This summer my sister’s childhood friend killed herself at the age of 19. Our family walked the two blocks to her family’s house for the shiva, spoke with her parents, spoke with friends and strangers. We learned that Katie (not her actual name) had suffered from depression, but showed few signs to her family and friends. Her mom did mention, however, that she’d had hundreds of followers on Tumblr.
I saw Katie’s Tumblr later, untouched. She’d posted her photography and her rants. Stuff about her parents, her relationships, photos of her pets and iPod and dandelions. She’d also posted her suicide note. People reblogged it with doubts as to its authenticity, and claims that she just wanted attention. I’d seen similar posts in my Tumblr feed before, usually by other teenagers, and while I’ve never voiced any doubts of their sincerity, I’ve certainly thought to myself that some of them were just being dramatic. All these seemingly minor complaints about school, or what sounded like fishing for compliments. It felt too artificial, too on a screen, too floating around in cyberspace to be something a human being felt and wrote and wanted the world to see. Now another girl had gone through these same motions, the same supposed over-dramatization and attention-seeking, but this time, she lived two blocks over, and I’d seen people who loved her gathering to comfort her family around a kitchen table where she had sat just three days earlier.
A lot of the time, it looks like a person who is depressed has nothing to be upset about. Especially if that person is a teenager, because hormones, and because teenagers are universally known for being angsty. This means a lot of Tumblr posts/Facebook updates/texts/talking can seem whiny, entitled, attention-seeking, and selfish. Especially selfish. Because when depression makes life feel like a moment-to-moment challenge, it’s hard to have perspective that goes beyond what you need at that exact second to keep from cracking altogether.
In those moments, it is really, really important to do things that make you happy, and that can remind yourself that things will get better. Sometimes this means finding little problems to complain about. Sometimes it means making just-OK art and putting it on the internet. Not everyone can be Sylvia Plath or Kurt Cobain, but that doesn’t mean whatever they’re feeling is any less real. Even as someone who deals with depression I need to remember myself to forget whether a poem qualifies as Good Art and understand its importance to the person who really needs it to exist.
The truth is that a person who “just wants attention” might, in fact, really just want attention. They may just want to complain. They may want to ramble about some stupid detail of what happened at school that day because the bigger problems going on are too scary to think about and too big to go on the internet. This is all part of the cruelty of depression. If the rambling seems senseless, that’s because depression operates without sense. It sneaks up on you even when things are going great. You can have everything you’ve ever wanted, and depression will eventually find its way from the back burner of your brain to the very front. If Katie was seeking attention, well, all the more reason I wish people had listened. ♦