Meme Your Mental Health
Meme Your Mental Health
Host Anna Borges (The More Or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care), who was famously dragged on Twitter after making a few jokes in reference to mental health, revisits mental health meme culture and how it can be a useful tool to find community during dark times. She’s joined by Memes To Discuss In Therapy admin Priscilla Eva for a discussion on “shitposting,” finding the humor in our collective struggles and how social media can actually breed compassion for ourselves and for others.
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Anna Borges: They say that everyone remembers their first time—I know that I do. Slowly waking up in the morning. Bright light streaming in through the window…
…the sound of my phone rattling on the nightstand as a stream of notifications flooded in.
MUSIC PAUSE, PHONE VIBRATION SOUND EFFECT
Sorry, did you think I was talking about something else? Yeah, no, I’m talking about the first time I got absolutely dragged on the internet.
It was early 2016 and I was a writer at BuzzFeed. I’d been tasked with the challenge of finding a way to make mental health content shareable, and relatable, and viral. And that might sound like a ridiculously easy job in the year of our digital lord 2022, but it wasn’t that long ago that the landscape of mental health content looked very different than it does today. Like on big mainstream websites, it was pretty much limited to serious and earnest personal essays and serious and earnest resource articles. And everything else was kind of like… you know… niche. Like it existed, but just in certain corners of the internet.
So, I decided to try doing what I’d long done in my little corners of the internet, I joked about my depression.
And it did not go well.
RECORD SCRATCH, CROWD GASP, YOUNG GIRL SHOUTING “YOU NEED TO LEAVE”
The roundup in question was “21 Tweets About Depression That Might Just Make You Laugh.” A quintessential BuzzFeed list that I thought would make people laugh, and, you know, more importantly, maybe make them feel less alone.
And [laughs] man oh man, was I wrong. Instead, the comments and the emails and the tweets just came flooding in.
SOUNDS OF CROWD JEERING
Anonymous Commenter: “I feel physically sick after reading this. This post is horrible.”
Anonymous Commenter: “You clearly have no experience with depression if you think these are funny.”
Anna Borges: And, and I can’t emphasize how mild these tweets were. You know, it was stuff like, “It’s not called a nap, it’s called a depression sleep.” And like, “I can’t wait for my winter depression to end so I can get a start on my spring depression!” Just completely innocuous tweets that you would probably see seventeen of a day these days. And the comments just kept coming.
Anonymous Commenter: “This is disrespectful to people who actually struggle.”
Anonymous Commenter: “You have no business writing about mental health.”
Anonymous Commenter: “Depression isn’t funny. Period. It never will be!”
Anna Borges: And I couldn’t help but immediately panic and wonder if I’d made, like, some grave mistake. I was like, “Are they right? Was my chosen coping mechanism disrespectful and out of touch? Should I have kept it a shameful secret? What is wrong with me!?”
Was joking about my mental health really so wrong?
MOOD RING THEME MUSIC
I’m Anna Borges and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings…even when some people think your jokes about those feelings are pretty fucked up.
Every episode, we’re exploring one new way to cope — with our feelings, with our baggage, with our brain, with the internet or with the world around us.
Anna Borges: Today’s episode is about laughing about mental health. Our mental health. Specifically, laughing about our mental health by following accounts we find relatable and making it part of our regular social media diet.
Now to be clear, disclaimer up top, it’s totally okay if jokes about mental health don’t feel particularly funny to you. What makes us laugh is, you know, an extremely personal thing, especially where mental health is concerned. And far be it for me to try and tell people that they should find my tweets about wanting to die hilarious. It’s not for everyone.
All that said, I’m really relieved that joking about mental health on social media is way more accepted than it used to be. Because now, all of my feeds are full of reminders that I’m not alone, and they offer new ways to frame how I think about my struggles. And, I mean yeah, they make me laugh and laughing is great.
So let’s dig into why following mental health accounts is, you know, a small way to show yourself some love. Joining me is Priscilla Eva, who runs one of my favorite mental health accounts, Memes to Discuss in Therapy. And when I say memes to discuss in therapy, I don’t mean wholesome memes that would make my therapist proud. I mean memes that would make my therapist like start scribbling a lot of notes.
And by that, I mean total shitposts.
You’re good if you’re not actually familiar with this whole mental health shitposting thing—the main thing you need to know is that they’re the kind of posts that probably seem inappropriate or insensitive or dark from the outside. But when you are in on the joke? It’s kind of like finding shorthand for the experiences that you thought no one else understood.
So let’s dive into my conversation with Priscilla.
MUSIC FADE OUT
Anna Borges: I would love to start by hearing from you, just for people who aren't familiar with the page how you would describe it, just to like anchor, anchor our listeners into like, what the f we're talking about.
