By Ari Eastman
Generally speaking, I’m not a very sad person. And maybe I’ve misrepresented myself with that. What with my endless melodrama and nauseating stories of “I loved him, he didn’t love me!” people have started to categorize me as Sad Internet Girl. And I get it. You talk about depression, your dead dad, and unrequited love enough times, you’ll get that title.
I recently did a few interviews about my poetry (OH HELLO – Shameless self-promotion, you can buy my collection here!) and the same theme kept coming up in questions: Ari is sad.
So let me clear this up: I’m, like, not sad? Is that weird? Should I continue to play this character crying into her wine glass every night and pining for past relationships? Because, this may shock you, but that isn’t what I’m doing.
Okay, so maybe last Tuesday. But we won’t count that.
I was first diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 14. I first found the vocabulary for it at 12, but it’s hard to know if that was me or the raging war my body was fighting otherwise known as puberty. If someone could figure out a way to torture enemies by just making them relive puberty, it would be pretty brutal and useful. Though you’d have to deal with them slamming the door, blasting Avril Lavigne (or whatever the angsty preteens are listening to now – I’m out of touch at 23), and screaming into pillows. So, pick your battles, I guess.
My depression and anxiety went hand-in-hand, this weird little threesome that I really wasn’t prepared for at the tender age of 14. It would be another two years before a boy kisses me on the mouth, but I was in a heavy-duty relationship with those two. My anxiety had me up all night, questioning things like mortality and the likelihood that the ceiling would suddenly cave and crush me into Pixie Stick dust. And then, like clockwork, my depression would show up for the party. “Babe! Have you been thinking about the universe exploding and eternal blackness? Oh FUN!!! This is my FAV part.”
I was lucky to grow up with probably the two most understanding, empathetic parents known to mankind. I get that’s a bold statement, but I really mean it. There was never shame in who I was or what I was feeling. My dad was a psychology professor and my mom had studied human development (but a writer at heart) – I basically had the parental jackpot for someone a little mentally abnormal.
As I started reaching my 20s, I noticed a pattern of mania episodes and depressive episodes. I hesitated in labeling anything because I was so sick of labels. People always want to make you something palatable. Here’s the Funny Girl! Here’s the Deep Artist! Here’s the Virgin Mary! Here’s the Madonna Whore! – as if people can be categorized into something so singular.
I just started feeling so unbelievably over it. I had certain groups who solely identified me as the comedic relief. When things got uncomfortable, I made a joke. I was constantly trying to lighten the mood. I’d take shots at myself bringing self-deprecation to an art form. But I also had circles who knew me as a stand-in therapist. I was go-to for spilling secrets and sadness, and I would do my best to soak it up and offer my heart in return. I was living all these different versions of myself so sure they couldn’t all exist at once.
And that’s bullshit.
If someone tries to tell you to be one thing, it is, and always will be, bullshit. Look at your damn body! It’s doing about a million things at once. So yeah, you are multifaceted too.
Having depression didn’t cancel out my humor or ability to laugh. Sure, it made certain things harder and I had those Cymbalta commercial days of looking like a crumpled up napkin in bed – totally gross and used up. But it wasn’t ALL I was. I wasn’t just eternally Sad. I had depression. I have depression.
Being sad is an emotion. And emotions, by nature, are temporary creatures. I am sad when a relationship ends or I watch a video of a dog waiting by the grave of a soldier. And is sadness a side effect of depression? Well yeah, duh. Absolutely. But having depression and being sad are not exclusive beasts. Anyone can be sad. Everyone WILL be sad at some point. But not everyone has depression.
I don’t know if I will ever vanquish depression fully. It is so much a part of my life and learning how to cope has in some ways made me a better person. I would still never wish it upon anyone else. Just like I’d never wish someone to have diabetes or heart disease or cancer. It’s a disease. It has moments of remission and moments of ferocious activeness. But I’m not just Sad Internet Girl.
I won’t ever hide my depression or pretend she doesn’t exist inside me. I have times I don’t know how to separate my depression from the rest of me. And I know that’s okay. But never forget, if you have depression, there is no reason you won’t have days of laughing and smiling. You aren’t destined to a lifetime of “sad” because of this. You might have to practice a bit more self-care, listen and check in with your body, push against things those around you don’t understand, but you aren’t cursed to just being Sad Girl or Sad Boy or Sad Them.
I have depression, and today? I am not sad. I am at a coffee shop smiling at a cute boy across from me. The lilacs outside are thriving and I’m listening to “Surf” by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment. Today, I feel light and full of possibility.
I have depression, and today? I am happy.