Essays, issue 3: nov 2015
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On being a mentally ill, socially anxious/awkward activist by Alaina Monts

 

Journal entry from 4 November 2014

 

On being a mentally ill, socially anxious/awkward activist.

 

We are in an important time. Someone finally—or maybe not someone, maybe something, some string of events—put too much weight on the weak foundation of our society and it started to break. Right when we thought this system, which was not built for us, would always be this way. Right when we were at the point of “it’s bad, but not too bad,” they finally pushed us too far.

 

So we stopped being quiet. We screamed, we cried, we pleaded for someone to notice that they were killing us. Instead of stopping though, they just kept doing it. But we didn’t shut up, we didn’t let them scare us. We took over the streets. We raised the names of loved ones killed by the system, by the law. Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Miriam Carey, Alesia Thomas, Islan Nettles, Duanna Johnson. This isn’t all of them. This isn’t even half. There are too many.

 

Everyone’s making so much important noise. Except me. I have been terrified lately. Not just because it’s killing season for my people, but because I’m terrified that I’m not doing enough. Because, just 6 months ago, the idea of leaving my house gave me full blown panic attacks. Like, crying-as-I-walk-down-the-street-when-I-had-to-leave-my-house panic attacks; I’m better now, but I still get anxious around large groups of people, people I don’t know, and group noise (which is a huge trigger). So I don’t protest. I don’t go to rallies or community organizing meetings. I don’t participate when my community shuts down streets for hours or stops parades or takes over city council meetings. As much as I want to, I can’t.

 

Saying that I have limitations because of my mental illnesses feels somewhat different than what I’m trying to communicate, but I think it’s as close as I’ll get. In my current state, my anxiety and I can’t do large groups. Put that on top of the fact that I’m a natural introvert and the idea becomes even worse. But when something happens and I see pictures on Facebook, or my friends on the news, I get this sad/guilty feeling that I should’ve been there. I should’ve been helping. I’m broke and unemployed so it’s not like I’m sending funds to organizations; I can barely feed myself. So I’m stuck in this dilemma where I want to help because, what other option is there? Change is so close. We are about to shut the system down and hopefully, collectively build a better one. I need to be a part of this. But I don’t feel safe.

 

I’m wondering what this says about the way we organize that causes me to feel unsafe participating in our collective liberation. Where is the room for those of us who want to be present, but can’t? How are we included and made to feel like we’re needed when there is literally no accessibility for people like me? If we are about our collective freedom, we’ve got to make all of that freedom work accessible to folks with both visible and invisible illnesses. I never go to protests because I’m not 100% positive that if I had a panic attack that a) I’d have a place to escape to or b) that anyone would notice and help me.
This doesn’t feel like freedom. This isn’t what it should look like. But how can you criticize something as important as this? There’s so much I want to do…but I’m afraid that I can’t.

Alaina Monts is from Greensboro, North Carolina. They can be found on tumblr.

Illustration by Raz (twitter).

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