Priscilla Eva: It's just a meme shitposting page. And I like to say I specialize in curating and making memes for mental health and chronic illness. Because those are the two things I care about, mental health and chronic illness related things. And, those are the things that I find most resonant and like to share and repost or make memes of.
Anna Borges: So can you give me kind of the origin story of how you started this page, and like what led to it?
Priscilla Eva: So my friend Tyler, they actually started the page about five years ago. And they started it for the same reason, wanted to just basically shit post mental health stuff. [Anna laughs] And it started as a Facebook page that was just, you know, sharing with a few friends. And then they made it public. And so I started helping, about four or five years ago?
Anna Borges: Oh, wow, I didn't realize the page had been alive for so long. I, I feel like a newcomer, like I'm a poser. I'm like, Oh, I've been a long term fan of memes to discuss in therapy. And it's like, oh, no, no,
Priscilla Eva: Our growth only really, I think took off … a little bit before the pandemic started. [Anna: hmmmm] And I think the pandemic did a lot for people, you know, realizing that they maybe had mental health stuff that they wanted to address for just a plethora of reasons.
Anna Borges: It’s, it became more mainstream.
Priscilla Eva: Yes. And so then we got even more followers from that. And then, we started the Instagram, so we could cross post. And, that's kind of where we grew to where we are today.
Anna Borges: So before that, what was your relationship with social media like, or was that really when you dove full in?
Priscilla Eva: Actually always had, you know, sort of flirtation ship with social media. I've had my SlyFox persona since high school, which was back in the MySpace days.
Anna Borges: Same, same. I was a scene queen, you know, just being sad on the internet since 2004.
Priscilla Eva: Yeah, so I've had my SlyFox persona since then. And I kind of use it as my, like, online posting alter ego.
Anna Borges: I feel often similarly when I talk about my mental health online. It's like there's how I talk about my mental health with my therapist and my friends, and then how I talk about it with it online and that difference there, but, it's not, so it sounds like you're someone who has always been comfortable on the internet in some way. Like an Internet person.
Priscilla Eva: Yeah, I, oh gosh. I was very into AIM back in the day, the instant messenger. Yes, and MySpace, all that. Had a lot of online friendships. So it's like people I actually know, which is parlayed into what a lot of my relationships are as an adult. There's a lot of people I know from school, college, you know. And now from, like, my chronic illness stuff, different walks of life. People I've met in real life, but we usually only ever talk online because I have my chronic illness stuff like, you know, during the pandemic, since I'm immunocompromised, couldn't go out at all. [Anna: yeah] So, that kind of compounded it. But there's a lot of relationships I have with people that it's, you know, just messaging each other back and forth a few times a week, sending each other memes. And I'm surprised how similar it is to the AIM instant messages I was sending in high school.
Anna Borges: I am so glad that you said that, or so excited that you said that because literally, literally one of the things I was gonna, wanted to just share is that that is how it functions for me. Like my relationship to the memes, specifically, your page is one that I use a lot, is reposting them to stories kind of as an away message. You know, it used to be like emo song lyrics on my aim profile, and now it's like sad memes. And I just kind of like throw it out there to give people visibility into my sadness, so.
Priscilla Eva: Yeah, just kind of like an update as to what's going on or what you're feeling.
Wow. I really can’t overstate how massively important platforms like AIM, Tumblr, MySpace… all of that were to those of us who needed a place where we could express in writing or in a safe way things that were really hard to express out loud. After the break, we’ll finish up our conversation with Memes To Discuss in Therapy admin Priscilla Eva and dig into how her followers engage with her content. Plus, we’ll talk about where darker mental health jokes fit into all of this.
Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring. I’m Anna Borges. Before the break we were talking about how following mental health memes accounts and posting about things like our mental health and chronic illness has helped an entire community of people find a new way to express themselves and connect. So let’s go ahead and finish up our chat with Priscilla Eva. And as a reminder, Priscilla runs the Instagram and Facebook page Memes to Discuss in Therapy.
Anna Borges: Obviously, what we're talking about is how we use these memes to support our mental health or like how they might not be so great for our mental health and that whole relationship. So, in your experience, how do you see how people interact with your page and share or comment or tag their friends? Like what kind of behavior do you see most often?
Priscilla Eva: One thing I absolutely adore about Memes to Discuss in Therapy and our followers is, now the ratio is much higher. It's like 99% of people who comment are really nice, they're supportive, or they're looking for support, you know. It's an interactive thing where we're all helping each other or feeling less alone. There's about 1% of people who are trolling, who are clearly just there to try to piss people off. And those people get blocked and banned immediately. So I try to keep them out of the comments. But, I find it so interesting that once I kind of shifted my, you know, personal posting from my personal SlyFox page, the memes page, still using the SlyFox, you know, me. But, just shifting the lens through, I guess, you know, what I'm letting society look at me as saying, Hey, this is a mental health page, and we're going to be supportive of each other. I still talk about all the same stuff, but it's just, you know, it's just on the top, you know, this is Memes to Discuss in Therapy. And people are a lot more supportive than I have ever found, you know, elsewhere in internet life. And that's pretty freakin awesome. I love it.
