Yes, I’m writing another one of these depression articles, and no, I’m actually doing fine right now. Thank you for asking. Although if you know what I’m talking about when I say “Amanda Lauren,” “xoJane,” or “Blessing,” you’d have good reason to believe otherwise.
Last week, the online woman’s magazine xoJane published an article titled “My Former Friend’s Death Was A Blessing,” by the aforementioned Amanda Lauren. The article’s not available anymore; the editors replaced the piece with an apology. But not before The Wayback Machine saved the article, which is linked here for your convenience. Many people on Twitter discourage the viewing of this article at all because it’s triggering and reinforces the stigmas surrounding mental health in American culture. It’s ok if you don’t want to click on that link. Speaking for myself, I’d say that Lauren’s thinkpiece (appropriately tagged as an “unpopular opinion”) is worth a read, because it represents the mindset of one of the shallowest people you’ll ever find. Here’s what the article’s about: the author admits she “feel[s] it is a blessing when someone dies young.” In particular, she’s talking about a former friend who drowned herself in a bathtub. Why was it good that Leah— the false name given for the friend— died? Because mental illness had taken over her life, in the form of a) having a filthy apartment, b) not having a dating life, c) trying to hook up with someone the author had a crush on, d) quitting the job that the author gave her, e) struggling with weight, f) being a cam girl, and g) posting personal information about the author online. These things were enough to make the author of this article say, “her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was.” The author claims that she wrote the essay to bring the plight of the mentally ill to attention. But in reading the article, the only plight she seems to be talking about is the plight of the mentally ill on her own life.
Now, you’re probably here to listen to me talk about why this essay and this writer are so terrible. Similar sentiments can be found here, here, and here. Those response pieces capture rage. I have little of that to give. I’m mostly weary, that that’s because of an uncomfortable truth those response pieces are avoiding.
See, those response pieces will tell you that Amanda Lauren is perpetuating mental health myths dangerous to those suffering from those conditions, as well as being just plain wrong on many accounts. And there is an element of truth to that. But… well…
All right, let me back up for a bit. Among the many complaints levied at Amanda Lauren, one of them was that she’s shit at writing. And while her article is comparable to a high schooler’s journal entry, I don’t think that that criticism is entirely fair. She is self-aware. “It’s hard to share my thoughts… and not judge myself on some level for exploiting an awful situation,” she says near the beginning. Remember that quote about Leah’s life being a tragedy? She pre-empts that sentence by stating, “It sounds horrible to say…” Lauren knew she was dipping her toe in sensitive waters. And that knowledge did jack shit for her credibility. No one bought the idea that she was aware of the terrible things she was saying. I have a feeling that the same fate might befall me. But, unlike Lauren, I will not act all shocked and be like, “Oh no, I really did this to raise awareness of mental illnesses!” What I’m saying will upset you at first, but it needs to be said.
What Amanda Lauren says about people who have a mental illness being burdens is not true. The fact that people like Lauren exist, however, is true.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to know that you are not a burden. And that’s a true statement regardless of what others believe. But there will be people that do believe that lie. Many mental health activists are discouraging people from reading the article, lest they think others don’t want them around. And to be honest (even thought that’s all I ever have been)? I wish we could turn back time and live like that. But the seal is broken. Amanda Laurens exist in the world. I have no doubt that there are people in my social circle that think I’m better off dead. Thankfully, I’m certain none of the really important people (therapist, family, close friends) think that. But the rude guy at my high school lunch table that garnished cynicism on everything he saw like it was salt? The old school, wandering preacher who believes in heaven and believes the modern world has been overrun by the forces of hell? I’m connected to them on Facebook (for the record, I have a hard time unfriending people on there). They might look at my blog any day and think “Still in college at 23 pursuing one major and no minors? Obese? No love life, not even a history of one? Anxiety and depression… of course this kid would be better off dead.”
I might not even need evidence to believe this kind of thing. One of my bartending coworkers gets easily upset at people who don’t follow his orders and “lie” to him. If you were to ask him, he’d likely say that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Judging by his actions, I’d say he doesn’t suffer anyone gladly. He doesn’t know that I have depression, and he already thinks I’m a burden. He doesn’t have to say it for me to think it. Hell, that doesn’t even have to be true for me to think it. My head does most of the work.
Remember one of my earlier posts on depression this year, where I talked about codename Hamlet (also: Hamlet’s doing better now! Yay!) and how I couldn’t help him with his depression? Although I never saw Hamlet as a burden, the relatives of Hamlet that kept pushing me to help him clearly did. Ultimately, their anxieties and their own selfish beliefs did not help Hamlet get to this better portion of his life. He’s the one that did that.
And that’s part of my point. No one gets to decide your value. Not even you at your darkest moment can do that. No one, from your sad thoughts to your suicidal thoughts, from the bully coworkers to the crazy preachers, can rob you of the innate dignity you possess. You will meet people like Amanda Lauren, even if you don’t know it. Denying their existence is more than pointless, it’s counterproductive. But it’s within your power, no matter where you are in life, to acknowledge that you do not need anyone’s opinion or respect to deserve life. You deserve it simply because you’re you. You are not worthless. And the people who matter in your life already know that.
I wouldn’t even call Amanda Lauren worthless. I think she’s struggling with complex emotions that she’s not equipped to deal with, and this interview confirms that. Her battle is between her limited viewpoint and that terrible old chestnut “She’s in a happier place now.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s dealing with a lot of pain under the surface, especially now that she revealed a rather ugly side to herself to the entire world. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to take on her pain as your own. The people who think you’re a burden are not just wrong, they’re wrong on a level that must be rejected clearly and decisively. It won’t be easy. But those ideas must be faced head-on. Free yourself from the mindset that depends on other people’s opinions, and you’ll wonder why you feared them in the first place.