“Life” Goes On

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[The following blog contains mentions of suicide.]

I woke up four years ago today with a sense of dread, having gone to bed the previous night before any formal announcements had been made about the election, but knowing by that point what kind of news I was likely to wake up to. (Given that I’d had two Red Bulls the day before, my tiredness might have been my body engaging in an unconscious act of self-preservation.) Mom had passed away a week and a half earlier, though, and in the days following her passing, I’d been hit with wave after wave of bad news, some of which I’ve yet to talk about in public (and which is probably best saved for my memoirs, if I ever get around to writing them). The important point, at least for now, was that I’d already been in a deep state of despair before the election, so deep that I honestly can’t remember if the election results really made me feel significantly more worried than I’d already been beforehand.

As soon as I woke up, though, I had work to do. Both of my parents passed away on Saturday afternoons, and I was in my classrooms each of the following Mondays, getting through my classes as best as I could. If I’m going to expect my students to keep working on the assignments I give them to the best of their ability, regardless of the circumstances, then it’s incumbent on me to model the behaviour I’m hoping to see out of them. Even with as much as I love teaching, though, I’m not going to deny that there was a part of me that wanted to take days off, to stay in bed or practice self-care in some other way. The day after the 2016 election might have been the worst in that regard, but I honestly can’t remember too much now about how I was feeling then. I just remember that I showed up for work, did what I could for my students, and then went back home to try to piece myself back together.

What I remember more clearly than my own emotional state is how my friends were feeling, as the messages that I was seeing on my social media accounts chilled me to the bone. My friends were incredibly scared, and I knew they had every right to be, especially after some of them started getting threatening messages, targeting them for things that I often shared with them. The world we all woke up to four years ago today was a whole lot different than the one we felt we were living in the day before, not because the forces we faced were necessarily all that larger, but they’d definitely been empowered by the election of the previous day, and they were louder, more brazen, and more overwhelming than we’d had to deal with before then.

It was also impossible to avoid the news reports of all the suicides that were happening as a result of the election. Too many people felt like they would rather die than try to navigate the new world that was unfolding before them, and while I never felt suicidal in those dark weeks and months after Mom’s passing, I’d be lying if I said that the thought never crossed my mind. (One of the curses of constantly playing with “what-if” scenarios to try to generate story ideas is that your mind naturally gravitates to some really dark places, especially when darkness is all around you.) I didn’t know how I was going to navigate my life without Mom as a physical presence in it, and the events that unfolded in those first two weeks after she passed away, especially the election, made me wonder if everything really was as hopeless as I felt back then.

Looking back over the last four years, I might have had some successes — I’m here right now, after all — but Mom’s passing and the election were far from the only losses I’ve suffered in that time. It almost seems pointless now to point out how all the people who sneeringly said “you’ll live” to those of us who were despondent after the election were wrong about so many people living, from Heather Heyer to the quarter of a million Americans who will die from COVID-19 by the end of this calendar year. “You’ll live” is bullying hidden under the thinnest layer of alleged comfort, the rhetoric of someone in power who likely gets off on watching people suffer, reminding those people that something worse could happen to them. More importantly, saying those two words incurs the speaker no responsibility, because if the person dies, they won’t be able to call the speaker out.

In case it wasn’t clear from my last blog, I’ve been deeply concerned about the possibility of widespread unrest in America as a result of this year’s election, and those fears still haven’t been completely assuaged. Between the meetings to choose electors that are coming up in each state over the coming weeks, the actual meeting of the electoral college on the 16th of next month that will actually decide who gets inaugurated in January, the inauguration, and the widespread changes that are likely to come as soon as a new president takes office, there’s still a lot of potential for the unbridled anger that’s been so pervasive in America these past several years to hit a boiling point, and for one bad actor to inspire other bad actors to bring this nation to calamity. I’m not saying that large-scale violence in America is inevitable, or even likely, but it’s a far greater possibility than at any other time in my life, and I don’t think this past election has reduced that possibility by a significant degree.

I was lying in bed, doing my daily journaling, when I got the news Saturday morning; I’d kept a results map open on my computer monitor, and when I saw the “264” number that I’d been glancing up at every couple of minutes had changed to “284,” I took a break from journaling, switched on the news, and tried to cope with the rush of feelings that were racing through me. I spent the rest of the day with the news on, seeing if anything else would happen, but after I woke up Sunday morning and didn’t notice any huge changes from the previous night, I was finally able to switch the news off and get back to the work I’d been putting off there for several days.

Just like four years ago today, I don’t know if I can put into words just how I’m feeling right now. That’s been a problem for me lately when it comes to political stuff, and maybe I’ll be able to explain that in greater detail at some point, but for all that there may have been some sense of relief that came over me on Saturday morning, there was also a deep fear that things may be about to get a lot worse for me, not just because of potential unrest in the country, but also a very distinct possibility that I’m about to be forced to remember some of the darkest parts of my earliest years, and that many of the people around me will claim that this will be a good thing. That’s just one more shoe to drop here for me in the coming days, and I’ve already got so many of those shoes to deal with that I can’t see any sky above me.

The important thing, though, is that I’m back at work. Even if things had gone completely well for me in this past election, and even if the external factors like widespread anger and the pandemic weren’t weighing me down, that wouldn’t have changed the fact that I have to keep doing what I can to help myself and the people around me. I took some time after the election to process my thoughts and emotions, and to clear my head, because that’s what most people need to do after huge, life-changing events like the past election. Once that’s done, though, it’s incumbent on us to do the work necessary to make the world around us a better place. I just hope I can stick around a long time here, because there’s certainly a whole lot of that work I want to do while I can.

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