Allie Brosh is back! Like the rest of the Internet, I’m thrilled to see new content from Hyperbole and a Half. Our favorite semi-pro Paintbrush guru is back to normal!
Hmmm… Maybe not back to normal, whatever that means.
It’s been 19 long months since the last post (also about her struggles with depression), which itself followed a six month gap from the previous one. We’ve been collectively concerned about Allie for about two years. That’s why it’s thrilling to see something new from her, even if it’s a travel log from the dark places she’s been.
Both of my long-time readers will remember the last time I wrote about depression about a year and a half ago. As usual, I was writing from ignorance: my natural genre. I’m lucky (and it really is just luck) that I don’t struggle with depression myself. Despite Allie’s best efforts, I can’t quite wrap my mind around what it’s like, no more than I could imagine having an OCD or being color blind. (FUN FACT: I can imagine what it’s like to lose your sense of taste and smell. Eat at McDonald’s three meals in a row and your brain forgets that some foods have flavors or aromas.)
In that previous post, I was lamenting that depression is misunderstood and often not treated like a “real” disease, such as cancer. I have no insight into depression, and even I have heard stories about depressed people being told to “snap out of it” or about well-meaning attempts to jolly someone back to being un-depressed. I think we still have a problem.
I’ve reread Allie’s post a few times, and something sticks out to me: the people in her life didn’t know how to interact with her. I’ve seen this before on a different scale. It’s terrifying.
(I know she condensed the last 19 months into a single post. There must have been a few people who knew what they were doing. Her fiance’, for one. But its clear she was also in a world of unprepared-if-kind-hearted people.)
I’m not trying to attack Allie’s friends or family. I can’t think of the best way to help with someone going through this either. In many ways, she’s going through this alone whether someone’s sitting next to her or not. Trying to make her laugh her way out of it, badgering her, or shaming her (“you’re making your family upset”) is clearly the wrong approach.
If I were friends with Allie or someone else going through this, what do I do? Do I act like everything’s normal? Do I try to be around more often, even if it’s just to sit there quietly? Do I leave her alone? Does it matter either way? What do I do if this person talks about dying?
Okay, I think I’ve sufficiently made Allie’s struggles all about me now.
My point is this: our awareness of depression and other mood disorders as something serious and life-ruining is growing, thanks in part to people like Allie, Jenny Lawson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones being willing to talk about it frankly. There is every reason to believe this awareness will gradually lead to more people getting medical treatment, better coverage under health insurance plans, and the like.
Those of us watching from the audience aren’t off the hook. You never know when you’ll get upgraded to a ring-side seat, so to speak, and someone in your actual life will be facing this. You don’t want to be the “snap out of it” guy. Take some time to read about depresson with an actual book or browse through an online forum (they tend to be more supportive than, say, YouTube commenters). If you’ve already got someone close to you fighting this, find (or start) a support group.
Do something. Anything is better than hoping they’ll cheer up. Your Allie equivalent might necessarily feel alone and lost, but there’s no reason you should feel the same.
But we can at least be happy the actual Allie has begun to shake it off. She’s not fully out of the water yet, but it seems she’s poked her head up. I hope she keeps posting, and her book is finally ready for preorder.
I have no idea what she’s doing. We’re better off if she keeps doing it.