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How I realized I was romanticizing my own mental illness

Jun. 23, 2017
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It was while studying at University that I realised I was falling into the trap of romanticising my mental illness; I was struggling with depression and studying a creative arts subject, which I decided were integral to each other. I started saturating myself with the idea that I was a “tortured artist” and that my depression fuelled my work, when, in fact, it was quite the opposite. I often struggled to motivate myself to finish projects.

It took me quite a while to realize my behaviour was negatively impacting my mental health. I drew legitimacy for my work from my depression and couldn’t see its value without attributing it to it, but I’ve since taken steps to work on that and I’m improving day by day. (But, that’s not without its slip-ups, of course.)

We are constantly surrounded by cases of mental illnesses being romanticised; especially on social media. Nearly every day on Twitter I see dark, self-deprecating posts linking things like awkward social situations to existentialist or suicidal thoughts.

It seems that claiming to hate yourself and having low self-esteem are hella #relatable and will get you endless RTs whether or not you actually feel that way.

I, too have fallen prey to this and perpetuate this idea of it being amusing to feel lost, empty and without hope. (Ur fave is problematic lol).

It’s clearly meant in a light-hearted and humorous way (otherwise I wouldn’t also contribute towards it at times) and some might argue that mental health issues and questions of existence can be eased with humour and light-heartedness, but sometimes I fear that people seeking solidarity or help online might be met with the idea that mental health issues are funny, or that feigning a serious issue might even earn you popularity online.

I hear it all the time: “I’m so OCD about tidying my bedroom” or “It was so awkward at the party, Brenda; I just wanted to kill myself”- sentences that seem to bare no weight when used in idle conversation, but are extremely potent and powerful words. (I’m still having to teach myself that jokes about wanting to end my life are not always funny.)

Yet, we make these statements all the time without fully understanding the weight they carry. There are certainly cases where these statements are fully an expression of how that individual is feeling, but- often it is used as a gag.

It’s also hugely perpetuated on TV. Shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” have at least one character with clinical depression, and they are primarily used to poke fun at someone who is struggling. Jokes about how many anti-depressants they use to get through the day, the frequent suicidal thoughts or social anxiety re-occur frequently.... I find myself writhing in my seat whenever they do.

(Admittedly I truly believe that a lot of the jokes I find online are made with better taste than some sit-coms I’ve seen.)

But, it’s not all jokes and light-heartedness in relation to mental health; many artists suffer/have suffered with mental health conditions which are almost immediately attributed to their work. It carries more of a meaning due to their struggles. The idea of the “Tortured artist” is not an archetype I invented myself.

Essentially, I think that humour is a wonderful coping mechanism for anything in life- especially the more difficult to address subjects, but it’s the way that the jokes or comments are handled that affects the outcome. Mental health issues are very serious and if people wish to make light of their situation, I whole-heartedly support them- I just refuse to poke fun. 

cover art courtesy of Charlotte L Photography