It Is Okay To Talk About Your Depression

Recently, I have noticed a few people on social media passing around a very interesting quote about depression. I’m not going to lie, it caught my attention – and not necessarily in a good way. Upon looking into the source of the quote, I discovered that it originated as a tweet from rapper Post Malone. The full quote reads:

“shoutout to everyone who has made it out of a dark place or hard time in your life. especially those who did it by themselves bc they never showed it or let anyone know they were hurting. to silently battle & win is hard, be proud of yourself & all the progress you’ve made”

I’ve read variations on this quote that end after the words, “especially those who did it by themselves”, but its this part that I want to focus on in particular – this idea that people who suffer in silence deserve a little extra kudos than the rest of us.

Because, yes, shout out to everyone who has made it out of a dark place or hard time in their life. Anyone who has successfully done this, no matter how they did it, is amazing and strong and deserves all the praise and attention for getting themselves back into a healthy and happy lifestyle.

And, yes, to silently battle and win is hard. Very hard. Downright impossible, for many people.

Personally, I am of the opinion that we, as human beings, are pack animals. We need other people in our lives – and not just for simple survival either. Yes, building human communities helps protect us from being eaten by wild animals, but more than that, creating close bonds with other people helps protect our mental health.

Rats, for example, are pack animals. And if you keep a rat alone for too long, it will show symptoms of depression. The same thing will happen to humans.

And I’m not necessarily speaking of extreme, physical isolation either. Simply feeling emotionally isolated from other people will result in intense depression as well. This is actually a rampant issue within our society – particularly for men. Essentially from birth, men are told that “boys don’t cry”. Men are encouraged to bottle up their emotions, to never burden anyone with how they’re feeling, to show “real strength” by going through life without ever letting anyone in or opening up to people. This has contributed to a society where depression in men goes woefully undiagnosed, and because of this, men are 3.57 times more likely to die from suicide than women are.

So, yes, it is hard to silently battle and win. Chances are actually pretty good that if you battle silently, you will end up losing.

People need support. People need to know that they aren’t alone, and people need that validation that what they feel is accepted. That who they are, depression and all, can be loved. And not only that, but people need the other opinions that other people can offer. Sometimes, the greatest gift that a depressed person can receive is a loved one’s assurance that they’re going to be okay, even if they don’t currently feel the same way.

And, personally, I am one of those people why apply to the first part of Post Malone’s tweet, but not the second part. I have made it out of dark places and hard times, but I didn’t always do it alone.

I fought small battles alone. I hid panic attacks in the bathroom, and then wiped away my tears, picked myself back up, and forced myself out the door. But when it came to the much larger war that is fighting depression, I couldn’t do that alone. And that isn’t to say I didn’t try. For quite nearly a whole year, I did my best to hide my depression, not wanting to make people worry about me. And then, when I couldn’t hide it anymore, I just… spoke.

And then I couldn’t stop speaking.

I kept talking, and I kept reaching out, and eventually, my depression just wasn’t anything shameful anymore. It was just a part of me. And that made it easier to fight, because I wasn’t fighting alone.

And, not only that, but speaking out and hearing my own depressive thoughts voiced was actually really helpful in recognizing just how wrong they were. It’s surprisingly easy to think, “if this person doesn’t say that thing, then they obviously hate me”. It’s much more difficult to take such a sentiment seriously when you’re saying it aloud.

When you’re depressed, depressive thoughts are simply the norm. They crowd your brain, and they convince your mind that they’re facts, and there’s just so many of them that it’s hard to fight back. When you speak these thoughts, or write them down, or do whatever you need to to simply get them out of your head, then they become less overwhelming. You begin to see them for what they are. And maybe that doesn’t get rid of the fear or the sadness that these thought create, but at least recognizing them as false is one step forward. And it’s a step forward that’s difficult to take alone.

