I am sitting here, reading article after article posted in various media outlets, shocked at how humanity has become so bold behind the safety of their computer. The amount of hate, bigotry, racism, sexism, and just plain ole’ ignorance spewing from the mouths of humans is astounding. It also leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach whenever I think about bringing my own children into this world (someday). Of course they’ll be judged for their hobbies and interests and clothing. Naturally, they’ll be taunted at school for not looking a certain way or playing a sport well enough. Adults are no different as I see on social media and elsewhere on the web. Adults shaming one another for believing in something that someone else deems unfathomable, an abomination. Maybe I’m just lucky to have a family who loves and accepts me and supports me, but I am no stranger to criticism and personal attacks on my lifestyle.
When I was first diagnosed with depression, the idea of of talking about it with my then-boyfriend turned my insides into a pretzel. Divulging this information to close friends also made me queasy. I knew mental illness wasn’t something you casually bring up on first dates or at a party meeting new people. Still, I didn’t want to feel ashamed of my deep, dark “secret”. To this day, I only talk about my bad days with a handful of folks and there was an internal tug-o-war when deciding if I should put all of it into a blog. Online commentators can be even more ruthless than those who say it to your face. Their words can cut deeper because you see that comment and it’s forever embedded in your memory. It repeats over and over and you let someone who doesn’t even know you dictate how you should feel.
What. The. Fuck.
Excuse my language, but really. Where does the hatred end and compassion begin? Where does opinion stop at personal attack and become constructive instead of vile? When do we stop feeding this idea of the “right” way to live when everyone on this planet brings a unique gift or skill-set to the table? When do we start just being…decent humans?
1. There is no “right way” to live, despite what all the world tells you. By all means, lend a helping hand and useful piece of advice if you think it’s necessary, but I ultimately decide what to do with that information. I’ll be grateful for your insight and will tell you that, but what works for you may not work for me. Example: You’re not depressed, you’re just having a bad day. You’ll grow out of it. Just take a nice long bath. You’re so dramatic anyways. Oh, OK, yes, you may think this is helpful. My therapist thinks otherwise and I don’t always agree with everything she says either. The point is, healthy debate is FINE if you are willing to truly LISTEN to every side of the story before passing judgement instead of automatically putting your blinders on. We aren’t always right and we aren’t necessarily wrong either. We just live in a place where commonalities are subtle but the chance to grow and thrive through learning through others is smacking you in the face. Realize it and if it’s not your cup of tea, then move on, please. Know when to step away from the situation if you feel vicious words rising up in your throat.
2. In that same vein, disagreement is OK but know when the conversation is headed in a completely different direction, like it’s clear this is a personal attack, you can try to steer it back on course or just walk away. My friends come from all over the US, celebrate different religions, some don’t believe in God, some go to Bible study on Sundays. I have a “gusband” (gay husband) whom I adore completely because he’s artistic and a brilliant designer of things, likes the same weird underground music as me, loves wine nights, and opens his home to me whenever I’m visiting New York. I look past his sexual orientation because it’s whatever. He has so many other traits that it breaks my heart when the LGBTQ community is looked at simply for their lifestyle choices. It also bhurts when Catholics get scrutinized for their homophobic views because I was raised as Catholic, too, and it seems unfair to lump us all into one category. I am not homophobic but I am not against religions that so devoutly follow their doctrines. In fact, that’s admirable–to follow something so faithfully, I sometimes wish I felt that way about one particular thing. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and their opinions, but when those turn hateful it’s time to take a step back to reflect. Why am I upset? What is causing my to react this way? At the end of the day, we all have a beating heart under skin and muscle. Remember the Golden Rule? About treating others as you would want to be treated? Thought so.
3. Educate before you discriminate. Pinterest, your parents, your teachers–growing up, you’re told that being different is OK, to stand out is fine. So as soon as we actually evolve into something different, everyone is up in arms trying to rectify the situation. Those suffering from mental illness were given electroshock therapy because people literally believed you could be shocked out of depression/bipolar disorder/schizophrenia/etc. Salem Witch Trials? Spanish Inquisition? The Crusades? The Holocaust? Civil unrest across the world? Throughout history, humans persecuted other humans in the name of something but did they all truly have an understanding of what they were fighting against? We may never know. My guess is “nope”. A friend of a friend of their mother’s best friend’s daughter said so; therefore, it has to be. When we don’t understand a thing fully, do me a favor and educate yourself first on the matter. I work for an extremely diverse organization. We have members from all parts of the world, practicing different religions, speaking other languages, identifying with one political view over another. Yes, it was difficult for me–a white, middle class female raised in white suburbia–to transition into this environment. But honestly, it was the most beautiful transition I could have hoped for. When I didn’t understand something, I wasn’t ignorant. I didn’t apologize for not having prior knowledge, but I asked if they wouldn’t mind explaining it to me–a custom, a worldview, a prayer, food, a certain style of dress, why they thought this and not that. It was dialogue. Such a beautiful thing that can be! When I started traveling, I finally began to take in what it means to be human in other parts of the world, even if I didn’t agree with their ways.
So what did I discover through my own depression? I discovered compassion for myself and for others. I learned that healthy disagreements can be cogs in a wheel that can ultimately lead to innovation and spark change because I had to explain to others what depression is. I found that hatred doesn’t solve a problem with even more hatred and that sometimes we have to walk away from narrow-mindedness instead of being fuel for that sort of fire. Sure, it caused some friendships to dissolve, but I’m OK with the fact that some folks just don’t want to talk about mental illness and that’s fine. When we don’t have a clear understanding of something, it’s OK to have an opinion but who are we to judge others when we’re all hiding skeletons in the closet. I say, boogie with your skeletons, let your freak flag fly, or if you want to sit this one out, that’s OK, too. You do what’s best for you and let others do what’s best for them so long as it ain’t seriously hurting anybody.