Toughness, Not Depression, Is An American Fetish

In defense of the clinically depressed

I love Twitter. You could say (as my wife routinely does) I’m addicted to it. Sure it’s easy to insulate yourself with like-minded people, but it’s also a great place to do opposition research — find viewpoints you disagree with, and better understand the people who hold them.

I recently stumbled upon one such viewpoint — expressed by a professional shit stirrer (pictured above) — that depression is just sadness, and people who “suffer” from it are weak and need to suck it up.

The troll — who I’ll call Dickface in an effort not to promote his work — fires a lot of shots. I’ll address a few, not because I am the type of person he put in the crosshairs (I am), but because he’s not alone in his mentality, which literally kills people.

We’re bathed in a culture that glorifies and fetishizes depression.

Dickface goes on to say we’ve been “forced to swallow the ridiculous idea that constantly admitting weakness is a strength. It isn’t. Strength of mind is strength.

Ah, yes. Strength is strength and asking for help is for pussies. Actually, supporting people who open up about mental struggles is not fetishizing weakness, it’s a celebration of the courage it takes to face challenges head on, rather than die quietly because judgmental wannabe tough guys like Dickface are waiting to pounce with their bad science and big mouths.

Strength of character used to be about the ability to deal with negative stuff without falling to pieces at the first sign of distress.

If any mentality is fetishized in America it’s this brand of toughness, a widely admired and aspirational character trait, more than intelligence, and light years beyond vulnerability. If you were to ask any depressed person if they’d rather be labeled as “depressed” or “tough,” roughly 100% would choose tough.

We consider toughness the ability to absorb pain without admitting we’re hurt or asking for help. Maybe we’d be better served to think in terms of resiliency — the capacity to recover. If you suffer from depression, and you decide to face your fears and ask for help, you have done something really hard and are likely to be rewarded with a fuller, happier life. You’ll have proven yourself resilient, not weak. And I will celebrate your resiliency.

It’s also valuable to address the idea of depressed people “falling to pieces at the first sign of distress.” I can’t speak for everyone who battles depression, but for me, depression isn’t a red-faced, tear-soaked, blubbering breakdown. I cry at the end of Rudy or every 108 years when the Cubs win the World Series. I don’t cry when I’m depressed; I robotically contemplate, with no emotion whatsoever, how much better life would be for my family if I weren’t weighing them down, and consider the least traumatizing ways to give my children that gift.

I’ve come to the conclusion there is no way to do that, so I ask for help when I feel the darkness coming on.

People think they have the right to be happy. You don’t. Happiness is earned by the way you live your life.

I read somewhere that the pursuit of happiness is a right, a certain unalienable one, if I remember correctly. But I think Dickface is at least half right here. Happiness is the result of how you live your life. I am a happier person when I am open and honest about the things I struggle with, and yes, I am happier on medication.

Denying yourself happiness and living in the darkest parts of your brain doesn’t earn you some unquantifiable measure of toughness, awarded by people whose opinions don’t matter. It doesn’t make you a “real man.” It could very well make you a statistic — like 3.5x more real men die by suicide than women, or how in 2015 white men accounted for 7 out of every 10 suicides.

Stop being depressed, you’re not impressing anyone.

Stop being an asshole just because it impresses other assholes.

If you need help, get it. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.

You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741–741.

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