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Why It’s Okay To Laugh In The Face Of Your Mental Illness

Culture
Illustration by Jansen Cumbie

According to Sad Girls Club founder Elyse Fox

I've always used sarcasm and self-deprecation as a buffer between myself and the rest of the world. It's a way for me to make light of my own insecurities and self-doubts. My reasoning has always been that if negative things were going to be said about me, at least I had control over it. If people are laughing at me, they're doing it on my terms. And when I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I made fun of my experience with my mental illnesses, too.

But the thing is, mental illness is no laughing matter. This sickness changes the way you act and view the world—and it's a tough burden to bear. But when I'm in the midst of a depressive episode or anxiety attack, I find that taking it seriously just makes it worse.

Those who are going through something similar know that there are days when things are bad and days when things are good. But the everyday, for me, becomes more bearable if I can crack a joke about it. If I can’t get out of bed for anything other than work or school, I’d rather laugh it off than pity myself for being pretty much paralyzed. My life becomes more bearable when I joke about the fact that my mental illness inhibits things that I love to do, like exercise, or things that I need to do, like hang out with my friends. 

But this coping mechanism is not always reflected in online resources for understanding mental illnesses. Most websites are rife with statistics, refusing to acknowledge mental illness in a casual way even though more people than ever before suffer from it. And while these resources may be lifesavers to some, they make my situation worse. Casting my episodes in this serious light forces me to take them seriously, which causes even more panic.

Enter: Sad Girls Club, a community that filled my niche need to joke about my mental health. Sad Girls Club is an online and IRL community that acts as an open forum for girls to talk about their mental health in a space free of stigma or judgment. Their medium of choice is Instagram, and their page is littered with a mix of memes, funny GIFs, and resources to help girls understand their mental health. Instead of hitting us in the face with statistics and horror stories, Sad Girls Club gets the same message across and makes us laugh while teaching us how to, say, cope with an intense depressive episode. 

That’s exactly what the founder, Elyse Fox, had in mind when she created the club in February. “I basically wanted to create something for my 12-year-old self,” she says, “What would I respond to or receive well? And I’m a very sarcastic, not always a serious kind of person.” 

Dealing with mental illness on the daily can take its toll, and can feel at times unbearable, but treating it so seriously can do more harm than good for some people. And when you're living with a mental illness, it becomes part of your life—so it's understandable to treat it as you treat anything else going on in your life. If you're not a serious person, then treating this (albeit difficult) aspect of your life any differently just seems unnatural.


Fox has a similar understanding of her own mental illness. “I feel like mental illness is a serious thing, yes, but it’s also one of the most common things that we go through,” she told me, “So, I feel, it’s something that we should be able to talk about normally, the same way we talk about trending topics and music and sex and parties.” Since it's such a pervasive issue, the way you speak about your mental health should actually reflect its commonality. If that means making light of it, then so be it. There’s a silent power in making fun of your mental illness, or interacting with it in a less serious way. Similar to cliched “fake it until you make it,” cracking jokes about something difficult to process might actually make it that much easier to handle. Thinking about your mental illness in a lighter, less somber way might actually make you feel as if it doesn’t hold as much power over you, and that you’re above it enough that you can smile about it. 

Obviously, it's never wise to mask your emotions or shrug off behavior that might cause you or others harm. But if you're going through an episode, and the best way to cope is to just laugh at how out-of-character your mental illness is making you, then that might actually take some of the edge off. The most important thing is to do what feels authentic to you.