Soft Grunge: Mental Illness Is Not a Style

This article was originally published on Everyday Feminism and I use it here with their permission.

 

Millennials have long been accused of being self-absorbed.

The rise of social media enables us to share our thoughts and opinions across multiple platforms within seconds. As we enter adolescence and young adulthood, we experience the typical turbulence associated with coming of age, amplified and echoed through smart phones, tweets, and reblogs.

More than ever, our generation has eagerly embraced what I like to call the “sad chic” mentality to reclaim their alienation.

Just look at popular works like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Skins, Warm Bodies, and Twilight, to name very few.

Everyone worships existentialism as long as it has shiny packaging, with pretty people saying poetic things while a single tear runs down their cheek.

Out of all of the social media sites, Tumblr has capitalized the most on this phenomenon, almost single-handedly spawning the soft grunge trend.

Tumblr can be an excellent resource on many topics – it can change your entire perspective on gender and sexuality in a few weeks! – but I would argue that soft grunge is an unpleasant byproduct.

What is Soft Grunge?

Like the professional I am, I tried to use Urban Dictionary to come up with an exact definition of soft grunge, but all of the explanations were too heavy on sarcasm to make sense.

Coincidentally, they all also referenced Tumblr users, which leads me to believe that Tumblr might actually be the birthplace of soft grunge – or at least its breeding ground.

An example of a soft grunge blog would be a blog that features black and white images of people looking serious or melancholy, usually captioned with masochistic quotes, as well as depictions of pain and harm (like blood and bruises) that are meant to be beautiful in their tragedy.

The quotes that are used, which are often ironically unrelated to the images, promote isolation or negative feelings. Topics of choice include love, being inadequate, or wanting to die.

Soft grunge basically transforms taboo emotions like self-doubt into an aesthetic.

Feelings of worthlessness or disillusionment become synonymous with and indicative of true tortured beauty, as well as intelligence and particularly psychological depth.

Need some examples? Here you go. That’s the #softgrunge tag on Tumblr.

Soft Grunge is Okay, But the Consequences Might Not Be

As a disclaimer, I don’t mean to say that all people who enjoy soft grunge are inherently vapid or willfully scheming to hurt others. I admittedly enjoy the occasional artsy black and white photo!

Whether you’re struggling with a diagnosis or just simply trying to process through a bad day, emotional support and understanding is unfortunately hard to come by, and that camaraderie should be cherished.

Finding community can be a great thing, and I wouldn’t want to tarnish that for anyone. I’m not here to police participation.

Instead, I’m arguing for a consciousness of impact. Someone who is actively involved in any community should be aware of the potentially negative consequences of its ideology.

Certain members of the soft grunge community are propagating the style in extremely problematic ways. It’s that niche that this article is directed towards. My observations are meant to be a wake-up call for some, not a universal condemnation.

Soft Grunge and ‘Performing’ Mental Illness

People mock those who try to imitate the soft grunge lifestyle for their appropriation of music and culture without context, but the appropriation of mental illness is far more troubling.

This is where the commodification and idolization of soft grunge becomes a problem.

It’s okay to feel sad or angry or confused and express those emotions.

It’s not okay to glorify these emotions and perpetuate the idea that constantly feeling negative is somehow glamorous.

Misery doesn’t automatically equate to individuality. Being happy or even ambivalent about life does not make you boring.

You don’t have to be depressed to be beautiful or worthy of someone else’s attention. Hell, you don’t have to be beautiful, period. Beauty should not dictate your social value.

You should never publicize potentially triggering lifestyles simply as a means of self-promotion.

In fairness, you may be one of the bloggers that genuinely has a mental illness. This is directed at the kids who throw around the terms “depression” and “anxiety” every week as shiny new personality add-ons.

If you can selectively channel an emotion at will, it’s not mental illness.

You’re consciously performing a feeling for a deliberately chosen audience to make a desired impression. Genuine mental illness does not work that way.

Think of it like this: You wake up every morning and decide to put clothes on. You choose what you want – hoodie if you want to be cozy, dress and/or tie if you want to be fancy, and whatever shoes are practical or pleasing. At the end of the day, you take them off. That’s a mood, a feeling.

