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As a kid, Allie Brosh loved dogs. LOVED them. She loved them so much that as a ten-year-old writing a letter to her future self, dogs were her main concern:
“Dear 25 year old…Do you still like dogs? What is your favourite dog? Do you have a job training dogs? Is murphy [the family pet] still alive? What is your favourite food?? Are mom and dad still alive?”
Or, as she succinctly describes this letter, which she rediscovered as an adult: “Priorities: Dogs, Dogs, Dogs, Specific Dog, Food, Life Span of Parents.”
And this is our introduction to Brosh in her new book: “Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms mayhem, and other things that happened.” Though, really, many of us already knew Brosh though her popular, laugh-til-you-cry hilarious blog Hyperbole and a Half. On her blog she writes about true, if occasionally dramatically-recounted stories from her life. She is so well-known, in part, because of the expressive, minimalist illustrations she creates for her stories. You’ve probably seen some version of her “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!” image, (see images in the picture gallery) from her post “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult.”
Released in 2013, Brosh’s book compiles fan favourite posts from her blog (like the achingly funny “God of Cake”) with ten new stories. Two of the chapters taken from her blog, "Adventures in Depression" and "Depression Part Two" present a frank and insightful exploration of severe depression. Through these stories she talks with humour and honesty about struggling with the variety of emotions that depression may present including: confusion, sadness, overpowering apathy, and thoughts of suicide. She writes:
“The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief. I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn't have to feel them anymore… Which leads to horrible, soul-decaying boredom… I tried to get out more, but most fun activities just left me existentially confused or frustrated with my inability to enjoy them.”
She enhances this description with an illustration which shows her inability to feel anything regardless of the situation. It is six frames of her with an unchanging, apathetic expression experiencing: “Sun. Birthday. Sounds. Not Sounds. Your hair is Spiders. Everything is spiders.” The images (see gallery), which feature an unattractive brown background, emphasize the numbing feelings of both sameness and nothingness that often accompany depression.
But this lack of feeling was only part of her struggle. At the depths of her depression she contemplated suicide. Or, at least, she contemplated not existing anymore. Everything seemed hopeless and pointless. It was at this time that she sought medical intervention but, as anyone who has struggled with mental illness knows, recovery can be a long and uneven process.
When the apathy started to dissipate and feeling returned, her major emotion was hatred. And the visual representation of this period of hatred is one of my favourites. She explains that, “hating everything made all the positivity and hope feel even more unpalatable. The syrupy, over-simplified optimism started to feel almost offensive.” And to illustrate this she includes a frame where an acquaintance earnestly attempts to console her saying “I know how you feel… delicate and vulnerable… like you’ll crumble at any moment…” Brosh’s response is a blank, unimpressed stare (see gallery).
This unflinching honesty is what makes Brosh’s story so accessible. Hatred is a difficult emotion. It is negative and often irrational. But, as Brosh illustrates, hatred—or other negative emotions-- can be part of a process of learning about one’s own mental and emotional state. And unlike self-help advice which can often feel inauthentic or detached, Brosh’s journey feels familiar; relatable
In each of her posts about depression, Brosh reaches a turning point in understanding or breaking through her illness. But, typical to her story-telling style, they are not moments of profound awakening or deep understanding. The moments are every-day life seen differently, somehow; small breakthroughs that ripple outwards into the rest of her life. These turning points are worth experiencing for yourself (one involves renting the movie “Juamanji” and one involves crying on her kitchen floor), and they are another example of both the relatable aspects of her stories and the genius of her storytelling.
When the second part of Brosh’s story on depression was released I shared it widely and enthusiastically. I had finally found something that communicated what I had been trying to say about my own experiences. Depression is not only difficult to live with, it’s difficult to describe to someone who’s never experienced it. I remain so grateful to Brosh for her work and recommend both her book and her blog to anyone who hasn’t read them yet. As she reminds us with cautious optimism and a sort-of cheery smile: “maybe everything isn’t hopeless bullshit.”
Heather (MA History), recently joined mindyourmind as the Youth Volunteer Assistant. She enjoys spending her days listening to classical music while working on projects. She is passionate about history and intellectual exploration. She adores big cats (like tigers!) and never misses an episode of "Bob's Burgers."