Keeping Up Appearances

Sometimes I just want permission to fall apart. So many times I’ve been in  public place or just in the presence of others and I experience some sort of symptom and I just want to be able to give into that feeling and then let it pass instead of tucking it tightly into my abdomen and having it flush across my cheeks. I come across as high functioning, I’m able to leave the house, I look presentable, I am able to go to school and I get good grades. Even though I’m fairly open about my mental health and some people in my social circles are aware of it, they don’t believe that it manifests into unpleasant symptoms and affects my every day existence. But even though I look functioning I often don’t feel like it.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort every single day to appear the way I do. To force myself to interact with other people, to speak, to breathe normally, to keep up these appearances. Once in a while I just want to be able to give in and be angry or shake or cry or seclude myself or not speak and not have to answer any questions about it. I don’t want to have to fold everything and tuck it into my pocket, only able to unwrap it in moments alone where it has twisted and grown and gained enough weight to sit on my chest and suffocate me. I want it to be okay that I am sick and that that has real life physical and mental symptoms. And if people want to dismiss me as the crazy girl that’s fine because in this stigmatized world I am and it is getting harder and harder to pretend to be anyone else.

Do No Harm: Depicting Honest Stories About Mental Health

With the controversial success of 13 Reasons Why and the release of a trailer for a new Netflix film To The Bone, I’ve been seeing a lot of conversation on social media. Some, taking what they have seen depicted in the trailer for To The Bone and also assuming the rest of the tone of the movie, have expressed disgust at the romanticization of ED. Others have praised having their story told in popular media. One thing is clear, people are demanding more representations of their experiences with mental illnesses and they are not going to settle for the stereotypical or stigmatized depictions of the past. 

But how do these stories get told in an honest way without causing harm to the viewers? How do we avoid romanticizing these conditions, showing the real, the ugly and the difficult symptoms and circumstances without causing the viewer trauma and giving them a guidebook for harming themselves?

There are ways, and directors, producers, showrunners, and actors have a duty to abide by it. I have no psychological training, just years of living with mental illness, and as a ravenous consumer of media and a mental health advocate. Here are my suggestions for responsible mental health story telling.

1. Trigger warnings

“Trigger” has been a hot button word as of late and surrounding it there are a lot of misconceptions and stigmatization. Trigger warnings are for those with PTSD, panic disorders, experiences with trauma, etc to warn them about content that could potentially cause a severely unpleasant response including panic attacks and flashbacks to trauma.  They are not just so people can avoid feeling “uncomfy” they are for people who have psychological conditions and can experience a great deal of harm when they are subjected to traumatic images without warning. Trigger warning and not for storytellers to slap on and then abdicate themselves of all responsibility for their content. They are the first step in ensuring that those that consume their stories don’t experience undue trauma. When viewers are properly warned about the nature of the content, they can then make a decision for themselves whether to view the program or not but they need that opportunity to brace themselves and be aware rather than unintentionally witnessing something traumatic.

2. No graphic depictions

This is something that was urged of the creators of 13 Reasons Why and yet completely ignored by them. There is no reason EVER to show someone dying by suicide. EVER. There really isn’t a reason to show someone self harming either. I know creators live for the drama but showing these acts are irresponsible. During times when I’ve been suicidal or self harming, I consumed any media that I could find that showed and spoke about such things, collecting the ideas to use on myself. There has already been a death inspired by 13RW. Though it takes a little more effort, there are ways for stories to include suicide and self harm without being overtly damaging. Degrassi did this perfectly with the death of Cam Saunders, never showing the dead body and never even mentioning the the manner in which he died. With moving dialogue, a thoroughly constructed plot leading up to his death, and a focus on the emotional impact after, the story was conveyed with the respect that it deserved. Leave the blood and gore for the horror movies and address suicide and self harm with a lack of graphic details.

3.Diverse stories

Both 13RW and To The Bone depict the stories of pretty young white girls. Mental illnesses affect all populations without discrimination, anyone is subject to have them but disadvantaged groups are more vulnerable. Though mental health problems can be caused by genetics, they are also influenced by oppression and social hardships. The main characters in these Netflix shows feed into stereotypes and romanticization. The stereotypical image of someone with an eating disorder is a young, thin, white woman despite it affecting men, POC, and those of all shapes and sizes. The pretty white woman is also frail and vulnerable, just waiting for a fumbling, kind heartened boy to swoop in and save her from all of her troubles.

