There’s something about throwing up a janky peace sign to yourself in a greasy mirror post-weekly Wednesday night sobbing session (no, not the one you had scheduled in your G-Cal that should have ended forty-five minutes ago, the one that came after you hit that point in the night where you realized it was an all-nighter kinda night) that gives you the strength to wash off your runny mascara that you paid an extra ten dollars for and wipe off the remnants of the half a gallon of chocolate milk you impulsively bought at Jansen’s twenty minutes ago (even though you’re lactose intolerant and wanted to go Vegan three days ago) and walk back into the Cocktail Lounge. I know what you’re thinking, “wow, Sara, that’s like really messy, maybe you should see someone” or “maybe just stop buying the chocolate milk?”, but I sweaarrr it’s totally not about me, and if it was, I’m only sometimes lactose intolerant. “It just be like that sometimes,” my freshman year self told the mirror as she vehemently denied the toxic pattern in thinking she was developing.
And yet so many of us are fine with the culture of casual depression. Predicated on the normalization of our mental illnesses and declining mental health as a coping mechanism, there emerges what I like to call: the increasingly dangerous “I’m sad lol” and “I hate my self-ie” culture. In Mikhail Lyubansky’s article “Robin Williams and the Mask of Humor,” he recalls his work with troubled youth, explaining their different manifestations of depression: some being so sad they’re unable to utter words, others angry to the point of violence, and a third group, the hardest to reach, “the entertainers”. These are the ones who, through their pain, learned how to make others laugh, and in that comedic moment, found they could temporarily forget their sources of pain, instead of grasping every opportunity to entertain and adopt this mask of happiness. Sound familiar? Cornellians tend to normalize mental illness, perhaps because we often lack the resources to treat these issues or because we don’t have the time to seek out these resources in general.
But it results in a dangerous oversimplification of mental health treatment in which those with increasingly pressing illnesses find themselves inching away from mental health care because “everyone else is going through it too”. The thing to remember: while it’s okay to joke about your mental health, mental health isn’t a joke. And no, this does not give you a free pass to say things like you’re depressed because you got to the dining hall ten minutes after it closed or that your friend is bipolar because he chose not to go out the night you had plans. It means that while it may help to laugh about the time you almost gave yourself mental breakdown days last night, you shouldn’t feel you don’t have the right to reach out to someone and chat about the hard week you’ve had. Next time you feel the need to add lol or to the end of a sad rant to your friend, just know that you are equally valid in expressing your emotions either way.
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