How To Be A Good Depressive Citizen
Author Libba Bray has a wonderful post on what it’s like to have depression - a post that, sadly, follows the Grand And Stilted Tradition Of Authors Admitting Their Depression.
They have to speak of depression a certain way, lest they be labelled a Bad Depressive Citizen.
Now, the gold standard for a writer suffering from depression is to Not Say Anything. Spend all that sadness with your mouth firmly shut. Then, after months of hard-pent silence, as you are emerging from the depression and find yourself in a place that you can properly control yourself, you write a Very Articulate Post detailing your pain…
…but do it from a distance. Write about it in a sad, somber tone. Do not evince an ounce of self-pity. Hold this odious disease at a distance. End it with a triumphant note that yes, you too can fight back!
Because God help you if you write your depressive post when you’re actually depressed, and uncertain if you’re going to make it. That worries people. You don’t want to write about yourself in a way that gets your audience concerned about you, because then you’ll just have told a bunch of people that maybe you’re not okay. And what will they do then? How will they rest until you’re in a stable place?
That’s rude. Button that shit up, depressive person.
And as a public figure, you can’t share your actual fears either. Maybe you’re melting down because you’re afraid you’re a lousy musician. But if, as a depressive, you slip up and post “I AM A SHITTY MUSICIAN AND I SUCK,” then everyone knows what you are: you’re an attention whore. You’re asking for people to suck up to you! All you want is positive feedback? What a drama queen (or king) you are!
(Even if you don’t want positive feedback, you know the positive feedback will bounce off your shields, you just wanted to stop swallowing this terror back all the time and give it a voice so it’s somewhere outside of your fucking skull for once.)
And shit, if you’re lucky enough to have had some success, that public outcry? It’s ungrateful. Hey, your band got signed – that’s farther than I ever got, what kind of asshole are you for dismissing my lack of accomplishments? Christ, what a whiny bitch you are.
And then someone who was a fan of yours feels completely dismissed because you’ve just told them that everything you did thus far was crappy and thus they, in turn, must be crappy for liking you, and how dare you tell them that? God, what a jerk you are for pissing on your fans.
And then someone says, “Wow, X is having a meltdown,” and people tune in to watch the trainwreck that is you, and you get a reputation as someone unstable. People start to edge away. You fucked up, man, you just let the mask slip, and now people see the quivering Jell-O underneath – and some people are repulsed by your slippery innards, and others see a feast of despair to chow the fuck down on.
A couple of outbursts like that can change your whole life.
And God forbid your despair involves other people. If you post about your worry that you’re a terrible parent, congratulations! You just hauled your kid into the shining spotlight of a talk show, and that show is entitled, “Is X Actually A Horrible Parent?” Your parenting styles are going to be discussed, debated, with people actually having real investment in this, and some people are going to come to the conclusion - whether this is fair or not - that you are an awful fucking parent. In some cases, all the evidence they’ll have is that you’ve raised the question. But that’ll be enough.
And that reputation will follow your ass around, my friend. People will question your stability. They’ll have Heard Things. They’ll wonder how you’re doing now, with the understanding that you could break at any moment, that you’re crazy deep down, that you didn’t have the maturity to mash that ugly shit down like you fucking well should have.
Now, I’m not kidding, or being in the least sarcastic, when I say that Libba has written a wonderful post. That is part of what it’s like to be depressed, and she expresses it well, and eloquently. It helps, and I am glad she wrote it.
But notice how carefully she speaks. She doesn’t say what, if anything, she is depressed about – and she’s a good enough writer that that omission is clearly on purpose.
Because she knows how to be a good depressive citizen.
Depression is messy, and ugly, and sticky. You don’t take it out in public until it’s thoroughly sanitized, freeze-dried, and vacuum-packed – or you make yourself a reputation that you don’t want. It is okay to be depressed, even valorous, so long as you never actually demonstrate depression.
Right now, dressed in the blog-equivalent of a crisp business suit, some depressive is blogging as the Good Citizen, tears wiped off of blotched cheeks, a stiff upper lip, toeing the party line that we can all get through this if we just keep swimming. She is an inspiration.
You do not discuss your depression until you can be an inspiration, or you are just fucking crazy.
Nobody likes crazy.
And there are very good reasons why maybe going off on one of your social networks during a depressive breakdown is a bad idea. Living your life via the equivalent of emotional crowdfunding is almost guaranteed to be ruined. And hauling your friends and family into the spotlight against their will to be discussed among strangers is a toxic fucking thing. And depression lies, so a lot of the things you say will be so utterly foolish and untrue that one day you’ll regret writing it down, simply because some idiot took you at face value, and some other idiot now thinks you’re an idiot for believing that guff in the first place.
So it’s not necessarily a bad thing to only discuss depression when you can hold it at a distance and analyze it.
But this need to be a Good Depressive Citizen makes the journey that much more alone, sometimes. You can have thousands of people following you on the social network of your choice, and yet here you are alone in your apartment, trying desperately to keep this despair properly tamped down. You have to clutch your knees and choke back those cries of despair, because if you share this angst with the world, then you might get a label you can never take back.
And deep down, this need to be a Good Depressive Citizen fuels the fear that you’re really not lovable, or worthy, as you can’t share this shit-fountain of diarrhetic despair welling up inside of you with the world at large. You can only share it with the pre-screened handful of friends who understand you, who have demonstrated they know how to deal properly with this malfunctioning beast that is your brain, and maybe you’re not worthy of love maybe you’re just finding people who are stupid enough to take pity on you.
Then, after months of that, when medication and time and circumstance and habit have worn it down, you can write a dispassionate blog entry. On how hard it’s been. On abstract terrors. With a good, solid, “We’re all in this together.”
And you’re a Good Depressive. Someone people can point to as an example for others. Not one of those hair-tearing lunatics who can’t function, amiright?