Not only are diverse populations affected by mental illnesses, mental illnesses themselves are diverse. There are more mental illnesses than just depression and for every mental illness there are a wide variety of symptoms that manifest themselves differently in everyone. As more stories address mental illness, it is important that the same stories are not been told again and again as that does not represent the truly varied experience of mental health.

4.No romanticization

MENTAL ILLNESSES ARE NOT BEAUTIFULLY TRAGIC, THEY ARE PAINFUL AND HARD AND THEY SUCK. Teenagers can’t be told that their legacy is going to live on forever in the angst of some teenage boy or that dying will exact the most perfect revenge on those who have done them wrong. I have been that kid in high school who fantasized about how my death would finally make my classmates open their eyes and inflict them with guilt for the rest of their lives. It is a toxic thought but rationality isn’t the trademark of those who are suicidal. Stories cannot feed into that thought that dying will fix things. Stories cannot promote the falsehood that all it takes is love to cure someone. If that was the case we would not have a mental health epidemic and we could just buy everyone a puppy who would give them unconditional love and the problem would be solved. Mental illnesses are medical conditions that affect a person’s brain chemistry and cannot be cured by some average-looking white boy thinking that you’re pretty.

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WRONG

5.Leave them with hope

Storytellers love drama and tragedy but with stories about mental illness being difficult enough in the first place, it is important to end them with some glimmer of hope. Mental illnesses can be treated, there is therapy, medications, and self care that can reduce symptoms. There are resources out there that can help . No matter what you’re not alone, even though other people cannot simply “cure” you with your love, talking to others can help. Stories about mental illnesses are important to reduce stigma, and bring about awareness and representation. But even though we have been deprived of these stories for so long, it does not mean that we have to settle for depictions that are inaccurate and harmful. We should expect better from storytellers and they should be considering how to tell their stories honestly but without harm.

Meal Prep For Ur Depressed Ass

The most important mental health lesson that I learnt this year is that in order to see any real improvement to my well being, I have to eat well, sleep properly, and exercise. This is a lot easier said than done but one thing that has helped keep me on track is meal prepping. This is not the easiest thing to do when you are in a low place but if you can spare an hour or two on Sunday, you can get yourself prepped to eat healthily and consistently throughout the week. This isn’t about counting calories or macros, this isn’t gonna cure your depression, and sometimes you are gonna fall back on your regular depression meals (my personal go to’s are wheat thins and peanut butter cups) BUT by making it easier on yourself to put food in your rotting flesh prison, you might just feel a bit better. So here are some of my tips, tricks, and favourite recipes.

BREAKFAST

Overnight oats are a really easy and cost effective breakfast that you can make ahead and eat all week. Basically you take some quick oats (I usually do 1/3 or 1/2 cup) and put equal parts liquid (I use sweetened vanilla almond milk but you could probably use mountain dew and it would work) and then you top with whatever strikes your fancy. I usually use frozen raspberries and chia seeds but you can also use peanut butter, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, bananas, cinnamon, pieces of lint, whatever! Here is a recipe for some fancy sounding varieties http://damndelicious.net/2017/01/26/easy-overnight-oats/.

LUNCH

My go to for lunches are rice or “buddha” bowls. They have the vegetables and ~healthy feel of a salad without the sadness. The basic structure that I follow is a grain (usually rice but sometimes quinoa or noodles) + protein (tofu, chickpeas, or black beans because oh yeah btw I’m a vegetarian) + cooked/roasted vegetables (broccoli, peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini) + a green (spinach, kale, lettuce) + sauce because I don’t want it to taste like shit. These can be a little time consuming but there are some hacks to cut down on time. You can add broccoli, cauliflower, carrots or other veggies into the pot/rice cooker to steam while you make your grain. You can also roast your chickpeas/sweet potatoes/vegetables on the same pan. You also don’t need to make your own sauce, grocery stores have some pretty fun pre-made sauces already (peanut sauce is my fave). And if anything you can always just pour a bunch of sriracha on it and voila you’ve arrived at flavourtown.