Now imagine that you’re forced to wear an undershirt against your will, as though it’s fused to your skin. On bad days, you despise it, and on good days, you find it annoying at best, but you can never take it off because it’s a part of you.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you want to wear it or what your environment is like or who’s around you.

Regardless of how you or anyone else feels, that fucking undershirt is there to stay, and you have to learn to live with it, even if no one else understands why it’s there. Even if you don’t want to admit that it’s there.

That’s mental illness.

How Soft Grunge Leads to Mental Illness Erasure

This is where the distinction between the soft grunge aesthetic and mental illness community becomes so crucial – because you’re marginalizing the voices and perspectives of people who really do suffer from mental illness.

Worse still, you’re arbitrarily naming yourself their poster child and advertising a candy-coated placebo as their “authentic” experience.

That so-called social anxiety that makes you so dorky and cute and lovable? There’s another person who’s locked themselves in the bathroom because the mere thought of human interaction makes them physically ill.

That picture of a beautiful actress insisting that she has no reason to live? There’s someone debating whether or not it’s worth it to wake up tomorrow.

It also doesn’t help that only impossibly gorgeous people are validated in their sadness.

We need to stop sending the message that you have to be special to be unhappy or unhappy to be special. The belief that chronic emotional instability makes you sexier or more charismatic is ridiculous.

Why would you purposely surround yourself with people who intentionally fixate on cynicism and a culture that thrives on preaching absolute worthlessness?

I’m all for critiquing society and raging against the machine, but not if it involves the asinine adolescent notion that our sense of purpose should go down the toilet if our crush doesn’t like us back.

‘Sad Chic’ Brings Others Down

When you inflame universal insecurities and turn misery into propaganda, it takes on a greater meaning beyond finding a creative outlet for your personal worries.

In effect, you are encouraging unregulated and unhealthy psychological responses because you present emotions as a pendulum and thereby trivialize moderate emotional responses as insignificant.

Soft grunge ideology makes you feel shitty about not feeling shitty enough.

You can’t be sad; you have to be depressed. You can’t be angry; you have to be on the verge of mental collapse. You can’t be bored; you have to be questioning why you exist.

Of course, everything conveniently circles back to fueling more self-doubt and hopelessness.

And you know what? That’s a really fucking terrible mentality.

Sure, growing up sucks. Responsibilities are stressful, the job market is abysmal, and your crush probably isn’t plotting to throw rocks at your window and profess their undying love. The world doesn’t have an answer to our every want and need.

We’re all human.

Things are going to make us upset and piss us off on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean every tiny event has to cause a seismic shift in our outlook.

You feel emotions, and you move on.

I cried last week.

Why?

Because I was saddened by something that won’t matter next year, next month, or even next week. I don’t have to declare myself a lost cause forever to justify gradually processing through a feeling.

Everyone needs to allow themselves a certain flexibility of emotion to properly function in daily life.

Self-doubt and sadness are normal in small doses.

Let go of your fear of being mundane.

You can’t expect each disappointment to serve as a poetic metaphor for your psychological complexity.

Be Critical of Trends

Dealing with your moods in a healthy way might mean admitting to yourself that you’re not the next Marilyn Monroe or Kurt Cobain.

Trust me, I think we all know that those are coping mechanisms no one should strive to emulate.

Sometimes it is possible to separate style from dogma. Dye your hair pink, wear your Nirvana T-shirts and your Doc Martens, whatever. You do you.

But understand one thing: Mental illness is not a style.

Recognize the damage that trends can do to marginalized communities.

People with mental illness have a difficult enough time being heard without you claiming that you’re speaking for them.

Have a little empathy for others that isn’t driven by a personal marketing campaign. Soft grunge needs to get a little softer around the edges.

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There Are So Many People Out There

I went to my psychiatrist to get a paper to school, so I can ask for lower tuition fee and I found there a poster for a website about depressions. I decided to check it, because I want to learn some more information about my disorder and to find some professional staff I could post here, beside of the creations of my malfunctioning brain.

