Don’t Feed the Trolls: A Lesson in Dealing with Depression

I want to start this off by apologizing to Allison Raskin.

If you don’t know who she is, Allison is one half of the brilliant YouTube channel Just Between Us (with the equally awesome Gaby Dunn), co-author (with Gaby) of I Hate Everyone But You (amazing) and the forthcoming Please Send Help (forthcomingly amazing). She’s written for Elle (amazing) and produced a soap-opera radio play podcast called Gossip (which I assume is amazing but haven’t listened to because I am bad at podcasts).

Allison is great, and I follow her career pretty closely because she’s also a big inspiration for me. Not only is she overcoming all the hurdles of trying to be a woman with a career in comedy, but like me she also struggles with mental health issues (OCD, anxiety, and depression). Her struggle has been longer and harder than mine to be sure, which is why she’s so inspiring vis-à-vis my own struggle with depression. When I found out that we were on the “same” antidepressant (mine being the generic equivalent at any rate) it helped me come to terms with that fact.

So I want to apologize to her for feeding the trolls in the comments on a recent (as of October 16, 2018) JBU video and on her Instagram where she announced her more recent article for Elle. At the time, I was reacting to some assholes who came to these spaces to trot out the tired bullshit of “antidepressants are bad for you.” I usually try to avoid arguing with people on the Internet because it’s a waste of time, but knowing as I do a number of people who are on antidepressants and being one myself, I know how important this medication can be. I felt like I couldn’t stand by and just let these people say their toxic crap. But I realized after several exchanges that these people would never be convinced that they were wrong, and that all I was doing was giving them the attention that they wanted. They were trying to hijack the conversation to make it about themselves and I helped. I not only failed Allison as a fan, but I failed as a feminist, because I ended up helping these toxic men invade an otherwise wonderful space created by a woman. Something I never would have done consciously.

When I say that I would never do that consciously, I don’t mean that I subconsciously want to erase women’s spaces or drown out their voices. No, I mean that what made me react to those comments was my own battle with depression. Depression manifests a lot of different symptoms for different people, and the primary symptom for me is anger. It’s not fun. Before the combination of therapy and medication, I would get really angry, really often, about a lot of things. Many of them stupid. While I don’t think it stupid to be angry at people in the world telling those of us who need antidepressants that we’re weak drug addicts, trying to argue with them on the Internet doesn’t do any good. One of the big things I had to learn was to let stuff like that go, because getting so angry that I gave myself a headache or can’t get anything done or scream my voice raw wasn’t helping me, quite literally, and it wasn’t making the world any better. And trust me, there are a lot of things that I care about, really truly and deeply important things (women’s rights, racial equality, worker’s rights, education, the environment, etc. etc.) that one can justifiably be angry about. But there have to be constructive ways to deal with that anger, otherwise it just makes my depression worse. I get into a rage/shame spiral and lord does that not ever end well. I’m much better at navigating these issues now because I’m treating my mental illness.

So not feeding the trolls is a great metaphor for not arguing with attention seeking jackasses on the Internet, but it’s also a good metaphor for dealing with depression (or so I’ve found). It was Brian Patterson of d20Monkey, another brilliant creator who struggles with depression, who once said that depression doesn’t want you to get better. It doesn’t. Depression is not the natural state for your brain, it’s your brain having acclimated to your chemistry being off, having achieved a “new normal” that is neither normal nor good. That makes it hard to fight, because your brain thinks you’re trying to change it when you’re really trying to heal it. What Brian meant is that depression tricks you into doing the things that make your depression worse. In my case, it tricks me into acting rashly concerning the things I’m mad about, because then I will get madder and my brain will get whatever anger chemicals it thinks it needs and I’ll feel like shit. So when I fed the Internet trolls on YouTube and Instagram, I was also feeding the depression trolls in my own brain. And neither of those actions helped anyone but the trolls.

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