The other day I drove home from a tennis match, reflecting on the racist comment one of my Asian American acquaintances made. I texted him how I felt about it and he apologized, though I still felt annoyed and hurt. This incident made me reflect on all the Asian American men I have met with internalized racism and how much it deflated their self-esteem. I’m not generalizing Asian American men – I know some who are self-aware, healthy, and confident – though in that moment in the car my acquaintance’s statement pulled my focus away from those folks and more toward those who struggle with their racial identity. The psychic pain escalated to the point where I thought: wow, it would feel easier if I were just not alive right now.
I didn’t have any active intent or plan to kill myself. Looking back, I imagine I felt overwhelmed by the intersection of my trauma history, witnessing this acquaintance’s unaddressed internalized racism, and the magnitude of emotions that internalized racism inspired. My lack of control over the situation spiraled into a sense of hopelessness: ugh, nothing is going to get better, internalized racism is going to run rampant unchecked forever, nothing I say or do or write will make a difference, why not crawl under a blanket and never wake up. In some ways I could see why this acquaintance chooses not to explore his racial identity and instead feels contended joining a family of rich white people: it can feel shitty to recognize the impact of racism on your life and the lives of people around you.
I felt proud of myself for sitting with this pain. I could see why in my childhood and adolescence I just stopped eating to avoid it. While driving home, I listened to Babymonster’s cover of Blackpink’s “Stay”
because if one thing is going to keep me alive it’s K-Pop girl groups flexing their unfairly amazing-sounding vocals. Then I thought to myself: are you really going to give up?
My suffering led me to think about one of my favorite writers, Caroline Knapp. A relatively privileged white woman whose adulthood spanned the 1980s and 1990s, she wrote a lot about her struggles with addiction and anorexia and how sexism and patriarchy exacerbated those afflictions. In a lot of ways, her life sucked. I love her work in part because of her pain though, or more so how she coped with it. In her writing, she practiced honesty and self-reflection about her challenges and how she strove to overcome them, both with compassion and an unrelenting search for truth and justice.
At 27 years of age, I’ve received enough feedback from clients, students, and readers to know I’ve made some difference in the world, even if just a small one. In those moments of despair in my car though I felt a hopelessness that erased all of that. My mind kept replaying the notion of, will things always feel this hopeless, does anything I do matter? In that spiral, I slowed myself down and remembered: If I’m literally dead, there’s no chance I can contribute to make the world a kinder and less racist place. If I died, I’d certainly never see anything improve because I wouldn’t see anything at all. So even if it’s uncertain that anything I do will matter, that’s an uncertainty I’m willing to keep on living for.
Okay in case anyone feels freaked out at all: I am doing well and am on the mend! Talked and texted with a bunch of close friends, put some boundaries up with this acquaintance, and am going to get a lot of sleep tonight after posting this as I had a full day of clinical work which went well. Just sharing this post to Be Real (#bereal). How do you cope with mental health crises or general lows (please see this page for resources for suicide prevention)? General reactions to this post? Also unrelated but also very related I’m actually a huge fan of Ive’s new song “Kitsch”?? I’ve seen mixed reactions to it online but it’s def my favorite of theirs so far lolol I love the vibey verses and the chanty stomping chorus. The MV reminds me of my high school days with my high school pals. Anyway until next post!
10 responses to “Giving Up”
I’ve also had feelings like this recently (not suicidal thoughts, but just general hopelessness about certain things). A few nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep because of racing thoughts, so I got out of bed and started reading a book I’d checked out from the library recently: The Merry Recluse by Caroline Knapp (I hadn’t read anything by her yet although I’d been meaning to). I read it for a few hours and there were just so many things about her writing and her perspective on the world that made me feel better. So, thank you for inadvertently encouraging me to read her work by writing about her in these posts 🙂 Also, your strategy on reminding yourself how you contribute (and are going to contribute) to the world when you’re feeling down is one I need to use more frequently. I’m just starting out in my graduate education/career (I’m in an MA program now and will be starting a psychology PhD program this year) and sometimes it feels like actually making a difference through my research is so far away and impossible. But I at least know that for now I feel excited and passionate about doing research in areas that I care about (like meaning in life, and well-being for individuals with stigmatized identities) and it’ll take time for my impact to accumulate. Thanks for being so authentic in these posts, and for just generally being someone I look up to 🙂
Awwww so glad you checked out the Merry Recluse and enjoyed it and found some solace with it! I’m glad my inadvertent and advertent messaging has worked in regard to spreading the word re: Caroline Knapp. Yes, I feel like themes and questions related to making a difference can be overwhelming so I try to break it down into how can I make a small yet meaningful difference. I hope your transition to your PhD program goes as well as possible, I remember when I started my psych PhD program in 2017 – what a time and I hope you can savor the parts that you enjoy. Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment.
