If you are a human woman who writes on the Internet, by now you have probably heard about it. Yesterday, xoJane (or as I refer to it, the dumpster of the Internet, because you can find anything in there) made the choice to run a first-person essay titled “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing.” Even if I wanted to link to that story, I can’t, because xoJane has removed it from their site and issued an apology after vehement backlash from fellow writers, fellow people struggling with depression, and fellow non-narcissists who understood just how horrendous the article was.
In the article, the author (I won’t be using her name, because to give someone a name means to give them attention and visibility, and I want this writer to GTFO the Internet forever) outlined the reasons why she was happy a former friend of hers committed suicide. Basically, she was complaining that her former friend posted long, cryptic messages on Facebook, didn’t seem to like herself all that much, and may or may not have been sleeping with one of the writer’s former boyfriends. When the friend died, the writer concluded, “Her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was.”
I believe in the First Amendment but I also believe in ethics. There are some things that, in the writing of it, reveal a hell of a lot more about the writer than the subject. The writer of this piece not only was painfully unaware of how absolutely repugnant her viewpoints were (and are; a follow-up interview with Jezebel shows the writer to have absolutely no regrets about what she wrote, although she does backpedal a ton), she clearly doesn’t understand both mental illness, or suicide.
Beauty editor Sam Escobar encapsulated my feelings about this piece perfectly when they tweeted “It seeks to confirm what many with mental illness believe: that people want us dead.” I would extend this out by saying it also seeks to confirm our worst fears when we are in the throes of depression or mental illness: that the world would be better without us. Sam from Let’s Queer Things Up said something similar in his response to the article, stating “I can think of a mentally ill teenager that would read your essay and say, “Maybe I can’t make it after all. Maybe I’m not supposed to.”
Since this writer has no idea what having a mental illness actually entails, let me just tell you how it manifested for me. This is in no way a universal experience.
The first time I wanted to die, I was eleven. I was verbally and physically abused by the kids at my school for the crime of being a smart, quiet kid, and I just wanted all of it to go away. Thanks to Mr. Sherry, the social worker at my school, I pulled myself out of this bad spot and actually became a mid-popular kid by eighth grade (you know, the kind of kid that is friends with all of the social groups because that’s how you survive, you just make everyone like you).
The second time I wanted to die was during my eating disorder, about six and a half years ago. I was so exhausted, and so sick of counting every single calorie that went into my mouth, and so tired of going on the machines at the gym for two hours every day. I just wanted the whole world to stop, and I wanted to sleep for a year. I started doing yoga, which slapped a large Band-Aid on my problems, and I was able to survive. Plus, my sister had her first baby, and I felt like I HAD to get better in order to stick around and see that kid grow up. (He’s going to be SIX in three months. STOP GROWING, KID.)
The third time I wanted to die was two years ago, when I was in the crushing throes of a depressive episode. I was trapped in a toxic relationship, I had been rejected from every PhD program I had applied to, I was broke as a joke, and I felt like there was no way out. I didn’t want to kill myself, understand. I just wanted to not exist. I didn’t want any of my family members to be in pain, and of course I wanted to be around for my nephews and my friends. But I wanted to take a nice, gigantic nap, in which the pain would be erased and I could wake up happy.
Then, on May 20th, 2014, I found out a close friend of mine from high school and college had died. I had just spoken to her a scant three weeks prior. She had been struggling a lot with personal issues that I will decline to recount here, out of respect for her family, and I had known that, but I just didn’t know what to do, so I kept silent. I regret that move. A lot.
I walked outside after I found out. It was an absolutely gorgeous spring day, and the blossoms on the trees in my complex were in full bloom. The light was coming through the trees. I looked out into the sun, into the clear blue sky, and felt something shift in my brain. I don’t want to be like this anymore. I want to be happy.
After that day, I started really talking more in therapy. I just felt this burst of desperation, all pinning back to that original discovery. I don’t want to be like this anymore. But it wasn’t until I was put on medication, and ended that toxic relationship, that I finally rediscovered what it means to be actually happy. Not only happy, but okay.
And now, I’m two years out from that place, and a year out from the worst breakup of my life, and I am the happiest, most peaceful, and most me I’ve ever been. I’m even running three times a week, and I’m SINGING IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, something I thought I would never do again.
But I still have my moments of crushing weight. This past week I auditioned for a musical and didn’t do my absolute best at the audition, and I beat myself up for two hours afterward. It all turned out okay, but that tendency – to self-flagellate because I didn’t perform with Cylon-like precision – is still there. I just have the tools to navigate it.
I’ve been friends with many people with depression. I’ve even been in love with someone who probably has depression. And there have been times when people have said to me about these individuals, “I think they’re just beyond help.” That kind of language is dangerous. Sure, they’re beyond your help. But they aren’t beyond all help, and to prescribe someone as to be just so beyond any type of assistance or empathy or basic human decency? You might as well give them a loaded gun and tell them they’d be better off with a hole in their head.
I got better, and am symptom free today, because there were people in my life who gave a shit and medication that tranquilized my adrenaline so I can function without f. There are so many out there who don’t have that luxury. Maybe the blessing here is that now, everyone is seeing this writer for what she truly is. I can only hope she never goes through the kind of mental and emotional struggle her friend did, and that she takes this experience and develops a modicum of empathy. As for me? I will never, ever pitch to xoJane, and I encourage all of you to do the same.
And to anyone reading this that might be struggling with depression or mental illness – you are not alone. I see you. I hear you. If you are having suicide ideation, please call the Suicide Hotline – 1 (800) 273-8255. They’re open 24/7.
Some more good pieces about this whole topic – Ijeoma Oluo at The Establishment wrote a breathtaking piece about mental illness and her son.