These days, depression, anxiety, and sometimes suicide tendencies seem to be funny.
I tend to make a lot of jokes about my depression, to three people in my life, who, in my opinion, are the only ones who understand. They don’t always laugh, but most of the time they do, because they know that it’s my coping mechanism. Those jokes have been a lot easier to make lately, because of all the memes that are around. Memes about anxiety, memes about depression, memes about killing yourself. And I love them, because I relate to them. But anxiety, depression, suicide, is much more than just not wanting to go outside, or overthinking something stupid that someone has said that one time. Wanting to kill yourself is much more than that fleeting moment when you hate life, and feel like sleeping forever. It’s wanting to kill yourself, even when everything in your life is going perfectly fine. Anxiety is much more than overthinking that one thing, it’s sometimes being too paralyzed to go outside. It’s being unable to breathe. It’s being unable to function. Depression is much more than just being ‘sad’, because depression isn’t sadness. Depression is despair, depression is hopelessness, depression is loneliness.
Robin Williams died, and I was overwhelmed by sadness. Obviously, he is an amazing actor, and I loved his movies, but I wasn’t a hardcore fan, and I wasn’t even enough of a fan to think I’d feel sad if he ever died. As the months passed, and more celebrities started dying, I realized there was a pattern. I was touched by deaths, but only saddened by the depressed, and those who had killed themselves. This culminated to the point where Carrie Fisher died, and I cried. And yes, obviously, I love Star Wars, but the first movie I saw was around 2010, and it was the prequels, so she really, really hadn’t had the impact on my life that she had had for others. But there I was, crying because a mental health advocate had died. And that’s where it hit me: they understood feelings that other people didn’t. These people that I had never met, and would never meet, had understood my despair, my hopelessness, my loneliness in a way some of my closest friends would never.
And, even if I don’t mind the memes, even if I find them highly entertaining, it’s hard sometimes, not to think that most of the people who are happily tagging their friends, who are saying that nothing has ever described their lives more accurately, simply do not understand what these feelings truly feel like. And I don’t mind them not understanding. After all, few people do. However, I realize that, as a black woman, I will only laugh about racial injustice and sexism with people who fully understand both these things (some of which are white men). I am – and in my opinion, rightfully so – bothered by people laughing about my struggles, without understanding, or even trying to, what they’re like. And, after being annoyed at these memes without knowing why, I realized that as a depressed, suicidal, and sometimes anxious person, I will only laugh about these things with people who understand, or at least try to understand, mental illness. Rightfully so.
Because this is my life, and not just a joke.
I cannot sleep without distraction. If there’s no music, no shows playing, or no people talking around me, I will not sleep, unless I am exhausted. Otherwise I’ll start thinking about all those things that I avoid thinking about, I’ll get anxious, and I’ll be unable to fall asleep unless I cry myself to sleep. When I do fall asleep, I will often dream of those things that have traumatized me, waking me up in the middle of night, once again unable to fall asleep because I’m way too stressed (and quite frankly afraid of having another nightmare). Sometimes, I dream I’m crying, and I wake up, to realize I’m crying in real life.
Sometimes, I feel sad because of my depression, and I feel sad because my friends, who mostly know (but probably don’t understand) how depressed and suicidal I am, don’t do anything to help. (And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything they could do that would really help, but showing that they care can go a long way, already.) But then when some of them do want to come over to see me, or help me get out of my vegetative state, I will find it hard to even want to spend time with them.
There are nights where I cry for hours while my boyfriend is holding me. He has to remind me to breathe, sometimes because I forget, other times because I simply find it hard to. These nights, when I’m unable to suppress all the pain that is constantly there, but that I constantly try to ignore, it finds its way through every cell of my body. My heart physically aches, my chest feels like it’s about to explode, moving hurts every part of me. This, while I’m completely aware that the pain happens completely in my brain, which then makes me wish I could take my brain out, just so that I would stop feeling for a little while. Just to be able to breathe normally for a second, just to be able to fall asleep for a night. These are the nights where my suicidal tendencies are felt the most. Those are the nights where I repeat, every two seconds, that I just want to die, that I’ve been holding on for 12 years, that life will suck for a while, but that he’ll survive. It was during one of those nights that I’ve tried to kill myself twice when I was a teenager, knowing I hadn’t prepared well enough for it to work, but hoping for a miracle to kill me anyway.
These things are not funny. And while I will joke about them, because I have a very dark sense of humor, somewhere, I expect people who have no idea what it’s like, and who wouldn’t even want to try to imagine what it’s like if you’d ask them, to abstain from doing so. (These are the people who will tell you to “relax”, because “it’s just a joke”, but wouldn’t try to understand why that joke made you feel that way.)
Being suicidal, is not wanting to die because you’ve just done something embarrassing, it’s when “a miracle” takes the form of death, to you. Feeling lazy and wanting to stay inside, and lying to your friends about it is funny, but it’s completely different from actually being anxious at the idea of having to go outside again. Sometimes, when everything becomes too much, I stay inside for one or two weeks at a time. If I’m doing well enough, I will leave my bed and feed myself. If I’m barely staying alive because, “suicide is selfish”, and I feel forced to keep ‘fighting’ for my friends, I will not leave my bed, and only eat if my boyfriend insists enough. Most of the time, though, I’m able to pretend those feelings aren’t there and be a fully functional adult. I will continue living my life perfectly well, doing my schoolwork, having fulfilling internships, seeing my friends and family, while everything in my brain is falling apart.
Being a highly functional depressed and suicidal person adds an extra dimension to the loneliness. As most people seem to only understand what they see, they will categorically refuse to understand that someone who functions well could not be doing well. I’ve actually had a psychologist and a psychiatrist tell me that they had “never seen anyone like me”, because of how well I was doing in my life, all the while wanting to end it more than anything else. I, of course, gave up on having my friends understand that, no, I wasn’t doing magically better because I had amazing things happening in my life. But to hear it from specialists made me go into a whole new level of loneliness, as even the people who were supposed to understand, didn’t.
To some people, your feelings are only valid if they’ve destroyed everything around you. If you’re an alcoholic who holds a good job, and a good social life, then you’re not really an alcoholic, as alcoholism is supposed to destroy you. The same can be said of any addiction, and is true for depression too. I have heard constantly throughout my life that I was far too beautiful, far too smart, far too talented, to be depressed. But does beauty, intelligence and talent take away years of trauma? Does it help me combat my insomnia, my nightmares, my despair? Does it take away my memories? Now that I’m doing something decent out of my life, I can add the saying, “you’re far too successful to want to die”, to the list.
I don’t expect people to understand all of this. These feelings are mine to feel, and mine to deal with. I do, however, expect people to stop delegitimizing your feelings, simply because you manage to function well and have a good social life, despite your brain being chemically imbalanced. And I expect people to at least acknowledge that mental illness is real, before joking about it. Because I am the dog in the burning house in the “This is fine” meme. (x) Except the burning house is my brain. And the “College is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. And you’re on fire. And everything is on fire. And you’re in hell.” is also very relatable, except it’s not just college. It’s life in general.
I remember talking to a friend about it, a year ago. And, because she has never felt anything quite like it, she simply told me: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how you feel. But I am here for you if there’s anything I can do.” And that one sentence made me love and appreciate her more than ever. She didn’t understand, but at least she tried, and acknowledged my feelings. And some days, it’s more than you could ask for.