An important conversation happening more prominently today is the one about mental health and May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s no longer a belief of a divide between the crazy people and the normal people. I wonder how different the world would be if so many hurt people treated their mental health as well (or better) than their physical health.
Something I work tangentially with every day for my job is trauma. The work I do makes me interested in trauma: what experiences count as trauma, what are the ripple effects of trauma, who is allowed to be affected by trauma.
This last thought interests me the most. I have read one book in particular that has me thinking a lot about who is allowed to experience trauma: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri.
This is an important book for the times we currently live in where there are so many conflicts happening all over the world (many of which were caused by the United States, but that’s a whole other conversation…). I hear about the Syrian conflict a lot, mostly in the context of refugees (coming in and stealing all our resources and constantly asking for handouts *eye roll*). To be honest, I still don’t know much about what is happening besides the basics. All I know is that Wikipedia told me it’s the second deadliest (civil?) war.
First of all, I can’t imagine living in a war zone. I was just telling my friends that if I was on the Titanic, I would be one of the people sucked into one of the broken windows due to water pressure because I am not smart or strategic enough to know how to keep myself alive for very long (actually, I probably would have drowned early because I would be on the bottom of the boat because, ya know, black. Actually, my black behind probably wouldn’t be getting on any ship because, ya know, the legacy of slavery and ain’t no white people tricking me to get on no boat. Thank goodness I live in contemporary times and cruises seem totes safe).
There is no doubt escaping your war-ravaged home-city is a traumatic experience. I will try to talk about Nuri, the main character, without giving too many spoilers. Nuri has to be strong for his wife; he has to be strong for the rigorous immigration/refugee/asylum processes they are put through; he has to be strong, because the alternative is grimmer. And despite the strength he shows (and his wife who I wish the novel was written in her perspective as well), people still have unfair preconceived notions about him.
The first thing I noticed was the difference between Nuri and his wife, Afra, on how they experienced their trauma. Nuri expected his wife to be fragile because she was a woman. But as a man, he had to protect and provide and felt like he couldn’t just sit around feeling sorry for himself (which isn’t what his wife was doing either). Even at the end of the book when they were receiving aid, his wife had to tell the doctor what was wrong with him because he couldn’t admit to himself that something was wrong.
Men in most cultures are just supposed to endure the effects of trauma and if they have a moment of weakness, they are less than a man. They aren’t allowed to ask for help for their trauma.
The second layer I noticed was Westerners. Westerners paint people from developing countries in an awful light. We have privilege to be born in the places of wealth and relative prosperity (certainly not for all), but then we have the audacity to talk shit about people coming to our countries hoping for a better life, or to protect their families, or to merely survive when oftentimes the countries these people are coming from are in the state they’re in because of imperialism, colonialism, and less than honorable intentions from our countries.
When refugees and asylum seekers get to these western countries, they are re-traumatized by a system to make sure they’re “coming her the right way”. Who has a lot of time to figure out every single law when you’re running for your life?? You can have safe borders and give people dignity and respect at the same time.
We don’t care about the trauma these people have faced and they don’t have the privilege to work through their experiences of trauma as many of us do. They aren’t allowed to experience trauma, but it is expected to be inflicted upon them.
So this is my call to action: advocate for better mental health and social services (by voting) and stop being buttholes by invalidating people’s feelings.