It was a good and also bad decision. Good because there really are useful information for me and also for people outside these problems, bad because the web has a section for personal stories… So many people! I mean literally, so many people asking, if their problems are normal, if this is curable, saying they’re exhausted of all this. It almost made me cry, because I wish I could tell all these people, that there is a chance for them! That what they’re going through is hard and painful, but it doesn’t have to be like that, that they are not weird or broken, because they feel this way. How is it possible that so many people still have to suffer the pain and shame and exhaustion, because there is a lack of information about mental health?! I mean, we can travel to space, we can travel pretty much anywhere anytime around the Earth, yet some teenage girl writes there that when she talks about depression with her parents, her mother laughs and her father thinks she just wants to skip school! It makes me so angry! I was that teenage girl, afraid to tell her parents, afraid to tell my friends, putting up a mask of perfect daughter, perfect student, yet inside suffering terribly, desperately wanting someone to tell me that I’m not making this up, that I’m not alone, that I’m not crazy! Well, when I told my friends, just about five of them actually tried to understand, the rest thought I’m really just seeking attention, so I can understand the girl’s fear. How is it possible that we learn so much about physical health, we know what to eat or don’t, what is healthy, what sports are good and so many stuff, but we don’t learn about mental health?! How how HOW?!?!

Next time someone asks me why I need to “advertise” my depressions, I’ll tell them that THIS is WHY! If I can spread the word about mental disorders to just a hundred people there, most of them my friends on facebook, than I DID SOMETHING! If I can change what just a few people out there think about mental problems, show them that it’s nothing weird or unnatural or laughable or weak or despicable or just bad, then I do a good job! If I change the world just a little little bit, then it’s worth opening up and writing about the darkest thoughts and feelings my mind can produce. Nobody deserves this, NOBODY! I just wish I could hug all these people and tell them that it will get better, tell them, that they are not alone… but I can’t, so this is the least I can do.

Oh Anxiety and Insomnia, Welcome Old Friends

Well, my brain is still on strike and it all still just sucks. I have anxiety attacks at least once a day and for couple of last days, insomnia visited me again. It’s a vicious circle, really. The more tired I am, the more depressed and anxious I’m and the more problems with sleep and everything I have and so on and so on… I try not to take any pills for my anxiety, because I have Rivotril and it can be addictive, so I try not to take it unless it’s really emergency, like I start to shake, being physically sick and all the “great” stuff that go along with that. And people call depressions mental illness, it’s really just a package with everything, sort of all inclusive…

The problems is, I am TIRED! I would like to go to bed, I have to go to work tomorrow! But I know this state, I will lie down and suddenly, all my tiredness will magically go away. And then I sleep badly, I wake up tired and sleep in the afternoon, it’s really like a circle. Right now, I’m trying to get myself sleepy with alcohol, that’s my old friend too… I hope it will work, because I’m tired and tomorrow (today actually) is going to be exhausting. My boyfriend is coming and I need to be nice and happy and just a good girlfriend in a time when I’m a bitch queen from hell. That’s how I describe the times, when I just bark at everyone, when I want everyone to just leave me alone, don’t talk to me, don’t expect anything, just leave me be. But the world goes on and it wants me to participate, to be great loving girlfiend, to cook meals, to communicate, to start working to school, to go to work…and it just builds inside and I want to scream and I can’t sleep, because my head is swirling with thoughts, pieces of songs and series I just can’t stop it!

Oh and don’t forget the pain. You think that mental illness can’t cause you a real pain? Well, wrong. It can and although usually it can be manageable, sometimes it’s just like something is trying to rip you into small pieces. ‘It’s these rare moments, when I try not to harm myself, sometimes unsuccesfully. I don’t want to really kill myself, I just want the pain to go away. The other option is to rip my chest apart and hope it will vaporize, but that’s a bit unrealistic. So don’t tell me I shouldn’t do it, it’s unnecessary and all that bullshit! At times, it’s the only way to survive until another day. Actually, when someone tries some good advice about my self-harming inclinations, all I hear is “you’re disgusting to me, I have no idea what you feel, but I know it better than you and so I want you to listen, I don’t want to listen to you, because you’re crazy and I don’t care a bit about how you feel, but you’re making me uncomfortable and I want you to do what I want”. I know I’m being bitchy now, but I’m exhausted!

