What Even is Happening?
Hello, I’m Harshita and I’m addicted to this phenomenon called ‘web surfing’, which sounds like the closest adventure sport I could ever be into and oh well. Today, I bring to you a new question.
Okay, perhaps not as new as I’d like it to be. About an hour or two ago, on a podcast I heard a 15-year-old say and I quote, “… in previous eras, they had wars with guns and gas, and in ours, we war with our own self.” To give you more context, she reinstated what we all can see but perhaps are unable to acknowledge- we’re all in an epidemic, one which is not as visible as we think it to be- mental health issues.
With more than 10 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag ‘mental_health’ and about ten times more of blogs on Tumblr, it’d be wrong of me to say we don’t talk about it enough. I know that we do, hell, we more than just talk about it. And yet, it’s an epidemic with no foreseeable solution. I can sit here and go on and on about how maybe we are more aware of these mental issues now because people are more knowledgeable of the same, maybe because the stigma is being fought against, perhaps, we just are more courageous than the ones who came before us. What I can’t give up on are the words by my 15-year-old muse, is she right in believing that just as every era is to go through one huge debilitation, we’ve been destined to fall into the chasm of mental health chaos? Would it be wrong of me to assume that there are more factors than just awareness that are making us all a little more troubled than ever?
I couldn’t give you a solid number for the amount of times I’ve said ‘Same!’ when someone around me said, ‘I can’t live this life no more’ or, ‘Ugh! I’m so depressed’ or something akin to it. I know I’ve uttered the words ‘I want to die’ on multiple accounts, once because I couldn’t bear the heat. Albeit the fact that I know it’s asinine to have claimed the same, it is difficult not to do the same. I could tell you it’s because it’s ingrained, because I’ve been conditioned and been rewarded quite positively or, perhaps, because everyone around me does it and if Bandura had anything to say for it, he’d agree. All around us- in the spaces we most frequent, there’s a strong prevalence of (and I say this off of my personal disposition) romanticisation of mental illness. Somehow our move to ‘delete the stigma’ has drastically changed towards a trend to ‘romanticise the stigma’. While it’s not something that one should be ashamed of, it also isn’t something one should aspire for.
Why is it that on Tumblr, #Thinspo is always trending, why is it that not sleeping and being perpetually tired has become a way of popular culture? How did self-inflicted scars come to be called art? When did the ‘Sad Girls Club’ become the new ideal, often propagated by the VSCO girls or the new e-girls? What about #proana? I remember reading Looking for Alaska and being astounded by how easily the teenage girl said, and oh, ‘with delight of a kid on a Christmas morning’- “Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” If you’ve ever gone down the Instagram explore page, you’ve definitely been acquainted with Sir R.M. Drake and his well-fonted, honey-coloured quotes such as that of, ‘We desire to keep the pain close, close enough to destroy us.’ Upon learning more, I found out about how a popular jewellery brand conceived a new line of necklaces with the words- ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’ and ‘bipolar’ inscribed on them. Twitter has multiple accounts such as that of So Sad Today. I guess what I’m trying to allude to is- The Sad Online Culture. You can’t tell me you’ve never seen a post where someone is staring into the distance, the picture tuned to darker shades, and a caption with something negative/sad. There is a new culture of equalling beauty to tragedy. Pain, melancholy are seen as artsy. It’s not to say I don’t like my fair share of Lana Del Rey or I don’t appreciate all the API trimmed sappy content Instagram throws at me. In fact, if you’ve got time- you really ought to check out this feminist philosophy called Sad Girl Theory, penned by artist Audrey Wollen, who, by the way, goes by ’Tragic Queen‘ on Instagram. There’s the complicated concept of creativity and mental illness, but that requires a long, let’s get cookies and milk/wine (whatever’s your poison), sit down.
Withstanding all that I’ve mentioned above, I’m still well aware of how social media has allowed mental health issues to become more widely known and accepted, how they have allowed us all to share personal stories and accounts of many a psychological disorder. They’re often seen as support systems to encourage and inform others of one’s own personal experiences and yet, it also comprises an entire added bonus of trivialising these disorders. Sites that allow anonymous posting end up becoming group therapy sessions with no therapist to take charge of the situation. This is where one may find people suffering the same way that they are but it is highly likely that instead of improving their situation, it ends up becoming a constant, painful cycle of reinforcement. All of this leads to people expressing their emotions and hardships which end up looking like an effort to romanticise the ordeals. It is noteworthy, however, to know that one might just be unaware that one is romanticising something. People feel that they are merely sharing their thoughts and feelings. For the vulnerable mind, these online spaces become communities that seemingly provide the ideal solution: support, understanding, acceptance. To be accepted by this community, it is almost as if one has to advertise one’s suffering. Thus, subconsciously a choice is made- to suffer, to fit in and get acceptance. “Adaptability is what makes us both wonderful and terrible. We can easily forget what’s healthy- can adapt to really unhealthy environments quickly. And it so often feels somehow right even when it’s not,” said Whitlock. This is not a ‘you’ or ‘me’ situation, this is a complete trajectory of a ‘we’ situation. More often than not, we invest in this world, consciously or not- and help it prosper.
I might have made a lot of foes for saying all that I have, but once in a while, one’s bound to have a curious case of ‘What even is happening?’ I don’t come here with ways to live one’s life, I only come here with questions.
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