I like my depression like I like my women: basic bitchy.
I like my depression like I like my women: married to the prime minister, delivering passion-fruit cake to a youth mental health service which experts say is inadequate, when other mental health emergencies are ignored.
I like it like Jenny Morrison: not having to take medication or anything like that.
I like my depression like: a hot unhinged villainess in an erotic thriller.
Split personality like a fringed bra, blowing in the wind.
Media portrayal cold and taut as a witch’s tit.
Lips so big that they look sore and broken, like Angelina Jolie.
Depictions of mentally unwell women are so often pink-washed, dripping in garish sentiment, or stupidly sexy. Like Angelina Jolie with her baby dyke bangs in Girl Interrupted, a toxic femme fatale whose capacity to manipulate others is intriguing until it’s disgusting. If it meant I could manipulate anyone into anything with my sexy mental illness I would cut myself baby dyke bangs on the spot.
Like Sarah Bailey in The Craft, with her soft, feminine, earthly powers deemed to be ‘morally good’, while her friend’s more masculine, brutal power leads (by the film’s logic) to punishment by way of a less-than-sexy realm of psychosis.
The crazed femme fatale is a construct that erodes the second you gaze upon it. Mental illness in real life involves much less sexual arousal and much more lying in bed staring at walls. It involves a pain that is not pretty, no matter how much lip gloss you smear on it.
A woman I know worked in a hospital and one day stole medication with the intention of taking her own life. She was discovered before she managed to go through with it. While on sick leave after the incident, her managers continually called her, demanding a meeting, demanding disciplinary action. It didn’t matter that she was sick. They had boxes to tick, urgently.
This after she had spent weeks unable to sleep, eat, or work without having a panic attack. She never did go back to work after the incident.
She once told me that she remembers another women she worked with at the hospital who returned after a suicide attempt; who couldn’t afford to stop work or even to change jobs. She remembered them shuffling through the wards. Grey faces. Dead eyes.
How many relaxing cups of tea can I throw over my head before I drown? How much yoga can I do until I can curl up into a ball and never be seen again? How would you like to be remembered, as a crazy bitch or the woman who made the best lunchroom cupcakes on R U OK Day?
This discussion is so sanitised. This discussion is so sanitised it’s making us double sick, like a mandatory 2-for-1 deal at the checkout. This discussion is so sanitised I am developing a drug-resistant superbug and I may never be okay again.
During a depressive episode, when I couldn’t get out of bed, my manager texted me to ask me if I could come in, ‘Just for a few hours’. She knew what was going on. She, too, had mental health problems.
My manager was not a monster. We were friends. She was just doing her job the best she could under the circumstances. It was a matter of business, that’s all.
I went back to work and we never spoke about it again.
Then I had another breakdown, I finished the year feeling completely rinsed out. Then they squeezed out my last drip of faith: they did not renew my contract.
‘Basically, there’s no work for you next year,’ the big boss said.
‘That’s fine,’ I lied.
When I am depressed it feels like someone took the plug out of the bottom of my brain and let all the serotonin flood out.
No one wants to talk about the part where you can’t work, can’t cook, can’t look after yourself, end up asleep on your parents’ couch. No one wants to talk about it when it’s less ‘bring in a cake to work and tell people about your feelings’ and more, ‘I want to run onto a busy road in clean underwear and die’. No one talks about what happens if you don’t have a parent’s couch to sleep on.
A woman was for giving her children chocolate milk laced with sleeping pills before attempting to take her own life. She didn’t want them to wake up and find her like that. The judge said that it was a ‘sad case’. He sentenced her for three years.
In 2017, a woman was jailed for drowning three of her children in a lake, and attempting to drown one more. She had suffered PTSD after surviving the civil war in South Sudan, had depression; she had been abandoned by her husband and had seven children to look after.
The judge said, ‘In my opinion, your actions were the product of extreme desperation, rather than any form of vengeance.’
He sentenced her to 26 years.
I am not saying what these women did isn’t horrible. I believe that actions can be both evil and explainable. I believe women can be both perpetrators and victims, worthy of our empathy.
In the same way, I will not my ugliness shunned, muffled in my subconscious until it bubbles up. I do not believe in leaving things to stew inside of me. Until I no longer recognise myself.
Here are the ugliest things I have done, and some that I will continue to do, despite my best intentions:
- Picked my scalp obsessively until there are scabs.
- Obsessively picked my nose til it bleeds.
- Dug my nails into my arms. Also bitten them like a mad cat.
- Punched myself in the head, or smacked my head into the tiles in the shower, except in a cute way, like Popeye self-owning.
- Cut myself.
- Bit my lips until they bleed.
- Sometimes I’ve looked at someone else’s writing/Instagram/Facebook just to make myself feel bad. Ok, often I do that.
My therapist always goes on about soothing the depressed part of myself, like it’s a baby and I’m nurturing it. What about the days when I want to tell my baby that it’s ugly and I’d like it to fuck off? What about when I look at this list and want to go, ew, gross, you can’t sit with us?
Are there alternative ways of talking about mental health that allow all its ugliness to run free, like the most hideous animal in the universe released back into the wild?
In the 1974 film A Woman Under the Influence, Gena Rowlands plays a woman marching along, brain-wise, to the beat of a chaotic and annoying drum. Smoking cigarettes, hair half-up, half-down, singing to herself, tapping staccato rhythms on bars, dancing, screaming at her mother as she’s picking up her kids to CALL HER if she needs. She’s big and bold. She’s flapping her arms around in a huge kaftan. Basically, in all her chaos and her ugliness, she’s my heroine.
When Jenny Morrison was interviewed about her illness, tastefully photographed in a mum sweater, looking earnestly into the camera with a coy smile, she said that she started feeling shit when her husband stopped coming home, was too busy in politics and left her to raise their children by herself. Now, Jenny, I know you don’t believe in medication, so instead I offer you one course of divorce.
Am I crazy; does the world make me crazy? Am I crazy, or is there something in the water—capitalism, neoliberalism, capitaliberalism, neocapitalism, solipsism, spoonerism?
Writing about mental health when you are in the throws of mental illness is like trying to keep your boat afloat by bailing more water in. It’s like having a stick poked in your eye and using a stick to try to get it out. You just have two sticks in your eye now and it hurts, it hurts. It’s like having tiny weights on my fingers and every time I try to write they pull me down into a big Looney Tunes canyon of I don’t give a shit if I live or die.
It’s like a lot of things, but it’s most like fighting depression with depression. And it’s very, very ugly. But the more that I look at it and the more I write about it, the more I can hold it in my hand. It’s small and it looks like a tiny, dirty beast. It’s small and it looks like a sad bin muppet.
I’m wearing a kaftan and I’m singing to myself. I scream-sing: ‘Fuck you, you ugly shit!’ And the sad bin muppet sings back in the same key, but minor: ‘We—are—not—ok—ayyyyy!’