by Bryant Arnold
I had a rough last few months. I grieved and participated in the activism around state violence and the extrajudicial killing of black folks in this country, reminded of the danger and uncertainty of being a queer, black body in this world, and lived in a toxic home environment that I was unexpectedly told to leave from. I confided to a select few folks of my troubles, particularly to those who currently experience mental distress, in hopes they could relate and hear out my worries.
One of the few friends I had that lived close by would be one of the first to learn of my removal from my current housing situation. When I met them in person, I was pretty sardonic about the situation. I was helpless and upset by what I interpreted as betrayal and misguided trust in these individuals with whom I shared a living space. Without the means or plans to move, I felt trapped. After I had spoken of my distress, the friend began to talk about what they were going through. In the middle of their talk, I shut down. Whatever empathy I could express wasn’t coming out and I felt numb.
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What they were telling me seemed relatively minor to my own situation (which was hella problematic and I own up to it completely), and yet, their hurt from that situation was clear. All I knew is we were both deeply troubled: our declining mental health made us particularly vulnerable at that moment, and as a black person as well, they felt the weight of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice’s murders on their heart. I left from that meeting feeling more overwhelmed and emotionally troubled. How do you offer emotional support when you yourself are preoccupied with your own hurt and mental distress?
Experiencing mental distress in the form of generalized and social anxiety, I am often misunderstood. I’d say a good amount of folks are aware of me having mental distress, and I reveal a bit more to those who share similar mental health problems to myself. There’s something reassuring about sharing your story with people who aren’t going to say a) you’re exaggerating, b) you’re being sensitive, c) you’re crazy, or d) you need to get over it. Often times, our mental distress intersects with other parts of identities, and it’s exceptionally helpful to share your story with those who can relate to your experience with racism and queerphobia. As most of us know, our mental distress goes hand in hand with oppression and affects the way we respond to injustice.
When a disabled friend tells me they can’t show up to a march to protest the murders of black women and men like Michael Brown and Renisha McBride, I take their word for it and move on. Ableism repeatedly shows up in movements by making activism highly inaccessible and it’s unfortunate that liberation leaves out the needs of the disabled community and barely acknowledges our worth. With disability justice in mind, my community of folks with disabilities readily pick up our marginalization in movements. We take away the shame and unnecessary apologies that able-bodied folks expect from you when you don’t show up. We give each other valuable insight on how to navigate this world while mentally distressed and commit to being each other’s healers.
Don’t get me wrong: most of us are not mental health professionals and have no business being each other’s counselors (though I don’t necessarily feel as though therapy is necessary for everyone. Not to mention many of us may not even have the access.). Nonetheless, we offer each other stories, wisdom, patience, and understanding (while screwing up from time to time), a tall order for someone not understanding of disabilities and/or unwilling to learn. They have provided me some of the greatest medicine I could find without the need for psychiatric drugs, drugs that have previously wreaked havoc on this body that must already manage the physiological effects of anxiety.
I talked to the friend from before a week later, cooled down and no longer bogged down by frustration. And in a sense, our meeting was a reminder of how necessary it is for me to have these types of connections. This was a friend who I can talk with about our concerns and ideas while being black, queer, and disabled. These folks that I lean on for support are not going to always be present based on where they’re at, and like the situation above, sometimes I won’t be able to do the same. We’re misunderstood, marginalized bodies who feel the weight of the world in our psyches and our bodies, and much needed down-time is required to process our experiences. That could mean creating space between us and other people in order to recharge and truly “be present” the next time around. I am indebted to this friend who bears with me in my struggles, just as I would do the same for them, and I come out of that particular experience having a lot of love for my community of folks with disabilities. Our existence, our stories matter, and I hope we can continue to be each other’s best advocates.
Bryant is a queer, femme nerd of color working part time jobs in the Seattle area. In his free time, he takes long walks around the neighboring towns, obsesses over video games, and loves reading and writing.
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