As a person navigating life with mental illness, I often find it necessary to reflect on events to determine the path that led me to a particular place in my life. I gaze out the window of my world today and witness the tragic upheaval displayed, and it gives me pause. I reflect on what it took to get us here. I am overwhelmed and flooded with disbelief, shock, and anger at the display of humanity’s ugliness. Humans have free will to think and choose our actions. We can exercise those actions on behalf of good or evil. Are we making right choices, or, are we making choices that serve to divide and dismember our society physically and mentally? Could the ultimate end game of our actions serve no other purpose than to sow seeds of divisiveness and hatred? As things stand, we are already grieving from our loss of control due to an unseen enemy called a pandemic.
What We’ve Endured:
Sequestered, quarantined, living in social distancing, left us with the incapacity to take our frustration and anger out on an invisible enemy called C-19. We felt a desire to push unprecedented feelings of loss of control, grief, anger, and disbelief, onto something. In the psychological world, we call this deference – the transference of feelings toward one thing onto another.
Devoid of the ability to work out our frustrations at the local gym, grab a beer with a friend at our favorite bar, or gather at our places of worship with like-kind, we lived with emptiness. There was not even the capacity to weep in the arms of a loved one. Nor could we get away and self soothe in ways we were conditioned to and took for granted. The lack of a capacity to self soothe caused our anger and grief to burn hot.
The feelings have been building, the despair over a shutdown of our life in an unprecedented, all-consuming manner, left us all dressed up with nowhere to go. For months, our Country found no place, person, or thing to transfer those feelings to. It seems we now have. We are moving all those pent-up feelings onto each other.
Many suffered the death of loved ones who succumbed to the ravages of the virus. They died alone. No closure afforded in saying goodbye via our cultural manner of a funeral or celebration of our loved ones’ life. Our loved ones died holding the hand of a stranger, isolated and cut off from loved ones, placed in a body bag, and casually disposed of unceremoniously. There was no productive way to process the grief, anger, and pain. We sought to blame a source but stood divided as to what that source could be.
Who to Blame?
We sought to blame China Laboratories and Wet Markets, questioned if the containment measures taken were timely or even useful. We projected blame on our leaders, scientists, those in the health organizations meant to help us. I would say blame hung on every politician alive. Some groups concluded C-19 was a non-entity. Their belief held it was a conspiracy theory made up by the “Deep State.” The naked truth is, there is not one human being alive that could heal the pain and confusion we have felt collectively.
Our assumptive rights to go and come as we please were deleted. We were forced to present in masks and gloves, isolate and become social recluses. These things left their mark in an ugly way. There was a lack of information in a form and manner of communication that was believable and trustworthy. We felt insecure and fearful of others. Anxiety of contagion engraved social distancing into our being. We became conditioned to plexiglass walls at checkout counters, markings on floors designating mandatory separation, and security tape blocking off places we used to go freely. All of these constraints allowed us to experience a concept call segregation. Our society has experienced segregation and separation from others, on an extreme level. In essence, we became conditioned and forced into stigmatizing ourselves.
Those who had never experienced segregation before saw first-hand the injustice and feeling of suffocation that accompanies forced segregating. For months, we have looked to leadership to step in. A lack of response led to more desperation. We attached ourselves to mindsets or agendas that made us feel comfortable and secure in their presentation. We could belong to something once again. Whether it was a conspiracy theory or something fed to us by an organization, if we related, we were in one accord with thati mindset. Any thought process in opposition to what we chose to believe, became the enemy of our dialogue. The physical isolation and separation we endured, started to manifest mentally and emotionally.
A Tipping Point
An African American man was murdered in broad daylight, by a white police officer. By the end of that day, it seemed we had a viable place to go with our insurmountable anger and rage. It swept over our Country like a wave, and we were all sucked in. We have witnessed the prejudice and injustice of racism for some time. What racism displays as, in its purest form, is stigma. Stigma defined is the mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. We began to rage against racism.
The mass lumping of any group of society into a pool of condemnation, labeling them all the same, is ignorant and intolerant. If the labeling is brought about by one’s actions and used as a representation and called out to be indicative of the group, it is stigmatizing. That pertains to every angle and aspect of this mindset. The assumption that all cops are dirty, all blacks are violent, all mentally ill are insane psychos. It goes on. Our true enemy is, a lack of education and familiararity of subsets of community representing differently from what our particular subset is comfortable with.
What as to History of Racism?
Racism displays as the premise of holding one group of people above another, and has existed since the beginning. The question stands unanswered as to whether or not it can be extracted from a person’s mindset? Does forced compliance of the words, thoughts and actions of a person, in submission to an agenda that is backed by mandated Political Correctness eradicate racism? The attempt by Adolf Hitler to create the perfect utopian Arian Society, by trying to bring about the extinction of the Jewish population, is an example from history. The pure audacity of such evil, led to his epic failure. Such reminders from our past, are not erased by the destruction and toppling of monuments or a ridiculous attempt to rewrite the history books.
