Trigger Warning- frank discussion of suicide
When a well-known porn star direct messaged me and tenderly asked if there was anything she could do to help with my struggles, and if it would be ok to signal boost my tilt campaign to help with my no-fault eviction, I was amazed. I didn't expect someone who had 429,000 Twitter followers to know who I was, much less to reach out to me when I was in pain. Full of gratitude, I thanked her for her compassion, gave her permission, and was temporarily contented that perhaps I was less alone than I thought.
The next day I was at a shoot talking about mutual care when I discovered that an acquaintance had been vaguebooking about how people in the adult industry shouldn't be asking for handouts, that we should just work harder. Bootstraps, y'all, right? This sort of attitude is one I feel I confront often, and it's one I have in myself- how dare I ask for help? Who am I to receive assistance? Obviously it would be better for me to self destruct, or to suffer needlessly and silently, rather than asking people who seem to maybe care about me if they could give me a boost.
What a fucked up thing to say.
In my case it is easier for me to let go of the shame associated with asking for help, especially financial help, because I've been homeless and no amount of pride will put me back into that situation, ever. I can reflect on the hours of unpaid labour I do through activism, through giving personal guidance and advice, through taking on crowdfunding campaigns for other performers in dire straits, and I can say "sure, I do the work, this is just a way for people to repay me". I can see it as an exchange- I scratch their backs, and eventually, they scratch mine.
But when I am anxious, or sad, I find it hard to crawl out of the hole I'm in to ask for a hand. I also find it hard to do self care, to eat properly, or to communicate about other things. I have multiple friends of friends who have committed suicide over the last two years, and many many more on the verge at any given moment, because they feel they're not heard, that no one cares. They're afraid of that shaming. So I hear you, person who is struggling and who is scared to ask people if they can do things for you. I understand the fear that comes with being vulnerable and saying, "yes, actually, I need you".
Do you hear that? IT'S OK TO ASK PEOPLE FOR HELP.
They may not always be able to provide the help you need, but it's perfectly fine to ask. I would say it's especially ok to ask if people ask you for help all the time, with events, with editing, with personal problems. I think as caretakers and givers, we find it harder to get our needs met because we're afraid the world will fall apart if we take a time out. And I think, for me at least, it's scary to slam up against the possibility that all the assistance I've paid forward were just examples of people taking advantage and using me. That makes me feel like I should have known better, and gives me nihilistic feelings towards humanity. Much better to not ask at all than to be disappointed, right?
Considering a week ago I had a noose around my neck and was heavily considering where to put the knot for the quickest and easiest death, no. It's not better to keep these things to yourself and suffer in silence. That way lies madness and isolation and the very good likelihood that you will end up martyring yourself when there was some possibility people would have helped you. At least give them the chance by asking.
I am still fighting off suicidal feelings, because receiving help isn't a cure-all. But I also have some financial aid to cushion the sudden fall that happens with evictions, and I have some pleasurable things to remind me to do self care (flowers, cookies, bath bombs and makeup). I know I have people I can talk to and lean on when I need to. I know I have lovers I can be honest about how bad things are with, who will hold me tighter rather that be scared and run away. And that knowledge is keeping me alive. Communicating about where I'm at is what's keeping me breathing. Trust that I can be honest without being sent to a hospital or made to feel guilty for making other people upset is helping me be strong. And when someone talks shit about you doing that, consider the source- in this case, realizing the amount of unpaid labour I had provided for this person in the past allowed me the closure to say "well, fuck you too".
It is ok to ask for help. There are a lot of systematic oppressions that cause us to not want to ask for help, something missed by "The Art of Asking" by Amanda Palmer, though she touches on the also-important personal barriers that prevent people from coming forward. For example, this campaign in Hull suggested that people begging on the street should not "intimidate or harass people" but "ask for help and support"- help from resources often overflowing, sometimes dangerous, and often not friendly towards minorities. People of colour asking for help, trans people, sex workers are all seen less as "needing a helping hand" and more "demanding a hand out", or "charity cases". My question is, when did we get so scared of charity?
We're taught that it's a weakness to ask, but it's a weakness to ignore our limitations. Being able to be vulnerable is strength beyond measure. Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, Patreon, tip jars, these are all ways we can help each other, encouraging an ecosystem of mutual care rather than individualistic selfishness. And ask for the big things, because you won't know unless you do- people often surprise us. The highest donating person on my tilt is a guy I knew years and years ago, who I offered a place to sleep when his parents kicked him out of his home.
All this said- asking for help is only as good as the community of people you have around to help you. I'm very lucky to have social media, but its worth noting that while I have about 10,000 followers at least total on my social networks, 47 actually contributed to my tilt. Another 5 paypaled me directly or gave me cash. All that is totally fine, of course- people have their own shit going on, right? But to prevent burnout, remember community is about accountability, shared responsibility, and mutual care. Think long and hard about who you spend time with and make efforts for and if they are, in fact, your community, or when you ask for help you will feel resentful. Its made me really appreciate the people who DO make time, who DO donate a dollar or two, who DO reach out and ask how I'm doing. I have radically redefined my community in a way that feels more sustainable and safe.
I might even make it through this alive, and part of that is because I trusted those around me enough to ask for help.
Here's a great flyer on sustainable self care and activist burn out.