02.15.2020 Personal + Spiritual Growth

Why Depression Memes Make Me Feel Less Alone

Johanie Cools
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For most of my life, death was at the forefront of my mind. I grew up in a religious household and was taught that when I die, I’ll surely go to Heaven. Though it was a thought I kept in mind, the idea of death never really hit me until I started showing signs of Major Depression Disorder. I would lie awake, a restful sleep abandoning me again, and wonder what would happen if I died intentionally or on accident. It’s an overwhelming feeling that requires immense willpower to push through. 

Being depressed is a humiliating experience. It takes therapy, medications, inner strength, and a reliable support system just to get through daily life. When filling out job applications, I debate whether I want to include that disability on the form. When I go to the psychiatrist, I have to fill out a survey to determine how depressed I’ve been for the past two weeks. 

It’s exhausting, and, at times, I feel like I’m the only one suffering in this way. Everyone around me seems so happy — so what’s wrong with me?

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says Major Depressive Disorder affects more than 16.1 million American adults (or about 6.7% of the US population age 18 and older). However, knowing the statistics doesn’t make me feel any less alone or suicidal. Those figures don’t include the daily struggles like the emptiness in my chest after hanging out with friends or the constant doubt if my depression is even real. Because of the tendency to feel hopeless, it’s easy to stop calling friends or read too much into the well-intentioned — but terrible — advice of “Just be happy.” I want to be understood, and depression/suicidal memes help me feel less alone.

Memes are, in my opinion, one of the best things that have ever happened to the Internet. Urban Dictionary defines the word as “a lifestyle” that “gives laughter and joy to the viewers,” and, perhaps the most absurd of the bunch, “a cure for depression.” Based on my experience with them, I’d say the last one isn’t entirely an exaggeration. 

They’re like a bandaid and a salve; they don’t cure you, but they do help you feel better and stop the bleeding.

One post I love is about a boy and a girl playing ‘Guess Who?’ The boy asks, “Does he have any will to live?” The girl emphatically replies, “Yes!” The boy then flicks down a picture of himself on his board. The feeling it’s showcasing is not a pleasant experience… but that’s the point. Acknowledging that you have no will to live, but have to keep experiencing life anyway is painful and a little embarrassing — but it’s precisely what makes it so funny.

No matter how terrible we feel, we’re probably not going to do anything about it. A Reddit user posted a question to r/AskReddit asking what makes others persist through life while having depression. Another user answered, “I’m afraid to commit to anything, and death is the ultimate commitment.” That, right there, is the genuine struggle in a nutshell for suicidal and depressed folks. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s beautiful when people choose to keep living. Not everyone can do that, but the decision to end it all is often attributed to that person having herculean willpower. In the same sense, there’s also an underlying cowardice to depression. We’re afraid to go through with our darkest desires — which is what makes this post so painfully dead-on. 

It brings truth to power and is so audaciously written for the world to see, that you just have to crack a smile.

That’s what makes these memes unique. They’re relatable, and really only funny to someone who has depression. Others may laugh at how comical they are or even how pathetic they may seem, but you don’t truly feel it unless you’re in that place. What these memes ultimately encapsulate is what YouTuber ContraPoints calls “The Darkness,” the highest form of comedy that makes something pleasurable out of one’s pain. They take the sting from depression and suicidal thoughts and make it hilarious. It’s putting a mirror to my face about my despair, making me see how sad I actually am and how sad someone else had to be to make this. 

They’re comforting and silly because depression is nonsensical. Smiling in one moment, to then feel miserable in the next, simultaneously craving and denying affection, and pretending to be put together when you’re really falling apart inside are all perfect material for memes. They’re so terrible they’re funny. 

And that is the most gratifying part of all. We aren’t alone. We’re suffering together — but we should probably get some professional help, too.

Johanie Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author. Follow her on Twitter at @jmartdotcom or on Medium at @jmcools.

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