There is an Eiffel Tower keychain that sits on my bedside, a trinket from my most recent trip to Paris. It should be a reminder of fun, of sunshine, of flowers, of laughing with my best friend and eating escargot for the first time. It should remind me of my first time in Paris when I experienced the beauty of the city from the top of the Arc. It should bring back the smell of delicious baguettes and cheese from the Saturday market and the feel of the breeze off of the river.
Instead it bears a more grim memory.
I suffer from depression and anxiety, probably due to genetics as it runs through generations of my family. It is the most difficult barrier that I have to a normal life. Yet, despite the many struggles that I and many others in this world face due to depression, I have been floored by the recent glorification of mental health disorders through main stream media in shows like 13 Reasons Why and To The Bone. There is largely debate on whether these shows are doing the right thing by bringing attention to issues that are largely taboo in our society. Some writers have insisted that, by allowing younger people to watch these shows, they feel more comfortable talking about these issues with their parents or peers. This may be true for some. As a teenager, I read 13 Reasons Why and really loved it. It was truly a sad story about a girl named Hannah who told the backstory of her suicide by sending tapes to different people in her life who contributed to her suicide. However, as an adult I see it much differently. I understand the selfishness of the main character as she blames others for her suicide. I see how the plot focuses on an almost-revenge. Hannah died, but she is able to put the burden on others by blaming them for her own decision. The reality is that depression is much more complicated. It is a disease that seems to be simplified in these television shows. Depression is not a pretty girl that makes tapes and then kills herself. Depression is a journey with ugly consequences that will never be shown in popular media. It continues to be whittled down to its most basic form, suicide and tears – an accessory to draw in an audience.
Depression is not an accessory.
It is not something that can be experienced through watching a television show. It is not something that makes a show revolutionary. Depression is not always suicide. Depression is not merely sadness.
Depression is a disease. It eats away at your brain until you can’t fight back any longer. Depression is a cage – as much as you want to break free, there is no way out. Depression is vomiting in front of tourists under the Eiffel Tower because your new medication does not mix with wine. It is sobbing while screaming that you want to die as your best friend holds you back from running. It is laying in bed for days at a time with no shower, the smell of three-day-old bad breath and the feeling of tangled hair at the nape of your neck. It is losing friends because you cannot bear to speak or to see the light of day. Depression is drinking beyond memory and cutting beyond pain. Depression is failure. It is the numbness from buckets of medication. Depression is being in the most beautiful city on earth surrounded by millions yet feeling alone. It has good days and it has bad days. It is everything and nothing at the same time. It affects 350 million people on the planet yet it still comes with a stigma that is hard to break.
By allowing television shows to represent one person’s version of mental health disorder, we continue to perpetuate the idea that all depressed people are the same. All of us commit suicide. All of us are moody and constantly tragic. But the reality is so much more. Depression is not an accessory. Yes, it affects everyday life, but there are millions of people currently functioning day to day with the disease. There are so many of us that have had times where we almost took our own lives and yet there are some of us who have never tried. There are some of us who will never have to be on medication and there are some of us who take what seems like hundreds of pills each day. There are some of us that suffer and are not diagnosed and there are some of us who have known since we were young. There are great days where we can function on normal amounts of sleep and can laugh with our best friends. We can climb mountains. We can go to work and take care of our children and go on a date. Then there are times when the physical symptoms make putting a cup of coffee to our lips unbearable.
Television wants to make it seem like depression is the same for everyone. It wants death to seem like the only option.
I am here to defend those of us who do not fit that mold. I am here to say that depression is not the same for everyone. It goes so much deeper than a 14 episode show can allow a viewer to understand.
Depression is not an accessory. It is not always suicide. It is not always pretty. It is not always ugly. Depression is normality for some of us. And that should be defended.