Must I Have an Art Studio to Be Depressed? and Other Stereotypes of Depression

A take down of various stereotypes dealing with pop culture’s misgivings about clinical depression, as presented by this Buzzfeed article. 

Now, I try not to talk too much about myself, but sometimes my own personal experience and the portrayals of that experience in pop culture and media can be so unduly, undoubtedly different. These are not all the misgivings and stereotypes in Hollywood Depression, but they are ones I can address easily. For example: “First of all, depression always looks beautiful — beautiful characters crying, staring out windows, taking a listless shower, etc. etc. etc., beautifully.”

Now, let’s get one thing straight: not everything is a wonderful plate of listless ennui fashioned for some invisible camera. Sometimes depression is eating too much, or eating too little. Sometimes, it’s the ugly cry. Sometimes it’s being too depressed to even cry. You ever think about that?

Characters with depression are pretty much always reduced to being ~sad~.”

Have you ever considered that people with depression are not always sad? We are not a single emotion. It’s like a person, on the flip side, with mania. People with mania are not always happy. I often find myself putting out a fake smile, or a genuine smile at times, but I still find myself often angry, often sad, yes, and even often happy. Again, we are not cartoons.

“Most of the time, depression is triggered by Dramatic Plot Elements.”

This was not true with me. Depression, in my case, came upon me slowly, in the night, under cover of darkness. It was slowly and undetected, until it was almost too late. I did not even remember showing signs of depression or major red flags, until my mother came to me after just receiving a call about something I had written. (More about that later.)

And because of that, depression always culminates as a big blowup or breakdown.

No, no huge blowup, no huge breakdown. As a matter of fact, when my depression was discovered, I had barely any feeling left in my body, and although I could not communicate it at the time, I was starting to see things under a cover of hazy gray. No, there was no gigantic yelling and screaming fit.

Or if a character valiantly pretends they’re fine and doesn’t succumb to their depression, the audience is obviously supposed to think they’re strong and brave.

This goes back to the fact that “Strong and Brave” people are uncharacteristically portrayed as not having any feelings. This is a tenet of toxic masculinity, or perhaps of not showing any vulnerability. Perhaps this stereotype is what often leads to suicide

In fact, most of the boring parts of dealing with depression are erased.

Of course, because they’re not either “beautiful” or “dramatic,” but they’re real life. Why don’t you ever show the real side of depression, Hollywood? Try showing not having the energy to lift a hairbrush? Or, just looking in the mirror with barely any energy to open your eyes?

Depression is treated as an alluring or mysterious trait that draws the attention of a love interest.

Oooh, romance! The fix-all for any sadness! That is an insult to anyone and everyone with clinical depression. If romance and/or sex was the cure, the clinics would do that. Besides, this points out an insidious stereotype that depression is rational. Depression is not rational. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain.

AND THEN THAT LOVE INTEREST ALWAYS ~FIXES~ THE PERSON WITH DEPRESSION.

As above, this is not only wrong, it is insulting. Chester Bennington had the great wife, the great kids, and yet he still took his life. Depression is not rational.

If treatment IS explored, it’s always super easy and straightforward.

Well, often treatment is a long, tedious process. It often goes with trying to find the right medicine, the right therapist, the right clinic. Nobody ever tells you that. Again, depression is not rational.

Speaking of therapists, they’re usually portrayed as pretty useless.

What did talking out and working out the issues ever do for anyone, right? Wrong. Working out and talking out the issues has often averted wars. Why does it not work for people willing to talk, listen and be honest?

When treatment is shown in a positive light, it’s always super linear and FAST.

This is wishful thinking. We always want the quick fix, the easy solution, the fast-working drug. If those worked, we would do that. It is also insulting to those who need more research, more diagnosis, more help.

There aren’t many examples of high-functioning people with depression, rather than people whose depression completely derails their life.

Now, I currently have a “high-functioning” form of depression. You know what I feel about the functioning label, but when people are handling their troubles well, apparently they are not worthy of the Hollywood stereotype. Even people who actually are handling their depression must be derailed and sent back to the mental ward to show the seriousness of the problem.

Pretty much every depressed character is also suicidal at some point.

