by Jonathan Fisk
Hurt runs deep. It’s experienced personally, intergenerationally, and through empathy within and between communities. As a mixed Puerto Rican, queer, genderqueer person with numerous health complications, hurt is nothing new to me. Recently, communities are paying greater attention to the interplay between mental health and social justice activism. Often, though, these discussions limit their scopes of mental health to conditions that have become more normalized to the public eye: stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and trauma. What happens when our state of mind is more taboo? What happens when we’re riddled with suicidal thoughts and ideations?
For clarification, having suicidal ideations doesn’t inherently mean planning on committing suicide. Suicidal ideations manifest themselves differently for people, so I can only speak to my own experience. My suicidal ideations are akin to an itch that just can’t be scratched, sitting in the back of my head, unyielding. At the slightest mistake or pain, or sometimes unprompted, the ideations grow louder; I can’t help but think about how much happier people would be without me, how killing myself now could save others the unnecessary burden I put on them, how the pains I experience from all the trauma and injustices in the world will never end so I should just give in. These thoughts don’t push me to make any suicidal plans, and I haven’t inflicted self-harm in years, but the suicidal ideations always remain hovering over me.
BGD is a reader-funded non-profit.
GIVE BACK and help amplify marginalized voices.
I’m writing this piece so those going through similar struggles, balancing mental health and their various identities & statuses, will know that they are not alone, and to potentially help them process and understand themselves, as other writers have done for me. I also want to push others, especially those working in social justice fields and community work, to better understand how mental health and activism can interplay. As the poet Camille Dungy once told me, if I have something worth saying, write it out, because chances are there are others who feel the same who would want to read it.
Outside of the standard pain that comes with being aware of countless global injustices, and devoting so much energy into social justice work that renders what often feels like only minimal gains, if that, having suicidal ideations brings its own suite of hurts. In addition to the pain of the ideations themselves, having suicidal ideations fosters an incredible sense of guilt. How can I even think of suicide when so many others have their lives cut short? How can I, as someone with educational privilege and access to more resources than I could imagine, even consider forfeiting everything when so many others are forced into lives where their opportunities are severely limited by oppressive systems?
With all of the additional pain and guilt, I frequently need to carve out space for me to not only process current events, but to also wrestle and reconcile my own thoughts. It’s all too easy to get lost in my thoughts and fears, making for some damn unpleasant public experiences, especially when well-meaning friends try to ask about what’s bothering me. How the fuck am I supposed to even approach the topic of suicidal ideations made worse by global injustices during casual conversation? Is that even possible considering most people don’t understand the nuances of suicidal ideations, and that many people (especially self-labeled allies) have good intentions but are unaware of so much of the trauma different communities go through, and explaining either would likely further deteriorate my mental state? The pain runs so deep that this space to process and heal is necessary, lest I lash out at those who don’t quite understand my hurt or aren’t equipped with the language and knowledge needed to approach these topics and politics.
After the July 4th killing of Anthony Nuñez at the hands of the police, this space became crucial for me. As a fellow Latinx person dealing with depression, I saw a lot of myself in his story. Living in San Jose this summer, the same city where police gunned Anthony down, a wave of feared crashed over me. What would happen if I, too, were to become suicidal and someone called the police, hoping they could help me? Would the threat of my brown skin and mental anguish outweigh my need for assistance and care, prompting the police to execute me as well? Would the media also be quiet on the grave mishandling of my time of need? The role of the police should be to de-escalate, not act as an execution squad, so what even was the point in them coming to ‘assist’ Anthony Nuñez if all they would do is end up killing him in the end, despite being warned that he was suicidal and in a fragile state of mind? Anthony Nuñez’s story was another painful reminder that this country will never be safe for me as a brown, queer, genderqueer person with suicidal ideations.
Despite the pain I carry, or, rather, because of the pain, the cause for liberation and justice fuels me to relentlessly push forward. No matter how strong my hurt, I must endure it, because my sheer existence is an act of resistance. Sometimes I may even dare smile in the face of systems that would rather see me incarcerated or dead. After all, my life is bigger than just myself. I have a responsibility to my elders and ancestors, who fought and resisted and persevered for the sake of future generations. To my communities for supporting me over the years and expending endless emotional labor on me. To those younger than me because as an elder to them I must fight in hopes that they won’t have to deal with the same injustices I have. To think that we are alone in this world, and that our successes are solely of our own doing, is to be incorrect. Those who came before us have cleared the paths we walk on, and I feel responsible to respect this legacy through action. That said, no one should endure pain for others unless personally compelled to, especially given the daily traumas our communities face.
Although the pain of continual suicidal thoughts and ideations is remarkably taxing, for me (and I can only speak for myself on this) this pain can also function as a source of purpose, actualizing the idea of “by any means necessary”. Rather than throw away my life, I can live as a tool to further social justice causes. If nothing else, I believe I owe it to those whose lives were taken far too soon, to live on for their sake.
Jonathan Fisk is a queer & genderqueer mixed Puerto Rican student and researcher from Long Beach, California. When not busy fighting to save the oceans, he enjoys cooking, scuba diving, and hiking. They firmly believe in the need for intra- and inter-community love to combat systems of injustice.