Every May for the past four years, the Stories Project team has carved out a week to not only remember and reflect upon the stories of those who have been lost to anti-LGBT violence and suicide, but commit to action, awareness, and activism in their memories. Every May until very recently, I have burned out early on in the week and found myself unable to finish the event because I thought somehow I could focus on these stories for eight weeks or more without recognizing it would have an impact on my mental health and making it a priority to take care of myself.
My day theme for the event this year, which I am using to determine how I personally take action, is “Those Who Survive,” which includes not only those who have survived anti-LGBT violence, but everyone who lives in the aftermath of violence and loss. Because I have a tendency to get caught up in the stories of those who died, I am challenging myself to focus on those who survive and what I can do for them (and myself, seeing as I am also a survivor). I am additionally challenging you all to focus on taking care of yourselves and each other as you interact with the stories of loss, hate, and violence this week.
What does it mean to you when I say to focus on your mental health? What does self-care look like to you? I hate that so much of what I write here involves not being able to give you the answers, but surviving is a such personal experience that you’re the only person who will know what’s going to work for you. If you don’t know what might help, I encourage you to try things out. It took many years and many instances of trying things for me to discover what worked for me. Go with your feelings and what seems right to you. And while we focus on the stories of those we have lost throughout the week, I would like you to take this day to be hopeful and look to the future if you can. We have so much to mourn for, but we also have so much to look forward to and so much to be happy for. I don’t like the idea of surviving “for a reason,” but if you survived and made it this far, I’m glad you did and I know you can survive and make it a little further.
You know, it’s around this time of year that it really dawns on me that I am a statistic. I was a victim – and a survivor – of violence, and if things had turned out just slightly differently on the night I was attacked, I could be part of a different statistic. And I won’t lie: that’s an extremely difficult thing to grapple with. It takes a toll on my mental health and it’s taken me a long time to learn how to take care of myself. But our community marches toward progress every day, and since 2011, there have been wins after wins after wins for LGBT people. Those victories can’t bring back the lives we have lost, but they have made it a hell of a lot easier to believe that I have a future – a future full of hope and promise that will not be defined by violence and pain. You do too.
So take care of yourselves, and take care of the people you love. Help each other and support each other through the bad times and celebrate the good times together. Check in with each other and check in with yourself. I can’t promise there will ever be a time where you won’t struggle, or a time where you won’t cry, over the things you’ve experienced. I can promise, however, that we are loved, that the lives we lead are important, that there is much still to love in the world, and that we will find ways to make living worthwhile in spite of our bad days – or bad weeks.