Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lolita and mental health

So this might seem like a bit much for such an early post in a public blog, but it's very fresh in my mind so I think now is the best time to get talking about it.

Today one of my friends left a status update on Facebook which read,

"And yet ANOTHER suicide jumper onto train tracks. So selfish and rude :("

and it was the most horrible, ignorant thing I have read in a very long time.

It's one thing when complete strangers are ignorant and horrible, but when you have to deal with these traits in your own friends, it's almost unbearable.

What's more, her friends proceeded to vehemently agree with her and exclaim over how dumb and awful these people were for trying to get attention. I can't believe that in this day and age people would be so ignorant of mental health issues to think that suicide is just selfish martyrdom. Have these people not even considered the possibility that some people live in such intolerable anguish for so many years, despite seeking all the help they can find, that death is the only way they can imagine finding relief? Do they really think there are hundreds of people out there just deciding it would be great for shits and giggles to get themselves crushed to death by a train?

Yes, it hurts others when a person kills themselves. It hurts family and friends and people you don't even know. But I'm yet to meet a depressed individual who hasn't thought "I'd kill myself if it wasn't going to be so harmful to the people around me". Sadly, this thought is usually first and foremost in the suicidal person's mind. And yet their lives are so full of pain that they can see no other way out. By choosing to die, the person has considered the pain they will cause and decided that it's still the best thing to do.

It upsets me enormously that people don't realise that when you have a genuine mental illness, a few sessions with a counselor don't make you better. No matter how much therapy you get, no matter how much support you have, no matter what medications you've tried, there will still be times when everything around you fades into meaninglessness, when your own body feels like it's filled with poison, when you feel nothing but disgust at yourself and your situation, when you would tear your heart out with your bare hands if it would ease the pain. Suicide is never an easy choice. It is never a nasty, horrible thing to do. It is a terrifying last resort to a life of desperation. 

You're probably wondering what on earth this all has to do with lolita. When I read this person's update, lolita was the last thing on my mind. My heart just went out to all the people who have to deal not only with mental illness, but with all the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding it. I also felt personally quite offended. 

For seven years, I've been living with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. It's always been a battle to get up in the mornings and put on a smile and face the world. Some weeks I can't even leave the house. I've been in hospital, I've lost friends, and even on my happiest days I'm constantly reminded of my illness by the scars that cover most of my body. Too much information? Maybe it's best you stop reading, because I'm not going to stop getting this stuff out in the open.

When I started reading Lolita Secrets on LiveJournal, I was saddened by the number of girls who felt the need to hide their mental illness from other lolitas, and who felt they could never be a 'proper' lolita because they were scarred and broken. The fashion and the lifestyle is focused intently on immaculate presentation and an incessantly sunny disposition. This is hard enough for even the most cheery person - have you ever gone to a meetup and felt ugly or grumpy? Ever worried that you'll never be as pretty as the 'famous' lolitas or as enthusiastic as the girls who run events and shows? - but for a girl who rarely feels happiness at all and is afraid to wear a short blouse in case her friends see the evidence of her anguish in stark white all over her wrists, life is not easy. 

I'm not here to share my misery though. I want to offer some perspective on life as a mentally ill lolita, give some help to anyone out there dealing with similar things, and show you how you can offer your support and care for others who might be dealing with these issues.

Q: I'm a lolita with a mental illness - what will people think?
A: People are still quite uneducated about mental health and generally don't know the difference between someone who is genuinely unwell, and a girl who is just seeking attention. They might have some quite unpleasant views regarding mental illness, but this is largely because they don't have any first-hand experience of it. They might think you're looking for attention, or that you're a drama-queen, or that you're just weird. Don't lose hope though! With time, and with some careful words from you, they can come to understand you a bit better.

Q: I don't want to have to keep it a secret, but what should I say to people?
A: If you decide to let people know what's going on for you, it can feel like a huge relief to let some stuff out. But remember, it's new for a lot of people, and can be pretty shocking. They don't need to know all the details. Been in a psychiatric ward? Don't mention it just yet. They don't need to know how often you cut yourself, or what all the frightening things are that you've done while experiencing a psychotic episode. Keep it simple, let people know that you might not always have the energy and cheerfulness to get to meetups and that you find it hard to cope sometimes. There will be plenty of time to go into more detail later if you want to.

Q: I'm not ready to share yet, it doesn't feel comfortable!
A: This is perfectly understandable. If it's just a matter of being unable to always be exuberant and attend meetups etc, I'd advise a few gentle white lies: tell people you've been a little unwell but you'll be fine, or just that you're overworked and tired. If you have injuries or scars to hide, long blouses are great for the cooler weather, and wrist-cuffs and bangles can help you out when it's warmer. Usually the rest of your body will be pretty well hidden under all those petticoats and ruffles!

