Quite a bizarre exchange has taken place on this website over the last couple of days. I’ve decided to write about it to clarify my stance, as well as to discuss the immensely problematic issues that have flared up as a result of what went down. I’ve also decided to remove the thread of comments from the original post and include them here as I screen grabbed them. This is for two reasons: 1) They completely distract from an important conversation that needs to happen there, and has nothing to do with the problems raised here; 2) I believe the comments shouldn’t be read without the context that I will unpack here. To read what went down, see here.
UPDATE: Due to concerns over the mental health of the woman in question, I have redacted her name as far as possible. UPDATE 2: I have decided to revert to a previous revision of this post so that I may include the woman’s name once again, since I have reason to believe she is impersonating people in order to comment on this post and claim that she is suicidal. This is now the second time Lisa Burger has used the threat of suicide to manipulate not only me, but also my readers. In fact, three comments from three different people have the exact same IP address. I will not be manipulated any further. I have no more sympathy for Burger – she is a manipulative and pathological liar who doesn’t deserve anyone’s protection for her abusive behaviour, and she won’t get any protection from me. Comments are and will remain closed.
On Monday I posted a story submitted to me by an author about her experience of violence at the hands of white people. It is the first of a series of stories I intend to run on this site to “expose the violence within”, as fellow feminist writer Melanie Judge put it on Twitter. The author in question, who has asked to remain anonymous, included a story about her experience of violence at the hands of her brother, a schizophrenic. This was her narrative, her story and her truth, and I fully support her telling it.
Some of the comments were expected – racist suggestions of black people as the only ones capable of torture, gang rape and murder, as well as a pitiful comment about genocide denialism. One commenter, however, soon veered off the beaten track and accused myself and the author of discriminating against the mentally ill. Lisa Burger described herself as an activist for the mentally ill who opposed discrimination against that community. Fair enough.
I made Burger’s accusations known the author, who was quite offended and hurt at the suggestion that telling her story amounted to discrimination against her own brother, so she sent me a response to publish on her behalf. Burger completely disregarded her response, and instead honed on me with more allegations of discrimination.
It wasn’t long before Burger accused me of hate speech and bigotry and became increasingly abusive, calling me a “cunt” and “bigotted bitch [sic]”. I published her comments unedited and watched as the thread – meant to be a narrative resisting the racist overtones of Red October – completely unravelled, as did Burger. Soon she claimed to be a sufferer of a litany of mental illnesses – including dyslexia, ADHD and bipolar disorder – before accusing me, again, of discrimination and claimed that this was “worse than racism”.
I attempted to find some common ground with [Redacted] by telling her that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Instead, [Redacted] then elected to play the mental illness version of the Oppression Olympics, and totally dismissed my admission because “half of SA has PTSD”. Apparently [Redacted]’s anti-discrimination activism for the mentally ill doesn’t extend to those of us who ostensibly have ‘common’ kinds of mental illnesses and troubles. If I am to understand Burger’s logic correctly, the commonness of a given illness reduces its impact on its sufferer’s life.
This line of thinking is not only clearly absurd, but it’s also harmful to PTSD sufferers. PTSD is an extremely painful and difficult condition to have, and the fact that “half of SA has PTSD” is cause for great concern, not petty swipes at sufferers.
Before I was diagnosed with PTSD, I was on the brink of developing a drinking problem and had not slept for a full night for weeks (sometimes months) without anti-anxiety medication or booze. I had rape nightmares that, when I was lucky enough to cry or scream myself awake, left me breathless, aching and terrified. Throughout I continued to work with rape survivors and on sexual violence related projects.
While many of our projects were executed without any negative effect on me, there were others that were deeply disturbing. These would have a lingering effect on me and my mental well-being.
In April last year, my allies and I were asked to help with a case involving two children, allegedly raped by a teacher at their school. We managed to get the teacher suspended from the school while an investigation was carried out. But beyond that, as hard as we tried, we couldn’t get justice for those kids. I worked closest with the children’s father, and I was with him when the only suspect was released for lack of evidence. He was standing behind me when a police officer told me that the children’s father was now a suspect.
