Content/trigger warning: disordered eating, self-harm, discussion of suicide
Today’s entry is primarily inspired by Chester Bennington’s death, and as such, I will be covering suicidal ideation and the ableism inherent in mocking music that expresses feelings of angst or anguish.
I know about self-harm, self-hatred, and suicidal ideation. I’ve experienced all three thanks to my depression, and I suspect my BPD and CPTSD also have contributed to those. Even now, there are spots on my shirt that are still wet from my Tide To-Go pen, which I fortunately had on hand to clean up after throwing up in a Panera restroom after I felt like I ate too much. (Disordered eating is another fun borderline trait.) And yes, purging or depriving oneself of food can be a form of self-harm. Self-harm isn’t just angsty white teenage girls cutting their wrists. Here’s a list of other forms of self-harm:
-depriving oneself of food or other necessary things like medication
-unsafe participation in extreme sports
-banging or hitting body parts
-ingestion of toxic substances
-dermatillomania (skin picking) or trichotillomania (hair pulling) (these aren’t always self-harm, though)
I was angsty white teenage girl who cut her hipbones because she didn’t want anyone seeing her wrists. I also used to scald myself. I haven’t cut in almost a decade, but I still self-harm with disordered eating and purging, and occasionally trichotillomania. But I have coping mechanisms that exorcise my feelings of self-hatred without taking it out on myself. One of those coping mechanisms is music.
I listen to music that is often mocked for being “wangsty”, “emo”, or my personal favorite, “bullshit-sad”. Some groups that have helped me work through self-hatred or desire to self-harm include Evanescence, Smile Empty Soul, A Static Lullaby, The Amity Affliction, Escape the Fate, Beartooth, Papa Roach, and of course, Linkin Park (well, their early work, anyway; I’m lukewarm on Living Things and The Hunting Party, and I don’t care at all for One More Light). “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence (frequently and incorrectly referred to as “Wake Me Up Inside”) has become a meme. Linkin Park and Papa Roach songs (especially “Crawling” by Linkin Park and “Last Resort” by Papa Roach) are also frequently mocked in memes and similar jokes.
Look, I know perfectly well that some of this music may not be technically proficient, may have lyrics that rhyme clumsily or seem cheesy, and may employ overwrought vocal delivery. (Papa Roach’s early work is particularly guilty of cheesy lyrics and hammy delivery; too bad I don’t care.) These are legitimate criticisms of the art form. The mocking for expressing feelings of anguish, especially suicidality (like in “Last Resort”), is ableist.
Don’t think that because depression isn’t a “scary” mental illness (see my last entry) doesn’t mean it’s any less serious. Psychiatric disabilities are serious conditions that can cause suffering. When it comes to depression, I like to refer to it as “my brain is trying to kill me”. “Angsty” music makes me feel less alone, like I’m not the only person whose own mind is betraying them, like I’m not the only person feeling those things. It helps put things in perspective; just like the song will end, so the suicidal or self-harm impulses will pass. Sometimes just listening to—or singing—a particular song over and over is catharsis enough to calm me down.
I used to not understand why the music that helped me so much was met with jeering and mockery by healthy people. I was naïve then. The reason is ableism, specifically saneism. Mentally healthy people don’t understand the suffering mental illness can bring, and our suffering is funny to them. They think less of us because of how our brains work, and they think that makes us acceptable targets. The appropriate response for a mentally healthy person hearing “angsty” lyrics that they can’t relate to shouldn’t be “ha, ha, mentally ill people’s pain is hilarious”, it should be “I’m lucky I’ve never had to deal with this”.
Back to “my brain is trying to kill me”. That’s not an exaggeration. I experience suicidal ideation–hell, I once ended up in a psych ward for it–which is why I want to talk about the saneism surrounding suicide when it is actually carried out, not just sung about. First of all, there is no shame in dying by suicide. Suicidal ideation is a symptom of an illness. People who died by suicide died of their illness. It is no more shameful than dying of an infection. Depression can be a lifelong illness—it is for me, since I have a serotonin imbalance—and for many of us, there is no such thing as recovery from self-harm or suicidal ideation. One of my friends likes to call such symptoms “dormant”. They lie sleeping, lurking, ready to erupt like a volcano with the right provocation. They will never fully go away. I’m having trouble dealing with Chester Bennington’s death for the same reason I had trouble dealing with learning about Carrie’s drug relapse: I’m afraid of dying of my symptoms.
Second of all, dying by suicide is not “selfish”, “cowardly”, or “immoral”. The framing of suicide as being “selfish” burdens people struggling with suicidal ideation with guilt, which may make them hate themselves even more. As someone with trauma from emotional abuse that included guilt tripping, the framing of suicide as “selfish” is actually triggering to me. People who are experiencing suicidal ideation may be incapable of conceptualizing the fact that people will miss them and likely believe that the people in their lives would be better off without them. Adding to their suffering with a guilt trip only makes things worse.
Third, saneism contributes to suicide. How? People who are struggling with their symptoms may not seek help (no, I don’t just mean professional help, I am always quick to say that therapy and medication aren’t right for everyone; sometimes all a depressed person needs is for a friend to listen to their feelings) because of the stigma associated with experiencing mental illness symptoms. They’re afraid of being judged or rejected. Or they have internalized toxic messages such as “you can’t be depressed because there are starving children in Africa; you don’t have any REAL problems” (a line my abuser likes to try to feed me). If you’re doing battle with suicidal thoughts, there is no shame in talking about it. If you know someone who is doing battle with suicidal thoughts, make sure to reassure those people that they are not alone, that they are loved, and that their experiences with psychiatric disability are valid.
Fourth, people whose lives appear easy can experience suicidal ideation. Like I said, this entry came out of Chester Bennington’s death, and he was a successful musician. “But he was famous! What did he have to be depressed about?” is something that I am hearing far too much. Wealth and fame aren’t cures for mental illness. Depression lies. Depression tells you that life isn’t worth living even if your life has a lot of good in it. My serotonin levels would be the same if I were rich and famous, even if I didn’t “have anything to be depressed about”.
Okay, I think that’s about all I have for now. I’m going to go listen to Meteora and wish I had enough extra money to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “It creates community when you talk about private things.”