Now, I may have been suicidal at one point, but I am not suicidal anymore. In fact, when I was getting my diagnosis, I was actually beginning to climb out of the pit of suicidal ideation. I was regretting my decision. Then, a diagnosis was given and I received more help.

More often than not, a character with depression fits a specific stereotype.

I know this particular type. You know, the girl who wears black all the time? In my day, we called them goths; you might call them emo. I must tell you the truth: the goths in my particular high school were actually quite happy people. I thought about going goth for a time, because I bought this stereotype, but as I look back, the people in black actually seemed very pleased. Maybe there’s a thing for being yourself?

Also, take a look at me. I am currently wearing a bright pink dress with yellow, orange and purple patterns on it. I have brown hair that was once blonde, green hazel eyes, somewhat tanned skin (for Kentucky, anyway,) and big curves. I own a rainbow of clothes I rotate regularly. I have a Pomeranian dog, who loves me to death, and a mother who encourages a happy home. What is goth about this particular depression sufferer?

And let’s be real, even with positive representations of depression, more often than not, the characters are white.

Even though I am white, this fact is true: people with depression are not. Trouble is, you kind of have to be white to be noticed by Hollywood. Maybe that’s why most persons of color think mental illness is “white people s***.” This stops a huge number of people from getting the help they need, simply because they think it’s a tool of The Man to keep them at the bottom of the heap.

Medication is treated like this evil, personality-zapping stuff you should avoid at all costs.

Again, not true in my case. As a matter of fact, the medicine I take actually helps me function better. Before I took medicine, I liked Pearl Jam, Green Day and rock music in general. After I started taking medicine, I still liked Pearl Jam, Green Day and rock music in general. My personality has not changed.

And depressed characters are always super creative and artistic.

I certainly WISH! If I was super creative, artistic and talented, don’t you think I would be in a different kind of existence? Like, actually making money instead of living off the government?

For some reason, going through depression always ends in some sort of cheesy life lesson.

If there is one thing about depression, it does not really give you some life lesson. If there is any lesson, it is this: sometimes you have to fight for what you want, whether it’s love, money, or even your life.

And finally, most of this is covered in the span of a Very Special Episode — or, if we’re lucky, a small arc — then forgotten about forever.

Don’t even get me started. Depression is not something to be forgotten about. I am reminded every time I eat breakfast. I have been with my diagnosis for twenty-two years! There is no reason for me to stop working on my health.

All in all, I am utterly disgusted that I have to address mental illness stigma and stereotypes seventeen years into the twenty-first century! When are we ever going to learn?

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Too Concerned with Mental Health at Times? 

When I heard an actress, who had recently given birth, was getting health with her postpartum depression, I felt that concern time was over because I somehow knew she was in good hands. I often wonder if that concern was prematurely ended. I mean, since she was in good hands, she was getting good help, right?  

I was wondering: when should you be concerned with a person’s mental health, and when should you be NOT concerned? Also, could you be too concerned? Could that concern actually be thinly-veiled fear? 

When you’re dealing with your own mental health, I think concern should be best had by the person themselves. Mental health persons, when dealing with it, can be their own best advocates. Besides, they know what is best for them a majority of the time, especially in dealing with the tedious trial-and-error method of mental health medication. I am a fan of telling the doctor everything that is going on with your body, mind and mood. I know it’s long and drawn out. I myself had to tell my own prescriber that I was not feeling and functioning when they switched my prescription on me once. I am even glad there is somebody who looks out for me and my mental state as well. Unfortunately, few of those with mental illness have that person who really looks out for them. I know I am blessed in that aspect.  

About excess concern: that is usually a veiled fear of mental illness itself, and the various aspects of the behavior. I must speak again and again of the stigma, fear and hate that surrounds us who have mental illness, and our families. Pushing it under the rug will do nobody any favor. As a matter of fact, stigma gives mental illness a cover of darkness, and darkness is the perfect environment for the illness to spread and fester like bacteria, claiming lives and families as it grown. It is only in exposure to the light of day that we can fight it. 

So, what is the limit of concern? Where do we stop being scared for the person and begin to help the person in their fight for their health?  

