I find myself terribly depressed right now. There are a few triggers specifically associated with summer — the lack of structure that school provides, the lack of nighttime in Alaska (which I won’t see for about two more months.) It’s a struggle just to get out of bed, or to shower, or to dress, or to make myself something to eat or drink. I’m trying to be kind to myself, trying to find some way to help me out of this funk. But nothing is working so far. Many days I can only accomplish the tasks that require the least mental work, because even my brain is fatigued. In fact, I’m having to write this relatively short blog post in several sessions because that’s all the brain power I have today. But I couldn’t not write this post, so here I am.
Anyway. My laptop is an easy distraction for my depression. I can run a marathon of some sitcom I’ve seen before on Netflix with little effort of my brain. I can play a simple game of Boggle or Bejeweled. And, perhaps most importantly, Facebook gives me the ability to talk with those most dear to me about what I’m going through.
But Facebook is a double-edged sword, because, although it allows me to talk with kind and loving people, it also exposes me to the ugliness of humanity — the constant stream of news stories — which in turn perpetuates my depression.
And two nights ago, just as I was headed to sleep, I read of more ugliness — the murder of nine black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist.
And the next day, the story unfolded exactly as I expected it to unfold, exactly as these stories always unfold. The white shooter is said to have a mental illness, as if those of us with mental illness weren’t stigmatized enough, as if we weren’t statistically far more likely to suffer violence than to inflict it.
And the story got flipped around into a narrative of “protecting our gun rights.” The collective American conscience is addicted to drugs in precisely the same way that a drug addict is addicted to drugs. And just as it is impossible to reason with a drug addict, so I choose not to reason with Americans about guns. All I can do is sit back and shake my head and hope they come to their senses.
But I notice that the mental-illness narrative and the drug narrative and whatever other narrative might be overlaid on the account of this mass murder* all serve as useful distractions from the fact that this is a story of racism in America. A story centuries old.
And I can’t help but notice that every single friend or friend-of-friend on Facebook who turns this into a narrative of mental illness/guns/whatever-else is white. This isn’t to say that all whites are carrying out these narratives. But I don’t notice a single African/Latino/Asian/Native American friend on my Facebook list who is offering up one of these narratives.
When I want to know how to treat a group, I try to look to that group to see what to do. Better than to assume, and surely better than to look to those who don’t belong to that group. My African American friends and the commentators I read say that whites like myself need to be talking with other whites, to confront the issue of racism head-on, to recognize it exists, to challenge it, to undo it.
And that is when I lose all hope.
Because one of the greatest truths I have observed is that people very rarely change their beliefs or opinions. It’s hard for me to understand, as someone whose philosophical worldview changed quite radically. But most people, when confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs, will double down on those beliefs. Even when those beliefs are killing people. As a writer, I feel like the best I can do is preach to the choir, to encourage those whose beliefs are like my own. It doesn’t feel like a helluva lot.
Studies have shown that people who are depressed have a more realistic outlook than “healthy” individuals, who tend to be overly optimistic. But when I see all that goes on in the world, the evil that perpetuates, the adamant refusal to unite at precisely the moment when we need to do so to preserve our species, I think that not being depressed is some kind of psychosis, a disconnection from reality.