And yet, despite all of this, we live in a society that loves to romanticize that idea of making it through hard times alone. I think it goes back to that idea of how men are raised – this idea that there is strength in being solitary and not burdening other people with your thoughts and your emotions. And this is what I see in Post Malone’s tweet. He starts out by giving a “shout out” to everyone who has suffered hard times, but he goes on to create a sort of hierarchy. If you have suffered alone, then you are especially deserving of a shout out, and the rest of his tweet focuses on that particular form of suffering. We see people who have suffered alone as being more deserving of praise then people who reached out to others and asked for help.

And when we do that, when we create this hierarchy, what we are actually doing is encouraging people away from seeking help. We make people think that there is something wrong with getting help – that, if they were truly strong, then they would do this alone. And often times, that just isn’t the case. You can (and probably will have to) fight battles alone, but it’s really, really difficult to win the war that way. To win the war, we need a solid army of love and support – whether that army take the form of family, friends, pets, a diary, people that you met on the internet, suicide crisis lines, or therapists.

There is no shame in reaching out. There is no shame in talking about your emotions, or crying, or having a difficult time managing what life has given you. All of this is just a natural part of being human, and we shouldn’t be so afraid of it – when it presents itself in ourselves, or in our loved ones. Instead of encouraging people to suffer in silence, we should be willing to lend an ear to anyone who needs it.

And let’s give a shout out to everyone who asked for help in getting out of a dark place or a hard time, whether they have gotten out of it yet or not. It can be really, really hard talking about your emotions in a society that consistently tries to silence them, but you are doing the right thing. You are doing the best thing that you can for yourself and your mental health, and that is extremely important. May you have all the best going forward, and may you know that you are loved and you are valid and you are strong.

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Why Toxic Masculinity Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

I’ve used the term ‘toxic masculinity’ now and again when discussing feminism, and I’m always slightly surprised by the reaction that I get.

It doesn’t seem to matter the context in which I use the term. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I explain what the term means. Every single time I bring it up, there is always at least one person who hears what I’m saying and they think that I mean that men are toxic. They assume that I am saying that men are all evil, and they are to blame for all the negative things that exist in this world.

Which isn’t what I mean. At all. Honestly, some of my best friends are men.

No? Not buying that blatant excuse? Okay, I guess I’ll have to explain a little further then.

So, in order to understand what I mean when I say ‘toxic masculinity’, you’re going to need to understand the feminist theory that gender is performative. First put forth by feminist scholar Judith Butler, this theory essentially states that gender is not what’s between your legs or what comes naturally to you as a human being – gender is a performance, and we are all given the script from infancy. And by the time that we’re adults, we are so accustomed to performing our parts that we don’t even realize we’re performing them anymore.

So a lot of the ways that we perform our gender – the way we dress, the things we say, the thoughts that cross our minds – they are all learned behaviour. Women aren’t more emotional by nature; women are perceived as more emotional because women are encouraged to discuss their feelings whereas men are discouraged from doing the same.

You may agree with this. You may not. But this is the theory that toxic masculinity rests on.

Because what the theory of toxic masculinity argues is that some of the behaviours that men are taught to engage in to prove their masculinity are, in fact, toxic.

And I don’t only mean toxic to other people – although it is certainly that. From a very young age, men are told that violence and domination are two surefire ways to prove that they are men. In our media, you are much more likely to see men solve their problems by punching them than by discussing them, and you are much more likely to see men respond to rejection with harassment than with genuine understanding. And this has contributed to a society where 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Men are also responsible for 98 percent of mass shootings and 90 percent of murders.

And women are not the only ones who are victimized by male violence (although that fact shouldn’t make you care any more or less about the fact that this is happening). Although one in four women will face domestic violence at some point in her life, 68 percent of homicide victims are men.

So, yeah, violence and domination is a real-life problem that affects all of us for the worst. And yet, that doesn’t seem to stop our media and our society from telling boys that violence and domination is one way to prove that you are a man.

But this is just one form of toxic behaviour that men might engage in to prove their masculinity. There are so many more.