I hoped he hadn’t heard and once the officer left I faced him and motored through an explanation for obtaining an interim protection order while checking left-right-left for cars and crossing High Street in the direction of the Legal Resources Centre. I was about to enter the property when I heard it, turned, and watched him break down into uncontrollable sobs. A proud Xhosa man deeply enmeshed in the patriarchal structures that deny him the right to be vulnerable, I knew expressing his heartache and despair in front of a (white) woman would bring him no small amount of shame. So I did what I thought would be best in that situation – I left him to cry in peace. And that night, and several nights after that, my nightmares were filled with his sobs and the image of his five year old son being escorted by police, limping, into a small room for a rape kit forensic exam.
At the time I didn’t have the tools I have now, which include training and self-study into vicarious trauma and self-care. And so the trauma and pain of the people I worked with fused with my own to make what I can only explain as a dark, black rip tide that dragged me out to sea and left me there to drown. The physical and emotional toll wrecked on me by the PTSD resulted in a deep depression that I very nearly didn’t make it out of. I had everything planned. But, despite myself, I broke my silence. It was the second such moment in as many years – and I’m grateful for them everyday. I asked for help.
And, thank god, someone took it seriously. If they hadn’t, rather than reading what you are now, you would be reading my suicide note. That is the truth of it, quite simply. My allies saved my life.
So imagine my response when I received this in my email inbox:
I considered letting it go. But Burger had made it quite plain (both in words and in action) that she had a mental disorder, so I decided to believe her.
And so started an emotionally fraught two hours while I tried to trace Burger. She had submitted her Facebook profile as a URL, so I found her profile and wrote to her, but didn’t receive a response as my message went into the infernal “Other” folder. So I wrote to her friends. Five, ten, twenty of them, each time setting out the problem and a sense of urgency regarding [Redacted]’s safety. I decided joining a small group – more likely to be friends than strangers – in hopes that many people at once could read the message. I was approved to such a group and posted there, explaining the urgency of the situation and asking everyone who knew her to contact her and find out whether she was safe.
I waited. This was the result:
And as you can imagine, I lost my shit – some of my keyboard keys are still looking a little worse for wear as a result. (My Ggg in particular seems to being a hard time.) Burger used a suicide threat to try to act out whatever revenge she could after I refused to acknowledge her mental disorders as an excuse for her bad behaviour. I find it outrageous that Burger can even begin to call herself an activist for the mentally ill. Crying wolf on suicide threats is exactly the kind of behaviour that a) stigmatises the mentally ill, and b) means that, when people do legitimately plan to kill themselves but have a last-minute cry for help, they won’t be believed.
The harm Burger’s petulance caused is incalculable. Who knows how many people walked away from these events thinking suicide threats are little more than manipulative attempts at attention-seeking, as it was in Burger’s case?
The fact of the matter is that, without following it up, there was no way to tell the difference between Burger’s idiotic ploy and my sincere call for help. Either one of us could have done it for attention, and either one of us could have meant it. It’s a 50/50 chance. And I’m not in the game of gambling with people’s lives.
And neither should you.
If someone, anyone, threatens to take their life, take them seriously. Even if an obnoxious stranger on the internet threatens to kill themselves, you must try to stop them. Yes, there’s a chance that someone is fucking with you in some bizarre attempt at petty revenge.
But there’s just as much chance you’ve found someone like me.
- My Story: PTSD, Survival, and Feminism *trigger warning, truth warning* (lolwutpolitics.com)
- Breaking The Silence of Stigma: Mrs. Bipolarity (bipolarforlife.me)
- Mental Health Impact of Rape (giovinee.wordpress.com)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Reaches Epidemic Levels Among Veterans (prweb.com)
- You Are Not Alone: A Month of Mental Health-related Observances (patriciaannbridewell.wordpress.com)