How are you? How are things going?
Remember how you’d always say I was into weird shit? I’ve been into this rap group calledthe Sad Boys, including producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman, fronted by the MC and most famous of the three, Yung Lean. Their music isn’t entirely Billboard Hot 100 material. Yung Gud and Yung Sherman produce trippy, monolithic beats boosted by hi-hats and 808s while Yung Lean raps over them with offbeat, sometimes corny lyrics. Their music videos range from homemade grainy videos of Yung Lean to visual collages that are an inventory of what they like— including Arizona Iced Tea, Fiji water, Japanese culture, and Pokémon.
Somehow, someway, I’m hooked on all of this. Not just me, obviously; so do other people. Sad Boys have been featured by the likes of Vice, Complex, and Fader. They’ve done world tours. Their videos have millions of hits.
But I can say that I’ve listened to them quite a bit. It’s gotten to the point that I share stuff on social media with captions like “crying on my Arizona tears” and “so emotional right now listening to this.” I’m telling you this just because of how big a fan I am. I would buy the shit out of their merch. I would set up a garage sale just to get enough funds for a concert ticket if they toured somewhere in Asia. Sadboys for life, man.
But recently I’ve been feeling bad—bad that while I share my love for Yung Lean and his crew on social media, I’ve been having some kind of dilemma. I recently found out that a friend of mine was diagnosed with depression. And that got me thinking—was I offending him by adopting this faux sad identity? Have I stepped on anyone’s toes?
I look around me and I see people being open with their emotions, their sadness, and their frailty. I’ve had friends tell me about their mental illnesses in the middle of a story they were telling like it was part of their inventory of facts and tidbits about themselves they could drop with no hesitation. I’ve had friends confide it like a secret they couldn’t keep to themselves in the form of a soft whisper or a tap on the shoulder. I’ve found out, most of the time, indirectly—through other people who soften their words with caution. I responded the same to each utterance: silence, with a slow nod. I had the same somber awareness as the people who told me secondhand. This fear of wrong articulation, this fear of treading through the wrong lines of the language of the silent. I didn’t want to dismiss what they have as something less, something you can describe with a string of words. And even if you could find those strings of words, I wouldn’t know what they are in the language I speak.
And this is what unnerves me the most. I can’t understand depression. It’s invisible. I can only wrap the bandages when the wounds are already there. I can only be by your side in the emergency room when the damage has already been done. There are only cures to the physical manifestations but there’s no cure I know of that can take all your inner pain away.
In the vast, fast-paced world of the internet, I’ve noticed that the identity the internet grants—an anonymous one—is one where people can become more open with what they’ve been feeling. Dark recesses hold dark, intimate thoughts—open letters of suicidal tendencies and self-doubt. I could take a step back and think: Are these thoughts real or fabricated just for attention?
On social media, where anonymity is permitted but not fully taken, some people talk about their feelings in awkward ways. I go on Facebook and see all of these pages that share images about depression, self-harm, heartbreak, and suicide tinted with humor. Sometimes they’re so absurd that they’re funny. Sometimes they’re more straightforward. And people share these posts. You look at the comments and people—real people—tag their friends saying “hahaha it’s me” or “dude this is so u.”
I remember seeing a friend lying down on her bed, her eyes wide open looking as if she could see the sky beyond the walls of her room. Her face was pale, and her hands were twiddling a lit cigarette that had almost run out, the smell of the smoke masked by an air purifier that made her room smell like burning flowers. Her fingers were singed by the ashes. She didn’t mind. Her body was there but I felt like she was imagining herself elsewhere. But we both knew that the girl I saw in her room was not a pretty sight.
I remember another friend, red-faced drunk, who, in his drunken stupor, admitted his mental illness. With one glance, I could see him as this brooding red-faced superstar who takes on the general public’s misunderstanding of him as a persona. One night stands and being on drugs almost 24/7 as your personality. What’s not to like? Something straight out of the life of The Weeknd. But I don’t find it beautiful.
I didn’t find them glamorous, because there is nothing glamorous about sickness. It’s so hard to blame people who find an escape in the void during their better days. I respect their boundaries and I don’t know when to step in or sit it out. Am I enabling them? Or am I making them see joy amidst their condition?
One thing I do know is that you are not your pain. Your mental illness is just a single speck in the sky that is your life. It’s fine if you don’t want to talk about it. I understand if you don’t want to open up, or you don’t want anybody to know. I will be there when you want to talk about it, and I will be there during the long moments of silence that I fear. Maybe the best thing that I can say is nothing at all. Maybe that’s how we could possibly bond—from your point of view rather than mine.
I am listening to one of Yung Lean’s songs, Emails, and in his drone-like voice I catch these lines:
Lean steady depressed bruh
Emotional boys in the VIP section
One million plants in my room, my walls are melting
Reach out a hand with no gravity cause nobody is helping
When people share random stuff that tangentially points to depression, maybe it’s their way to channel that depression. If sharing memes about social anxiety or existential dread is their way of channeling what they’re feeling into something positive (positive in the sense that it makes people laugh), then who am I to judge?
I can never fully comprehend your situation, but I don’t have to comprehend fully to care about you. In this day and age people are becoming more open to what they’re feeling. But the stigma still persists, which is why I think openness comes in such awkward ways—memes and janky music videos with janky lyrics. We’re living in tough times. We align our identities with brands, celebrities, and movements that feel so hollow once we break through their shiny facades. We needlessly compare ourselves with each other. We are all tireless pilgrims looking for our place in the Earth, looking for real purpose that would make our lives more than just existence. And the burden of that pursuit can be too heavy to bear.
I don’t want there to be a time where I could have helped someone and failed to do so. I don’t want to have done too little or be too late. Even talking about it won’t let me fully understand and won’t help you get through this. But the least and best I can do is try and do my best. And I hope that’s enough. I hope you can see sincerity in the attempt.
Originally published on Scout Magazine‘s May-June 2016 issue. Both the essay and the image are reposted with permission from the author.
I've been struggling, in the constant cycle of denying & living with my mental illness And art has always paved way for self-care, and somehow, healing I truly believe i
only when you stay awake late enough can you hear the sound of daybreak, a town slowly coming alive as you wonder if you still are you count every breath you spend staring
Jan Alaba's digital illustration was inspired by this particular Alessia Cara song He has struggled with Dissociative Identity Disorder, diagnosed since 2014 and is still working