For example, men are told from a young age that “real men don’t cry”. They’re told that nobody cares about their emotions, so “toughen up” and “be a man”. So, of course, to prove their masculinity, men will suppress their emotions and avoid talking about them. And perhaps because of this, depression in men goes woefully under diagnosed, despite the fact that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Men are also told from a young age that “real men” are “players” and “lady-killers”. They get all the women, all the time, and women love them. This contributes to this idea of women as conquests and trophies, yes, but it also contributes to this idea that a “real man” is heterosexual, and intensely interested in sex.

Men are told that “real men” have big penises, despite the fact that trans-men are not born with penises.

Men are told that “real men” are muscular, which contributes to poor body image for men who do not feel that they fit that image.

Men are told that “real men” are white – in fact, Asian-American men are frequently emasculated in our media.

This is what I am referring to when I say ‘toxic masculinity’. I am not saying that men are evil. I am not saying that men are toxic. I am saying that society has put in place certain methods by which men are expected to prove their masculinity, and many of these methods are toxic – to the men who do not live up to these expectations, to the men who do, and to everyone else around them.

And this is part of why I believe that it is important for us to talk about toxic masculinity, even despite the negative connotation that many have ascribed to the discussion. Because in recent news, we have had multiple movements that discuss some of the unfortunate side-effects of toxic masculinity, such as the #metoo movement and Bell Let’s Talk Day, but we haven’t been discussing the matter directly.

And if we are going to make some actual, lasting changes, we need to talk about it. We need to stop telling boys to bottle up their emotions, or to fix problems through violence. We as a society – men and women alike – need to change the definition of what a “real man” is, and we start by changing the way that we talk to men and boys about their masculinity.

Because there are so many ways to be a “real man”. Real men identify as men – that’s literally the end of it. And that means that real men do whatever the hell they want, so long as what they do doesn’t hurt others or themselves.

When You Have Suicidal Thoughts, But You Don’t Want to Die

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started having suicidal thoughts. I remember my words easier than I remember my thoughts, and so I’m led to believe that I must have been very young when they started, because I was nine years old when I first told a friend at school, “sometimes I think about not being here anymore”.

“But you need to be here,” she told me. “Who would be my friend if you weren’t?”

I was flattered by her words, and I was glad she said them to me at the time. But, in retrospect, she didn’t really understand what my problem was (though, to be fair, I don’t think I articulated it particularly well either).

These thoughts continued to plague me for years after, coming and going, ebbing and flowing like a wave. Sometimes I would be perfectly fine. Sometimes I would wonder why I even entertained these terrible thoughts. Sometimes, something would happen, and I would start thinking about how much better off the world would be without me. I would think about how easy it would be to just find the highest rooftop and jump, or go off somewhere alone and end it out of sight. I would tell myself not to think these things, tell myself that these were terrible thoughts, that they weren’t true, but even still, they came back naturally. I could do nothing to keep them at bay.

The closest that I ever came to acting on them was when I was about eighteen. These thoughts occurred to me one night, and as an attempt to stop thinking them, I told myself to seriously imagine what life would be like without me. I did so, and I came to the conclusion that, while my loss would hurt people for a little while, they would move on and all be better off in the long run. At this point, I told myself to go to bed, and if I still felt this way the next day, then I would figure it out then.

Needless to say, I managed to pull myself through it.

And the thing is, these thoughts still occur to me from time to time. But I am completely, one hundred percent convinced that I will never act on them. Because, while I have suicidal thoughts, I don’t want to die.

Because I don’t want to die, I told myself to go to bed rather than act on how I felt at the time.

Because I don’t want to die, I tried to banish these thoughts whenever they occurred to me.

Because I don’t want to die, my nine-year-old friend didn’t really understand what I was admitting to when I told her that I thought about “not being here”. She told me that I needed to be here, and I would be regardless, but I would still feel like I shouldn’t be.

