I think it’s great that mental illnesses and mental health have finally gained attention over the past couple years. It’s becoming less of a taboo and more of a topic of discussion. There are now TV shows that represent mental disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, anxiety, and autism. There are now more open discussions of ‘what’s on your mind?’ and ‘how are you feeling?’ There is more information to educate ourselves and help to get better.
Over the past couple of years, I think the shift in acknowledging mental health is great. With more representation, there is less of a stigma surrounding these topics and those affected by it. People now aren’t seen as crazy or a product of the looney bin when they say they are affected by depression. Now I know that my friends are a lot more open to talking about what’s on their mind and more considerate of others. In this time, I’ve gotten more comfortable talking about struggling depression and an eating disorder. If this was five years ago, I don’t think the same response would’ve been as accepted or really well received by those closest to me.
Before I get to my next point, I do want to share my stories with depression and binging.
I don’t think I’ve always been like a happy-go-lucky kid; I always thought too much to realize my emotions. I was woke from a young age, well more aware of the world around me and how people said things to me from about five to now and until I die. Like I could tell when people weren’t really interested in what I had to say as a kid and if they were talking down to me because I was so young. Kids aren’t stupid or less of a human because they are small, they quite smart and capable of doing and understand things much like adults, but they haven’t been hardened and made selfish like we have. I really didn’t like that and was pretty much a smartass growing up because I realized adults didn’t really care about me. Now back to this super aware thing, I was able to read people easily and it followed me throughout elementary school and middle school where I could tell that now people just weren’t disinterested in me, but they thought I was lame by my body language. I think that kind of disinterest is worst than being verbally said because it’s never mentioned, but you know it and they know it. I knew I didn’t fit in with my peers much and I didn’t try to let it bug me because I did try to fit in and had other things to focus on, but it was always something that ate at me.
Then the summer before high school, something just broke. I don’t know exactly what made me be like this, but I remember thinking of absolutely nothing. Like I mentioned above, I’m always thinking and have something to think about, but at this moment nothing. Not a single moving thought occupied my mind. All I could ‘think’ of, well really picture, was this black fog always there. I remember not knowing how to deal with it and instead acted out on this nothing and developed some bad habits. When those dealing with depression say they felt nothing like were numb, I know that feeling. It’s like nothing makes sense during those days except you’re looking for something, but you’re not prepared for this task or the abilities you once had are useless for this task. You’re trying to get out, but it just seems like there’s no possible way. Another analogy depression sufferers make is that they feel like they’re on a balancing act between getting enough air and drowning, and that too is something I can understand. Yes, you feel like nothing and how you’re currently living life that doesn’t make sense because you’re still you, but there’s also something stopping you from being you, but now you’re struggling with days that aren’t that bad and you can take a shower and get a bite, but then there are days where you can’t get out of bed and you’re questioning why you were brought onto this earth, what you are doing now, and how death seems much better than this.
I won’t lie, death seemed much better than struggling between being okay and miserable, but a part of my nondepressive induced thought stopped me from pursuing that option. I was struggling with just having an okay day – the bar was that low where I wanted a single good thing to happen to me like see a friend and not go home and cry – and seeing how I acted around others and their reactions to me made it worst. I wanted these people to see the real me and not just this depressed mind. I cared so much when it shouldn’t have affected me at all. This were my words days that I try not to remember and move forward from each day.
Now back to the ‘always thinking and self-aware’ me. I had a thought about body image and now it’s been a consistent thought. First, it was my thighs and the thought of them being too big in the seams of my jeans. Next, it was my stomach and how my shirt seemed to show some bulge. Then it was my upper arms and how they didn’t appear that thin. It’s something I was always self-conscious about growing up and middle school just made it worst. In the midst of hormones and drama was the time when girls were body negative and always trying to change something about themselves. It was always a hair color or piercing. Then it became a couple inches off the waist or having a couple ribs show. This thought of self-hate and negative body images seemed to affect me too. I didn’t exactly hate myself, but I tried for improvements.
As smart as I thought I was, I realize how stupid I actually was, well actually ignorant. Now recovering, I’m more knowledgeable in losing and maintaining a healthy weight. But back then the only way I thought you could lose weight was binging. Somedays I would eat so much, much more than I wanted, but I would eat everything just so I could puke it all up later and sit on that bathroom floor and feel proud for losing weight. Other days, I wouldn’t eat a thing and go to bed with a hungry stomach. Then some days, I ate normally and didn’t find myself near a toilet or hungry. I did struggle with my body image and myself for these years, but I’m glad it didn’t get worst. I never found myself less than 90 pounds (which is dangerous for me) or bone skinny or in the hospital. I found myself struggling over the years with food, but eventually learned more about being healthy and losing weight.
