When I was 18, I lost a lot of weight. I was fed up with being perpetually fat-and-getting-fatter, and had seized the opportunity to break that cycle when I acquired a job at a health-conscious cafe. I began consuming only what was available there, and the weight began falling off. At 21, I quit drinking, after a pretty gross 3 year binge, clinging to coffee as my only salvation. At 23, I quit smoking, cold turkey, after an 8 year pack-a-day habit.
When I was 28, I lost a lot of weight. I was fed up with being perpetually fat-and-getting-fatter, and had seized the opportunity to break that cycle when I acquired a job at an art gallery 2km from my house. I began walking there everyday, and the weight began falling off. At 30, I quit drinking after a pretty gross 2 year binge, clinging to coffee as my only salvation. At 32, I quit smoking, cold turkey, after a 4 year pack-a-day habit.
I'm about to turn 33, and need to lose some weight. I'm not fat, but I am getting fatter. I'm about to turn 33, and drink too much. I'm about to turn 33, and just last week, broke down and had a cigarette. And I'm really, really pissed off at myself.
And I know I'm not alone; this is pretty classic behaviour, in fact. It's a subtle piece of dark humour, that DSM. People that "suffer" (I've never liked that word - I prefer "cope") from major depressive disorder are statistically far more prone to either over-eat or starve themselves, to smoke cigarettes, and to form addictions to drugs or alcohol. They're also more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviour, even when fully aware of the risks. And, in a not at all shocking revelation, they tend to get caught up in cycles that they are perpetually trying to break. I call this cycle "the fear of okay".
As pissed off as I am at myself, and as many times as I have overcome my obstacles (only to fall right back into the same pit), I know, somewhere, in some deep and dark pit of my brain, that I do this on purpose. I know that I sabotage my every accomplishment so that I will...so that I will have something to do later. See, for someone with depression, two things are certain: anxiety about the future (this is what makes many of us suicidal - "the future" is a terrifying and hard to imagine thing), and acceptance of the norm. Our norm, that is. We hate how things are, but we are, at the very least, used to them. We're used to being depressed. We're used to fucking up. We're used to being pissed off at ourselves. "The fear of okay" is the panic we feel when we begin to cross that line between what we're used to, and what may lie ahead. What if I keep the weight off this time? What if I quit drinking for good? What if I really do stop smoking? Then what? If I manage to keep my shit together, what will be left for me to do? I've been many things in my life, but "okay" has never been one of them, and the thought of it is utterly terrifying. I am so used to these cycles, so used to the highs and lows, that the idea of even, solid ground beneath me is completely foreign. If not for those bumps in the road, what could the journey possibly have to offer? Would I still be able to write? To paint? Would I have anything left to say?
If there is anything I fear more than insanity, it's boredom.
And yes, I know this makes very little sense to many of you. I mean, it's pretty simple, right? Stop doing the stuff that makes you feel like shit. Being happy is better than being depressed. This is shit a kindergartener could grasp pretty easily. The problem, however, is not one of understanding. The problem is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of losing the identity we've worked hard to accept, fear of fading into oblivion. Fear of mediocrity. Fear of normalcy. Fear of okay.
Amanda Todd. Phoebe Prince. Jamey Rodemeyer. Megan Meier. Ryan Halligan. Billy Lucas. Tori Swoape.
I type these names with tears in my eyes, knowing there are so many more that never made it to the papers, or to YouTube, or the local news stations. These names are just a few of the many thousands of teens who have taken their own lives in recent years -- all of them bullied. All of them beautiful, young, unique individuals who were treated so poorly, beaten so badly, stalked, harassed, humiliated, ridiculed, and tormented, that they could not face another day. Some of them continue to be bullied, even after their deaths -- a recent 4Chan post on Facebook had this to say about Amanda Todd:
"Ok, well let's just get this all out of the way so you all can stop your bitching about this dead girl. A lot of what is posted in her video and on her page is fabricated to make her look like she was an angel. Think again."
And that's the nicest part of the message.