As I mentioned before, these thoughts came in waves, and when they rolled back, I loved life. I loved my school and my artistic pursuits and the endless possibilities that life offered. More often than I saw myself jumping in front of an oncoming bus, I saw myself in a foreign country someday, sipping coffee at a cafe is France, or reading at the British Library. I saw myself walking down the aisle to meet my future partner, I saw my dreams coming true and my career flourishing. I knew that none of this could be possible if I ended my life, and I really, really want all of this to happen.

I never really understood this contradiction in myself. As a society, it seems to me that we think of suicidal thoughts as a very basic, black-or-white thing: either you have them, and you are at risk of acting on them, or you don’t have them, and are therefore safe. Landing between these two states confused me. I wanted to get help, because these thoughts were not okay and I knew that, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want them to think that I would actually take my own life when I knew that I wouldn’t. I didn’t think that forcing other people to live with that thought was fair.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that there were other people who felt the same way as me. And, I have to admit, discovering this was a massive relief.

To a certain extent, this validated the way that I felt. Like many of us, I assumed that, if I had suicidal thoughts, then I must want to die. I thought that if I didn’t want to die, then my suicidal thoughts weren’t real, they were whiny cries for attention that I never voiced to anyone. But if other people felt this way, then that meant that the way that I felt was real. I wasn’t making it up. My perspective mattered.

And that is why I am writing this: for those who feel similar to me, and for those who don’t.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, but you do not want to die, then I want to say this: you are not alone. You are valid, and the way that you feel matters. There are people who feel the same way, people who can help you. There are plenty of resources for you to reach out to (for Canadian readers, you can contact here; for American readers, you can contact here). Just because you do not believe that you will act on your feelings, that does not justify your continuing suffering. You deserve better than that.

And for those of you who do not relate to my experience, whether that mean that you do experience suicidal thoughts as well as the desire to act on them, or you have never experienced suicidal thoughts at all, allow me to say this: suicidal thoughts are not as simple as we would like to think of them. This is a complex issue, and very personal for every person involved. Every person thinks and feels differently, after all. By knowing and accepting this, we have a better chance of helping those around us. We can create a safe environment, where people of all kinds feel capable of coming forward and speaking about their experience.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to open up a dialogue about mental health. When we don’t talk about these issues, then people have a hard time understanding them, even when they are experiencing them. People who have no idea what they are going through have a hard time explaining it, or finding ways to reach out. It is difficult to find the words to explain something when you don’t really understand what you are explaining.

And that is why I write this: I am speaking out, and I am inviting you to speak out with me.

Why Depression is Not Romantic

When I was a teenager, maybe thirteen or fourteen, I read stories of girls with arms like mine. The girls with white lines drawn across their pale skin, carved there by blades and tainted by tears. Girls who caught the attention of the cute, sensitive boy in their class, the boy who saw her scars and knew what they meant. The boy who took her aside and kissed her scars and told her that she was beautiful regardless, that he would hold her close and take care of her, that he would never let her hurt again. The boy who loved her, not because there was more to her than her scars, but because he knew that she was sad and broken, and that he could protect her from the harsh world.

These stories were not the reason why I self-harmed, but they most certainly justified my doing so.

Just like when I was in my second year at university, studying literature because I wanted to be a great writer, and the professor made the statement to my class: “this poem is about depression, which is something that all great writers deal with. I don’t really think it’s possible to be a great writer without being broken.”

Well, that’s good news, I thought; I suppose I need to be broken then. Maybe this is just the price I pay to achieve my dreams.

I think, even at the time, I knew that what I was thinking was wrong.

Even then, I knew that the stories I wrote were not created in the black, ceaseless spirals of depression. They might have been inspired by it, from time to time, but no more than they were inspired by other aspects of my life. And, more importantly, they were written in those moments where I broke the surface, where I took in a gulp of air and thought that everything might be fine again, just before I sunk back below and lost all creative ability again.