Q: I have an eating disorder, but meetups are always so full of cupcakes and macarons. People keep offering me more food and I don't want to look weird by saying no!
A: Whatever you do, don't say you're on a diet. It might seem odd, but if you bring attention to your eating habits by saying you're dieting, people will tell you it's not necessary and it will be more obvious that something isn't right. It probably seems like people are really pushing you to eat more, but if you politely decline their offers and stick to tea and plenty of conversation, people probably won't take notice. Alternatively, if you're a creative person who likes to organise things, you might want to think about arranging a meetup yourself, that is less centered around food - a visit to a historic building or something involving games can be wonderful. You can also bring along healthier foods to things like picnics, where a salad is not out of place at all! 

Q: I really want to go to a meetup but I'm too shy!
A: In this instance, you're not alone! Even the happiest, healthiest people in the world can find the idea of a lolita meetup a bit daunting. The first thing you need to know is that while it might feel like all the attention is on you, there will actually be LESS attention on you than any other time when you're wearing lolita. And if you've heard that lolitas are all bitchy and mean, don't listen - the worst I've ever had to deal with is the occasional sullen girl who's having less fun than all the lovely people because she's too busy caring that someone is 'ita' and therefore shouldn't be around. Usually meetups are full of wonderful, supportive people who just want to have fun and compliment one another! Usually lolita groups in each town will have a few girls who are more than happy to meet up with newbies on a one-on-one basis too, so you might want to think about asking to have tea with one or two lolitas before you face the crowd!

Q: One of the girls in my local group has 

...depression. How can I support her?
A: Genuine depression is a very frightening and draining illness. What depressives need from the people around them is understanding above all. They need to know that they can take time out or let their guard down from time to time and still be accepted. They're probably also more likely than most girls to think they look worse than everyone else. Some gentle reassurance in the form of a compliment on something lovely about what she's wearing will go a long way. And there's always SOMETHING nice you can find in a coordinate. If she's clearly unhappy, acknowledge her and maybe put an arm around her and tell her you're there for her if she needs to talk about anything. It's very important for people who are feeling desperate and alone to know they have someone they can talk to. 

... severe anxiety. How can I support her?
A: Remember that the things that seem a little daunting but bearable to most people are probably absolutely terrifying to someone with an anxiety disorder. Let her know that you're around to help make things easier, but try not to make her feel bad if she can't bring herself to come to a meetup or can't face a crowd and so on. Make it clear that she's welcome to take time out, take one thing at a time, and only do what she's comfortable doing. Pushing a truly anxious person to do something they're afraid of doing can be very traumatising and can end badly. I was 'encouraged' into doing karaoke once and I spent the rest of the night shaking and in tears. It isn't fun. 

... an eating disorder. How can I support her?
A: Eating disorders are a really tricky area because they can be very physically dangerous and the people living with them are often dealing with some sort of delusion that they can't see past. Tell her she looks beautiful, don't try to force her to eat, don't tell her she's too skinny, nor should you compliment her on how thin she is! If you want to make life easy for her, offering food options that are low calorie and healthy is probably the best you can do. Sushi is wonderful! 

... a psychotic disorder. How can I support her?
A: I'm going to be honest here, I don't have a great deal of experience with this, but I have spent time around people having mild psychotic episodes. There isn't a lot you can do except to try to stay calm and sensible, and above all, caring. And when she appears fine, she IS fine. Treat her like a normal person, not a crazy person. Psychosis is terrifying for the sufferer and the last thing they need is to have people treating them like second-class citizens when they're actually doing fine. 

Q: I think a lolita I know needs more help than I can offer. What should I do?
A: The line between helpful and nosy is a fine one. Don't interfere with anyone's personal life unless you have a very serious concern that they need help and are not going to get it unless you bring it to someone's attention. If you can, the best people to talk to are the girl's parents. There are also mental health hotlines you can call. In Australia, you can call Lifeline (13 11 14), visit ReachOut (http://au.reachout.com/), or talk to your school counselor, psychologist or chaplain. There are similar mental health hotlines available all over the world - google 'mental health support' or something similar and you can probably find something useful.

Wow, hope all this hasn't been too much in one go! Remember, it doesn't take much to make life a little easier for someone living with mental illness, and intolerance is SO NOT RORI!


  1. I quite like and agree with this post. :) People really are ignorant nowadays. It's easier for them to reject than to try to understand and accept. (_ _")

    I don't have depression (but I did have cancer -- that's not really relevant here because it never really affected my mental health, luckily for me) but I sometimes feel really gloomy and burdened by the negativities and the ilk in this world. I'm a heavy thinker about those sorts of topics so I tend to stay in that mood for the next day or so. I've noticed shopping therapy helps for me, however materialistic it is, but just a book and a new tea flavours is enough for me.

