I was on a date the other day with a girl whom I (regrettably) took to Starbucks. I paid £3.40 for a cup of lemonade, filled so high with ice that, by the time it had melted, was essentially a cup of sour water. You would have thought, really, regarding the tax evasion, that the quality of the beverages would have been substantially better.
We weren’t having a great time; there was no chemistry on my part, even if she did feel a spark. It was not only a lack of physical attraction-it was that, above all else, her words and her beliefs were ugly. Little had I known beforehand, that morning I would be sitting across the table from some British descendant of Donald Trump with sizeable breasts and a horrific half-fringe.
Beginning to discuss the troubled youths surrounding us each and every day, she commented “They’re all typical white, privileged, selfish kids.”
It’s an opinion I’ve heard a lot-and, as someone who frequently suffers from clinical depression and OCD, I find it ignorant; grating to say at the least.
We, as a product of evolution, have become-potentially-astoundingly advanced in our thought processes. The vast majority of us know the difference from right and wrong, kind from cruel and ethical and immoral. So why are some of us so very limited when it comes to dishing out sympathy?
It is not as if we’re in danger of running out of some kind of metaphorical “credit”; empathy and compassion are limitless. Being kind and showing understanding to someone with depression in the first world by no means diminishes the horror you feel for those starving in the third world. The human mind holds the capacity to care for everyone under the sun-if only we allow it to.
Retrospectively, I should have walked away there and then; tipped that sodding lemonade down the front of her tight black dress and swept away, Monroe style. But I didn’t-and hindsight is a wonderful thing. Instead, I attempted to engage her in an intelligent conversation: wanting to give her the chance to justify her “viewpoint”, both out of interest and with the optimism of correcting her in mind.
I don’t always talk about self destruction on first dates; it’s not my number 1 pulling strategy. But I think it’s important to know, in advance, if you’re going to potentially end up dating a fascist. I’ve never understood small talk-not only is it a fucking bore, but also a distraction from the importance of getting to know-to really know-a person.
She proceeded to say “Self harm is attention-seeking, a vast majority of the time”. Which, in some cases, is very true. But I wanted to push her outside the comfort of her own, snow-globe world. I came back with the argument, that, even if self harm were attention seeking, perhaps that is because, as human beings, we crave love and TLC when we reach rock bottom: and instead of slating those cries for help, we should offer a hand. I used my own experience of being a twelve year old girl who felt as if she had to hurt herself because she felt it was the only way to make those around her listen.
I used to cut myself and leave blood stained tissues in obvious places: not as a conscious decision, but perhaps more of an inner, more subtle, hint to those around me. Suffering from severe clinical depression, having used all the words in the Oxford Dictionary, I’d hit a brick wall.
Since then, self harm has become a far more complex coping mechanism, with its own hell, its own terrors and nightmares. But at the time, on my 13th birthday, it screamed only one thing: “please, please help me”.
Needless to say, her response was far from supportive.
“You deserve all the hate that you get, in that case. You’re an ungrateful white girl-you don’t go to Africa and see kids with scars and mutilated bodies.”
To me, that came across not only as offensive, but-more overpoweringly-naive: demonstrating an incredible lack of knowledge about mental illness and the human mind. There is a certain sting that comes with being told to “count your blessings”: although this is a great life skill, the prospect that it would help cure clinical depression and paranoid schizophrenia is pure idealism; nothing more than background noise.
Mental illness is not about who in the world, has it “worse”. There is no scale of pain, and nor should there be. We are all here to look after one another-and that’s one of the few things in our society that comes free of VAT.