Nov 19, 2012

Disspelling ideas about depression, anorexia and other issues teens face.

A few weeks ago, I put up a post recommending some emotionally volatile contemporaries. Fellow YAcker and friend Laura commented:

I love Laura, and I don't hold this comment against her in any way. But her comment about what Wintergirls came across to her comes from an ideology fervently raging in our society, and it's one I want to shut down now.

I will preface this by saying this was post was prompted by my hypersensitivity to critiques of Wintergirls; it's the book that saved my best friend's life.

Depression, especially among teenagers, is something that is often belittled or ignored. It's seen as senseless or something easily controlled, or as something people lie about or do just to get attention.

Depression and other disorders are serious issues that teenagers have no control over.

Many people follow what Laura put that depression, anorexia and other issues are just people feeling sorry for themselves. Yes. That is part of what these issues are. But it's a pity that they have no control over and often don't want people to notice; it's internalized. There's a difference between somebody being an asshole and wanting attention and somebody with a disorder.

Often times, those with depression try not to draw attention to it. They're happy and bubbly in public, and you wouldn't be able to tell by talking to them that they're upset. They do their best to hide their symptoms, often because they don't feel like they're good enough to share them with the people around them.

The fact that they're often told that they're not feeling what they know they're feeling probably doesn't help.

The same applies to anorexia and eating disorders. It's something that's cleverly hidden and that they don't want attention drawn to; often it's triggered by something in their past and society's standards. The dysmorphia, or the feeling that some part of their body is flawed and needs to be fixed, makes them feel uncomfortable and unhappy in their own skin.

None of this is something that they control. Nobody chooses to be upset or to hate themselves.

The portrayal of this in young adult literature acts is constantly teetering. It can capture the feelings and how it is something that is fought against on a daily basis. It can victim-blame and say that it's entirely their fault for something completely out of the disorder.

I'm taking some time this week to focus on that issue; my friend Becky will be coming by to talk about various issues and why they're important, and other bloggers and authors will be coming in to talk about books and experiences and mental illnesses in general.

Hopefully this will help dispel some ideas about depression and mental illnesses.

And remember, if you are struggling: this is not your fault, and you are not alone.

"Depression is humiliating. It turns intelligent, kind people into zombies who can’t wash a dish or change their socks. It affects the ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your children, your lifelong passions, your relative good fortune. It scoops out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable sludge that finds no pleasure, no delight, no point in anything outside of bed. You alienate your friends because you can’t comport yourself socially, you risk your job because you can’t concentrate, you live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. You become pathetic and you know it. And you have no capacity to stop the downward plunge. You have no perspective, no emotional reserves, no faith that it will get better. So you feel guilty and ashamed of your inability to deal with life like a regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation. If you’ve never been depressed, thank your lucky stars and back off the folks who take a pill so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over an averagely turbulent normal life.

It’s not an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. At all. If you and your loved ones have been spared, every blessing to you. If depression has taken root in you or your loved ones, every blessing to you, too. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It runs in families, it ruins families. You cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy, to show up to work, to make a dentist appointment, to pay bills, to walk your dog, to return library books on time, to keep enough toilet paper on hand, when you are exerting most of your capacity on trying not to kill yourself. Depression is real. Just because you’ve never had it doesn’t make it imaginary. Compassion is also real. And a depressed person may cling desperately to it until they are out of the woods and they may remember your compassion for the rest of their lives as a force greater than their depression. Have a heart. Judge not lest ye be judged." [x]

If you're interested in reading books about these issues, Teen Librarian Toolbox has concocted a list of ten books dealing with mental illness. Fiction Folio wrote a review of Freaks Like Us that deals with the stigmas surrounding mental illness.


  1. Great post, and that quote (in green) is really, really powerful.

  2. So I wrote a comment, but it got really long and too personal, so, take two: Great post.

    I agree with pretty much everything you said (especially the part about hiding the problems - I never wanted attention, even when I was at rock bottom I still faked a smile and everyone was totally oblivious to the fact I wasn't okay).

    There's so many misconceptions about these sorts of things that make me really angry (another one: that it's "just a phase" - no, it's not, I'm in my 20's and I'm still not totally "better." It's something a lot of people struggle with their whole lives and even when things are better, there's still times when you feel that way again, still things that can trigger it).

  3. WINTERGIRLS is a surprise all-time favorite of mine. I don't belittle those going through depression, anorexia, drug addiction, etc, but I don't go into books about characters going through those things excited to read them.

    Laurie Halse Anderson had me at SPEAK, but she won my undying admiration with WINTERGIRLS...the voice of that character is just beyond amazing.

  4. Great post - Wintergirls was stunning, as was Deborah Hautzig's Second Star To The Right which also centres on a girl with an eating disorder. I think hard-hitting contemporary is hugely important and while they're often not reads I particularly 'enjoy', the best of these books are massively powerful.

  5. Wonderful post, and that quote is amazing. Spot on.

  6. I love that there are books like this out there in the world, and I sincerely hope that they wind up in the hands of people who need them. Wintergirls was a hard book to read but I recommended it to multiple students who then passed it along and talked about it. Fabulous.

  7. I actively avoid books in this sub-genre because I always find them too painful to read. I am very sensitive and critical about if a book is being "true to life" too. For example, I've read some pretty hokey descriptions of psychiatric hospitals, and the lack of research and relying on cliched beliefs can put an author on a mental "don't want to read anything else by them" list.

    Anyway, it's a hot topic for me (maybe one day I'll put it out there as to why), but I like the concept for this set of posts and dispelling some of the stigma.

  8. This was a really poweful post. I never really thought about people with depression this way, so thank you for writing this.

  9. This is a great post. I had depression for most of my teenage years but nobody seemed to notice so I kept telling myself to just get better and that it wasn't a real problem anyway. It didn't help that I lived in a community that basically didn't believe in depression. In my town, if you were sad then you'd better start praying because medicine certainly isn't the answer.
    I've only just gotten help in the past year, but I'm really happy I did. If I'd stopped ignoring it sooner I would have had a lot more years of happiness.

  10. I wish there were a Tumblr "like" button for this post, because clicking on a heart would be an accurate representation of how this post makes me feel. (Thanks, Tumblr, for owning my online existence.)

  11. The thing about this post is it is almost the same for anxiety. It is difficult to even go out to dinner.. I just want to hide in my closet from the world when I am having an episode. Everyone asks me what are you so nervous about and there is nothing to say to them because I don't even know. I have anxiety. It took me years to not be embarrassed to say that.


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