When I was admitted to the hospital recently after a fall that resulted in a broken leg and two sprained ankles, I had to retell the story of the fall to several people who kept coming in and out of the room. In the midst of doing so, they also asked what I did for a living, where I lived, and, scarily enough, whether or not I have a living will — apparently something we should all have but was breaking news to me. When I told the first, then second, and then the third small group of nurses that I was a writer, they didn't waste any time looking me up.
"You really sent shit to your cheating husband?" they rushed back into my room to ask me. "It's so refreshing that you write so candidly about your abortion, depression, suicide attempt, sex life, love life…" and so on down the list. High on whatever painkiller they were giving me, I ate up the attention, convinced I was the most exciting person in that hospital.
I've found that when I tell women I'm a writer and they look up my name, I get a lot of positive feedback about the juicy stuff — I commonly cover sex and relationships, reproductive rights, and sexual health for national women's websites. I've also written very candidly about my own relationships, including how badly some have ended.
Specifically, the fact that I legally sent horse shit to my cheating husband, is always a winner with women, evoking high fives and "hell yeahs." In general, it seems that women see my writing as something they can relate to in some way, while some men I've met while dating... feel differently.
One guy, who Googled me before our first date, said when we met that the shit-sending story was funny and, having read the article, felt my husband deserved it. But as we talked more about our past, it was something else about my stories that struck a different cord with him — my long history with depression which I've written about extensively, including my suicide attempt in 2005. Considering depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide, I was shocked when he explained that he had never met someone with depression. I told him that he probably had, but just didn't know it — that not everyone is forthcoming about their experience with mental illness as I was, thanks to the stigma attached to it. (Related: What Everyone Needs to Know About the Rising U.S. Suicide Rates)
Before I could hop on my soapbox, listing off statistics about how, as recently as 2018, research has shown that the majority of people without depression don't understand it and tend to attribute it to some kind of weakness — the same study I had emailed to my parents, FTR — he admitted that my depression was a dealbreaker. I also wondered if maybe my being so forthcoming and shameless about my mental health and willingness to put it out there for the world to read might've played a role in his response. I didn't probe for answers; I was too taken aback. (Related: Why Your Anxiety Disorder Makes Online Dating So Damn Hard)
If you're just as shocked as I was at the time, you may be even more surprised to learn this wasn't the first time something like this happened to me.
Several years earlier, long before I was married (or subsequently cheated on and separated), I went on a first date set up by a mutual friend. At the time, a quick Google of my name would surface mostly sex and relationships articles with a few mental health essays — including the first piece I ever wrote about my suicide attempt that had happened five years earlier.
Things seemed to be going great on this date until he mentioned that he looked me up online after my friend told him I was a writer. His first question in regards to writing about my struggles with depression and even my attempted suicide was if it was embarrassing for me.
It never once occurred to me that I should be embarrassed about a part of my history that, while not easy on friends and family at the time, obviously had a profound effect on how I'd live my life afterward and who I am now.
Although not everyone suffers from depression, nor do all who struggle with depression experience suicidal ideation, I still didn't see how writing about it could possibly be an embarrassment. So, I told him exactly that. I went on to explain that what drew me to writing so candidly about my personal life in the first place was what it meant to other people. While it's therapeutic for me to put my heart on paper and come clean about subjects that are still considered taboo (but shouldn't be), doing so has always been more about helping readers who might relate understand that they aren't alone.
After I finished my commentary, my date leaned back in his chair and bluntly asked if I had some sort of savior complex? "Not in the least," I quipped back. After an uncomfortable silence, he told me he thought I was sexy and liked me (gee, thanks), but that I was "too much for him." I'd heard of men using this sorry a** excuse before but this was my first (though not my last) experience with it.
As I reached for my wallet to pay my half of the bill so I could get the hell out of there, he actually had the nerve to follow up with, "but I'd still like to go home with you if you're into it?" I didn't answer him, and I didn't have exact change, so I threw down two $20 bills, and promptly left.
Since then, men have come and gone from my life. Some have Googled me and showed up with 30 questions that I kindly answer, and we actually make it to a second date. Others have also looked me up before first dates, only to subsequently block me from whatever dating app we were using before I even got home. Then there are those who don't even bother with the preliminary online detective work, and it's with those men that I get to have a good time. All the complexities of who I am are faraway. They get to know me the old-fashioned way, by spending time talking, opposed to having a sampling of information dropped in their lap before getting the chance to form a first impression IRL. (Related: Why We Need to Stop Speculating About Other People's Mental Health, According to Therapists)
Recently, after being told yet again that my depression was a nonstarter from someone I met online — even before we got the chance to chat in person — I finally consulted a straight male friend. I asked him if someone having depression, even suicidal thoughts, and being vocal about it would be red flags for him. He said it wouldn't, but pointed out that perhaps these weak (in his opinion) men feared that they'd find themselves in an article someday. Perhaps, it's easier to blame my depression than saying, "I'd like to avoid finding myself in one of your articles when I eventually screw you over and break your heart," he suggested.
No matter the reason, my suicide attempt and life-long struggle with depression and is out there for the world to read on the internet. I can't take it back, nor do I want to. Not only would that be denying who I am, but I believe it also insults everyone who has ever suffered from depression as well, whether or not they found themselves in my particular words.
While I know that those who haven't been touched by depression personally may have a hard time understanding it, I do know that not all men will see my mental health history as a flaw. And that's because it's simply not. It's ignorance that makes my depression a dealbreaker for some partners anyway, and I don't have time for ignorant men. To quote Jon Stewart, during a performance back in 2012, "I'm not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance." In other words, I'm not going to stop being a vocal advocate for mental health, both my own and others. If that's a dealbreaker, then so be it.