You and I are soundly aware of the words we use. Or, we think we are. We assume we are.
And we tend to assume our words are harmless; maybe we think they’re just strings of sounds, Styrofoam bullets.
Let me tell you a story. Completely hypothetical. There’s a girl. She spent a lot of time feeling lonely; she had friends that she loved with her whole heart, but in the end, there was no heart left for her to love herself. Most days, she dreamed about a different life where she could follow her dreams and look out over a glittering crowd and sing the lyrics she wrote, but most days, the monotony rolled and rolled until it was overwhelming. Felt like too much pressure, too little time.
Her mind didn’t really support her in anything. She asked herself, what was the point of living? She didn’t tell anyone.
Ended up with a few scars for her troubles.
She’s doing better now, probably. She’s still alive and kicking, so there’s that.
Our generation’s chock full of self-deprecating humor, dark jokes, and sarcasm drier than your skin in wintertime. A common response to a stressful day at school (or work) tends to be “Please run me over with a bus.” Do we mean it? No. It’s like hyperbole has taken over our lives to the point where asking for immediate death is nowhere close to alarming – it’s practically expected. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Times change, language changes. Humor changes, the generation changes. A while ago, those memes with the blocky white text were hysterical. Now they’re just tacky. That’s… that’s how trends work.
But that girl from before? Her friend rolls his eyes after a particularly bad math test and sighs real loud. He says flatly, “That was horrible. I definitely failed that. Like an actual fifty percent grade. I’m going to kill myself.”
That’s just dark humor. That’s whatever. She nods along in silent acknowledgement.
He keeps going. “I’m serious, I’m really going to kill myself. I can’t believe I did so badly on that. What’s the point if I’m going to just fail math? I might as well end it all right now.”
Something feels so off in her chest when he says that. He doesn’t mean it – he never does. He’s said it so many times. She’s not sure where he got this type of pitch black humor, but there’s no room for sarcasm in his tone. It’s just so flat. She bites on the inside of her cheek to keep from asking him to stop making those jokes because it bothers her. Last time she told him he should be more careful with his dark jokes, he just sighed and said it was a type of humor, it wasn’t serious so what was the problem?
The problem is every time someone so flatly and humorlessly mirrors the feelings she spent months trying to fight off is disconcerting. It’s like someone’s placed a faintly flickering object inside your chest; it sits there and glows a little, then shuts off, then glows again. It makes you feel all uncomfortable inside because it’s not supposed to be there.
We have trigger warnings for people who have survived all kinds of trauma because we need those. Triggers are dangerous – the mind packages away atrocious memories so that they don’t play along like a highlight reel every time a survivor closes their eyes. That’s the movie no one wants to see.
This girl’s mind packages away the feeling of utter hopelessness, that why live on feeling, the one that she cut out of herself, because if it came back then who knows if she would survive it. When your own mind is your worst enemy, how do you save yourself? Without losing something along the way?
You would wish that feeling on no one. That terror.
Why isn’t I’ll kill myself a trigger? Why don’t we recognize that someone’s going to hear that and feel that flickering in their chest? That projector inside of their head will light up again. It’s going to play the memories that are supposed to be compartmentalized to hell and back.
Someday, those floodgates are going to open because someone took a flat joke too far. The alarms won’t even sound because the water’s going to drown someone.
You might be thinking, if she just told him why he should stop, he would listen, wouldn’t he?
Maybe he would. It’s her secret to tell, her past, her problems. She doesn’t want his pity. She doesn’t want to revisit those grey-tinted memories, nor does she want to relay them to someone else. She just wants to feel less choked up when someone makes a joke about cutting.
There are some types of jokes that just aren’t funny. You don’t joke about rape. You don’t joke about school shootings. You don’t joke about hate crimes and terrorism.
Humor is oh, jeez, throw me off a bridge. Humor is not I’m seriously going to cut when I get home, I’m so tired of this. Please, I’m asking you, all of you. Please learn the difference. Do a favor to all the people that talk to you every day that go through things they don’t tell you about.
The things we say are always stronger than we think they are. Words shape a lot more than just sentences; we’re only human, after all. Words own us. Caution… is the best way to handle them. Consider the lives you reach with just your words.