Exploring the Social Capital of Depression

 
Online, we’re valued for the moments we capture–the opportune photo or the well-timed quip. Glamor, novelty and humor are worth sharing. The day-to-day grind, not so much.

In other words, depression kind of sucks the fun out of Instagram. Depression tends to be monotonous and only occasionally humorous. Not the stuff of social stardom. But why not tell our stories anyways? Photos of medication bottles or hospital bracelets seem like a cry for attention, but isn’t that also why we post our travel photos, selfies and pets? Does the ephemera of depression cut too deeply into the polite distance we’re meant to keep in public?

Stigma aside, are our lives inherently less worth documenting?

Jamie Lauren Keiles shared two years of major depression on Instagram, and recently documented the experience in a photo essay entitled Depressiongrams. The essay doesn’t come to any easy conclusions, but Keiles explores the subject with grace.

There is plenty of space in the cultural conversation for stories about what it was like to have been depressed, but there isn’t much space or tolerance for narrating the experience in live time. That behavior, especially online, is called attention-seeking, or oversharing, or desperation. The sole exception to this rule is the cry for help, but the depressed person who isn’t sure which help to cry for is given little clearance to talk at all. On Instagram, I found a corner of the net where I was safe to shit out images of my terrible life in live time, without any imperative to express what I needed or interpret what it meant.

 

We don’t need permission to share our own stories, but it’s an odd feeling to watch strangers muster up enthusiasm for our lives when we can’t. Maybe there doesn’t need to be much meaning to it, though. Sometimes it’s just nice to be seen.

[The Message]

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