Now that you’ve heard my story, I want to digress about mental illnesses and its exposure over the years. When I first watched Skins, I thought wow story of my life. I was in the midst of drugs and poor decisions and depression and eating disorder, so not only could I related to Michelle, but also Effy and Cassie and I thought that was nice. However, I didn’t understand how these characters never got the good ending but only got worst and seemingly worst. I knew I was messed up, but in no way did I think I was as bad as Effy – that suffered from depression – who would bash a girl’s head in with a rock or lash out on Pandora. Nor did I think I was as quirky and wondrous as Cassie who suffered from an eating disorder. In my youth, it left me confused about the disorders I did have and how I should be. I mean pop culture is our model for society and watching this television show made me think I had to act as manipulative as Effy and strange as Cassie. Skins allowed personality and mental illness to blur and for knowingly bad actions to be excused by mental illness. As much as I love Effy and the mysterious girl she is, I don’t think her being an awful friend or bashing that girl’s head could be excused so easily by ‘I was depressed and I couldn’t think straight.’ I’ve never thought to be destructive to other people as a part of my depression. In a sense, it only fuels the stereotype that those suffering from mental illnesses are violent and destructive not only to themselves but other people and should be separated to protect others and themselves.
Another show I know that’s gained a lot of attention for its portrayal of mental illnesses is 13 Reasons Why and the feedback it’s getting is tremendous. There is a lot of good in the show showing the self-destructiveness of depression, but there’s a lot of negativity in how destructive depression is and its effect. I think it is great that the show focuses on depression and how it’s not something to romanticize, but I also think the portrayal of how manipulative and selfish a person can be when suffering from depression is unrealistic. Hannah Baker did need help, but I don’t think she can put the blame on other people for her problem. The people surrounding her didn’t give her the help she needed or really the help she wanted and it only led her to be more bitter and helpless. Because of this, it doesn’t make sense to put the responsibility on others for her depression when they couldn’t understand or know how to help her when she knew how depression was affecting her and how she could go against the reactions of her. I don’t understand how she allowed herself to just get worst in person and disorder. Sure some parts were out of control, but she herself was not completely out of control. It takes you first to make that choice of getting better and making a change, not the rest of the world because the world moves too slow. Her depression and the bad things that happened did not excuse her for the conflict she installed in other people in blaming them. If you let every bad thing affect you, you’d never move forward and grow. If you let bad things excuse your poor decisions, then is it really your past or just you yourself responsible? The show had great intention in helping an audience that was stigmatized and often ignored, but the representation could’ve been better in how high schoolers do act – it’s not just passing pictures and not being sensitive to others – and mental illness being an excuse to get back at other people ‘for not helping you’, this kind of representation does not help those suffering from depression and such.
Now the biggest issue that still persists with mental illness is the romanticization. Mental illnesses aren’t a trend you can wear or something that makes you quirky or something used lightly when you get distracted. Mental illness is something that those suffering through wish they didn’t have because they realize how hard it makes living life because they are suffering from it. They only want to get better and struggle through maintaining good days and getting through the bad days. There is not beauty in thinking of nothing or feeling absolutely nothing. There’s only the hope that maybe I can get better. Mental illnesses aren’t beautiful and distort who you are.
And those who wish they were ‘depressed’ or are ‘pro anna’ I wish you could understand the conflict, the confusion, the anger, the stillness, the self-hate, the illness that robs you from being you and living. These illnesses give you a half-lived life. They don’t make you more ‘lovely’ like Cassie would say or any more interesting like Effy or Hannah who suffered from depression. Living with a mental illness is constantly battling about staying alive. Depression fuels those bad thoughts because it’s all you have and eating disorders make your body be a shell instead of functional. None of it is beautiful living half a life and seeing the ‘pro anna’ tag on Tumblr and elsewhere makes me so mad because if I had stumbled upon that when I was maintaining a binge would’ve given me the okay that what I was doing was alright and others were with me on being self-destructive.
How I feel about mental illnesses might make me seem calloused, but as someone who has gone through and killed an eating disorder and someone who does struggle with depression, I want representation that is realistic and gives a good insight to those suffering from it and others. I’m thinking about the younger audiences especially who try to be edgy and exposed; I want them to know that some parts are romanticised for TV ratings and how they feel is validated because they feel it and everyone who suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anorexia, binging, multiple personality disorder, and the rest have different experiences and should not base it entirely on what they see. How I went through depression and deal with it is a story worth sharing so others can relate but not a story for them to have because I wish no one to go through this pain. I don’t want mental illness to be an excuse or an adjective to describe someone, but I want it to be relatable, I want it to be real, I want the exposure to be validated because others have experienced it and can have their story shared.
I am better and hope never to return to the very first time I got depression because those were the worst days of my life, but I have had my two steps back and didn’t blame others for getting bad again. I know myself and knew how to get better this time and knew when I was in control and when I could cry, but I never blamed others or let myself dwell for a long, long time. I choose to get better and I hope others can make that choice and learn to live better by coinciding with their mental illness than allowing it to live in them. I try to help others by letting them how my story isn’t just a happy ending because I’ve yet to see it, but it is a struggle of being okay and having bad days, but being better than the last. I hope my story helps others and gives light to what depression and binging are when the script isn’t written or actors cast. I try to help others with an open heart and mind and hope others do get the help they need because we all need someone.