The momentum is there. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of this, but it’s there.
Many of us are struggling with something. Whether that be depression and anxiety or some other aspect of mental illness, physical illness, stress and strain from work and life and responsibilities, or just the pummeling and pounding that comes from being a part of the human condition, the human race: It’s there. We all probably struggle in some way or another.
I’ve seen the struggle with those in the non-profit I work with. Some struggle with physical ailments, others with mental, some both. The stress is always there as well. But there’s something about what we do that allows us to be engrained in the human condition and still keep our momentum and passion alive, burning. Pure movement.
That’s part of what keeps me going. I talked to Travis in the kitchen today about my mental illness, when he asked me how I was doing (he wanted an honest answer …). I told him the truth: In my life for as long as I could, I justified my mental illness by saying that despite the suffering, my mental illness gave my life meaning. But now, I’ve gotten to a point to where I long for happiness and if I can have it, joy. I long for peace of mind and contentment. I long for pure ecstasy. This is because my illness has taken a toll on me through time, I have had so many difficult moments, breaks, that I don’t know if I’m, quite simply, strong enough to handle it anymore. A decade and a year is a long time to cope with it, and after a certain amount of breakdowns, it becomes more than an extra responsibility, it becomes a burden. Which is why I find myself looking for a new way of justifying my suffering. I have to find a new way to live with it and keep my vitality alive.
Part of how I do this is by continuing to identify with those I serve, the homeless for instance, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the manipulated, the preyed-upon, the put-upon. Living in my mind, living out my mind, living my condition, living in my condition, allows for me to identify with others in similar situations, where we all help each other to keep the momentum of our lives alive and well. As I see it, having what I have, allows me to connect and identify in a really fundamental way. That’s important to me. It makes me happy, even. It gives me hope, to think that we are all connecting in a really deep way. We get to the heart of what makes us human.
Because, the truth is, living life is difficult, and some people are dealt an unfair hand. Play your hand wisely and well rather than merely getting a good hand, as Jack London once reminisced. I see that happening with others, and it gives me hope. But I do acknowledge that the struggles are real, struggles of any type, from homelessness or mental illness or physical distress/disease. Struggle just to accept our plight as humans. Perhaps we don’t take Albert Camus too far, and rebel metaphysically, where we rebel against our status as human beings, as men among the Earth, but I think we do acknowledge what it means to be human, and we acknowledge the struggle, we acknowledge it as real, and we push forward with our momentum, metaphorically revolting against our status, building up through time this momentum, building it up as we experience the things we encounter.
As we did our outreach today, and provided food to those who were hungry, we had a deep conversation with an intelligent gentleman suffering from homelessness. We talked about a lot of relevant things, what’s happening in our city. Part of it stems from just the simple fact that community isn’t an important aspect of our lives anymore. We ultimately decided the problem is governmental, but systemic. When I inquired further what our friend meant by this, he said that it’s the way we structure ourselves: As I’ve heard before, too many people just aren’t looking out for each other anymore.
We talked about human trafficking in shelters; we talked about the war on drugs as criminalizing the wrong people and not bringing rehabilitation and healthy lifestyles (something my friend Dan actually touched on in a conversation with me earlier that day); we talked about the fact that what the government displays publicly is different from what they actually do and feel (essentially, all the information and input that they gathered at recent public workshops to see what they would do about the homeless shelters was discarded and won’t be used: literal marginalization).
Where do you begin to even talk about these things? Granted, our friend experiencing homelessness said that he understands the viewpoint of the developers (a point I won’t accept for my own reasons), and wants money to be made, but this becomes difficult when it’s obvious that poverty is profitable for those who know how to use it to their advantage and gain money/capital. It was interesting how this gentleman said that it’s a financial discussion rather than an ethical one, whereas, the people in power are trying to make money off the situation, rather than looking at it from a humanist or ethics perspective. I was interested in this man’s perspective, because he didn’t have, like me, as an extreme a position that money is irrelevant to the discussion; he was, in a sense, a semi-capitalist at heart, by saying that it’s okay for developers and the government to make money. As of now, I don’t know how to interpret this perspective, but I think it’s important to document, because it shows the complexity of how homelessness actually works and the difficulty in understanding government and policy and how all of these things actually work in practice. His perspective is valid.
We also talked about how the homeless are being pushed further and further away from the resources, due to policy and heavy policing. Our friend explicitly stated that he does not trust the police. Travis pointed out it’s because the police turn a blind eye to real emergencies, and focus exclusively on petty infractions. I was disturbed when our friend loosely described police procedure as targeting any infraction as probable cause for larger investigations at places like the shelter (basically targeting the homeless). I find this troubling, at the very least.
