Don’t Romanticise Depression - You’ll Be Disappointed
In this article, I explain why romanticising depression is unhealthy for all involved
The message is a very simple one: don’t romanticise depression.
Or any mental illness, but here I will focus on depression since that’s what I suffer from.
Don’t romanticise depression. Please. Do you know what that does? It reinforces the idea that those of us who really have it are pretending. It invalidates our pain and suffering. Put simply, it makes a mockery of us. It gives the impression that all of this is shit simple to understand. It’s not. Everyone gets sad, but not everyone gets depressed. The main difference for me? Sadness was bearable and temporary. It came and went. God, I wish I just felt sad. I know when the last time I cried was, but it was nothing to do with being sad. It was because I didn’t know what else to do. If I’m sad, I can cry and do other things. When I’m at a low point with depression, I can do nothing but cry. It’s not that I never feel sad. Of course I do. The sadness is very extreme and is mixed in with numbness, disbelief and pain. Now I’m not discrediting anyone who also has depression and is coping better than I am, because if so then good for you, but you can’t say that you know what it’s like to be depressed if you’ve only ever had one bad day. Feeling a bit down, although symptomatic of depression, is entirely not the same thing. I recognise at this point that it may sound a little like I myself am trying to romanticise the idea. It might sound like I don’t want mentally ill people to get better because they’re more beautiful that way. That is not the case, and I wish all mentally ill individuals success and strength on their own journeys to regaining their health. I am undergoing treatment for my own depression – I’ve been to counselling numerous times and take medication – and I think that getting some sort of help wherever possible is absolutely the right thing to do. I just want people to understand that this is not a costume you just put on and take off. Getting better takes time. We’re talking months, not days. Even years. Trying to heal a broken mind in a matter of days, to put it in perspective, would be like trying to heal a broken arm in an hour. It doesn’t work that way. There are no shortcuts to physical health so why should there be to mental health?
Another thing that must be stressed is that you have to be willing not to take things at face value to truly understand mental illnesses, instead of romanticising them or denying their existence. You have to realise that there is no one solution, no one quick fix. Did I stop counselling because I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear? No. I stopped because (and if you’ve never had counselling then I doubt you would know this) it was, and still is, mentally fatiguing, although this hasn’t stopped me from going back to it multiple times because I’m willing to try again. There’s nothing wrong with me leaving time before trying again. I am allowed to do whatever I feel is right for me. I am actually, right now, emailing back and forth to Samaritans, whenever I feel I am able to, and talking to them about how I feel. I have to say that, although it’s not exactly medical, it has probably been the most effective out of everything I’ve tried. Am I taking tablets because I’m crazy? No. I’m taking tablets because depression is literally a chemical imbalance in the brain. I don’t have enough “happy hormones”. The aim of taking the tablets is to improve that. Why am I taking them for so long? Because I’m in this for the long haul, that’s why. I have to be if I want to be me again. Am I tired because I’m lazy? No. I’m tired because not producing enough “happy hormones” saps my energy, I don’t always get enough sleep because I’m too busy trying to find ways to be frozen in a moment, and my meds often make me feel quite tired. Did I attempt suicide because I was an “angel who wanted to go home”? No. I attempted suicide because I was desperate and miserable, because I was sick of hollow happiness and trying for people who won’t try for me, because I felt lonely and because I just didn’t care anymore. I can only find so many ways to tell you that this is not what you think it is.
So, here’s a little list of things you can do to stop romanticising depression now:
• Avoid any fiction or media that romanticises depression or any other mental illness. You know the types I mean. The male depressed main character is dark and broody, the female is tragic and beautiful because she hates herself enough to die. Yeah, that. Stay away from it.
• Remember that mental illnesses have no face. They are neither white nor black, rich nor poor, tall nor short. They have no appearance and they don’t discriminate. Anyone can become mentally ill. You’re most definitely part of the problem if you only care about them when they’re happening to a certain type of person. To me, the race one is especially important. What’s so much more believable about a white person having a mental illness than a black one? The answer is nothing. They are equally believable.
• Realise that you don’t need a mental illness to appeal to a specific type of people. It’s not a club, there’s no paid membership, and if anyone at all is making you believe that you need to be ill to be their friend then trust me, you don’t need them in your life.
• Be thankful for your mental health and support networks. Don’t take your mental health for granted, look after it and reach out if you need someone to talk to. I know how hard it is, I know that sometimes there’s nothing to talk about, but even simply messaging someone to ask that they be there for you if ever you’re struggling and promising to do the same for them can be a real catalyst in establishing what you need from those around you. Be grateful for those people, and be there for them.
• If anyone ever tells you that they suffer from a mental illness, don’t brush them off. Listen to them. Ask polite questions. The more knowledge you can garner, the better your understanding will be and the more it will appear to you as a “real people problem”.
• Recognise the damage you will do to yourself if you try to look at mental illnesses as a romantic or a quirky trait rather than a real illness. For example, if you were to date someone just for their mental illness, you would do them a lot of damage by making them feel like they’re just a prop for your fantasies, they’d become less trusting because you would inevitably lack the knowledge to give them what they really need from a relationship and you would inevitably be disappointed when you realised that it was difficult and heartbreaking to love someone with a mental illness, and would ignore how sobering and humbling of an experience it can be if you are not viewing the person as your fantasy but rather, as who they are.
I originally published this story to Medium on May 25th.