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.