Some of you may not know this about me (assuming that anyone other than close friends or family reads this blog), but I suffered from horrific postpartum depression after I had my son. Like bad. As in bordering on psychosis bad. Before I found the courage to talk to my doctor about what was going on with me I was having hour + long anxiety attacks too often to count and so severely that I would wake up in the middle of the night hyperventilating just in time to pass out, and I was afraid to leave my house. Sure I tried to hide it but when you sit in the house with the blinds closed and do nothing but listen to Bush’s “Glycerin” on repeat and sob, while nursing and rocking the baby you refuse to put down because you are clinging to that sweet life as if it were the last and only ray of sunlight you will ever see, someone is eventually going to suggest you have something wrong with you.
That was years ago and though I do still occasionally wrestle with depression and I still have the obsessive compulsive disorder I was diagnosed with shortly after getting medicated and starting therapy for postpartum depression (because that stuff doesn’t just go away), I am much older, wiser, and mellower than I was back then (some might find that last bit hard to believe but I am guessing those would be people who didn’t know me 19 years ago). Mostly though, I just know what triggers my depression these days and I have learned to nip things in the bud before they get out of hand. More importantly, I have learned to recognize unhealthy behaviors before they become a huge problem for me.
One of those behaviors seems an unlikely source of depression and I am not entirely sure if it is what triggers a depressive episode, or if it is a signal that I am entering one, maybe it is a little of both. What I do know is that when I catch myself doing it I had better get a grip or I am going to slip down a creepy, dark rabbit hole lined with inspirational reading materials, salty tears, and snot bubbles. The reason I brought up the postpartum depression thing is because that is when I remember this weird trigger popping up. It all started with a well intended gift from my mother… she bought me the book Chicken Soup for the Soul. She bought it for me and I read the shit out of it, and sobbed uncontrollably with each and every “heartwarming” story.
Soon after that I started seeking out these books, of which there are many, like a fucking crack-whore seeks Johns to support her drug habit. I wore the name off my library card out checking them out. I slowly progressed into what I like to refer to as my “Oprah Drenched, Lilith Fair Years”. It got ugly. Any sort of inspirational “girl power” song that made me even the slightest bit weepy got immediately put on a mixed tape (yes, this was before your average Joe had CD burners or digital music collections). Even after I got my postpartum depression and symptoms of OCD under control thanks to a metric fuck-ton of Zoloft and a lot of free therapy, I still had this crazy obsession with all things “inspirational”, and it all seemed to be a means to allow myself to cry and almost mourn the life I thought I should have but didn’t.
I won’t really daunt you with many more details regarding the progression and eventual discovery of this particular issue, but will say that I realized what I was doing when I was about 27. I have had some slipups in the fourteen years since, but for the most part I know the difference between allowing myself a good cry over Steel Magnolias, and a three day crying jag trigger by a fucking Indigo Girls song. Most of the time that is…
I recently had a rather shocking discovery in this arena and I am still trying to recover from it. It is nice to read and listen to uplifting stories. They restore our faith in humanity. They make us feel hopeful and joyful. But I suspect that I am not the only person whose brain starts to short circuit a little after being exposed to too much of this sort of thing. It is like a fucking prescription drug addiction. You start taking it for good reasons. It helps you feel better. But the longer you take the drug to feel better the more of it you need. Eventually you are taking so much of it that it no longer feels good but you have forgotten how to feel without it, so you just keep taking more and more in hopes of finding that nice feeling you started with. Only with this you don’t eventually end up in rehab or die of an overdose; you slip into a depression so deep that everything feels dark no matter how inspirational and uplifting it was intended to be.
As I said, I am recovering from such a depression right now. And it started on my beloved Facebook. I have been seeing people repost things from the Upworthy and Huffington Post pages for well over a year and eventually I decided that I was enjoying the things my friends were sharing from those pages so much, I would start following these pages myself. I have been following Upworth for about six months and Huffington Post for close to that as well. As it always does, this all started out rather innocently and ended in a depression fueled, tear soaked, mass unfriending that I am rather embarrassed about.
Seeing a sweet story about how a little boy loves his best buddy who is fighting cancer so much that he shaves his head so he doesn’t have to feel alone is nice once in a while. Like I said, it makes us feel good about the world to know those sweet little boys are in it. And reading a “10 things women should be doing about this or that because girl power is rad and all that shit” article every now and then is uplifting and entertaining; it even makes you think and might help you approach your daily life in a slightly more confident way (I said might… I know that is a stretch). But being bombarded with multiple “feel good” articles a day, day in and day out, well it is positively maddening, especially when you have the weird depression trigger that I described earlier.
Here is the thing. I don’t think this is good for anyone and this is why. Eventually you do stop seeing yourself or part of your world in these “feel good” stories and they become unrelatable. They become so unrelatable that you begin looking at what you don’t have in common with the people in the stories and you slowly, unknowingly, start hating yourself in the way that you hate Sarah Mclachlan for her stupid dead puppy commercials… With a disgust so steeped in guilt and unworthiness it makes you want to vomit. Then top that off with the unending litany of bullshit “you should” articles that are meant to empower women (and men too but I somehow don’t think men are as susceptible to this as women are). These only serve to tell women that they are not good enough if they don’t feel that they are not good enough. That if we don’t think our pussies are ugly; our tits are too whatever, our complexions are too pale, tan, dry, oily, our clothes are too last season, our relationships aren’t happy enough, our makeup is all wrong, our hair is too big, flat, dark, light… well if we don’t have all of these insecurities, and then some, then something is surely fucking wrong with us because in this day and age no woman can feel good about herself without someone telling her what she needs to do to feel good about herself and if she does feel OK with who she is then she is surely full of shit or lying to herself.
It is seriously just too fucking much of a good thing! It is like drinking yourself sober! You were having a good time, then things got a little sloppy, and now you are just walking around with the vague feeling that you should be ashamed of yourself but you aren’t quite sure why. Maybe it doesn’t affect everyone this dramatically but I firmly believe that it is all too much. And personally, seeing this flood of too much in my news feed every day slowly chips away at my mood until the darkness takes over and I find myself in the town of Self-Hatred, staying at Hotel Abject Loathing.
When I am unable to see good in myself, it is almost impossible to find it in others and trying to find empathy and forgiveness is an almost completely fruitless effort. I had to rein myself in and stop the madness with this Upworthy and Huffington Post shit!
I wrote all of the above about two weeks ago and stopped because I didn’t really know where I wanted to go with it. I hate not knowing how to end and I didn’t want to end up sounding like the crappy “you should be doing this” stuff I was speaking against here. I guess I still don’t know how I want this to end. I love Facebook and the relationships I have in my life because of it, so I am in no way suggesting that Facebook is evil or that anyone should give it up for any reason (in fact, I get a bit defensive when people start preaching the evils of social media… that is not what this has been about). I am not even suggesting that people should stop posting or reading inspirational materials. I guess what I am saying is that for me to be a healthy person I sometimes need to remind myself that there are touching and inspirational things happening all around me all the time. They may not be big giant acts of altruism, love, or brilliant showings of undeniable strength and courage, but they are the acts of altruism, love, and brilliant showings of undeniable strength and courage that I get to see in my world. And sometimes I am even the person who is being inspiring. And maybe, just maybe, you don’t realize how inspiring and good you are either… I just think holding ourselves up against and internet full of too much of a good things and everything, makes it really difficult to see the special and wonderful things in ourselves.