Just like I knew that self-harm would not earn me love. No boy ever saw my scars and kissed them to make them better; now that I’m no longer thirteen years old, I don’t really think I’d want one to. All that my scars did was give me something to be ashamed of, something to pull my sleeves over and lie about when people asked me about them.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what did you do to your arm?”

“Oh, I was playing with my cat, and, well, this happened.”

Please. Please, don’t notice that it looks nothing like a cat scratch.

But even still, despite the fact that depression was not my gateway to genius, despite the fact that self-harm brought me more shame than it did love, there was still something so romantic about both ideas. About being the tortured artist, the Sylvia Plath, the Van Gogh. Forget the fact that they both cut their stories off before they were finished; they were beloved and mysterious, deep and thoughtful. And all I had to do to become them was give into what was already inside me, right?

We romanticize mental illness all the time, present it as something mysterious and unknown and darkly beautiful, but it isn’t. The reality of mental illness is laying in bed all day because you just can’t find the motivation to get up. The reality of mental illness is wearing long sleeves in the summer because you don’t want to risk anyone, not even the cute, sensitive boy in your class, to know your secret (because it is, after all, a secret). The reality of mental illness is panic attacks that leave you exhausted, fear that keeps you its prisoner, suicidal thoughts that threaten to cut your story off too soon, if you just give into them.

And the problem with romanticizing all of this is that it then justifies people to give into it.

All of this isn’t to say that no good can ever come from a mental illness; it can. Personally speaking, I believe that coming to terms with my mental illness and fighting it has made me a much stronger person than I would have otherwise been, but that is exactly my point; I needed to fight it. Fighting gave me ability. Fighting gave me more stories to tell than depression ever could have. Fighting made me feel as though I deserved, not only love, but a love that was worthwhile, a love that would see me, not as the broken soul that needs to be fixed, but as a person, as an equal. Fighting is what brought me here, to this place, to this day.

I honestly don’t know who or where I’d be today if I hadn’t fought, but I know it wouldn’t be romantic. It would be pitiful, a tragic tale to tell. And I am not a tragedy.

So if we have to romanticize anything in regards to mental illness, let’s romanticize the fight. Let’s talk about how strong survivors are to reach out and get help for themselves. Let’s praise those who managed to overcome suicidal thoughts, even when it seemed next to impossible. Let’s celebrate the ones who self-harmed at one point, but managed to pull themselves through it and stop altogether. Because when we romanticize mental illness itself, we are helping no one; when we encourage people to seek treatment and get help, we have the opportunity to save lives.

And, personally, I am tired of romances that focus so much on how loveable or genius someone is only because they are depressed.

 

Why We Should Not Dismiss People for ‘Wanting Attention’

Growing up, I was very much aware of being perceived as ‘wanting attention’. And perhaps part of the reason for this was that I engaged in a lot of behaviour that could be considered ‘wanting attention’.

The first time that I remember telling a friend that I sometimes thought about ‘not being here anymore’ was when I was roughly nine years old.

The first time I remember intentionally cutting into my skin (with my nails at the time) because I was sad, angry, or frustrated was when I was ten years old.

And although I didn’t know enough to use the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ until I was eighteen years old, that was something I was dealing with through most of my teen years. It got worse around my high school graduation, but it started from as far back as I can remember.

And to a certain extent, I’m sort of glad that it did get worse when I was eighteen, because if it hadn’t, then I might never have identified that I was mentally ill. If I hadn’t, I probably would have continued going back to that old excuse, the one that I told myself all the time before then – that I just ‘wanted attention’.

This isn’t necessarily anything that anyone told me. Nobody dismissed my claims of depression with an easy wave of their hand and the words, “you teenagers, you all just want attention”, but it didn’t matter that nobody said this to me; I said it to myself daily. I said it to myself because I had heard it of other people, and I knew that if I did actually try to speak out, that was what many people would think. And if so many people would think it, then it must be true, right?

