I saw this post on Tumblr the other day:
Suicidal people are just angels who want to go home.
This troubled me. I’m not usually a troubled person. In fact, I’m a pretty upbeat, sunshine-rainbows-lollipops-chocolate kind of person. Hold onto your seatbelts, blogglings. Things are about to get Capital S Serious. No GIFs today.
Tumblr romanticises a lot of things, and one of those things is mental illness. That quote up there? Yeah, that’s damaging. It’s damaging because if we start talking about suicide as akin to heaven, people start to think that suicide is a good solution. People start to think their scars are beautiful, and that self-harming is a desirable thing.
We need to learn that it’s not the scars that are beautiful – it’s the people.
And this doesn’t just happen on Tumblr. It happens in YA fiction sometimes, too. Authors can make a story beautiful without glorifying self-harm, without making mental illness a beautiful thing, because it’s not. It’s awful, and it affects so many people in terrible ways.
But even if an author sets out to do the exact opposite of romanticising suicide, sometimes quotes are taking the wrong way. Take this one from Looking for Alaska:
“Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there’. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
Pudge (the main character) romanticises Alaska in the novel, but in the end this is his “fatal flaw,” as it were, and basically the whole premise of the book is that he mis-imagines her entirely. But people on Tumblr don’t know that. They use these quotes out of context to say that mental illness and suicide are beautiful things. This is what John Green has said:
“The other attack going viral on Tumblr at the moment is that I write novels about broken people who need saving, and that this encourages the romanticization of brokenness…I write about broken people who need other people in order to go on. But those are the only kind of people I know to exist. We are all broken. We all depend upon each other for support and compassion. That web of interconnected yearning and need is essential to my understanding of human experience, and I don’t find celebrating it problematic.”
You can find the Tumblr post he wrote here.
Which is all well and good if you’ve had as much experience, and are as intelligent as John Green. Who’s to say that some teens won’t cling to the broken people he writes?
There’s also this one:
“If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
This is what Pudge (again) says about Alaska. He’s basically saying she’s a more interesting person because of how destructive she is, and while John Green may think he made this abundantly clear, that’s clearly not the case when you take a look around Tumblr.
(by the way, if you’re not aware, John Green is my favourite author. I’m just highlighting how easy it can be to take things out of context, and a lot of people have in his case)
Mental illness is not desirable, and it’s not beautiful. Sure, the people are beautiful, and we should be proud of them for fighting every day. But glorifying the illness itself is a million steps in the wrong direction.
YA writers out there, teenagers are strange creatures. We don’t like it when authors are condescending, but for the most part we’re pretty impressionable. Don’t write a character whose mental illness is a quirky personality trait. Don’t write a character whose mental illness can be overcome by having a boy/girlfriend. Don’t write a character who is beautiful because of their brokenness.
Mental illness is a huge issue among teenagers. I am so, so thankful to have my mental and physical health. But others don’t, and we need to portray them accurately.
And if you’re still reading this, thank you for bearing with me. I don’t usually talk about heavy topics like this, but it’s been something on my mind. I’m sure a lot of this isn’t very coherent.
Have a lovely day 🙂