Seek Help Beforehand

Chester Bennington was found dead of suicide. He was 41. I recently came across a tweet that basically said, “If you only want to talk about mental illness when someone famous commits suicide, you’re part of the problem.” Trouble is, that seems to be the only time people are listening. Most of the time, people shut their ears at anything unpleasant. They want to be unrealistically happy. I consider myself a pretty happy person, but I have also been diagnosed with major depression right along with my autism. (Surprise, surprise – this world drives me crazy.) But mental health should be talked about all the time, not just when something terrible happens to shake you out of your “Happy Haze.”

For me, mental health is a daily management. It’s a sort of demand in order to keep performing at my peak. I include my medicines in my routine. There is no shame in the process. I just take my meds and move along with my day. If there is a problem, I talk it over with someone who can help me. Again, there is no shame in the process. Yeah, I live with the specter of stigma when it comes to mental illness, but I know that I am an adult, and I do not have to take on that stupid stigma myself.

I can tell what people are thinking – what if I go off my meds? Then I become irrationally depressed. That’s why I stay on my meds. I can tell people are thinking this, because every mentally ill person on TV has been through a “go off their meds and go crazy” storyline, usually with a dictation that they cannot cope with society and need to be locked up at least for a time. What a negative, hateful, bigoted LIE! Those with mental illness (I use “mentally ill” and “with mental illness” interchangeably) are perfectly capable of living in society, with their meds. Perhaps this dictation from the media is why Chester Bennington never sought help for himself and is now dead. Perhaps seeing illness as weakness is why Robin Williams never sought help for himself and is now dead as well. Perhaps the fear and stigma surrounding having a mental illness is why so many people never get help for their conditions and let their conditions morph into boatloads of unnecessary drama and, in many cases, unnecessary suicide.

Now, let’s get the myth out that a person who commits suicide is supposed to go through with it anyway. I once considered suicide a long time ago. My mother found out about it, and eventually I got help for my own conditions. That’s how I got diagnosed with major depression. Here’s the thing about it all: Once I verbalized my pain, I changed my mind. Here’s the kicker: eventually, a person will change their mind. Maybe it’s in the throes of death itself, but they eventually change their mind. A survivor of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge himself regretted the act once he went through with it. As he was falling, he prayed to survive. The point of that is, we will change our mind. Perhaps if society made it okay to admit you’re struggling with your own head, we would seek help BEFORE we are falling off the Golden Gate Bridge, so to speak. I want people okay with thinking about unpleasant things. Maybe we can prevent tragedy when we do.

On the Road to Being a Real Woman 

I’m not going to lecture you on what constitutes a real woman or a real man. What I’m going to do instead is share with you a realization about what being a woman is, as opposed to being a little girl, in a new aspect. Now, I’ve been critical of the general societal perception that thin is in. I’ve even gone so far as to call the skinny girls of the world “broomsticks” out of sheer jealousy. But this morning, something inside of me changed. It’s not my attitude toward thin is in. It’s my attitude toward the girls and women who fit this particular image. I’m not hateful towards them anymore. I have no reason to tear the thin ones down, simply because they are thin. It’s not their fault they’re thin and therefore beautiful by society’s standards. Just because they were born lucky, doesn’t mean they stay that way.

There is no need to tear a person down, because they’re perceived as having more value than you. It must be hard for them, too, because of this perception that you have to compete.

I’ll admit it. I’m fat. I can’t compete. But knowing this frees me to find the inherent value I have inside myself. There is a purpose to my existence. If there was not, I would not be alive. Believe me, those who love me have fought to keep me on this planet, even though I have had a strong desire to leave at times in my life. Yes, I have had to fight my own desire for suicide. But I have won. To paraphrase Alice Walker, I may be poor, I may be fat, I may be ugly, but I am here.

I’ve also learned that I can get a man on my own, without having to compete with anyone. A real man won’t make you compete. Boys want women to feel insecure, to compete and focus on them, as if the woman is his mother. Boys need mothers. Men need women. Which brings me back to the real woman.

A real woman is not that hard to spot. She is the one who builds women up, not tear them down. She can stand on her own without a man. She can want and desire a partner, but she does not need one. A real woman works on her healing. Trust me, the world wants you to be a girl, because girls are controllable. That’s why the world works to break you as a girl, to freeze you – keep you as a girl. Girls wallow in their hurt. You can see this in earlier posts.  Trust me, I have not quite made it to being the real woman. But I have taken a step toward it.

