you; that they’re not willing to give. Depression tells you it’s wrong and selfish to ask your girlfriend to remind you that you’re important to her. It tells you that your friends are busy and don’t want you bugging them just to talk because you’re feeling down. It tells you you’re lazy and horrible for asking your husband to make lunch for you. Depression tells you not to eat the sandwich.

Depression will always try to convince you that your self-care is meaningless and frivolous. That‘s because Depression is a big nasty jerk manipulator who knows that if you start feeling better, you’ll kick it out of the house. It knows that if you spend some time cheering yourself up, you won’t hang out with it anymore and it will have to go find someone else to suck the life out of. So it does everything in its power to convince you that even when you’re doing something that feels good, you should feel bad about it.

Sometimes it’s important to do unimportant things. Sometimes it’s important to waste time. When Depression hits you and starts calling you names, you are right to re-prioritize your life in ways that make it stop. Does it make you feel good? Then do it. Does it shut Depression up for a bit? Then it’s important. Depression is an asshole, an abuser and a manipulator, and let’s be totally honest here: it would kill you if it thought it could. Sure, getting a manicure might not be The Most Important And Fulfilling Thing That Also Changes The World… but it might be A Small Step Toward Saving Your Life.

And that? That is important. It’s not the act itself – the getting of the manicure, the walking forty minutes for a loaf of bread, the going outside or the calling a friend… it’s the significance of the act. It’s the walking forty minutes for a loaf of bread because the walking cheers you up and the bread will be a nice treat. It’s the going outside because outside, it’s harder to believe that you are isolated and miserable and going nowhere with your life. It’s the getting the manicure because that manicure means you are allowing someone else to take care of you in a small way, a way that you maybe can’t take care of yourself. None of these acts are intrinsically important or vital to survival… but they are important in the context of interrupting the cycle of depression. And that makes them worthwhile.

Patton Oswalt

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