One thing mentioned that is important to keep in mind is that there is a major mismanagement of resources and money. I have tried through my various ways, whether through writing or advocacy, to bring this issue to the attention of those in a position to do something, but it has seemed to be fruitless thus far. This is because the mismanagement runs too deep and is unfortunately much more insidious: No one needs to be held accountable. I know that I can’t hold anyone accountable, even with my writing. My hooks don’t go deep enough, for obvious reasons: I’m just a freelancer and independent writer/artist, and I have no political sway and no authority over policy and bureaucratic decisions. This doesn’t mean I give up, of course. I hope this piece I’m writing here is a step in some viable direction. I hope it in some way leads to progress. I’ll keep doing this until I can’t anymore. The momentum, as I said, is there.
Say what you will about politics, money, homelessness, authority, power, social constructs, poverty, society, oppression or lack thereof, and shelters, but it seems to me that these problems run deep, and we need to keep addressing them and talking about them. This doesn’t secure immediate change, and may not change anything at all, but it at least opens up the discourse. This is important for a number of reasons, opening discourse, ranging from because it opens the door wide for tackling an understanding of the human condition, to understanding what’s happening at a local level and why things are the way that they are.
The conversation was deep, but the struggle, as I’ve been saying, is real. Nonetheless: We have a drive to continue, to push forward.
I remember being at the front of the library and passing out burritos, when I saw a guy in apparent distress carrying burritos someone in our group must have just given him, and saying heavily and emotionally, “I’m a piece of crap and I deserve to die.” I made an offhand joke that, “I can relate to that feeling,” in an attempt to debunk stigma, but we were all distracted so this comment fell flat. But I persisted because this experience evoked something within me, and I had to analyze it and understand it: I later told Travis that that depressive mindset is real, and should we have intervened or left them alone (that being the dilemma)? I told Travis that obviously we didn’t want to make the feelings worse through intervention, but I also wondered if we had some kind of responsibility to address the feelings. He told me we can’t carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. I play-punched Travis and called him a hypocrite jokingly, and he made it clear that I don’t need to feel guilt.
Obviously, such a statement by this gentleman resonates with me deeply. I don’t believe it is trivial or incidental (I in fact see it as deep-rooted of something significant). I don’t think he was making things up for attention. Maybe he wasn’t suicidal, though he could have certainly been, but he was hurting for some reason or other. I can relate to that mindset, too, where you feel hurt by some circumstance or even merely internally, and you say harsh things to yourself. I find it unfortunate that this gentleman felt this way after we gave him sustenance: Basically, he thought he deserved to die after he was given food to keep him alive.
I don’t know what this guy’s story was, and I don’t want to read too much into his comment, for fear of misrepresentation and damage. Nonetheless, this is indicative of the mindset that people who are struggling, whether homeless or not, must feel. The depressive mindset, as my friend Preston has made clear to me, is real. You feel bad, for a number of reasons, whether biological or circumstantial or existential or psychological, and you can’t always control the feelings, and sometimes this leads to thoughts of suicide or self-harm. But the fact that we don’t talk about it leads to more stigma.
Of course, I understand the delicacy of the situation. I don’t believe in forced discourse. If someone is hurting, mentally or otherwise, they don’t have to disclose any of it. Nonetheless, where it’s appropriate and even healing and cathartic, I think we need to talk about these things. Because, I don’t want anyone to feel that way, feel like they deserve to die: That hurts on a deep level for me, because I have justified my own theoretical death, when I shouldn’t have, because life is valuable. Many people do not place value on sentience (life), and this is one reason why I think so much suffering exists. Nonetheless, I place an importance on sentience, and don’t care if you get philosophers who think they understand Mitchell Heisman telling you that suicide is not only rational, but our only choice at times. I won’t get into this debate here because it’s too complex and nuanced, but simply assert: Yes, it’s a complex subject, but no one should ethically ever feel like they deserve to die. We must do better, when it comes to these things, and treating people well and undo the stigmas. If someone is suicidal, we have an obligation. That is my point, not to sway you one way or another on the subject of suicide.
But it isn’t all gloom, of course. It’s not all gray and complex. Kitty, a great volunteer for Legacy and a great friend of mine, was so happy when she saw a woman she served, by giving socks and sunglasses, put on the socks and sunglasses. This was a rewarding moment for Kitty, and it made me happy to hear about it. It’s a good representation of what can happen through our efforts: We can make a difference, no matter how small (or big).
In summa: We devolved into chaos when we got back to our station, by throwing foil balls at each other. We became like literal kids again, joking and devolving into stream of consciousness, into freedom, into joy and happiness. Which we all needed after a long day’s work, all of us probably aware to some degree that we all have our own struggles, and yet somehow, we unite to do the best we can. As Tracy joked earlier that day to me, “Let’s do community service … so we can then die!” (From the heat …)
Okay well that was real and existential. Whoa.
Anyway: The momentum. It’s alive and well.