It’s not like I meant to ignore you, I just zoned out. There are a lot of noises right now that are making it impossible to pay attention to any one thing. It’s not like I meant to miss your calls and texts today, but I was so upset last night that I didn’t fall asleep until 5 in the morning. It’s not like I’m not excited for this, but I had a panic attack last night and I thought I was dying.
It’s just that I have ADHD, anxiety and depression.
And it’s not fun, despite what the internet and media often want you to think.
Mental illness is romanticized and misrepresented across TV and film, social media and news. Mental illnesses are made into B-plots, jokes and sometimes even villainous traits.
ADHD was never cute and quirky for me. It was begging my sister to tie me to a chair so I couldn’t keep walking away from my homework. It was forgetting about entire homework assignments until it was time to turn them in. I can’t remember anything unless I write it down on my hands, and even then I still forget.
I get distracted easily, so environments with too much noise make it impossible to work. I can’t even focus in Zoom classes because my dorm has too much stuff in it — stuff that I can fiddle with or touch or write on or tap on. My disorganization skills don’t help with that either.
Sometimes I talk way too much. My family complains about my stories that go on forever with way too much detail that adds nothing to them but is necessary to me. I love listening to others, but sometimes it is absolutely impossible, which often makes me come off as a bad sibling and a bad friend.
I’m sensitive to smells, certain noises and textures. I hate the feeling of tags, and when my hands don’t have the right “texture,” I tend to freak out.
I don’t want any of this. Yet ADHD is often shown as slightly distractible and quirky characters on TV who have no struggles outside of getting sidetracked by squirrels.
It’s the same thing with depression. Shows like 13 Reasons Why make suicide look like a revenge plot, and they hardly even mention mental illness in the first season. Being mentally and physically exhausted constantly, losing all motivation for basic activities and tasks, ignoring friendships and relationships and feeling nothing at all is not something to make light of.
My anxiety doesn’t make me stutter adorably or blush or anything else portrayed by those on screen. I have panic attacks, anxiety attacks and sometimes going out and interacting in public is nearly impossible.
In real life, people with mental illnesses are demonized and mistreated. On the news, they are represented as dangerous and unhinged. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost half of the people killed by police have some kind of mental illness.
And yet, there are growing trends on TikTok, where if you can blink to the beat of a song, you’re a sociopath. Depression and anxiety are treated as desirable quirks. Trends like “What I eat in a day” encourage disordered eating, as was promoted in the days of Tumblr and on the show Skins.
Romanticizing mental illness can have dangerous consequences. I have never been proud of my depression or my anxiety. I was only recently diagnosed with ADHD, which validated the struggles I had all my life. I don’t really like to tell people about my mental illnesses, but I don’t hide them, because I know that these conversations are important.
But when I see teens on social media influenced by artsy edits and trends that promote and romanticize mental illness, I get upset and more ashamed of my own.
It’s not a fun story or trend. It’s my life and the lives of millions of others. It’s our reality. We don’t get to put our mental illnesses on when it’s trendy and take them off when it’s not.
It’s important to have a conversation about mental health, and it’s important to bring these issues into the spotlight so they are no longer shunned and ignored. But it’s also important to realize these are real things that affect real people.
So I’m sorry I wasn’t listening, I’ve just got a lot on my mind.