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Here are some recipes to get you inspired but don’t feel pressure to be as extra as these pinterest people:  http://damndelicious.net/2014/09/10/easy-burrito-bowls/https://minimalistbaker.com/sweet-potato-chickpea-buddha-bowl/#_a5y_p=3725189, http://www.saltandlavender.com/spicy-chipotle-buddha-bowl-cauliflower-rice/https://www.purewow.com/recipes/egg-and-veggie-breakfast-bowlhttps://wellandfull.com/2016/02/the-vegan-buddha-bowl/http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/2012/08/spicy-peanut-portobello-kale-rice-bowl.html

DINNER

I usually don’t meal prep dinner because that requires more energy and forethought than I can expend. But I do like meals like soups, stews, and pasta that you can cook in abundance and eat all week. Recipes like these are great because they usually utilize canned or frozen vegetables for when going to the grocery store is NOT an option. These are also really great to make a bunch of when you’re in a Good place and then you can freeze them and have them stocked up for when you are in a Not Good place like when pregnant people make a bunch of casseroles before they give birth because let’s be real, depression is as needy and time consuming as an infant. Here are some comforting and cost-effective recipes: https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/italian-orzo-spinach-soup-recipe/https://www.delishknowledge.com/slow-cooker-butter-chickpeas/https://www.budgetbytes.com/2016/03/thai-curry-vegetable-soup/http://www.lecremedelacrumb.com/slow-cooker-enchilada-quinoa/http://www.thegardengrazer.com/2013/03/asian-spaghetti-with-mushrooms-snow.htmlhttps://minimalistbaker.com/sweet-potato-coconut-curry-soup/

SNACKS

If your depression manifests itself like mine, no matter how much you eat, it is never enough to feel the empty void in your life! So I eat a lot of snacks. In the morning I like to grab a portable piece of fruit like a banana or apple. In the afternoon I usually pack vegetables (carrots, cucumber, peppers, cherry tomatoes) because if I’m gonna shove food in my body when it isn’t even hungry, might as well make it healthy! My trick for getting myself excited about vegetables is packing some dill/spinach dip. If hummus or baba ganoush is more your thing, that works too. You could even drench your vegetables in high fructose corn syrup and it would still be healthy BECAUSE VEGETABLES.

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Lots of meal prepping instagrammers are all about hard boiled eggs as snack but if you don’t want to be the weirdo in your office/class eating an egg, trail mix has nuts with similar nutritional values PLUS m&m’s.

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I fully understand that taking care of yourself when you’re depressed can be an insurmountable task. So when you can prep ahead and put a vegetable or two in your body, I hope that these ideas are helpful. And when you can’t even lift your head let alone a fork, I hope that you can be kind and forgiving to yourself.

Sometimes Self Care Sucks

I really love that self care is becoming popular, don’t get me wrong. As it becomes this cute, soft pink aesthetic thing to do, people are more willing to practice self care and self love. But self care can’t all be painting your nails and “binge watching Netflix”. That’s the big phrase now, you see it on self care guides everywhere, your therapist says it, your mom says it. Look, I was binge watching television back when it was called depression And it is great to do nice things for yourself, it is great to take a day off and just relax but relaxation and self care are not the same things. Sometimes self care isn’t just that picture that you instagrammed sitting cross legged in fuzzy socks and drinking tea. Sometimes self care isn’t cute. Especially when you have got a nice ol’ case of depression or *insert any other mental illness here* self care has to be a fight. It has to be you getting your ass out of bed despite every force in the universe cementing your body to it, it has to be shoving stale wheat thins in your mouth because even though you don’t care enough to put food in your body, it needs it. Sometimes self care is getting the fucking assignment in on time because you are in school for a reason and goddamn it if you let your health take that away from you. It is washing dishes, sheets, or your own body after neglecting them and letting the filth grow. Sometimes self care has to be breaking down and asking for help even when it is the last thing that you want to do. Having those days off are great, we all need to have days dedicated to relaxing but no amount of staring at succulents and draping your room in string lights is gonna fix your shit. Sometimes self care isn’t cute but it is crucial that we do it anyway.