There is an archetype in pop culture of the sad girl.
She is very thin. She dresses in all black, maybe, or loose shirts and peasant skirts. In books, she often eats very little, if at all. She’ll curl up with books and tea and never answer the phone. Maybe she’ll post artsy pictures on Instagram, and boys will stop her in the coffee shop to talk to her. Actually, they’ll stop her everywhere. She’ll be crying into her black coffee that she can’t choke down while wearing clothes that are too big for her and look up and see her savior staring down at her. She just needs someone else to point out how beautiful she really is, to tell her that its okay if she cries at the drop of a hat, that she’s perfect just the …sad… way she is.
This isn’t normally how it works.
When I was diagnosed with depression at 21 years old, a few things went through my head.
One of those things was that maybe the romantic notion described above was me. Maybe I was supposed to be one of those super thin girls who kind of wandered around and cried and got attention regardless. Maybe I was supposed to sit in bookstores and wait for people to come to me, to tell me to stop being so sad. Maybe someone had the power to do that, and once they said it, I would be able to.
Not so much.
First of all, rather than the usual constant crying, I was angry a lot of the time. When your body isn’t working normally due terrible insomnia, and you feel your brain working against every attempt you make to be ‘normal’, it can be very frustrating. I can have a short fuse (its gotten longer with time and practice), but it didn’t take much to set me off because of the stress I was already under. On top of that, I finally came to terms with the fact that my appetite actually increases when I’m under stress/sad, and that people usually backed off at my attitude instead of trying to understand it. It was like I was bad at being depressed. Since I already had an impressive list of things I didn’t think I was any good at, this idea was just the icing on top of a sad, falling apart cake.
The notion that people will come up to you when you’re out if you’re the right kind of depressed is particularly poignant for me. I’ve always found release in bookstores and libraries. I literally feel a sense of sanctuary in them. Sitting around in them has always been a source of comfort.
So naturally, I’ve had breakdowns in them before.
I’ve ordered my coffee and paid for a book with tears in my eyes. I’ve panicked on the line and put my stuff down and gotten the hell out of there because I felt trapped inside myself. I’ve sat well past the cup of coffee, reading my 3rd book, with not so much as an employee asking if I needed anything (and they meant another coffee, not a free therapy session or to make me feel mentally sound).
The time that always comes to mind when this type of thing is brought up is the time I sat outside on my college campus, on a beautiful, beautiful day, and cried.Hysterically. In public. The details of why are a little fuzzy now, but crying in public is not my thing on a normal day, at all. Lo and behold, a boy actually did come up to me! He sat with me for a few minutes and he even calmed me down. But that was because he was a good person who saw someone in trouble. It wasn’t because I was beautiful, or he wanted to date me. I can guarantee my sadness was not a turn-on. If it is, that’s sick, frankly. Not something to strive for.
I’ve had several experiences like this one and I am so thankful for them, simply for a well-timed reminder that there are good people and things in the world. A bookstore employee once gave me a coffee on her, professors have told me it’s okay to hand something in late when things have been rough. But these things didn’t happen because I was romanticized in their heads. And they didn’t happen every time I left the house sad or handed in a paper late.
It’s strange when I tell people that I have depression (not that I used to make it a point to tell too many people… well, hi, Internet) because I’ve seen multiple reactions. At this point, I’m recovered enough that most people are surprised. But in the past, I’ve seen people mentally back away slowly, as though they’ll catch it. I’ve seen people light up because they know someone else who has it! Or because they’re open-minded enough to know that we all have issues and it doesn’t really faze them. Those are the people I’m the most grateful for.
I have never told someone I had chronic depression and been asked out on a date immediately afterwards. I did date a few people when I was at my worst and to this day I cringe at the thought of certain things I said or did both in an attempt to hide and because I didn’t have good outlets.
I said above that I’m recovered. This is because, through therapy, getting to know myself, and working fucking HARD, I am able to have a better grip on my feelings.
There is beauty in the breakdown because once you’ve broken down, you can rebuild. If you hit rock bottom, your only choice is to make it better and work your way up again. People might say “Why hit rock bottom in the first place?” Truthfully, it’s not always as easy to avoid as one may think, and it’s not always as scary, either. That’s why things like interventions/etc exist. People don’t always know when they’re at their worst (I certainly didn’t at times).
Sadness is not beautiful. Depression is not beautiful. But there is something beautiful about working on your problems. On yourself. Don’t wait for the guy at the coffee shop to do it for you. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you its okay when you’re constantly miserable. You can be happy. You deserve to be happy. And I know you can get there.