Depression is all the rage these days.
With Robin Williams‘ suicide comes a massive tidal wave of confessionals. Lots of reporters have revealed their personal woes on Twitter. In fact, a bunch of BuzzFeed employees spilled their guts for a feature on personal experiences with depression. Unsurprisingly, theirs is in listicle form: “20 Stories of Depression And Living Our Lives.” The original url reads: “Stories of Depression That Will Inspire You.” Seriously. Inspire me? This depresses me. But just in case we weren’t sure what depression is all about, Slate‘s Dave Weigel, after being criticized for his cold-hearted take on how unfunny Robin Williams was at political humor, told us all about this trip to the mental hospital while in college.
At the risk of sounding insensitive (spoiler alert: I am going to sound really insensitive), please stop with the depression confessionals and find some close friends. Better yet, get off Twitter and go have dinner with one of these close friends you’re going to make and tell them all about your depression. I’m not even joking. Tell three people you trust and care about what’s really going on with you. Better still, go to lunch and leave your iPhone or BlackBerry in your computer bag. In fact, leave your fucking ugly laptop bag at home. In fact, follow Arianna Huffington‘s advice and get seven hours of sleep out of the vicinity of your gadgets.
I can’t stand all the mass grieving and gut-spilling when what is called for is true connection between human beings: we know what this is, we’re just not doing it very well. And no, “friends” on Twitter or Facebook are not real friends. People who “like” your stories or “favorite” your tweets are not actual close relationships. Some late-night stranger we chat with on Twitter may be mildly or even extremely amusing for 10 minutes. But is it is deeply satisfying? Of course not. Do we really need to be told this?
But let’s get back to Weigel’s trip to the mental hospital. “I’ve been medicated for depression since 2001,” he writes. “In 2002, after a particularly low episode, I was taken in by campus police that marked me as a risk for self-harm. I then voluntarily checked myself into a mental hospital.”
He goes on in great detail explaining what depression feels like, the lies it tells you, the awful ways it makes you feel about yourself. Some Washington journos patted him on the back for his depression confessional (i.e. not his actual back, but they retweeted him with high praise). If you don’t relate to Weigel’s confessional, there’s always American Spectator contributor John Tabin, who described how suicidal he was five years ago as the result of type 2 bipolar disorder.
Sounds like Tabin also spent time in a mental hospital. “While mental hospitals are never fun, if you’ve had a bad experience on a worse-than-useless psych ward, I promise there’s a better one,” he writes. “Do some research. It’s terrifying to voluntarily surrender your liberty, but it’s worth it.”
This is horrible and I’m sorry Weigel and Tabin have endured these mental issues. And good for them for having the presence of mind to check themselves in when they knew they needed help.
But no, I really didn’t want to know all this. I didn’t want these quick, attention span-less hits about their depression.
After Politico‘s Glenn Thrush declared on Twitter that Robin Williams wasn’t at the top of his bucket grieving list, he immediately landed in a take-down story on Mediaite and was called a “total dick” by Matthew Keys, that actual dick who used to work for Reuters and got in hot water for allegedly helping hackers break into the LAT‘s website. Specifically, Thrush wrote, “Feel very bad about Robin Williams. But he’s not exactly at the top of my feel-bad-about-shit-going-wrong-in-the-world list…sorry.” I don’t know Thrush well enough to know if he’s a dick (I met him once, briefly at a BuzzFeed party), but he’s not a dick for not feeling the grief some other journalists appear to have for Williams’ passing.
To be sure, I’m not saying personal experiences about difficult things should never be written about. The Atlantic‘s Scott Stossel wrote My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind, a meaningful 416-page book chronicling his experiences with severe anxiety and a long list of bizarre-sounding phobias. Yes, he, too, has been to the mental hospital. And he even dared to go on The Colbert Report to talk about his issues – I can’t even begin to fathom how he did this. The Atlantic ran a lengthy excerpt of his delightful, insightful writing and we got a good glimpse of what he deals with on a daily basis. It was deeply touching and sometimes dark and hilarious.
“I also suffer from a number of specific fears and phobias, in addition to my public-speaking phobia. To name a few: enclosed spaces (claustrophobia); heights (acrophobia); fainting (asthenophobia); being trapped far from home (a species of agoraphobia); germs (bacillophobia); cheese (turophobia); flying (aerophobia); vomiting (emetophobia); and, naturally, vomiting while flying (aeronausiphobia).”
Somehow I don’t mind knowing that Stossel fears cheese. The larger point is Stossel didn’t write it on a whim because Robin Williams committed suicide and he felt everyone should know what he‘s been through. He sat down and gave it a great deal of thought and opened himself up to the world.
Now how about those friendships?