I’m braiding the hair of a woman who disinvited me from her wedding when it occurs to me I’m not good at boundaries. She’s seated on a twin bed with a white, raised-pattern coverlet while I stand behind her, thin blond hair limp in my outstretched fingers. The chatter from our mutual group of friends, gathered to celebrate a different marriage, feels dampened by fog, muted by uncertainty and the weight of things left unsaid.
I’m methodically fashioning an elaborate Elsa braid that twines about her left shoulder when I remember the way she informed me, over the phone, that I was an angry drunk she’d prefer didn’t attend her nuptials. I cried for days afterward, hiccuping and wondering how many other friends would abandon me to my own miserable existence, self-righteous in the belief they’d finally done something to get through to me.
The braid looks lovely when I’m finished, but my hands are shaking as I retire to the restroom in order to complete my own transformation before the ceremony. It is an unexpectedly heavy burden for me to practice this fakery, this polite civility, particularly when I have been actively trying my best to break the habit of lying by smiling.
Other friends eye us with trepidation, worried, perhaps, that I’ll cause a scene after a few cocktails. The open bar is calling me like a goddamn Tito’s-and-soda-slugging siren.
I don’t cause a scene, for the record. The wedding is lovely, I am moderately well behaved... not myself. The former friend’s braid falls out at some point much later in the evening while she is posing for the prop-heavy photo booth with a royal blue boa around her neck and a miniature lampshade atop her head.
This failed friendship is only one of many things to crumble under the weight of a singular post in which I admitted to the unbearable crime of contemplating suicide.
Also my kokedama moss ball is now dead.
The decision to let others in on your personal pain isn’t done without a shit ton of overanalyzation—it’s the culmination of months or years or lifetimes spent feeling alone, carefully weighing the pros and cons of acknowledging you’re half Eeyore.
And sometimes it’s a cry for help, but more often than not, it’s just a desperate attempt to feel understood. Unless someone specifically asks, “I’m feeling down, what can I do to help myself feel better?” the audience is being entrusted with a secret, not burdened with finding a cure.
The annoyingly true thing about confessing to severe depression is that when your charlatanism is finally exposed, your motives for doing so are, hysterically—literally laugh-crying at this— viewed with suspicion. It is incredibly frustrating to find yourself on the receiving end of skepticism directly after you have finally chosen the path of unflinching honesty.
You are confronted by people whose deep, loving wells of concern for you allow them to believe they’re entitled to say and do whatever they think is in your best interest. They misguidedly believe their actions, no matter how painful or rash, are forgivable in the face of their fear for your safety. I did what I thought best to make sure you were OK.
But that’s not exactly true. The rules governing the boundaries of relationships don’t change when someone admits they’re having trouble just surviving. Thinking life would be so much easier if it was over doesn’t revoke one’s autonomy. I was so scared for you! You know what else is scary? Vulnerability! Being truthful about painful things! Writing a public post letting people know you are damaged goods and also part stuffed donkey.
Which is what makes it so goddamn infuriating when your mindfulness is met with responses like, “Have you tried exercising more? What about a sun lamp? What about green juice? Vitamins? Acupuncture? Have you consulted a psychic? Have you tried rebooting? What about drinking from the cup backwards? Can you just cut off your head, stuff it with garlic and then light it on fire?”
Depression is not a state of being that responds well to unsolicited advice, or we’d all be marathon runners and vegetarians with inimitable senses of self. Plus, I already tried all of those, and I’m still a vampire.
I’m staring at a thing I’ve drawn and I don’t know what it is. It’s fat and slithery and kind of squat. Built like a brick shit house, my mother would say, laughing at her own salty daring. They don’t raise you to swear in the Midwest.
The thing has eyes, but the rest of it isn’t even remotely human. It’s wearing a party hat, the kind of conical attachment mostly reserved for office parties at which you’re forced to laugh at the jokes of people you don’t particularly like.
It’s only Day Two of me trying to draw my depression, something I must have read about in a blog and idiotically tried to replicate, but after publishing this hideous creature holding a red balloon, I realize it’s the wrong form of self-treatment. I’m not a great artist and the thought of having to come up with 28 more days of this shit is making me anxious as hell.
I do notice something, though. People are more comfortable with these mediocre brush pen doodles than my actual truth. There are more likes and retweets and positive responses to this ugly little monster than to the harsh reality of me saying I’d saved my own life by doing the smart thing and asking for help.
This is depressing.
If you’re thinking about coming clean to your loved ones and friends about a mental illness, be prepared for an aggressive backlash. Tell yourself, as you’ve likely done for the majority of your illness, that people are flawed, that you are flawed, but that you nonetheless deserve respect and autonomy.
Remind yourself of a few simple things before you commit to outing yourself as a battered, broken human:
- You are not responsible for educating others on how to deal with their own emotions.
- Doing any kind of artsy shit for 30 days in a row is HARD. Don’t overcommit yourself for the sake of a trend.
- You shouldn’t feel guilty about being honest, even if your honesty makes others afraid and angry and hurt on your behalf.
- Vampires are depressed which is why they like Kristin Stewart so much.
- Construct boundaries that allow you to continue living honestly for yourself rather than simply enduring everyone else’s recipes for happiness.
- Your friends and family love you, but they don’t know what’s best for you.
- Drinking backwards from a cup is the only known way to cure hiccups.
I’m rooting for you, for all of us.