Opinion Piece on the #metoo Campaign by Emma Earnshaw
The phrase “triggered” irritates me, though it’s not the word or definition I take issue with. The way it’s used colloquially is what I can’t stand. I associate it with school, shrieked down hallways- in tones of mock hysteria, by strangers to their friends- they’ve conveniently forgotten there’s a crowd full of people who are now in on the joke too. “Life doesn’t come with a trigger warning!” - My favorite excuse people use to justify making shitty jokes. But I’m just a sensitive snowflake who needs to calm down. After the Weinstein story broke, I disengaged from the news. I couldn’t stand to hear another saga of abuse, which was clearly an open secret to some (and enabled by many) for decades. Oh- a man in a position of power leveraged his authority to abuse women. Yeah, color me fucking shocked.
I’m so angry, sometimes the only way I can function is through behaving as cynically as possible. My prickly coat of armor offends people, alienates me, and it hurts much less than processing what I can’t deal with. I’ve been told I can be cruel- and it’s true. I can be snappy, rude and aloof. Sometimes that’s just the best I can do. My tongue is the only line of defense I know can use to overpower someone- you’d better believe I keep it sharp as a knife. I wasn’t always like this. It’s not easy for the people around me, and you know what? It’s not easy for me either.
When #metoo appeared on my newsfeed, I took a social media break. Pathetic- two words on a screen. That’s all it took. A “#” and two words created this feeling I can’t quite name- like heartbreak mixed with grief. It’s the emotional version of that sudden, dry lump you feel rising in your throat before you cry. Don’t get me wrong- I’m beyond proud of everyone who came forward and said, “Me too.” I just wasn’t ready to hear it.
So, obviously staying away from social media magically fixed everything. Right? I’m great at compartmentalization, but even I couldn’t build walls fast enough. “It" was brought up in a lecture at school- so I left. Easy. “It” was something I've overheard many people discussing. No matter where I go, or how much I try to block everyone out- I can’t escape those two words.
Existing in this state is difficult enough. Forget about trying to thrive, responsibilities fall by the wayside. The goal is survival, just making it through the day. My soundproof headphones have been planted firmly over my ears, wherever I’ve gone for the last week. There: Problem=solved. I ditched the next two lectures in the class “it” was brought up in- just to be safe. I guess, what I’m trying to say here (as much as I despise the phrase) is… I’ve been feeling triggered. I’ve been feeling triggered and I don’t know how to ignore it anymore.
Akira Kurosawa, said, “To be an artist means never to avert your eyes.” He creates an image of the artist as warrior- the embodiment of courage: staring the ugly truth straight in the eye, capturing it, and using it to educate others. When people look away out of fear- ignoring what’s right in front of them, the artist defiantly challenges them to meet truth’s gaze. Kurosawa’s words feel different now. Some of us are forced to walk around without the privilege of selective blindness. We’ve no choice other than to stare straight ahead, whilst simultaneously registering every detail in our surroundings. Then, we get to pretend nothing’s there-great! It’s like the sensation you get when the first hint of light hits your eyes immediately after stepping out of a movie theater-piercing, invasive and inevitable. (Don’t let anyone catch you squinting.)
Humans are apex predators. Feeling like prey is terrifying and primal. Hyperarousal- a vestigial instinct, once kept us safe from harm. At this point, it’s more of a burden than an evolutionary advantage for me. When I’m in a classroom trying to learn, or when I open my newsfeed on Facebook, or when I’m anywhere. It’s exhausting being on high alert at all times. They’re right, life doesn’t come with a trigger warning. I wish it did.
I refuse to post this statement against some saccharine, sweet, background with a cute font. I’m not going to keep this light. These words aren’t benign. It’s not something I need anyone to “like” or “love”. I don’t need you to read this. This requires neither approval nor validation. It simply is. For those who posted sans explanation- I get it. You’re not obligated to confess. You have no sins to repent. Saying those two words is brave, and it’s enough to leave it at that- if you want. A week ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of saying “Me too.” and a year ago I just couldn’t. For a long time, I believed if I said the word out loud I’d die.
If these images, make you want to avert your gaze- good. That’s what, “Me too” felt like to me. It’s ugly, it hurts, and it pops up without warning all the time. It hurts, and it hurts, and then it hurts some more. Best just to look away. These self-portraits were taken earlier this year. You can see it. So can I. Maybe my expression says more than my words ever will. The pain etched on my face- that didn’t last forever; I ache in a different way now. I don’t spend every moment of the day feeling like I’m drowning. That's what they call progress.
Me too. Me too. Me too.
Me too- I’m sad, but most of all, I’m really fucking angry. Sadness is easy- depression permeates my consciousness like an unwelcome houseguest, once he arrives I know I’m stuck with him for a while. Sadness’s grip holds steady as he suffocates me. Depression follows a predictable trajectory. Anger is so much harder to sit with. Sometimes it’s unbearable. It surges and disappears and often I don’t even know why. Anger doesn’t follow a logical trajectory. Family members, friends, and acquaintances have asked me, “What happened to you? Why are you so angry? What could you possibly have to be angry about?" Not one person asked if I was okay.
"How did she become such an angry, bitter person at 24? She’s young, goes to a great university… She’s a thin, Caucasian woman, living in Marin County- what’s her problem?” Just another angry, spoiled, millennial- right?
Now, can you stop asking why I’m so angry all the time? You wanted an answer- there it is. And no, I don’t want to talk about it with you. I want you to give me some space so I can breathe. Don’t tell me you’re sorry, I don’t care. I don’t want to hear it.
When people ask about the anger, that’s when it eats away at me most. I should just unload on them- after all, they did ask. What would happen if I just said it out loud? Instead, I swallow my rage like a pill. It doesn’t go down easy, but the way I feel isn’t their fault. I know that. Nor is it mine. But, this is the mess I’ve been left to clean up- and until today, I’ve been doing it alone.
I don’t understand why humans treat each other like this- predator and prey. Sometimes, I worry my fury might just kill me. Death by emotional spontaneous combustion. Sometimes I wish it would. During those moments, I breathe deeply and remind myself no feeling or experience is permanent. This won’t always feel like such an unbearably heavy burden to shoulder. I ride the wave past its crest. Sure enough, it passes. If everything then was “before”, logically an “after” will have to follow at some point.
Until then, I’ll try not to avert my eyes. It’s hard. I’ve driven as fast as I can, as far as I can, trying to outrun it. I tried to sleep it away. I kept as busy as possible, so I’d have less time to sit with it. I tried to pretend it just wasn’t there… nothing works, nothing ever works. It spills over- always. This can’t be neatly tucked away and ignored. So, I’m writing it out- I wish I could write it away. I have no hope this method will work any better than the rest. But my shoulders have relaxed as I’ve written this. That’s something.
To anyone else who feels the anger, fear, shame, guilt, mistrust… To the person who has to ride the wave. To the person who abruptly leaves in the middle of class. To the person who has to block out what I’m saying right now because it’s too much- I understand.
You are whole, you are brave, and you are loved. Yes, that means you too.
// Written by Emma Earnshaw