A note on labels: Like many people with mental health struggles, I’ve experienced my fair share of misdiagnoses. Since writing this piece, I’ve finally been correctly diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and complex PTSD, which have been life-changing realizations for me. That said, I hope that the resources I created in the past can still be helpful. (Jan 2019)
Content Note: self-harm, suicide
The scars I have from cutting myself as a teenager have faded. If you looked at my body today, you would never know the hell that I put it through all those years ago.
But the wounds from people labeling me “attention-seeking” or “emo” or “dramatic” are still wide open, ten years later.
You could say that I have a bone to pick. And you would be correct.
When I was a teenager, all I understood about what I was going through was that I was depressed and detached from myself. Set adrift in my pain, I fell apart. I didn’t know why, let alone what resources were available to me or how to ask for help.
In a society which does not openly discuss mental health, it should come as no surprise that a fourteen-year-old kid didn’t know what to do when he was suicidal.
A decade later, I still don’t know what to do half the time. But I’m grateful to that teenager for doing what he needed to do to keep himself alive. I wouldn’t be here without him.
I can’t tell you the number of times that people saw me suffering – desperate, hopeless, lost – and, instead of validating my struggles, they wrote them off by saying, “He’s just looking for attention.”
I can’t tell you the number of times I hurt myself, only to hear someone say to me, “Quit being so dramatic.”
And to this day, I hear the word “emo” and a part of me cringes because I remember the way that word was used to completely invalidate my pain.
To set the record straight, if I was looking for attention, it’s because I needed it. If I was being dramatic, it’s because I couldn’t contain the depth of my own turbulent emotions. And if “emo” is just another word for mentally ill, then yes, I was certifiably insane but you were too busy laughing at my eyeliner to give a fuck.
Sure, I’m emo. I’m emotional. It’s called bipolar disorder, and maybe I would’ve gotten a diagnosis sooner if someone had paused to consider that maybe I wasn’t faking it.
Call me bitter, but I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different if someone had had the courage to intervene instead of the cowardice to mock me.
Yes, this one’s personal.
Yesterday – ten years after I heard the word “emo” for the first time, ten years after my so-called friend said I was pretending to be sad, ten years after a high school counselor told me my cuts weren’t deep enough – I needed help.
A depressive episode hit me so hard, I lost my balance and I hit rock-bottom. I wasn’t in my right mind.
But instead of asking my friends for support, I felt that gut instinct that’s been ingrained in me since I was a teenager – the one that tells me not to be a burden, not to be dramatic, not to bother anyone.
Suffice to say, I ended up drunk off my ass a block away from the train station contemplating thoughts I can’t let myself say out loud just yet.
Take it from a real-life “emo” kid: When you tell us that we’re just looking for attention, what you’re really saying is that we don’t deserve to be seen.
When you tell us that we’re faking it, what you’re really saying is that our pain doesn’t matter, that WE don’t matter.
When you tell us that we’re emo, as if it’s funny to you, what you’re really saying is that our suffering is a joke.
You tell us that we don’t need help. You tell us that we don’t deserve help.
And you create the kind of world where people who are struggling feel like they have no other option but to end their own lives.
You create the kind of world where people who have a mental illness won’t find out until ten years or more after the age of onset, if they’re ever diagnosed at all. That’s a statistical fucking reality and it’s the reality I’ve been living in for a long time.
You create the kind of world where young people learn to bottle up their emotions, to lie about their pain, and to go it alone until they wind up in hospital beds, on train tracks, on concrete, in graves.
And you know what? I’ll take an attention-seeking teenager over a dead one any day of the week.
I want teenagers to shout it from the rooftop. I want teenagers to write it all over the internet. I want teenagers to make their pain known in every damn way they can.
Because guess what? That’s how you survive.
And I don’t know about you, but I want a world in which teenagers who are struggling with their mental health can get attention if and when they need it. Because every one of us deserves to have our pain seen, validated, and affirmed.
And if that makes me “dramatic”? So be it.