Was she an angel? Were any of these kids perfect? Probably not. I sure the hell wasn't at that age. You probably weren't either. We all made stupid decisions, we all did questionable things. That's part of growing up, and anyone who claims otherwise is either lying, or has completely forgotten what it's like to be a teenager. And, regardless of anything any of these kids may or may not have done, they did not deserve to die. I don't think I can possibly emphasize that enough: THEY DID NOT DESERVE TO DIE. They had their whole lives ahead of them, they had countless more mistakes left to make, they had proms to attend, friends they'd yet to meet, people to fall in love with, parties to go to, lives to be lived. But because of a cruel few, they chose instead to kill themselves. Because of a cruel few, those futures ceased to matter. Because of a cruel few, the thought of a rope around their neck, or a bullet in their face, was easier to handle than another day on this earth.
I could rage on about those cruel few, but I won't. I must temper my anger, and realize that they are also kids, sensitive to the words of others, and that they are, deep down, probably no more confident, no more mature, no more sure of themselves than the kids they bullied. These kids know what they've been taught -- that becomes particularly obvious in the case of Megan Meier, who was bullied not only by students, but by one of their mothers, as well. It is we, the adults, that should be fucking ashamed of ourselves. It is we who should feel guilt and remorse and anger for what happened to these kids. We failed them. Schools failed them. Teachers failed them. Counsellors failed them. Parents failed them. We taught these kids all they know, and apparently what they know is cruelty and hopelessness.
Being a teenager isn't easy. Maybe some of us have forgotten that -- maybe we look back at our pasts and remember only that we didn't have to pay bills, didn't have to work 40 hour weeks, didn't have to make our own dinners or do our own laundry. We look at their shitty fashion and potty mouths and feel obliged to comment. We see them drinking in a park and wonder where their parents are. We see them smoking cigarettes and shake our heads in dismay. We think to ourselves, "they should know better", that they should be better. We forget that we were once those kids. We forget about the pimples, the popular kids, the jeers, the heartbreaks. We forget the many lies we told our parents to drink that beer and smoke that cigarette. We forget the many stupid mistakes we made to fit in, or the many times that we ourselves felt hated and hopeless.
I am asking you to remember.
I am asking us all to remember. To have a little compassion, to have a little patience. To teach these kids something different -- something better. I am asking that we say the things they really need to hear. Not bullshit slogans about bullying being bad and suicide not being the answer, but honest, heartfelt truths that they can carry into the future. Truths that will allow them a future. It is not enough to say bullying is wrong -- we must show them it is wrong, we must teach them that different is okay and that their own self-worth cannot be gained through belittling others. It is not enough to say suicide is not the answer -- we must offer them hope for their futures. Whether the bully or the bullied, the cruel or the meek, the all-star or the academic, these kids only get what we give them.
And they deserve better.
I've been called a lot of things in my day, but "extrovert" has never been one of them. Much more common are terms like "loner", "introvert", "bitch who never answers her phone", and so on. Thank the various possible Gods, I've made a few friends over the years that accept this about me, and are always there when I'm ready to come out.
I do believe, however, that I owe them all an apology -- them, as well as every asshole customer that I secretly wished death on, and every boss that I begged to let me leave early. I have taken them all for granted, and I have learned this the hard way.
I don't talk much about my personal life here, and I'm not about to start. Let's just say that, for various reasons, I up and left everything last April. Quit my job, ditched my apartment, left town. Just like that. It's certainly not the first time (or even the 5th...) I've done such a thing, but it was the first time I did it with no intention of doing anything after that. I didn't get a job right away, or even try to. I didn't have any friends waiting for me, and I made no attempt to make any. And you know, for awhile, that was really nice. It was quite freeing to have no past, no plans, no obligations. I could just be. If I wanted to write poems all day, I did that. If I wanted to spend the day telling people on Facebook how stupid they are, I did that. I spent a lot of time painting. I learned to row a boat. I spent almost a month in Pinatan, a town that consists of a lake, a one-stop shop, and a payphone. No cellphones, no computers. I read 5 novels, got a terrible sunburn, and got completely wasted at 10am. It was delightful.
Until it wasn't any more.
I began to realize I had taken my friends for granted. Being the introvert that I am, I declined most of their invitations to come out, choosing to be alone instead. Now, without even the option of seeing them, I began to wonder what the hell I'd been thinking. All those times they had wanted me around, and I had rejected them -- and now, here I was, feeling sorry for myself because there was no one here to want me around.
I even began to miss my job. Don't get me wrong, the shop I worked at before this little adventure was awesome. I loved everything about it -- the people, the atmosphere, the job itself -- but, after years of digging myself deeper and deeper into the rut that is customer service, I had reached a point of complete exasperation. Every rude customer felt like another nail in my coffin. Still, after a few months of being unemployed, I started missing even them. I hadn't realized that working in customer service was largely what had kept me connected with society at large. It forced me to talk to people -- many, many people -- everyday. That was, in fact, exactly what I hated about it. Now, it's exactly what I miss about it.