I wasn’t carving up my arm because I actually had a problem; I was doing it because I wanted someone to see and feel sorry for me. I mean, sure, I usually tried to hide the cuts from sight, and if anyone asked me about them, I’d lie, but that doesn’t mean anything, right? Clearly, I just wanted attention, and that made the fact that I was doing it silly and meaningless.

I didn’t think about ‘being gone’ because I was struggling with suicidal thoughts; I was doing it because I wanted people to treat me as special, as different. I clearly wanted them to give me an easier time and walk on egg shells around me, right? I mean, I made a point of never telling anyone that I felt this way, specifically because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, but the mere fact that I felt that way in the first place proved that I just wanted attention, right?

I didn’t feel empty, sad, and scared all the time because I was dealing with a mental illness; I felt that way because I wanted people to feel bad for me.

Right?

This is why I hate it when people dismiss the way that someone feels by saying, “oh, they just want attention”; because that is someone’s life and wellbeing that you are playing with. All that that person may need is one person to take them seriously, one person to point out to them that they way they feel is valid and it needs to be addressed, and that could be the difference between them taking their own lives or living years with depression, and them getting help for their mental illness and learning how to cope with it better. And any time that you are put in a position to say, “that just want attention”, you also have the option to listen to them and take them seriously.

And too many times, people who are actually struggling with mental illness, people like me who need to recognize what’s going on inside their head, are shrugged off and not taken seriously because we have this idea that people who are struggling are only struggling because they want attention. In fact, it is gotten so bad that some people don’t even have to be told that the way they feel isn’t valid for them to feel that way; our society has perpetuated this idea that all people (and young people in particular) who are dealing with anxiety or depression are actually selfish, needy burdens that I didn’t even have to be told that to believe it. All I had to do was feel the way that I naturally felt, and then I knew what people would think of me. And this can and has had some very dangerous consequences for that person.

But, for just a moment, let’s ignore the cases where someone who actually has a mental illness is ignored and refused help because of this stigma, because I know that most people would agree that that is a tragedy. What about the young people who are, legitimately, looking for attention? I mean, I’m sure that very few young people would go to the lengths of attempting suicide to try to get it, but I’m sure there are some who have, in fact, gone to very self-destructive lengths for it.

Why do we look down on them so much?

What is wrong with wanting attention? We all do. It is such an integral part of the human condition to want attention, to want love and acceptance and understanding, that we as a society actually have a word for it when we go for a long period of time without getting it – loneliness.

And take it from someone who spent her teenage years cutting up her arm: self-destructive behaviour is never okay. We should not encourage it, we should try not to engage in it, and if we notice someone else doing it, we should try to talk to them about it. But why is it that we say things like “oh, they just want attention”, as though that invalidates the whole act?

If they truly do “just want attention”, then they should get attention! They should get help, whether that be professional, medical help, or merely someone to sit down and talk with them.

Up until I was eighteen, when I realized that I had depression and anxiety and that the way I felt was real, it did matter, I spent most of my life thinking that the things I did were merely seeking attention, and therefore, they didn’t matter. They were my fault. was the stupid one. was wrong, and therefore, the way I felt should be kept to myself. I shouldn’t reach out. I shouldn’t try to get help. I should just suffer in silence.

And that’s what is wrong with this statement: it is just another way for society to keep people silent about what they are dealing with. It is a tool to keep us from talking about our mental illness, or about our feelings. And we need to talk. We need to open up. Because once we do, then we realize that we aren’t alone, that we aren’t at fault. Countless others have dealt with this before, and knowing that will help you to realize that you can get through this. You will be alright.

But it will be harder to realize that if you remain stuck in this cycle of silence.

So the next time that someone tries to talk to you about self-destructive or depressive thoughts, don’t dismiss what they have to say. Listen to them. You might not know exactly what to say; it might even be an awkward conversation for us to have, but it is an important conversation for us to have. It is a conversation that could, quite literally, save lives. Even if they are young, even if you are not convinced that they entirely know what they are talking about. Because once you listen to them, you might realize that they know more than you gave them credit for.