It is a simple concept. Things exist because they once existed. To deny their existence or put spin in accordance with an agenda that had no relevance or validity during a particular time in history, is futile. Just as our heritage cannot be erased, events of our past served to shape and mold us to the point we are at now. The fact that aspects of our heritage may seem embarrassing to us today, just is a fact. Again, extracting the account from a historical book, or destruction of a monument marking a historical event or person, does not serve to erase our history.
As a child who grew up in a very traumatic household, there were times I felt I could forceably control aspects of my life that were extremely dysfunctional. I acted out in ways such as running away from home, going long periods of time isolating in my bedroom or not speaking to my parents. None of my futile attempts erased the dysfunction I endured. It is useless to stand in denial of my mother’s alcoholic tendencies, or my father’s narcissistic beatings and abuse. Albeit they were not my choice for molding my character, but the end results is… they did. Pretending certain aspects of my life did not occur, would be dysfunctional and crazy making. To set fire to and burn down the house I grew up in, will not serve the purpose of erasing the trauma I endured during my childhood. Yet, I feel this is a picture of how we are trying to dismiss the stain of racism from society today.
Why does Stigma still Plauge us?
As a person living with mental disorders, I have faced and continue to withstand all types of stigma from many groups. Even my own family. The color of my skin, my gender, my age, matters not. The labeling of my mind is my point of contact to receive stigma. When we allow ourselves the luxury of making a blanket conclusion as to any group of society, it is a display of ignorance. It stems from a lack of education or personal experience on behalf of those who choose to do so.
The simple truth is, there exists good and bad, evil and divine, in all aspects of society. There are many good doctors and also doctors that produce harm and death to their patients. Injustice is and can be done by any group of society on this planet.
As a native New Yorker who lived through the horrors of September 11th, I am very aware the lesson did not stick. I reference the experience of being unduly and unjustly attacked by a segment of a population, radical Muslims, which in turn caused us to label all Muslims evil. I fear, once again, we are failing this test collectively. By falling prey to the simplistic thought that a small percentage of the sum equals the whole. Sadly, once again, the test of prejudice, stigma, divisiveness, and agenda has been allowed to fracture our society.
Today’s new agenda is deference to authorities, the very group of people we trust to have our backs. The truth is, we need our law enforcement officers. The fact is they take their very lives into their hands every time they walk off home base. They assume their position knowing full well what greets them. Yet they choose and are compelled to this daily sacrifice. They stand committed to the call upon their lives, for the greater good. Many of them leave behind their family to walk into the arena of sacrifice. Not by force, but by choice.
The black person realizes what that sacrifice is in the societal stereotyping, generic labeling of their presentation and color of their skin. The African American Community has suffered greatly and endured significant bias throughout history from this stereotyping. As a person with mental disorders, I face the world with the knowledge that many will not receive me, should they become aware of my label. In each of these scenarios, the stereotypical labeling forces a person to face society from a stance of defense of our very right to exist.
The stigmatized walk out their lives from a position of having to prove themselves first. The identity labels forced on segments of population by others, cause those labeled to bear the burdens of shame, guilt, anger, and misunderstanding. The barriers projected through bias, by osmosis, creates an inability of those stigmatized to represent freely and display Who We Are without prejudice.
Where do we go from here?
In my opinion, we are all guilty of prejudice in one form or another. There is a seduction for us to channel our feelings onto a particular group of society make to ourselves feel better. The group could be white trash, blacks, mentally ill, Jewish people, gays and members of the LGBT society, police officers, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Atheists, rich, poor, man, woman. On and on it goes. The only purpose this serves is to divide us and lead toward a conquest of trying to do away with that which is different. The goal seems to be to negate or nullify the power and identity of any group that causes us to feel uncomfortable. Why are we so hell-bent on this goal? I believe it is due to ignorance and lack of education as to a segment of the population we don’t understand.
In my summation and observation, the problem is our inability as a society to meet others where they are. The actions of the few that we choose to take as representative on behalf of a given segment of population and the labeling of the entire segment as good or evil, is wrong and damaging. We can no longer justify this indulgence of thought process. It has proven consistently not to serve us.
To cause any segment of society to walk out their life in stigma held against them by others, out of ignorance, stereotyping, and an absence of insight and empathy are to the demise of us all. What is needed is so much more than to be guilted into an application of diversity training. Shoving politically correct mores down our throats is also useless. The very person espousing a politically correct stance holds stigma toward the one they are correcting. And so the cycle continues. It is proven empathy and acceptance are not things we can force upon a human thought process. I conclude we all need to live in a state of mind of radical acceptance of the fact that others exist on this planet, that are different than us. That has to be okay. Until it is, we shall war within.
With you on the Journey, Alice