Editor’s Note (June 2019)
Words by Reetaza Chatterjee. Illustration by Valerie Yeo.
Trigger warning for mentions of sexual violence and suicide.
A February night in 2016. I felt the intense chill of the winter in my bones while also being unable to feel the rest of my body. Drunk on cheap tequila, I stumbled back into my second year room in uni. I sat on the floor in the warm glow on the fairy lights hanging off my wall, and cried for a long time. A boy I loved sat with me while I sobbed and sobbed some more.
Earlier that night I had been in a club where I had been made to feel unsafe in my own body. This experience had triggered a lot of memories of past trauma, something I was only beginning to acknowledge after years of suppressing in the deep dark pits of my brain.
I looked at the boy I loved and saw the helplessness laid out between us. He could not do anything to make my pain go away. I could not do anything to make him believe that I would be fine. I did not believe it myself. I didn’t know what “fine” looked like, when I’d get there, if I ever would.
As we sat holding our pain, I was terrified that he’d see the parts of myself that scared me. I was terrified that he’d see me in my entirety and would not be able to love me anymore. Or worse – choose not to love me anymore. I decided that if I could not be the best version of myself for this boy I loved, I could not be with him. I believed that I did not deserve his love and care and affection when I was not my “best” self. Especially not my mascara-running-down-my-face and tears-and-snot-stained self. Especially not the self who had opened a box of trauma and hurt and other feelings that she did not recognise yet. Especially when she did not know how to close the box. It was easier to walk away than risk him walking away.
The boy I loved told me that I needed to stop shutting people out every time things got difficult. He helped me close the box, one step at a time, one day at a time. The boy I loved chose to love me anyway.
Neoliberal capitalism constantly emphasises on my identity as an individual. Living in a society that tells us that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism has conditioned me to believe that I need to be a lone wolf to survive. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Each man for himself. Needing to lean on people around me is seen as “weak” and “needy” and “overly dependent”. Plus, I am a strong, independent woman. How shameful would it be to admit that I need other people to survive? How can I admit that I need to be affirmed and cared for? How embarrassing would it be to admit that sometimes I just need to be held and reminded that everything is going to turn out okay?
All of us want to believe that we don’t need anyone to survive. In All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks writes,“The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.” My heart has been broken so many times. And that’s why, for the longest time, I believed that I had to struggle alone out of fear that I’d reach out and realise that there was no one on the other side. I believed that I had to fight alone because admitting I was in pain would be met with dismissal, criticism and disappointment. I believed that I had to be alone because being all of me would be too much, and yet, not enough, at the same time.
Reaching out and asking for help during the lows is still so hard. Sometimes, my pain feels so overwhelming that I worry it will bleed out on all the people around me. When my loved ones ask me how they can support me, I am filled with helplessness because sometimes, I don’t know what I need. I don’t know what will help. All I want to do is lock myself away from everyone till I feel ready to return to myself again, till I can be the person that everyone around me expects me to be. During these moments, the hardest thing to do is to trust that the people I love will meet me where I am and love me anyway.
During these moments, my community holds me. We cry, we grieve, we hold hands. We make food, we drink, we feel rage. We laugh till we’re breathless. We hold our pain, and one another. And as I start to love people in their wholeness, beyond the binary of “strengths” and “weaknesses”, I begin to love myself for the multitudes I contain. The more I start to accept that needing people is a part of being human, the more I allow myself to be human and heal in communion with my community.
In the aftermath of suicides getting more media attention, we’re increasingly seeing posts on social media encouraging us to reach out when we’re struggling. But what does reaching out actually look like? When we're struggling with the deepest darkest parts of ourselves, how do we let the people we love in? How do we show them the parts of us that we don't quite recognise or understand, the parts of us that terrify us? How do we communicate what we're going through to our friends and family? What does seeking professional help look like? Mental health falls into this false binary – you’re mentally well and healthy until you’re not. So at what point are we “ill enough” to ask for help? Living with a mental illness means constantly having to negotiate and justify our existence in this world. How do we communicate and assert our needs when our capitalist society shames us for having these needs in the first place?
On the other side, how do we hold space for the people around us? How can we support one another in advocating for ourselves? How can we collectively participate in helping each other heal? How do we show up for our communities?
Through the theme of Reaching Out, we'd like to demystify what seeking help looks like.