We Are Not All Allie Brosh
I wish to preface this by stating I am a huge fan of Hyperbole and a Half, and have been since I first read her pants-pissingly funny and apt ‘This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult‘. When she posted her Adventures in Depression back in October 2011, I nodded along the whole way, because I certainly could identify with her. I thought good thoughts her way, and hoped we’d hear recovery-based news.
So when I heard the day before yesterday she was transitioning to make a proper post yesterday, I sat up and waited in anticipation. It meant that she was alive, and hopefully, doing better. So when I sat down to Depression Part Two on the back of many enthusiastic friends spamming my Facebook feed about it, I hoped to be similarly charmed. Certainly, I nodded along to a point… and then I didn’t anymore. I looked back over at Facebook, and I looked back to the pictures of corn, and I looked back over at Facebook:
Person One: We are all Allie Brosh!
Person Two: We are all Allie Brosh!
Person Three: We are all Allie Brosh!
And so on. It didn’t sit right with me, because I couldn’t agree. I’ve been dealing with severe and increasingly severe depression since I was a young teenager, and I have never in my life had a corn moment. I’m currently in the middle (start?) of a depressive episode on the back of a month of mixed episode badness, and I felt even more depressed seeing that. Part of Bipolar II is knowing that one is likely to have increasingly severe depressive episodes until they either die, or off themselves. We are not all Allie Brosh. We have not all (and might never) have a corn moment.
And then I felt a bit angry — while I am definitely glad that people identify in a meaningful way, it makes me feel marginalized for not having the same experience. One thing that I have certainly not felt since getting involved with other mental health bloggers is marginalized; I feel that we do a fantastic job supporting each other and accepting that we all have our experiences, and that we certainly accept that and spread the love as we may. I certainly do not denigrate her experience — it is hers to share as she sees fit, and like us, it is wonderful if it makes folks feel better/less alone.
But the problem with where she stands is that people ARE rushing to treat her experience as -everyones’- experience, and that is simply not the case. And in that, I am wary of people trying to force her into being the role model for mental health/illness/depression. I’m probably not the only one who would be concerned by that combination. I know for me, it took a lot of hard work and effort and trying to make myself stand up and share my experience, and be able to say that my feelings are valid; I don’t want the crowd to take one person’s (whether it be mine or anyone else’s) experience and act as if it is the ‘the one’, the only one. I am sure that she would feel the same way if the roles were switched and she were in my shoes, because she is an intelligent, clever, hilarious person with a lot of good things to say and who says them very well. There is very obviously a brain working in that wonderful head.
So no, I don’t blame Allie Brosh for what is happening. I still think that she is a fantastic writer and doodler, and I admire her greatly and would happily give her hugs and chocolate and coffee (I might fight her for the Skittles though. Bitches love Skittles). Nor am I upset that people identify with her. Just remember that in your excitement, you’re telling other people that they’re wrong because their experience is different to yours (and a lot of them won’t have the spoons to tell you so). We are not all Allie Brosh, even if most of us love her too.
I am not Aliie Brosch, and neither are you, and nor is my friend Sarah who posted today on anxiety: http://www.thesuperwhites.com/2013/05/08/super-sarah-white/
We do all have differing experiences and stories and reactions, and sharing them is tough. I still fight a voice in my head that tells me my sister is fed up with me and doesn’t want to hear from me as my life is not as perfect as hers.
Today I finally, partially as a result of Sarah’s post, and then Allie’s, starting writing about what happened in the UK and then for the 2 years after- recovering from emotional exhaustion. 4 years worth of not talking and not writing and not sharing. Simply cracking that shell of not being able to be honest (to myself, to anyone else) has made a difference. When its written I’ll be posting it up, the more of us who tell of our differing experiences and reactions, the better we’ll be able to talk about mental health needs and issues.
You have no idea how much it pleases me to hear that you’re in a place to start working through that knot. And certainly, I hope that Allie’s far-reaching fandom scope will encourage others to continue to stand up and share their experiences for exactly the reason you list — the more of us doing it, the better we can do it together. I will always find that admirable. Certainly, any mad I had I used up very quickly when rolling my responses to her post through my head, before I even realized I wanted to make a post about it. If anything, I do hope that if anyone who is a fan of Allie’s post comes and read mine, I hope that they will understand they didn’t do wrong in the grand scheme of things, and that their excitement is laudable. Just yanno, remember individualism too! 🙂
When I say “We are all Allie Brosh” it is not to discount or discredit your experience, or even say it should be the same experience. It’s more than she has the ability to write (and draw) in a way that is intensely identifiable. I never ran in a park hoping to impress my mother with how not sick I was, but, she spoke of it so well, that the parts of it that I have had experience with, I got. She spoke truths, in other words, and I support her truths. Much as I support yours. Much as I support everyone’s.
