[Content note: infertility, suicide]
One of the things I touched on in my last post is the idea that being upset when people call you names, whether that’s you specifically or they’re generally targeting a group you’re in, is a totally normal human reaction. You can train yourself to care less, to avoid dwelling on the negative, and to consider the source of the information, but the idea that you should be able to blithely disregard any offense, no matter how awful and no matter the source, isn’t realistic.
I see a lot of anti-PC memes about how people are weak, broken, and helpless if they can’t just “deal with” any negative that comes their way. How tragic it is that college kids need safe spaces, or that they might want a heads up before having to read a poem about rape. And the method of “dealing with” it can’t inconvenience anyone else or show your emotions in any way. There seems to be an expectation that people be bulletproof. In that worldview, it goes without saying that everybody, or at least everybody who’s a worthwhile human being, is mentally healthy. You should be able to just “deal with” depression or anxiety or the lingering effects of trauma, because it would be too much work for anyone else to make allowances for those issues. Even knowing that you’re upset is too much for them to be asked to deal with. (And don’t forget, they’ll mock you mercilessly if you do show any emotional vulnerability, because they’ll see it as weakness.)
Recently, something I read on Facebook hurt, probably more than the anti-PC police would consider an acceptable amount of emotion. Someone I’ve known, even if just online, for the last decade and a half, whose writing I’ve followed and whose opinion I valued said, in an argument about same-sex marriage, that he didn’t think people who didn’t want kids, and people who it was 100% proven could not have kids, should be allowed to get married. As someone with infertility, this was like a sucker punch. Initially, I felt like my reaction was “wrong.” This person doesn’t have any power to invalidate my marriage, after all, and *I* know that Mr. Thinkstoomuch and I have a good marriage, kids or no kids. And they didn’t mean it as a personal slight to me. But then I realized that *of course* I’m going to be hurt by that kind of comment. Like I said, it was someone I respected, someone who I had looked up to when I was a college kid, and someone who I would consider a friend, if not a close friend. To have someone like that say that my relationship isn’t worthy of legal recognition, that if I’m in the hospital in a coma, my husband shouldn’t have a say over what happens to me, how could that not hurt? I got over it, but I didn’t get over it by pretending it didn’t matter or that I didn’t care.
Another event made me realize how much I’d internalized this attitude that I was supposed to be bulletproof, supposed to handle everything all by myself. A little over a year ago, I lost a coworker to suicide. For the past six months, we’d sat next to each other, and she was my mentor in this new job. And then I came in one morning and she was dead. In the midst of shock and grief, my first two instincts on hearing the news were 1) call my husband and 2) get out to my car ASAP before anyone sees me cry. I was embarrassed, mortified, at the idea of being seen crying at work. On the day we lost a coworker to suicide. Crying was a totally normal response. The coworker who told me the news teared up, and I’m sure other coworkers who’d been close friend with her and known her for years shed some tears in their cubicles. But I didn’t feel safe expressing that grief.
Sure, part of that is just a desire to appear professional, but I think it’s also part of the mentality that showing emotion is a personal failing, a sign of weakness. It’s not. Yes, you usually need to tamp things down a bit at work, and you don’t want to dump all over other people, but you’re allowed to express sadness or anger or fear without first hiding away by yourself to make sure your emotions don’t ever irritate or inconvenience anyone else.