  2. I have lived with depression for years too. I see your point that people are ignorant and generally uncaring; however i can't a agree with you completely. Suicide is a completely selfish act and when I have contemplated killing myself in the past other people's pain was the last thing on my mind. Mental illness is a terrible burden, but it makes it's suffers completely self obsessed.

    I think what your friend was trying to say is that when someone commits suicide on train tracts it effects so many people. Train drivers often require therapy to get over the horror. Aside from this there is a risk that the whole train could derail and possibly kill numerous people. I defiantly feel that it is a terrible thing that someone would be so miserable that they would kill themselves. However, it is extremely selfish to risk the lives of so many.

  3. You are right that it is very harmful to others and selfish in that regard, I guess I just wanted to explain that someone probably wouldn't do that sort of thing if they didn't feel totally unable to live with themselves... I disagree that having mental illness necessarily makes its sufferers self-obsessed. I know a lot of people with mental illness and sometimes the only thing that keeps them alive is their love and care for others.

  4. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this post.

  5. Hey, please don't take my comment as a criticism of your post. Its a wonderful that you want to share your experiences and help others. I just wanted to explain why your friend may have posted what she did. If you haven't lived mental illness you will never know the pain, but as I said I'm glad your trying to do your part raise awareness.

  6. I tried to kill myself when I was younger, I'd have never tried to make a spectacle like jumping infront of a train though.
    I hated what I was going through and it would be incredibly selfish to throw oneself infront of a train because then other people would have to share my suffering.
    Have you any idea how traumatic that must be for the driver?
    I would have taken my illness and passed it to someone else.

  7. Personally I have always contemplated "quieter" suicides so I wouldn't make a mess or traumatize other people. It just seemed selfish to me to force others to clean up after I had nothing left to worry about. Though perhaps jumping in front of a train was the only way they could think of ending it - we'll never know :/

    I think a part of the reason people don't seem to care about mental illness, ESPECIALLY Depression is because it is so commonly misdiagnosed that people with "depression" (who don't really have it) just look like attention-seeking drama queens *coughHIGHSCHOOLcough* along with the fake cutters with the catscratch scars, it makes what used to be a problem seem like one big "show" to the world. I have known catscratch cutters, and I have known real cutters (those scars are SCARY). It is not possible for me to know the pain of them, but I feel like they are being pushed aside as an issue until it is too late because of people who are doing it for attention. And that numbs every body else to the real problem

    I hope my thoughts are articulated well enough for you to understand ._. I am not good at expressing thoughts :( Oftentimes, if you don't LOOK sick, then quite obviously you cannot BE sick. That is another part of why mental illness is not taken so seriously, I think. You cannot look at me and say "Yes, she has an anxiety problem. That is why she is unable to leave her house for 2 weeks" Instead one may think "Why is she throwing such a hissy fit and crying over nothing?"

    This comment is ridiculong

  8. I totally get your point. Though there is one thing I'd like to clarify: the 'nastiness' of your cuts is not an indicator of how bad your depression is. I've known people with severe depression who have never cut themselves badly in their lives, and I've known people who've left huge gaping wounds on themselves 'for laughs'. Sometimes it depends on why the person is doing the cutting - for some people it's a genuine suicide attempt, for some it's because they feel they need to be punished for something, for others it's a way of easing a little of the psychological pain with physical pain. Self-injury is a strange beast.

  9. You are amazing.
    Just, the best ever.
    This entry is wonderful.

  10. I completely agree with this post. Being bi-polar my moods are all over.

  11. Wow, it takes a very open-minded person to write what you just wrote.
    I have depression and OCD and I really want to have a lolita wardrobe but there are so many factors in the way, I'm ugly, I have bad skin etc.
    The whole task seems so daunting it sometimes makes me feel... hopeless. Like it'll never happen, but I keep hoping and I hope one day I can wear lolita everyday and live a lolita lifestyle.


  12. What would you recommend to a lolita who does not have much money?

    1. Not to be callus but having a job helps in that department as far as money goes. Do not be blinded by those offering you FWB [friends with benefits]you are just selling you soul. Sugar Daddy's are also out of the question as long as you have self esteem and are proud of being who you are, again your selling f yourself for money wrong habit to get into.

  13. I read this article and agree as I suffer from PTSD and it is a daily battle to keep it all together in a world that is uncaring and selfish. I have a survival tool box to help me on a daily basis to cope with the world and the people in it, should I need help there is always a therapist a phone call away to help get over the bumps and hurdles and back on track.