Did I have that “corn moment?” Yes. I did, but it was not in the midst of my own depression, as I’m sure you know, because if I recall correctly, you were there (tbh, I’m sure of very few people who were there, it was such an intense crisis for me that my memories of it are very hazy, it feels instead like *all* of you were there). It was in the middle of a very intense crisis for me, at the end of a marriage that I did not expect to survive. My corn moment was a cake moment, and was so very unlike Allie Brosh’s that the fact that I can read her’s and so completely identify the parts of it as speaking to me and of me are sort of amazing all on their own.
My own depression and series of breakdowns that I had when I was younger did not end with a bang. They petered out. There was no epiphany. No corn. No real line I can draw in the sand and say that on this side I was depressed and on that side I was not. It was slow, and gradual and over time.
I also know that I was very lucky that my particular depression and breakdown struggle was one that seemed to have an end.
One of the more wonderful and terrifying parts of Depression Part Two for me is that as much as I identify with all the different things Allie describes about her own point of view during this experience, I also identify with the horrible yoga woman. I am totally a “let’s look at the bright side” person. It’s horrible to see how incredibly awful that is mirrored back to me, but she explains it so well that I can’t even argue with it. That’s pretty powerful, too.
So, what I mean when I say we are all Allie Brosh is not that she is the summation of our experiences, or that she speaks to their totality, but instead, that she has the ability to hit truths sometimes that aren’t even ours, but are nevertheless true. If we were all precisely her, what would be the point?
We each tell our truths. She is not the speaker for all of our truths. Some of them, for sure, yeah. Our own truths can only be spoken of or known by us, though.
Maybe with somebody like Allie speaking up and delivering it all with such amazing clarity we can make more room for the awkward and difficult truths. I kind of have to celebrate that.
And indeed, you weren’t wrong to celebrate it. 🙂 It has made me happy to see so many of my friends being able to identify with it and use it to share that their experiences are there, free of brainweasels, easy to share about. I definitely understand a lot of what she’s saying, from how people respond at a depressed person (so many stories, so many stories) to wanting to be dead without necessarily suiciding. My brain carries a lot of oblivion crooning, for sure. I’ve gone back and re-read it a couple of times now, her post, and while I can agree with a lot of it, it’s just that one little bit that I feel a lot of people have glomped onto specifically. My brain totally wants to agree, because as you said, she says it so well. It’s totally why I didn’t get up on Facebook about it yesterday — I wanted to make sure that I gave people that initial moment to bask in shared experience, and why I was definitely concerned about trying to express with clarity that I didn’t have an iota of blame for anyone per se. And certainly, any ire I had about the situation evaporated pretty quickly once I got the words out of my head and into a useful format.
And I do remember bits about your moment. Not a wide array of details at this moment, but that it made me happy that it could (at least) happen when surrounded by friends who love you.
Anyways, hope this bit makes sense. I’m still massively asleep for some reason. ><
Well written. That is definately the way a blog should be written. I am impressed. Thanks for sharing.
I think the one thing that sticks out the most from her writing is that she can make her experience palpable: you can imagine what it must be like, and sympathise. I am fully aware, though, that this is mostly an alien way of being for me, one that I have not experienced myself in my 46 years on this planet.
Sure, I can feel unemotional, unattached from the feelings the people around me feel, but I never was emotionless. Rather, my emotionless state that I drift in is one of mild contentment and curiosity. Maybe it’s the end result of trying too hard as a kid to be like Mister Spock? Who knows? In any case, it is very, very different from what someone with depression feels, as I understand depression.
I am not depressed, and doubt it is in my nature to feel depression. But I do remain curious about it, for the simple reason that curiosity is the most powerful force in my life. I can be nosey. Maybe that’s all I need to do, is to remember to be curious all the time. No, not remember to be curious, I am that. Just remember and celebrate my innate curiosity. And keep reading both you and Hyperbole And A Half, of course.