Through all of this, I've had to re-examine my position as loner. It's no secret that humans need some form of interaction with other humans, but I had no idea to just what extent. I had no idea that even dealing with an asshole customer or a rude waitress was better than talking to no one at all. After a year of general solitude, however, I take it all back. Every time I said I would rather be alone, every time I cursed having to talk to all those horrid people, every time I let my voicemail handle those pesky phone calls, every time I turned down an invitation -- I take it back.
That's not to say I have changed my introverted ways. I don't think that will ever happen; I think I will always need time alone, time to recharge, and I will probably not ever love the idea of large parties or giant crowds of strangers. But I have learned the value of having people in my life. I've learned that, without people to share it with, life quickly becomes dull and drab. And I've learned that the next time someone wants to go for a drink, I should probably say yes.
This week, Janet Street Porter of the Daily Mail published an article entitled “Depression? It’s just the new trendy illness”. Outrage ensued — after all, everyone knows that depression is a very real issue, right? Wrong. The sad truth is, Porter is not the first, and will not be the last, person to declare depression a fad or a cop-out.
What makes Porter’s article so maddening is the large volume of ignorance she displayed. As writers, it is our job to research things before we start running our mouths off. Rather than bother with silly facts and information, however, Porter took it upon herself to denounce depression as nothing but a trend, contradicting herself and outright lying all the way through. She made it clear by the end of the first paragraph that she has absolutely no idea what depression is, let alone whether it is a legitimate illness or not. She used the terms “depression” and “stress” interchangeably (a quick browse through the dictionary is all it would have taken to clear up her obvious confusion), she falsely claimed that most sufferers of depression are rich, middle aged women and that depression didn’t even exist until the 60′s (tell that to Sylvia Plath, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, etc.).
I could go off on a tirade about her disturbing ignorance and appalling writing skills, but because I have spent a good portion of my life explaining depression to those that don’t understand it, I thought I would do her the same favor.
So, Ms. Porter, here is a bit of information that you may want to absorb before clicking that “post” button again.
1. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 121 million people suffer from depression, worldwide. Of those, less than 25% can actually afford or access treatment. Kinda shoots down your theory that this is a rich-bitch trend, doesn’t it?
2. The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines “depression” as:
A psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, loss of appetite, anhedonia, feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness, and thoughts of death. Also called clinical depression.
It defines “stress” as:
A physical or psychological stimulus that can produce mental tension or physiological reactions that may lead to illness.
These definitions are not even vaguely similar, and neither are the feelings. Your insistence on using the terms interchangeably is ignorant, insensitive, and embarrassingly inaccurate, considering you claim to be a writer. Being stressed about one’s busy life is not at all comparable to irrationally severe sadness. I didn’t think I would ever have to point that out, but apparently, I do.
3. Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) described “melancholia” as a disease that created long-lasting irrational fears, sadness and despondency. Avicenna, an 11th century Persian physician who authored “The Canon of Medicine”, wrote at length about melancholia. The term “depression” was first published in medical dictionaries in the 1860′s. Freud wrote about depression in the early 1900′s. Where on earth did you get the idea that depression is a recent phenomenon?
4. Two of the main causes of depression are genetics (it’s been proven that depression can be passed from one generation to the next, though we’re still not sure how) and chemical imbalances. Since rich people are not, to my knowledge, immune to genetics or chemical imbalances, your opinion that being well-off should somehow prevent depression is blatant nonsense.
5. Embarrassment and social-stigma prevent many people from getting treated for depression. How can all of these people be following a trend while trying desperately to keep it hidden? This would be like buying the trendiest clothing and then hiding it all at the back of the closet. Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
As both a lifelong sufferer of depression and a fellow writer, I find this article deeply offensive. No research was done, no care was taken in the choosing of words and the espoused opinion seems to stem solely from haughtiness. It was written with a complete lack of understanding and a disturbing lack of sensitivity. Depression is a very real, and very serious, psychological condition that affects millions of lives and often leads to suicide. Doubting its existence and patronizing its sufferers is both contradictory and cruel. Ms. Porter, you should be ashamed of yourself as both a writer and a human being.