The Vulnerability Industrial Complex
On turning our insatiable need for hope and inspiration into profit
What does it say about America that it wants to build a giant wall to keep other humans out?
As with anything to do with the current administration, the subtext isn’t subtle: America doesn’t want to share. To this end, Trump is planning to turn the US into a country-sized gated community where members abide by exclusionary rules.
This civil engineering endeavor reminds me of another guarded concrete barrier that separated humans in 1960s Germany, both physically and ideologically. The Berlin Wall severed family ties and shattered many lives in the name of some elusive common good.
A wall was an aberration then and it is an aberration now.
Ours is a country that fancies itself as an exclusive membership club, bound together by a monotheistic religion devoid of compassion, decency, or indeed any kind of supernatural force.
In the United States, there’s only one god.
We worship the nineteenth letter of the English alphabet adorned with two vertical strokes because it’s the only tangible deity there is.
Everything is for sale in America.
You can purchase an education just like you can purchase good health.
You can also buy opportunities like mentorship and networking with free labor. Assuming you needn’t worry about getting to work and keeping a roof over your head, food in your stomach, or clothes on your back, unpaid internships are all the rage.
If you can’t afford opportunities but don’t want to get left behind, no worries! There are many solutions waiting for you in every possible flavor of self-helpery you can dream of.
From books to workshops via retreats and personal coaching promising to teach you how to make your every wish come true through visualization and manifesting whatever it is you want, hucksters are lining up to sell you instant life-changing solutions.
Pick up any of those books and you’ll discover that getting well/wealthy/popular/thin is surprisingly simple.
As a human with major depressive disorder, all I have to do is decide to let go of my depression, venture out of the allegedly comfortable cocoon it built around me, and — at least according to one tome I read for research purposes — forgo beer for breakfast.
Never mind that I’m teetotal, I’m nevertheless the architect of my own suffering, a lazy, malingering moocher. As an aside, anyone who alleges beer is the morning brew of choice for depressives is unlikely to have ever met one of us in the flesh.
In the same book, I also discover my issue isn’t a broken brain but my vibrating on a different frequency from what I need.
Should I start sitting on top of the washer during the spin cycle to conjure up my ideal life?
Should I start honking like a one-arm bandit as it regurgitates quarters onto a random lap, flashing like a disco ball on steroids to get well and wealthy?
Is it time for me to don a string of holiday lights, plug them in, and start yelling “Ka-ching! Ka-ching!” at the top of my lungs so miracles start happening?
When anyone suggests all depressives have to do is tell the squatter in their head to beat it for depression to lift, time has come to call bullshit.
Don’t you think I’ve tried that? Don’t you think I’ve woken up innumerable times hell-bent on giving the illness the boot? Don’t you think I’ve spent years pretending I was fine until I couldn’t keep up the charade anymore?
As long as I hid it, it only made depression worse.
Because when you pretend you’re fine and in charge, how can anyone know you’re sinking and need help?
Further, how can anyone ever understand depression is real when it’s depicted as an attitude problem — a choice, even — in myriad self-help books by those purporting to help us?
This is America, where magical thinking sells, people want instant solutions, thinking is hard, and there’s always someone waiting in the wings to cash in on desperate people.
And would you believe it, con artists willing to service those needs often end up on the New York Times nonfiction best sellers’ list!
No matter how lost you feel, please resist the urge to trade timid hope for credulity on the bullshit exchange in the name of recovery.
Doing so will only enrich predatory purveyors of courage by proxy and assorted illusions packaged as inspiration; it won’t help you at all.
Instead, you’re likely to retreat further into self-doubt and negativity, bringing forth more of the same.
The message in those self-help books is always similar: If you don’t succeed in America it’s because you aren’t dreaming big enough or trying hard enough.
Never mind that you live in a country that systematically denies you good health and an education if you can’t afford them. Every other developed nation understood long ago both are prerequisites for the advancement of their population.
But America still hasn’t and look at us now.
The human condition isn’t a pathology.
Humans are fallible.
Humans are prone to breaking down sometimes. Humans mess up on a regular basis, and humans can stall just like cars do when they run out of gas.
And yet, we continue to go against our nature by prioritizing appearances, individualism, and greed over connection and empathy.
Not for me the dead eyes or the phony toothy smile with a hint of tongue peeking through from behind upper teeth. I will forever be French in that respect — we don’t flash our teeth in a predatory way when we smile — and this kind of facial expression creeps me out, especially the eyes part.
I will not perform a sanitized, redacted, and permanently grinning version of myself because you can’t handle the realness of my illness.
I’m committed to letting the whole human bleed through because I don’t see another way out of depression.
Unlike my tuxedo cat, I’m not afraid of my own shadow and I don’t jump at the slightest hint of darkness emanating from my person.
If depression is the wall keeping me away from other humans and I’ve so far failed to scale it, it’s only because I was weighed down by shame.
Silence begets silence.
Silence is the tacit acceptance of the existing state of affairs; silence is capitulation; silence is complicity; silence is complacency.
For depressives, silence can result in death.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression.”
I will not be bullied into silence by illness, gender, circumstances, or society.
A dented, broken human is still a human.
Only when I managed to wrap my head around the necessity of radical honesty did I get my voice back.
The only way to heal and to end the stigma is to open up; the only way to survive is to question everything, even those truths you hold to be self-evident.
If anyone tries to convince you otherwise then they’re probably trying to sell you something.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.