You’ve probably heard of the now infamous XO Jane article where one woman essentially shamed her former friend, “Leah,”for struggling with mental illness until she hit her head and drowned in her own bathtub, concluding that Leah was better off dead because her life was a tragedy that would never get better. I do not advise reading it, especially if you suffer from mental illness. It is literally one of the most heartless rags I have ever come across, confirming every fear I have about how people see me: that I’m a burden on everyone, that my life is a tragedy, that I’m better off dead because nothing will get better and I’m just postponing the inevitable.
To those not in the know (probably because I never talked about it much because of the stigma around illness), I suffer from anxiety and depression. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but the three years after I received my Bachelors were probably the lowest I’ve ever felt. I still went to work, still worked hard, still pretended to be happy even though I felt intense shame for not being able to find a “after-college job” in my field. I gave up on finding an “after-college job,” since I felt like all I deserved was working at a dead-end job. I barely wrote. I felt worthless. I felt like a failure. I felt like a burden on my family since I was still living at home. I had fantasies of what it would feel like if my heart stopped and I couldn’t breathe. I hesitate to call them suicidal fantasies because I wasn’t planning on killing myself, but I sure as shit wouldn’t have minded if I just died because I couldn’t get it together after college. All that work in high school and college and I ended up failing in life anyway.
If depression is what made me give up, anxiety is what stopped me from trying again. Job searching and interviewing is hell, because you’re thinking “oh shit I’m not good enough for this if I apply then they’re just going to reject me so why even try.” Going to karate classes was a challenge not only because of time and distance, but I’d talk myself out of going because I wasn’t able to go for a week or two and everyone would hate me and think I was lazy. Even when I would force myself to go to karate and be proven wrong, the same old cycle continued.
I’m in a much, much better place now than I was a few years ago. About two years ago I recognized certain patterns in my thought process, and after some research I realized that I suffered from anxiety and depression. I don’t have it with me now but I drew a little brainstorm about the cyclical nature of my depression, and this helped me feel more in control. I’ve since developed coping mechanisms for my anxiety and depression that I’m still tweaking.
Another big step for me was when I was accepted at SFSU for a MA in English (instead of the MFA) and was laid off just a week before I had to move my shit 500 miles away from home. I also got a job as a reading/writing/study skill tutor at the beginning of this year, and I can’t even begin to describe how rewarding it is for me. Better yet, I’m writing and trying to embrace failure even though I’m terrified of it. I was rejected by one reading only to be accepted by another that actually paid me! I also have a wee nephew to spoil. Things are looking pretty good!
I’m not here to give you the tired “it gets better” line. Yeah, things can get better, but things can also get worse. Even though my anxiety and depression is MUCH better than it was before, it’s still something I’m struggling with and I’ve finally accepted may need professional help with. So, next semester I’m going to be using the school’s free therapists to help manage the intensified anxiety I will no doubt have as I work on my thesis novel and applications for my MFA. There is a very real chance that my thesis novel won’t be up to snuff or I won’t be accepted at any MFAs. What do I do then? I could very well find myself in a similar rut I was before.
I say “similar” and not “same” rut because if I end up in a rut, it’ll be for different reasons. If I do get that low again, I just have to hope that I’ll use previous experiences and coping mechanism to adapt and get myself out. Who knows?
I think this is the main thing that bothered me so much about that XO Jane article. The author was so quick to just brush off Leah’s life as ” a tragedy,” and that’s why she didn’t consider Leah’s death a tragedy. Man, all our lives are fucking tragedies one way or another, with mini and macro ups and downs. I consider it a fucking tragedy that the author judged so much of the end of Leah’s life based on Facebook posts, motherfucking Facebook posts of a woman surviving with her mental illness and the stigma that goes with it.
It is a tragedy that Leah died so young. We’ll never know what kind of person she could have been in five, ten, fifteen, or fifty years. We can guess about our future, but it is never set in stone. The way I look at it, there’s no more guessing about what could be when you’re dead, and it’s this line of thinking that’s helped me hang on at my lowest point.
And now that you’ve slogged through this, here’s your reward of songs that have also kept my spirits up when I’ve felt so down: