*TW: mental illness*
anxiety is SO on-trend for 2016.
^ that’s how far i got yesterday before having to abandon it because i was so fidgety and restless and worried that 6 words was my limit. but hey, not being able to write about anxiety because you’re too anxious is probably a good place to start this.
for someone who’s spent an inordinate amount of time speaking out about, trying to educate on, and just being generally angry about, the negative stigma surrounding mental health, i can’t really comprehend that i’m now trying to write a piece on essentially the opposite. the past year or so (probably longer on tumblr) has seen what was initially a really encouraging opening-up about mental illness turn into it being romanticised to the point of becoming a trend.
it’s important to clarify at this point that i am in no way suggesting that people who speak out about their struggles/experience are either faking it, or exaggerating it, or being irresponsible by doing so. i truly believe that the only way to tackle the discrimination against sufferers of mental health issues is to speak with openness and honesty about what that illness entails. because this is the point - mental illness is an illness. it may be invisible, it may be sporadic, it may be extremely complicated due to the frequent comorbidity of psychiatric conditions - but that does not mean that it is anything more or less than a disease.
but there has emerged, on an alarmingly incessant trajectory, a seemingly romantic notion about mental health. it seems likely that the source of it is, at least in part, this long-standing belief about art and creativity and their link to neurological atypicality. but the problem, as always, is that people interpret information in the way that benefits the point they want to make, without bothering to take into account the facts. holding people like van gogh, cobain, winehouse up as tortured sacrificial heroes creating masterpieces in the midst of their mental anguish is a) detrimental to the sufferers who lose their creativity during a bad spell and can hardly get out of bed, let alone hone their art and b) just simply inaccurate. van gogh’s periods of depression & stupor left him incapable of painting, drawing, or even writing letters. the month before she died, amy had to cancel her european tour after playing only the first date - and being so drunk she forgot what city she was in, the names of her band members, and the lyrics to her songs. she hadn’t released an album in 5 years. cobain’s famous suicide note contains the words ‘I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to, as well as creating music, along with reading and writing for many years now’. the link between creativity and mental illness is a long-standing one, but it’s also controversial and highly-disputed. while there have been many studies demonstrating a correlation, no large-scale empirical definitive evidence has been produced. mental illness will not make you a better, more credible creative. at its best, it will make it a greater achievement when you produce work you’re happy with; at its worst, it’ll leave you too apathetic to care about your art.
and yet, it’s everywhere. you can’t scroll for a minute on social media without seeing a meme about social anxiety, or someone calling themselves OCD because they’ve just given their room a really thorough tidying. and, yes, the people reposting these memes and making these jokes might absolutely be suffering from some sort of psychopathology and are using humour to deal with it. i get it. ‘if you don’t laugh you’ll cry’. but the problem with romanticising mental illness is that it’s inaccurate. painting a picture of eating disorders through various posts showing dainty & delicate girls, or feet on bathroom scales, or a tape measure around a perfectly flat stomach isn’t accurate. sure, it’s one side of it - but it doesn’t touch upon the decaying teeth & bleeding gums that bulimia causes, or the fine fuzzy hair that grows over an anorexic body that can no longer insulate itself as it approaches emaciation. portraying depression as a quiet, gentle girl, eyes shining with tears, staring wistfully out her bedroom window is a romantic portrayal of a disease that can, in reality, leave you utterly intolerant of the people closest to you, totally unbothered by the things that make you happiest, lying awake at night staring into the blackness because you’re too apathetic to close your eyes. anxiety is not a doe-eyed girl, standing in the corner at a party, politely & shyly declining invitations to join in. it is your mood swings isolating the people that want to help you, it is spending an hour slumped over the toilet because your heart palpitations are so bad you’re sure you’re going to vomit, it is having to change your bedsheets because you’ve subconsciously picked the skin from your fingernails to the point that they’re bleeding.
and what about the mental illnesses that cross the line? what about bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder? what is it about anxiety that's edgy & deep, and schizophrenia that's scorned & undesirable? at what point does it stop becoming cute and start becoming unsavoury? at what point does 'omg me too i'm like SO broken' become 'ok too far...'?
mental illness is not an aesthetic. it is not a tumblr post with a pretty girl and a quote like ‘depression means you’ve been strong for too long’ (an entirely inaccurate understanding of the way the condition actually works, and achieving nothing except further confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the illness). it’s not an edgy quirk to add to your instagram bio (cc: the girl in her 20s whose profile i came across, and who stated she had 'manic depression' - a term which hasn’t been used since DSM III was published & officially re-classified it as bipolar disorder...in 1980). it’s not something to make an angsty emo boyband member notice you. it’s not an artistic qualification to add to your cv. it’s not a funny buzzfeed quiz that’ll tell you which mental disorder you are.
it is lonely, and frustrating, and just completely endlessly exhausting.
so, by all means, keep talking about it, keep discussing it, keep being honest. but, for the sake of those who can’t find the energy to get out of the seat they’ve been in for 6 hours, don’t say you’re depressed because topshop were sold out of black jonis in your size. for the sake of those who don’t wash their genitals because the fear of contamination is all-consuming, don’t say you’ve got OCD because you like your make-up to be stored in a particular order. for the sake of those who live alone and haven’t eaten in 2 days because they are literally incapable of leaving their house, don’t say you’ve got anxiety because meeting new people makes you feel shy.
mental illnesses aren’t adjectives. they’re not quirks or cute edgy flaws or personality traits that make you more interesting. there is nothing trendy or romantic or glamorous in something that leaves you sick and lonely. we’d do well to remember that, when mental illness becomes a covetable competition, the winner rarely makes it out unscathed.