Facing the World When it Hurts: How to Remain Engaged When you Live with Depression
One thing that has been especially present in my mind is how much American society sets up a false dichotomy between the personal and the social.
While the world falls apart around us, us mental health practitioners, who have often been trained to remain neutral and apolitical, continue operating with our marketing materials and in the context of our clinical work in a state of stasis; as if things remain the same. Although this is often a product of genuine bewilderment and heartbreak, I often wonder how this comes across to communities who have been suffering the most, specifically Black, Brown, and LGBTQ communities, who have higher documented rates of stress and PTSD due to experiences of oppression, and who often present with symptoms of depression, anxiety-related disorders, and other conditions that go untreated.
Like many friends and community members, over the past couple of weeks which have been marked by extreme violence against LGBTQ, Latinx, and Black communities, I have fought the impulse to hide under my covers and not come out.
There is a deep tragedy in being human, specifically in the way we seem to be drawn towards different forms of avoidance to cope with our suffering. Often that avoidance contributes to even more suffering.
Sometimes that avoidance ends up retraumatizing us. For those of us who come from Black and LGBTQ communities, many talented writers from those communities have contributed beautifully about how to care care of yourself and avoid retraumatization in the face of heavy media coverage of acts of violence. In the spirit of fully respecting these voices, I will not echo their shining contributions. I also won’t do the injustice of speaking on their behalf.
Instead, I will address this post to those of us (us meaning the “I” and the “we”) who have been fighting the urge to avoid and how we may take care of ourselves in the process of continuing to engage with the world.
Remain willing to experience discomfort-If you notice that when reading a blog post, friend’s response, video, or other element of social media you begin to respond anxiously or defensively, especially if the media is written by a Black, Latinx, or LGBTQ person, sit with it. Engage with the emotion. Maybe you can focus on what color it is. Maybe you can focus on the shape or size. Only by engaging with emotional discomfort can we fight our own sense of powerlessness and find room to grow.
Wait to respond-For those of us who are quick to bite back, take a breath. Make sure you’re breathing. Wait at least two seconds before responding to a comment on social media or a conversation with a coworker. Also, during times like this, when oppressed communities are in mourning, approach social media sharing the way in which you would approach speaking with loved ones at a funeral. Many people have commented over the last several days about the disparity between posts by whites and Black and Brown communities after the shooting deaths by police officers of Alton Sterling and Philando Casile. Black, brown, and LGBTQ communities have been in a state of mourning. Every single one of the men and women who have been killed by police or in the Orlando shootings was someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister, and loved one. Individuals in your social network or your workplace may be recovering from PTSD or depression themselves based in experiences of racism or oppression. If you wouldn’t share it at a funeral, be wary about how, when, and what you decide to share on social media by taking a breath and considering the collective impact it may have on your community at a specific moment in time.
Give back, in any way you can-On the local Black Lives Matter Facebook page here in Sacramento, a woman reached out to the group in a wonderful way. She posted that she was a massage therapist and wanted to help to organize a self-care event for activists and Black community members here in Sacramento. I find this to be an incredibly touching and meaningful way to be of service within the scope of what your talents are. Not all of us have the time or the availability to attend a rally or protest, or for now, it may be just outside of your comfort zone. In that case, make a donation. Order some pizzas and have them dropped off at a community event. Volunteer your time to working with youth. Offer rides to community organizing events for community members who do not have a car or may have limited mobility. You will be giving back and will learn an enormous amount in the process.
Take care of yourself-Especially if you’re living with depression, chronic pain, anxiety, or PTSD, take care of yourself during this time. Stay alert to the world, but maintain balance by engaging your muscles, and connecting with other people.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for taking the time to read this. What else do you think we can do to support oppressed communities while strengthening our own mental and emotional health and well-being?