It has to be realized that if a woman or girl is upset about something, it's not just because she wants attention. And if she does want attention, maybe it's because she wants care. Is that something to dismiss? What happens when we do dismiss it? I'm not sure I want to know.
This post over on Jezebel hit home for me in a lot of ways, both in women's voices being devalued and in mental issues being devauled. And Tavi is a hell of a writer, no matter what her age is. I really wish I could have known someone with her awareness and wisdom when I was in middle school, because I was not that much younger than she is now the first time I attempted suicide.
I couldn't tell you of any specific instances of someone telling me I was just doing something for attention as I was growing up (different story for as a grown up, more on that later) but I still knew that attitude was there, all around me. From growing up in a house where sick days didn't happen unless you were bleeding from your eyeballs or bone was showing, to just being aware of what was happening in society around me. You think I didn't hear what people would say if they heard about suicide, or attempted suicide, or worst of all (for me at the time), non suicidal self harm? All those people just seeking validation or craving attention.... maybe they were just praying for someone to notice them and didn't know how to ask for help because assholes keep on denigrating them at every turn. Just like me.
The harm I did to myself wasn't for attention. I hid my scars and emotions even while I was desperate that someone, anyone, would notice the pain I was in. I knew what people said and thought about people like me, that we are selfish and attention whores. How the fuck was I supposed to ask for help when it was only "all in my head" and I'm evidently this horrible person anyway. When you keep hearing that message over and over again, how can you tell someone that it hurts to live?
My parents and other adults certainly didn't notice my "cries for attention". They didn't know about the suicide attempts. They didn't know about the cutting. They didn't know about the exercise bulimia or the severe depression. They didn't know that I almost dropped out of college. They didn't really know anything until I came to them with less than a year to go in college and told them I didn't know if I could live any longer*. Was I attention whoring? No, I was trying desperately not to die and I knew I couldn't do it alone anymore.
Flash forward several years to not all that long ago: I get a referral for a therapist (and a prescription, thankfully) from my doctor because I could feel that old familiar depression rearing it's ugly head again and I didn't want a repeat of my last year of college. My time with this therapist lasted for all of one fucking session. Actually less than that because I shut down half way through. I didn't tell him that around this same time I was researching inpatient psychiatric hospitals in town that I could voluntarily commit myself to. I did tell him about my very vivid and detailed suicide fantasies, that I could barely bring myself to go to work, and I had mostly stopped hanging out with friends. He told me in return that my life wasn't that bad and that I only had minor depression, if I was depressed at all. Needless to say, I got significantly worse before I got better.
This. This is what happens when we dismiss a woman or girl for "attention seeking". People die, or come damn close to it.
And what happens when people don't wait until rock bottom like I did to let people know something is wrong? We are often meet with attitudes like this:
Empathy and sympathy are a matter of negotiation, in all but the absolute closest human relationships. There are exceptions for extreme situations of course, or misfortunes that are out of anybody's control, but the bargain usually is: I agree to give you that shoulder to cry on, that sympathetic ear, if you agree to at least hear me out when it comes to figuring out how to address your problem and move forward.
Problems where I can't directly be part of the solution just don't attract much of my mental energy.
See, it's not really about the person actually suffering at all.
What people like this guy don't understand is, just getting to that point where you can talk to someone about what is going on is huge for a lot of people, and a form of therapy itself. There's a reason there are sayings like "I need to get this off my chest". Cheryl can attest, there have been times I've called/texted her just to say, "I really need to vent. Are you free tonight?" And beyond that, you honestly think we haven't considered different options at all? Asshole. That brilliant advice you just dropped on us was probably something we've heard and tried 20 times before and it doesn't work. So instead of getting a sympathetic ear and a chance to unpack some of our problems, we're branded as ungrateful, stupid, attention seekers. Great. And on a related tangent, if someone comes to you with an issue and you don't know if they want advice or just to unload, ASK!
I've talked almost exclusively about the worst aspects of the "attention seeking" meme, but this shit is pervasive in even the most mundane shit. It's part of the reason I'm fiercely independent. Part of why I almost never show my art or poetry to other people. Why even friends and family don't know about huge events in my life until I'm weeks or days away from moving, or major surgery, or by the way, did you know I added/dropped a major? Why even here, I police myself more often than not because even though only a whopping 2 or 3 people can attach a face to my words I don't want those 2 or 3 people to freak out at something I say and get frantic (but well-meaning) phone calls, or have my words used against me by someone less than well-meaning. It doesn't matter if I need help, or want advice, or just want to brag about something awesome I've done. It's all attention seeking behavior and I'm not supposed to do that.
Fuck that noise.
*I should probably apologize to my friends who were living with me at the time, a couple of which read my drivel. I dropped a major bomb on you guys at this time and you really helped me. So I'm sorry for waiting so long to let you know what was happening and I'm so fucking thankful for y'all sticking by me. Smooches!