Mental Health Stigma Hurts Us All  

“Take your meds, move along.” That’s what I tell myself every once in a while now when I am tempted to not take the medicines I use to stay somewhat healthy. Don’t get me wrong; there are times I gag when I put the larger ones in my mouth. I still take the medicine anyway because it’s the easiest way to take it. Some people need it as a shot every two weeks; some people can just take the medicine as a daily pill. (There are probably other ways, but I’m not knowledgeable in all of them.) Here’s the trouble: I know of at least one person who avoids taking medicine and would prefer multiple stays in a mental hospital. Why? Why do a large number of people avoid taking the medicine at all? Why do people not accept that the medicine helps? Better yet, why does it take extreme drama and possibly even a revocation of possible rights to get some people to take medicine at all? Could it be due to mental health stigma?

First, let us define stigma.

Stigma:

A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  (Oxford University Press)

Well, isn’t that special? Having a mental illness is a mark of disgrace in this society. That makes perfect sense. People don’t want to be disgraced. The disgraced are hated and discriminated against. What does that lead to? America’s largest mental health facility is inside Chicago’s Cook County Jail. The disgraced are also criminalized, too, by the way. So it takes a crime to get a person the help they need without submitting to the stigma? Who has to suffer because of it? No, it’s no longer who has to suffer. The question is now this: Who has to die? How many people have to die before they recognize stigma does not work?

This is how stigma works: Stigma gets a person thinking they cannot be loved and accepted with the particular quality (aka Mental Illness), so they hide it. And hide it with drinking, drugs, eating, and maybe something else. Until it backfires and is revealed. Usually, there has to be a crime before somebody intervenes because then the person can be removed from society with approval, if they have not already done so themselves (ex. suicide).  Nobody wants to do anything, or even believe there is a problem at all, until the problem hurts permanently. Even then, some families of suicide remove the person from their memory, and try to make the problem go away again. Repeat the cycle until somebody finally speaks up, or until death affects the family visually. Or, maybe, until suicide becomes homicide.

So, what’s the solution? The solution is painfully obvious: end the stigma. Make it okay to take care of your mental health. Don’t make a person think they have to be Mental Superman. Mental Superman does not exist. I think you need to make it okay to take your medicine. Take your meds, move along.

Mental Health Stigma Hurts Us All

“Take your meds, move along.” That’s what I tell myself every once in a while now when I am tempted to not take the medicines I use to stay somewhat healthy. Don’t get me wrong; there are times I gag when I put the larger ones in my mouth. I still take the medicine anyway because it’s the easiest way to take it. Some people need it as a shot every two weeks; some people can just take the medicine as a daily pill. (There are probably other ways, but I’m not knowledgeable in all of them.) Here’s the trouble: I know of at least one person who avoids taking medicine and would prefer multiple stays in a mental hospital. Why? Why do a large number of people avoid taking the medicine at all? Why do people not accept that the medicine helps? Better yet, why does it take extreme drama and possibly even a revocation of possible rights to get some people to take medicine at all? Could it be due to mental health stigma?

First, let us define stigma.

Stigma:

A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  (Oxford University Press)

Well, isn’t that special? Having a mental illness is a mark of disgrace in this society. That makes perfect sense. People don’t want to be disgraced. The disgraced are hated and discriminated against. What does that lead to? America’s largest mental health facility is inside Chicago’s Cook County Jail. The disgraced are also criminalized, too, by the way. So it takes a crime to get a person the help they need without submitting to the stigma? Who has to suffer because of it? No, it’s no longer who has to suffer. The question is now this: Who has to die? How many people have to die before they recognize stigma does not work?

This is how stigma works: Stigma gets a person thinking they cannot be loved and accepted with the particular quality (aka Mental Illness), so they hide it. And hide it with drinking, drugs, eating, and maybe something else. Until it backfires and is revealed. Usually, there has to be a crime before somebody intervenes because then the person can be removed from society with approval, if they have not already done so themselves (ex. suicide).  Nobody wants to do anything, or even believe there is a problem at all, until the problem hurts permanently. Even then, some families of suicide remove the person from their memory, and try to make the problem go away again. Repeat the cycle until somebody finally speaks up, or until death affects the family visually. Or, maybe, until suicide becomes homicide.