No Light at the End of This Dark and Cold Tunnel

2012-11-08-nononono

Once again has come a time, when everything just sucks. I really don’t know, what is wrong with me. Well, I know, my brain stopped cooperating with me again.  It’s almost two weeks now, since it got really bad, I have anxiety attacks almost every day, yesterday I actually spend most of my energy to suppressing anxiety in a hope to went through the day. It’s like there’s no end of this dark hole I’m in. The worst part is the self-loathing, when half of my head is screaming at me, that I’m weak, ugly, terrible girlfriend, just the worst person ever living on this Earth. I cried so many times, I’m feeling like crying right now…

I’m the worst, torturing myself and everyone… Is it going to be like this all my life? It’s been two weeks, I tried to do things, I started with yoga at home, but all I really want is to just sleep all the time. Because being awake is just walking in a really dark cold tunnel without any light at the end. Nothing makes sense, really. Why should I try? Why should I keep going, when in the end it feels like there is no sense in wasting my energy?

2011-10-13-a bad day

I wish I could stop blaming myself for everything. I blame myself for being alone this evening, because my boyfriend is at a ball with his friend. And I know she has a boyfriend and I know he loves me, but I also know she is much hotter than me and also much better dancer and much better company. It’s like I destroyed everything. He wanted to buy the tickets there for my birthday, so we could go together, but I refused to go because of the way I look. I’m fat and ugly, I don’t want to embarrass him with my presence. I told him I’m ok with him going with someone else, because I don’t want to destroy his life just because I’m a fat piece of sh*t. I destroyed so many things by now because of the way I look, I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m fat and ugly, it’s my fault and I’m the one that should pay the price. It just hurts so much inside, I want to scream, but I cannot. So I drink and cry. I don’t want to hurt myself, but the get the pain away is so big! I wish I could be with him, seing him handsome in suit, dancing…but I couldn’t do it. I just think about the people seeing him with a girl much more beautiful than me… They must think that he has it much better now than with me. I wish to go out with him, to spend time outside, laughing, feeling good, just doing things together. But we don’t do together almost anything. I’m not in a mood to do anything, I feel so bad about myself…and I’m so scared he will leave me, because why would anyone want to be with me, it’s so difficult, he will want to have a normal girl, not me…

I have a work meeting tomorrow, so I cannot have scars, but I could have long sleeves or something. I just don’t want to feel this way anymore! All this darkness and coldness and pain. And thinking that there are so many things I could do, but at the end it feels like wasting energy… Why would anyone want to be with me? Why would they bother… I know I should be positive and everything, but I’m exhausted by just trying to live. I know it will get better, eventually, but the waiting is trying to kill me, destroy me. I know it will get better, someday, but honestly… I don’t believe it. It will always be hard, it will always be dark and cold, there will always be some little corner in my head making me feel bad. And I’m so exhausted, but not tired to go and sleep. I’m awake enough to make every thought hit me like a whip, burning inside, making me want to rip my chest open…but it won’t go away, no matter how much I wish it would. It’s just hopelessness, darkness and cold…

2012-02-23-Down down down

I Really “Love” Coming Home

I really “love” coming home to my parents… I’ve come today after two weeks and I wanted to go back to my real home just about five minutes after meeting my mum. I think of a real home to the flat me and my boyfriend share with five other people, that’s ironic…

Well, I came home and then a friend came to bring me somethings. I went outside, just in the things I wear at home, leaving my “normal” things spread on bed, because I’m really “tidy”. I’m stressing this for the things coming. So anyway I was talking to my friend outside, when I saw my mum coming home and waved at her, convinced she saw me. I spent there another five or ten minutes and then came back, meeting my mum outside the apartment behaving like I ran away or something! I mean, what did she think? My laptop was on, my things were inside, I obviously went out couple minutes ago just in my home things… Oh and the flat was locked, so nobody obviously kidnapped me. She said herself, that she thought I just went outside for a few minutes for something, but she freaked out anyway, she said she searched the apartment (even the bathroom, what she expected, me in a pool of blood?!), she called me (I had my phone in my pocket, but didn’t hear it outside) and she was going outside to look for me. I have never seen her acting like this, saying I stressed her out so much she needs a drink… And then, a thought came to me, that somehow, she freaked out because of my mental problems. I asked her few times what she thought and she just muttered something and I really felt like she was worried so much because of my illness…and she made me feel super guilty for making her worried so much.

