Gen Z is anti-recovery and none of us will admit it.
https://open.spotify.com/track/4CeeEOM32jQcH3eN9Q2dGj Edge — we want it, we crave it. I pregamed university with two gruelling trials of antidepressants, a predictably unhelpful evaluation for EUPD and a prescription drug overdose on the sterile linoleum floor of the college bathroom. Likewise, here I am prefacing an article with this necessary declaration of cerebral dysfunction, because had I not been mentally ill at all we’d be having a very different conversation.
In my six years sentenced to the throes of unrelenting mental chaos, I became consumed by branding, in its all-enveloping contagion and content-fuelled hysteria. Gone are the days of gauging a Tumblr user’s diagnosis from the fruit salad of special effects and filters placed over a despondent-looking Bart Simpson on Picsart. The 20s are officially roaring and self-representation is as easy as dipping into an arsenal of archetype-conforming brands, musicians and literary references — I’ve practically stolen Electra Heart from Marina and the Diamonds. What makes this such a curious phenomenon is Gen Z’s frail grip on personality despite our preoccupation with it. To share trauma is the present decade’s most consumable revelation of one’s character, and people are more inclined to respect you if you can present a cocktail of mental illnesses, or one parent, or a damaged prefrontal cortex. (Now cue the part where you re-read my introduction, and everything makes sense). You see, the credibility of this criticism is reliant upon my standing in my own way — you only need to picture the influx of resounding objections to a critical article on mental illness written by somebody who is not currently, or never has been, possessed by the illness they write about. Nabokov once said that the poison was in the wound and the wound wouldn’t heal. Above all the noise of mental health awareness, Gen Z is anti-recovery. We’re anti-recovery because an open wound in 2022 will get you 43,000 followers and external validation with an embrace like a bodywarmer. As it was in ‘91, the world smells like teen spirit, and overconsumption of the self-praising, troubled ruminations of others makes it harder to hold your breath. By mid-October I diagnosed in myself an unshakeable boredom with quirkiness and pseudo-insanity: the nauseating, tangerine bitterness of viewing memes about depression that make you feel understood while crippling you into an online entertainer’s inertia. It was a Thursday when I collected my first paid prescription for 45 milligrams of mirtazapine. I was supplied only with 7 days’ worth instead of my usual 28, for fear that I would try to kill myself for the second time that month, and the price tag was the same. I often ask myself why anybody would willingly take on the extra expense; making strangers laugh on the Internet is largely unrewarding for the £9 I’m paying out of pocket to have a tablet regulate my emotions for me. A personality dependent on one’s suffering has an expiry date in the way that milk has an expiry date; it is the furthest thing from sustainable. What we are yet to discover is that mental illness becoming a party trick is the worst thing that could have possibly happened to our perception of a supportive community. People enable you, begin to treat you as they treat themselves, treat your illness as they treat their own — laugh when I laugh, cry when I cry. And I cry rebelliously, because I refuse to laugh at what causes me pain, because laughter is the collectively preferred coping strategy to the detriment of everybody I encounter. In The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison coins the ‘Post-Wounded Woman,’ referring to women who are “wary of melodrama so they stay numb or clever instead. Post-wounded women make jokes about being wounded or get impatient with women who hurt too much.” And you ask, how do you identify the post-wounded woman? She’s likely on Twitter announcing the beginning of her dietcoke-cherryemoji-parliamentcigarette-ultraviolence era. Smouldering eyeliner and two blood red acrylics remain, catching fire on my fingertips; chopping, screwing and incendiary endings; over the back of a Mustang, I give birth to myself.
Words: Solana Aerin Webber