For the past week, I’ve been in a depressive funk.
There were a lot of contributing factors, but one of the most salient ones was the news that in the last few weeks alone, five gay teenagers committed suicide. One of the cases was of Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly posted a video of him having sex with another man.
My immediate response was disappointment that we are part of a society where youth feel unsupported, unloved, and unaccepted to the point that they feel they have no choice but to take their own lives. I became frustrated at the fact that we deny equal rights to certain populations, and then wonder where our children learn to treat others as if they are inferior. I was confused as to where the products of the evolution of empathy were to be found. I became depressed at the thought that the world is farther back than where I thought we were.
I became so absorbed in my disappointment with the world that I began to only see the negative aspects of every part of my life: from my relationships to what happened in school, and even in the themes of the musical that I’m part of. My mindset was incredibly dangerous, because focusing on the negative meant that I was no longer the smiley, happy, outspoken person that I usually am. It meant that I lost confidence in myself, and as I lost my grasp of who I was and of my place in the world, I focused even more on the negative, and I lost more confidence in myself, and the vicious cycle continued…
And then someone slapped me out of it. It’s ohkay – she used words (not physical violence) =).
It turns out that I was so deep in my depressive cycle that I projected my personal frustrations onto characters in the school musical that I’ve been rehearsing for. Without going into all the details (I still want people to come see the show!), the lead character dies in the end, and I was disappointed that he felt pressured into committing suicide. He was manipulated by his best friend and felt that the world no longer supported him or cared for him, and he could no longer escape through his fantasies like he used to. It was heartbreaking to watch a character I empathize with feel so trapped to the point of seeking death as his only exit.
But as it turns out, I was completely wrong.
My friend, who happens to be the director of the play, explained to me that from her perspective, the musical is about the two people who become best friends by learning from each other throughout the course of the show, and the main protagonist gaining the ability to put full force behind his convictions, which included the strength to sacrifice for love. It’s a tragic story, yes, but it’s a beautiful story where the characters end up gaining resilience, integrity, and strength.
Likewise, I realized that in real life, I was losing sight of what was important. I was focusing on the wrong things. The truth is that the suicides were undoubtedly horrific and preventable, but these tragedies have been happening for many, many years, so the massive response of the media and the public now should really be seen as a ray of hope.
And that should be the story. Not despair at what we can no longer change, but courage, power, will, and passion to focus on how tomorrow can be made better by the lessons of today.
Many celebrities (including Neil Patrick Harris, Tim Gunn, Chris Colfer, & Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet) are chiming in to the chorus of voices rising up against these preventable deaths, and many of their stories are personal and touching ones detailing how they were once treated horribly for being different, and how they overcame that to find a better world because of their resilience. One of my favourite videos (below) is from the cast of the musical Wicked, and I like their message because it incorporates many different experiences of barriers to being able to be themselves, but all of them made it through. These videos are part of the “It Gets Better” campaign, striving to reach out to youth who are struggling with their identity both internally and externally, and it’s tied to The Trevor Project, a 24-hour suicide hotline in the US for gay and questioning youth.
I think these videos work because they demonstrate to youth that if some of their idols and successful role models made it through some rough years, they can, too. These videos will also hopefully initiate dialogue, from the House of Commons to the water coolers everywhere in the world, so that actions can start being taken, from changes in public policy to changes in personal opinions of intolerance that led to these suicides in the first place.
Ultimately, I believe these videos work because they turn very unfortunate situations into an opportunity for change. We need to recognize and mourn those we have lost, but it is equally important to turn the focus onto what can be done so that these incidents will eventually never happen again.
It’s all about generating hope.
It definitely does get better, and it’s just as important to understand that it could get a little worse before it gets better. I really appreciated that someone in the video above shared his story about how his mother literally had a heart attack when he came out to her. It shows that the path to realizing your true and full self may not always be easy (and this doesn’t just apply to being gay, but being different in any way), and it may get worse before it gets better, but it does get better. We find the people who love and embrace us for who we are. We find the things we are passionate about, and the ways that we can change the world using our unique gifts. It just takes time.
Sometimes, even I forget that profound personal and societal change takes time, but the journey is worth taking. I try to start my day telling myself that the day will be awesome, and as a result, I find that I focus on the parts of my day that are delightfully and surprisingly rewarding, rather than on the little hiccups in the day that everyone has.
Trust that it will get better, and I promise that it will.
“This is the funny thing about growing up. For years and years, everybody’s desperately afraid to be different in any way. And then, suddenly, almost over night, everybody wants to be different. And that is where we win.”
— Cam (Modern Family)
This weekend is Thanksgiving.
What am I most thankful for?
That despite all the injustice and inequality in this world, we get to share laughter. That we come to find people with different perspectives and varied backgrounds, and we can have intelligent, passionate, respectful, and fun conversations that challenge our preconceived notions and change us for the better.
That we love, we live, and we have hope that tomorrow will be even better than today.