content warning: mentions of suicidalness, lots about ableism
I was arguing in my head with this guy who hurt my feelings a long time ago. I had some new ideas for him, so it made sense I wanted to argue with him this morning.
He was a zinester I really respected, about ten years ago. I loved his writing, and we were friends for a minute. Then he wrote me this letter regarding functionally ill. He said I shouldn’t write about being crazy, that I should focus on my strengths, not my weaknesses. He was tough love about, and I was stunned.
It hurt me because I felt like he was telling me to shut up about my life. I heard the “fake it till you make it” idea, which I find really annoying. I don’t need confidence–I need authenticity, reality, connection, understanding, access. I don’t need to smile more and pretend I’m not hurting. I need to tell my truth.
I’ve known some people over the years who killed themselves. The friend I was closest to who killed himself, he smiled all the time. He was a totally happy person, by all appearances. I don’t think that strategy works well. What an understatement! His pretending was part of what killed him.
And some disabilities, they don’t get better from positivity, really. “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs ever made it turn into a ramp,” said disability justice advocate Stella Young.
Functionally ill is the zine I’ve been most proud of, as I’ve worked on it for the past 13 years. It’s been a meaningful thread of my life, especially because of all the feedback I’ve received from friends and strangers who read it and felt less alone. Maybe it helped them get through a hard patch or have some extra strength to make it to the next lilypad. I mean life hands us a lot of pain and trials, and sometimes it’s so hard to survive this one and live to tell the tale, till the next one.
I feel like that about the radical mental health collective also–people come and go, and I hope the people who came and went got something that helped them find a resource or idea or insight that helps them continue. Even if they don’t need to stick around for more of our particular group.
This guy who hurt me, who I argue with in my head–he had trouble with employment. He was moving away to another state with his girlfriend, and it had to do with a job. He’d struggled, and he was a sad person. I think he was trying to squash my talking about my struggles because he was trying to squash his own. It was some “be positive” bullshit.
I love being positive and definitely dose myself every day with sunshines. But there’s a difference between therapeutic positivity and flat out denial. Hmm, I could say that 20 times. I love gratitude journaling and joking and trying to train myself for certain helpful behaviors, but denial kills! Worse than cotton!
I was riding my trike around the favorite church parking lot and telling this guy in my head how important it was to honor the people who are disabled and how it’s so many people. It’s not an us and them–it’s an us and us. If it’s not you, wait a few years, and it will be you, if not your mom or partner or friend.
Disabled people are not a rare, strange population that we don’t need to worry about. I’m so tired of people pretending that. Capitalism causing people to do that is a load of shit. Seeing disability as a rare, strange thing we don’t need to worry about is a scam.
If not disabled, people get sick, pregnant, old, or have a newborn, or get in a car wreck, fall off a ladder, or whatever! People need help, and that’s not wrong or bizarre. You were a baby, and caring for you required extraordinary effort and resources. Can we all acknowledge we were babies, sometimes everyone needs care, and that’s totally normal?
This guy I argue with in my head, he was a “real writer.” He was a white guy a little older than I was. For him, making zines was more of a means than an end. He was saying stuff people want to read. Oh, how poignant. The white guy said a poignant thing–give him a million dollars. Way more serious than I am or could ever be.
I can’t remember his name. I think if I googled him, I’d either find a bunch of books he published, or his suicide obituary.
Sorry for the sads, friends. Here’s morning ride photos.