In that moment, I felt like I need a drink. It felt so humiliating! Like I was some sort of weird unpredictable creature that can do something stupid anytime. I know I overreact a bit, but it’s just because I get so frustrated with her. I try to understand how hard it is for them to deal with my problems, I try to answer all their question patiently, no matter how uncomfortable I get or how many times they asked the same question, but still, I feel like their looking at me as some sort of alien with two heads or something! I really don’t know how to deal with this, how to approach them…

And I am at home for about 8 hours and I feel like I need a drink really bad, well more like a whole bottle. My mum arguing with my dad over some stupid things, telling me what to do with my life and what she thinks about me deciding to end one of my studies… Yes, she means it well, trying to help by giving her opinion… And I don’t have the courage to tell her that I don’t asked for her opinion, because I don’t want to hurt her, when she’s trying so much… and I try to remind myself of this over and over again, but usually I get so tired after two days at home that I don’t want to come back for looooong time. And then I feel guilty, because my mum tells me how she misses me and how she looks forward to seing me again…honestly I feel like the worst daughter in all the world and I have no idea what to do, how to behave, how to get comfortable in all this… And I feel totally ungreateful for having so caring parents, then feeling like nobody’s listening to me here and then I usually have a panic attack. Or drink(s).

So after all this super confusing and exhausting coming home, I really need a drink. Thank God we have wine.

2010-12-27-Best played alone

 

Stop the Stigma: The Realities of Mental Health

This article was originally published on Everyday Feminism and posted here with their permission.

 

There are some widespread misconceptions about mental health disorders. People think the cure for depression is to “keep your chin up,” that addiction is simple weakness, and that obsessive-compulsive disorder is humorous.

Let’s set the record straight about how this stigma actually affects the lives of people living with mental health issues with this infographic from Visual.ly.

musicoterapia 2

Helpful Advice

One of the things that can always make me mad, or miserable, is when I hear people talking about depressions as it’s not really a problem. I guess it’s because people don’t talk about it much and we use reference to depression in connection with being just really tired or feeling not very happy because of something. So what people think is that depression means just being really sad or tired or not being in the right mood. Which it is, but on much higher level that any normal person normally reaches. As a result the real depression is diminished by people around us, because we are thought to be “just sad, just overreacting, exaggerating, we should try to be more positive” etc etc etc. And when you already feel like a piece of shit (excuse my language) and someone comes and tells you this, it makes you even worse, because you know you are the worst person and you’re also apparently really weak and good for nothing. Because if you’re not, then for sure you would be able to as happy and able to live your life as people around you…

All this is wrong and really does so much more harm then good. Yes, it is good to learn to be more positive, but when you diminish feelings of depressed person, you’re just making them feel worse. I know because I’ve been there. I had friends telling me that if I was really depressed I would have killed myself and not talked about it. They were unable to understand that I was trying to reach for help. Well, they weren’t friends for much longer, but that was pretty long ago, although I don’t think I will ever forget it. But I have friends, friends now, who didn’t know about my problems, and I heard them saying that antidepressants are for nothing and how bad it is and how they don’t believe it all. And I sat there, listening, feeling really awkward, thinking “Should I say something? Should I try to explain, talk to them? Should I embarassed both of us?” Even my parents have problems coming to terms with my illness. When I told them about my depressions last year, my mum kept asking me for months if I think I will ever be ok or if I have to take pills all my life or what I plan to do when I get pregnant…

It was so frustrating! I don’t know answers for any of that and it scares me to think about it! Also it feels pretty weird to just talk about depressions in real life with my friends, because of all these opinions around. So please, respect depressed people around you.

And here are two comics from Robot Hugs to explain that depression is just an illness as any other and helpful advice might not be as helpful as lot of people think it might be (click on the picture to make it bigger).

2013-11-21-Helpful Advice        2014-06-24-More Helpful Advice