I so appreciate your vulnerability in this post, I can imagine how difficult it must be for you at present to feel a lack of control over things that you’d like to change in the world. I like your reasoning about how you are willing to lean into uncertainty about the result of your efforts while being certain about your personal-level contribution to the world, which is a spirit I really appreciate! I’d like you to know that your efforts toward pushing for social justice are meaningful and valuable. Institutional change happens with collective efforts, which are dependent on individual actions. The world needs people like you, and you deserve to be valued and supported. I hope you can keep fighting for change without compromising on your well-being.
Lastly, I’d like you to know that you are loved, and your value is not dependent on the results of your actions, but on your intentions. Imagine a warm hug from me, and please, please take care.
Awww thanks so much for this encouragement and support of my efforts! That’s a nice reminder that pushes for social change can be effective/are important even if they don’t always feel rewarding or like they’re making a difference in the moment. I hope you are taking care as well. (:
Thank you for your update and including a link to resources (anyone in the UK can access the Mind website which is very useful and supportive https://www.mind.org.uk/ ).
You do have an effect on the world. I love reading about your social justice campaigning and you remind me to keep vigilant in my reading because I know you’ll see my book reviews and read them carefully with equity and social justice in mind. So you help me keep myself to account when I could get lazy – in a good way!
I do often feel despair from my issues with my family and then not being able to have a family of my own. But I know I’ve been a positive influence on my best friends’ kids and I have cousins I care about and who care about me, and good friends as well as my wider blog community of friends.
Stay strong, but also vulnerable!
Awww thank you Liz for sharing with such honesty! First, in terms of your blog, I am heartened by your continued efforts to read books written by authors from marginalized backgrounds. I definitely feel like there was a shift that happened maybe a few years ago where it was pretty white-centric and then shifted and that shift has been consistent as someone who reads your blog fairly regularly. Thanks for sharing too about your feelings of despair and how you cope with them; the honesty and solidarity is comforting. I hope you are doing well!
You have a narrative about my reading shifting at some point from being white-centric to not and while it’s nice to be celebrated for that, it’s not something I recognise in my reading. An early time you mentioned this I actually went back and looked at my 1997 stats, which is the first year I recorded my reading in a journal, afterwards translated into an Excel sheet – interestingly, the *diversity* in my reading was at about the same level as it is now, and sampling a year in the middle gives the same result. It’s the diversity that’s important to me rather than the race, and some of that does depend on what the publishing industry is putting out. So in 1997, I was reading more books about British Asian experiences (by that I mean South Asian: people with Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage) and more first- and second-generation issues, plus more books about LGBTQ+ folks. There were barely any books on specifically trans people, though I did read some, and there are more out now with fewer on e.g. lesbian life experiences. Asian books have moved on to discuss mixed-heritage and second- and third-generation people and books by Black authors, esp novels, are more available now.
The thing I am more vigilant about in my blogging is being intersectional – so when I read that book by a gay man raising a child with another man, I looked for lesbian representation and found quite a lot, looked for trans representation and found a bit; looked for Global Majority People representation and didn’t find any and mentioned that.
So always been reading diversely about people with different characteristics to my own (probably since my teens, as I had a woman who had a big influence on my reading in my life then); the balance of what is included in that diversity has changed, some of it as a result of changes in what is published although obv I also read older books still); I’m pushing more intersectionality into my writing about books and making sure I mention hits and misses in particular areas of representation.
Sorry that’s quite long but I wanted to address that, not because I’m a White person shocked by being told they’d been White-centric (yes, a majority of books I read are by/about White people but not a huge majority) but because it’s literally not the whole picture here.
Having had that rant (which I realised mainly wanted to honour my old friend Mary and Lewisham Library as enabling my diverse reading in the 80s and 90s), I realise with horror and humility that I am currently doing five – five! – almost completely white-centric books in a row (I couldn’t work the intersection of race and class into my Pineapple Street review without presenting massive spoilers for a book that’s not even out yet). So there’s that.
It takes guts to be this vulnerable and share the “tough stuff.” I put you on a pedestal because I think you are a fantastic human doing the most noble work. I am by no means happy to read a post like this, but I appreciate it deeply because you help me realize that everyone struggles, even those who have done the work and “healed.” I am slowly realizing that “healed” is not a real destination. Life is hard and it will continue to be hard – as long as you are alive – but you will continue to grow and evolve and you will meet each moment as best you can. Also, not everyone is able to share honestly about their struggles. Your authenticity is rare and helps so many people feel less alone. Thank you for all that you do, Thomas! You are a special gem of a human.
Aw thank you so much for this compassionate and thoughtful comment, I appreciate it so much! Your statement about healing not being a real destination really resonates with me and is a wonderful reminder about how life will continue to be hard, especially if you live with an open heart, though these difficulties can be coped with and managed. Meaning can be derived from these struggles. It’s a nice reminder that authenticity and sharing can be acts of courage. I hope you are doing well!