So, what’s the solution? The solution is painfully obvious: end the stigma. Make it okay to take care of your mental health. Don’t make a person think they have to be Mental Superman. Mental Superman does not exist. I think you need to make it okay to take your medicine. Take your meds, move along.

A Story for World Suicide Prevention Day

When I learned Robin Williams had committed suicide, I was in shock for days. How could someone who brought laughter and happiness to so many not be able to have some of that happiness left over for himself? I grieved and mourned, like the rest of the world. For those of you who drove his daughter off Twitter with your comments, I condemn you. She needed you, and you let her down. I wish I could be baffled by suicide,  but sadly I am not.

I am going to tell you something difficult: I was once considering suicide – even up to the planning stage, when I was discovered and reported. I was 17. My parents were divorcing, my younger sister was rebelling against the rules and going through her migraines, my brother wanted to live with his father, my elder sister was doing her thing, raising her little boy. I don’t know if it was a cry for attention – because some people think that. I was failing my classes, getting my dreams dashed, I had no friends – the list goes on and on. When living with autism in high school, one is usually bullied and left out of things, as I was, so I had no friends to speak to. I think I was trying to end the pain, which would end anyway soon – and through some more pain, learn I was stronger than ever.

The events of the day I was discovered go like this: I had decided to stay home that day, because I had the flu, I think. Late in the morning, I was confronted by my mother, who was devastated at the news. I remember little about the conversation, except she said, “I can’t lose you.’ It tore me to my heart, because I thought my death would make people happier. That’s what people think when they consider death as a way out- that only positivity could come out of it.

My mother took me to the school nurse, where I told her of my formulating plan – something to do with knives. Since I was discovered, there was only one thing I could do: tell people how much I was hurting, and watch as they rejected me – but they never rejected me. I could not tell my acquaintances; there was no one close enough to talk with. Then, I was taken to the doctor’s office, where I was interviewed, and by that evening I was in the psych ward of a local hospital. I ate cold roast beef, Brussels sprouts and some sort of starch dish – I cannot remember. This would begin a long journey which would involve pills, regaining my love of certain things, and finding out who my true friends are. It would last for years, through divorce, abuse and being completely alone, but now I am back.

I can’t say I haven’t gone back down that dark path since, because I was starting to go when my sisters kicked me out of their house and sent me back to my mom, but I have never been so far again. It’s only under extreme pressures that things like this enter my mind, but it’s been thankfully only once.

You know something? I have said the word “I” more times in this article than all the others. That is the tragedy when you’re only thinking of yourself – you get down on the subject you’re thinking of when it’s you. Perhaps thinking of myself less – getting out of my head and into others’ problems – is the key to having a purpose.

Want to know what goes on in the mind of someone considering death? Here are a few thoughts:

1) Negative Self-Talk: “Everyone would be better off if I was gone.” “I’m a burden.” “I’m a source of tension.” “Things would be better without me.” When you think your presence is only negative, you tend to think it needs to go.

2) Toxic Relationships: I hope reading the article is giving you a clue as to who or what was influencing my thinking – people letting me down. Hopefully, you can find someone to go to when things like this happen.

3) A Poor Self-Image: People with autism are viewed as a burden and a tragedy, as are most people with so-called disabilities. Sometimes you need to have the person think of a scenario where their specific talents are necessary for the survival of society. For the autistic, for example, maybe the lesser knowledge of social graces can finally bring the truth out considering a bad situation. If somebody wants to remind me what good things about a person like me has, please let me know.

4) Mental Illness: Depression and other illnesses are common in people who think death is a way out. As a matter of fact, it is often a sign that there is an illness there.

5) Alcohol / Drugs: Fortunately, this was not a factor in my contemplations, but getting a mind-altering substance into somebody is usually a dangerous prospect, especially when death is concerned. You’ve seen the beginning of “The First Wives Club,” where the wife was insanely drunk when she leapt to her death. There is truth in that. Self-medicating is a sign something is wrong.

These are a few things which get inside the head of a person on the verge of suicide. I wish I did not know it intimately, because I could have led people down a dark, unforgiving path of death.

I hope talking about my experiences does not glorify suicide, rather I hope it drives you to get away from it. I know for a fact my family would never recover had I gone through with it – and I would not be here to triumph today.

National Suicide Hotline:

1-800-273-8255