There is a lot to be said for Spock; I’ve always made heavy use of logic to try and get me through the days. And one certainly does not have to experience depression to want to know more. I agree that Miss Brosh spins a fantastic tale, and I absolutely love her dead fish analogy!
I agree with you, wholly, in that everyone has a different run-through with depression, recovery, all if its ebbs and flows, and no one deserves to feel beaten over the head with a dead fish if their experience doesn’t exactly match what will probably become an iconic internet account of depression. (“Dead fish all the things?” IDK.)
When I say she’s right and I agree with her, I don’t mean– her description is universal, or that no one else’s experience is allowed to vary. All I mean by “she is right and I agree,” is– yes, you have a right to say (and thank you for saying) depression sucks and people outside it can’t get what it feels like on the inside, that coming out of it is a long hard slog, and that all of this bears repeating until everyone else with hopeful thoughts and what feel like trite encouragments and a need to be comforted by those of us in the middle of our own emotional quagmires get it and step off a bit so that we can… I don’t know. Breathe? Breathing is good, in the moment and on an ongoing basis.
So no, absolutely, you’re right. We’re not all Allie Brosh, in that we can’t all doodle and we don’t have dead fish and corn moments. Except some of us will, sometimes, have moments like this. And that I can get behind, because for those bits of her account that don’t match my own bipolar depressions (rage, lots of rage) there are lots of things there I can identify with, and if that helps a few people, I can get behind that.
You’ve said it very well! Yes, if people can identify, that gets the conversation rolling. And, I feel, our mental health community as a whole always has room for new people. I also totally celebrate that many people have had those breakthrough moments. Do I envy them? Perhaps a little bit — it’s a dark and hard place in my head no matter how calmly and cheerfully I spin it. 🙂
Excellent post. It’s like you feel about her the way I feel about Catherine Zeta-Jones, but you expressed yourself WAY better than I did in my post last night. ha. And can I just say, in the little time that I’ve been bipolar bloggin’ you’ve been super supportive and I think you’re great. Keep at it.
What can I say? I love spreading the love and support where I may. 😀
Word. So much word.
As I was reading the comic, I identified with a lot of it, especially when she was talking about how hard it was to tell people that you were suicidal. That feeling where you realize (distantly) that it’s pretty serious, but you absolutely don’t want to deal with having to comfort people or calm them down or reassure them that everything’s OK when it is so clearly not and you just really, really, really can’t deal with somebody else’s freak out at the moment. No matter how justified. But at the same time you know that it’s bad and you know you need help and you want to be able to tell somebody the truth.
Yeah. I know that feel. Ditto with the numbness.
But…. While I understand the impulse to end on a high note (I get it, I really do. It’s that same as above with that need to not have people freak out and the intolerable weariness you feel at just the thought of other people trying to comfort you when you’re not able to be comforted), it’s not me. And I’m not Allie, and I never will be, and I absolutely can’t say that I know anything about what’s really in her brain, but I do know that that’s not me.
I’ve had corn moments. I’ve had sudden upswings out depressive episodes for no good reason (or even a silly one). I’ve had them just slowly fade away, a day at a time, while I reclaim my life in inches. But I still get pretty depressed sometimes.
Universalizing one person’s experience diminishes all of the experiences that differ and when you’re depressed and anxious and wondering how you got to be so broken, the last thing you want is yet another variation of This Is What You Need To Do To Snap Out Of It, no matter how well intentioned.
And I agree with you 100% that this wasn’t the intent behind the post, or at all anyone’s fault, really. It’s just something to be mindful of. ALWAYS MINDFUL.
And that’s tough, especially when you’re riding a wave of enthusiasm about something that hits 90% of what you’ve been trying to articulate for YEARS.
Very well put. 😀
The way you describe feeling is sort of how I felt reading Kay Jamison on being Bipolar. She made it sound like an amusement park ride. Well, maybe not quite that bad. But it made me feel more of an outcast and failure than if I had never read her book and I think it was “Unquiet Mind” I am talking about. I have Bipolar I and will never have her experiences of success or being surrounded by understanding colleagues, etc.
In some ways, it’s even worse because those folks who responded loudly and positively to the post didn’t mean to make anyone else feel like an outcast. But as you probably know as well as I, those of us with a mental thingie tend to do a lot of dancing to express the validity of our sentiment and that we don’t think anyone else is invalid. I guess we have the practice? But yes, I appreciate your sentiment.