I’m really getting worried for men my age.
Last month I wrote a piece where I referenced the death of an acquaintance; a guy I worked music festivals with in Canada. What I didn’t tell you then was that his death was a suicide.
Two weeks ago I got a call that a friend from my tight-knit group of high school friends here in Portland was missing. By the beginning of that weekend we all got the call we were dreading. He was dead and that his body had been found in the Willamette River, from an apparent suicide.
None of us are ever probably going to really know all the reasons he did this. Maybe even trying to figure out why and attribute it to one thing in this situation is just pointless. But in the days after we found out he in fact had died, we could find certain clues on his social networking sites, because we are in our late twenties, and now we have the ability to track and follow our friends’ narrative arcs through their tweets.
On Twitter, in just a few spots he lists a few cities and comments on them:
“Pittsburgh is starting to look good…”
“Hartford, CT…just maybe.”
Then when combined with him writing an occasional joking tweet about other possible career paths, you start to get the picture. He couldn’t get a job in a location he felt connected to. And then, if his story is like countless other people I know, he couldn’t get a job in any location—regardless of whether he wanted to be there or not.
Around last Halloween I was frustrated. I couldn’t find a job nor a decent housing situation and so in an impulsive fit of anger, as I’m prone to do, I took to Twitter:
“If decent job and decent housing situation do not present by Jan 1, I’m applying to jobs in other cities…cities with real transit systems.”
He wrote back: “best of luck on both counts, but I wouldn’t wait to apply elsewhere.”
His very last tweet was seven months ago, and very simply says: “Job qualification: using the internet. Check, I can do that.”
But as my friend was a visually expressive person, naturally his tumblr kept going up until his death. It’s filled with images that when you look back knowing how he would leave us, you start to feel like an idiot for not seeing signs sooner.
It’s the upside and the downside of being a writer—that ability to see a metaphor in any and everything.
But there’s one image he posted less than a month before he took his life. I’d seen it on other people’s Facebooks, tumblrs, or tweets before. It’s the picture at the very top of this page. “Feeling Sad and Depressed? You might be suffering from CAPITALISM.”
When I first saw it awhile back, I found myself amused by it. When I reread it now and the list of symptoms at the bottom in fine print, I feel my chest tighten with dread.
I was still looking through his tumblr the night before his wake, when G— (a friend back up in Canada) messaged me to tell me that another of his former co-workers had gone missing and they just found his body. G— (who also worked concerts with the acquaintance that committed suicide in May) messaged me the following: “seriously, what is going on here?”
As someone who considers themselves a feminist and is willing to fight for gender equality, this also means I have to be willing to discuss the few times we as women have certain advantages over men. This economic recession has taught me a lot, but one thing it’s really shown me first hand is this inherent need men have to be providers. Generationally, things have evolved from a point where men were the sole providers, to women being allowed to work and help support their family; but now we have a new reality. We have a generation of men, who thankfully, truly believe in gender equality. The problem is that they have a basic (and obviously a reasonable) expectation to be able to support themselves, and then down the road, maybe have a family.
You’re in your late twenties, you can’t get any job—much less one that makes you happy, you can’t pay rent, you live at home again, and the only thing you have to show for your life so far is a mountain of student debt that crumbles you from the inside out. Any psychologist will tell you that the major keys for success in recovery from things like a major depressive episode, is a stable job and a satisfactory housing situation. If you are already battling your brain chemistry or some other demons, and then you are faced with the prospect of another month of writing cover letters from your parent’s basement, of course your self-worth is going to go to complete shit.
Your identity, even if you try to swear off traditional markers of success, still will always come down to two things—“good” job and “good” place of your own to call home. And if you have secured these things from endless hard work, then that demonstrates something positive about your character.
You roll in the fact that men are told to maintain control of everything at any costs, including over their emotions; of course we’ve created the perfect recipe for these scenarios.
There is stigma for anyone suffering and wanting to reach out for help for depression, but there is substantially less for me than there was for him.
Two months before my grandfather would pass away, Occupy Wall Street protestors were being thrown out of Zucotti Park, and while we watched CNN together, he asked me to explain what the protestors were actually protesting. While I was politically aligned with the overall message of the movement, there were obviously a lot of sinister undercurrents that had infiltrated many Occupy encampments (including theft and sexual violence). I decided to try my best to give him a picture of all the angles and opinions. I told him about how some said that they all needed to grow up, clean up and head home. I told him about some of the crimes reported in the camps. I hit the Internet and even read him articles from Fox News.
When I was done he turned to me and said, “I don’t blame none of you for sitting in those parks. It’s not right what our generation’s done to yours.” He sat forward in his chair, curved his back and rested his forearms on his knees, “you think we would have learned since we lived through this mess before. Nope. We’re just doing it to you all again.”
When G— messaged me that his former co-worker was now also gone, I simply wrote back: “what a shitty fucking month”. Three young men in less than thirty days.
But really, this all started about five years ago and who knows exactly how many we’ve lost.
All I know is, please, we just don’t want to lose another.