Robert Kazandjian talks about when political hardships collide with personal ones
I’m going to write about not coping. To be more precise, I’m going to write about how I haven’t been coping recently. The transition from coping to not coping was sudden, like the way a spring shower snaps into a sky splitting storm, breaking the stems of daffodils in bloom.
I’ve spent my working life in education, absorbing the trauma and suffering of some of our most vulnerable children, processing what I learn about their young lives and then supporting them in any way I can. I’d certainly consider the toll this was taking on my own well being but the feeling of drowning in sadness became normalised to the point where I confused the struggle to stay afloat with being well.
The impact of our callous government’s policies, bleeding public services of funding, targeting people already living on the cutting edge of their cruelty meant the scale and scope of my job increased. Over half the children in Edmonton, where I was born and live and work, survive below the poverty line. Poverty is traumatic. At the same time, the fact that our government doesn’t value pastoral care in schools means my role will be deemed a budgetary luxury when the axe inevitably falls. I will be severed from the children I support. A sense of quiet hopelessness possessed me. Powders and potions didn’t help. I was defeated.
Then a family with whom I’d been working extensively lost a parent, unexpectedly and violently. My time spent with the children, guiding them through their grief, listening as an incomprehensible pain flooded out, forced the horror I feel about my own father’s illness to surface. My old man, a devout Manchester United fan who forgets the glorious outcome of the cup final the moment the final whistle blows; a wily gambling mathematician who struggles to calculate the sum of a few coins in his hand; a doting parent who can no longer tell me when his children were born or how old we are. My father is now a tragic magician, slowly disappearing before our very eyes. The reality that I am grieving the death of his essence while he lives and breathes smashed into my consciousness like glass on concrete.
On June the 14th, Grenfell Tower burned. In one the wealthiest pockets of land in Europe, countless lives were reduced to ashes because the building in which they lived and loved and fought and struggled and flourished was clad in aluminium composite, to improve the views of the surrounding monied classes who deemed it an ‘eyesore’. The overwhelming majority of those who died were people of colour, arguably housed on the upper floors which were devastated by the flames because they were people of colour. The impotent, meagre response of both local and central government was a most brutal reminder of the hateful society being constructed around us. I began to feel as though we were living in a nightmare. The quiet hopelessness mutated into something loud and monstrous.
The academic year ended and a very special group of children who I’d supported for a long time left us, ready to start their secondary education. I spent the entire day hiding in a darkened room, avoiding the meaningful goodbyes I should have been saying. I cried. Intermittently. For hours. I cried because I feared for the children who were leaving and because my own future was uncertain. I cried for the children who’d lost their parent in a terrible accident. I cried for the disappearing man at home, who insists on breaking up Jaffa Cakes and Kit Kats over his Weetabix every morning. I cried for the those who died in Grenfell Tower and for those who survived, piecing shattered lives back together amidst the backdrop of a government that negates their very existence. In a building full of youthful energy, excitement and relief, I felt very much alone.
I was consumed. I was overwhelmed. I’d gone from coping, or perhaps thinking I was coping, to not coping. Over the course of that weekend I considered taking my own life; when the bell rang and everybody cheered to mark the beginning of their summer holidays; when Sunday football training ended and my teammates left and I was on my own again; when I’d forgotten where I’d parked the car and for a panic-stricken hour I felt like how my dad feels every waking day.
But I’m still here. And I suppose I need to weave a message or a purpose into my writing, or it will simply read like a Dear Diary of Doom entry. The message is this: we are suffering collectively, under the weight of something truly terrible. Think rising child poverty, deportation charter flights, emboldened fascists on our streets and the dismantling of the NHS. Think May and Trump holding hands. Think Grenfell Tower. We are suffering individually, fighting silent battles, wrestling with our own private demons. This combination of collective and individual pain launched me into a darkness that I’ve long been running away from. I don’t want to be alone in this. In fact, I know I’m not alone in this. And that means you are not alone either. This is me reaching out. We can find our way back together.
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Robert Kazandjian is an educator and writer. He works with vulnerable children in North London. His writing seeks to challenge inequality, in all its guises. He has previously written for Ceasefire Magazine on racism in Israel, gender politics and hip hop music, and the necessity of Armenian Genocide recognition. He blogs poetry at makemymark.tumblr.com. He cites Douglas Dunn, Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin and Nas as major influences. He tweets from @RKazandjian
Featured image Flickr: Davide D’Amico
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