Anna Borges: I love that, that both like doesn't surprise me and surprises me, if only because like, I'm kind of cynical. So I'm like, hey, who knows? People can be assholes about anything, including mental health. But, I do think a space where people can have conversations that they don't get to have elsewhere, even on other pages, like I, can be hopefully welcoming for that. How do you see your followers interacting with the memes? And like, if you had to guess the various reasons that people follow these accounts and what they get from them? What would you say based on what you see?
Priscilla Eva: So we get, I have like multiple tiers of interaction we get on both the Facebook page and the Instagram page. There's people who are just liking and sharing and, you know, they never comment or anything. And that's great. If people are liking and sharing stuff, I assume it resonates with them, and that's awesome. That's the whole point. I love it. And then there's a lot of people who will comment and tag friends in their comments or a ton of people who will comment, say, like, Oh, I feel attacked, or if this isn't me, like, just really relating in the comments. And I love, I love seeing that in the comments. Because so often, someone will say, like, Oh, my God, this is totally me. And then you'll see someone comment underneath them saying, I thought I was the only one. There's a lot of stuff too, when I post about like suicidal ideation, or intrusive thoughts, like that's one of those things that our society doesn't like to talk about at all. And when we do talk about it, we have to put big warnings on it and say, This is really serious. We can't joke around about this. And I think for those of us who are at least me, like me personally, who deal with you know, intrusive thoughts or suicidal ideation on a daily basis. It's kind of hard to keep getting, getting the message over and over again, that something that's in your head every day is really wrong and like, something must be bad with you if, you know, you're having these things that pop into your head all the time. And that's another one that people messaged me all the time, or we get comments all the time, of people saying, oh my god, I thought I was the only one. And that's another one that I like to just say, No, you're not.
Anna Borges: Nope. Absolutely. Yeah, this is resonating so much with me because I, I also deal with like, chronic, passive suicidal ideation is how I kind of describe it. And I wrote an essay about it a couple years ago, and still get messages that mean so much to me, for people who are like, I thought I was alone, I didn't feel this way. And I think it's a real gift to be able to joke about it with other people who get it. You know, and so like having these safe spaces where that will not be a red flag for one of my random followers just is so, so invaluable.
I do often wonder, I know that this kind of thing for people who don't speak this language, or who might not follow these accounts and who might not know that you dealt with this before, but now see through your page that you do, like, have you experienced people expressing worry?
Priscilla Eva: I, I personally have always been like very much an open book when it comes to my mental health, when it comes to my physical health. My mom was kind enough in high school, when my parents got divorced, she told all of us kids, like you each have to go see a therapist, I don't care if you go to one session, or if you go to 20 sessions, but like, I want to make sure we didn't break the kids, like, at least go and do just talk to a therapist for one hour. And if you never want to see him again, that's fine. But if you do, like, I'll pay for you to keep going. And she, I remember, she also would tell us, like, you know, one week in therapy at this age is going to be a year in therapy when you're my age. So like, if you feel like doing it, do it now. And so I totally took her up on that. And I did therapy for about a year, going weekly. And that was awesome. When I was, it was like, when I was 16 to 17. And it gave me a lot of coping skills that I think it usually takes most people into their young adult lives, you know, into their 20s or 30s to get, so I was very thankful for that. But because of that I was very open about my mental health, open about my depressive episodes and just open about, you know, what I was going through. And so for me personally, it's like, I don't think I scare anyone, cause they know who I am. However [laughs], I think there are some people that I know who have become more comfortable sharing about their mental health.
Anna Borges: Oh, good!
Priscilla Eva: Just like from interacting with me, interacting with the page, and they have run into that before where some of their like normie friends are like, Oh, are you okay? You're, like, sounding kind of dark or this or that. They're like, you know, I'm just actually exploring these feelings I'm having. I'm like saying them out loud or putting them out there for other people to see, so.
Anna Borges: To kind of switch gears, one thing I did really want to ask is, it's not surprising at all, to me, but still so interesting to hear that obviously, your reach spiked, right around the beginning of the pandemic, when people were speaking this language. So I'm really curious what kind of things in the past two years, what kind of topics you see resonate most with your audience?
Priscilla Eva: One of the big ones that has just like skyrocketed since the pandemic is social awkwardness. Lots of social awkward memes, and lots of social awkward conversations. But people like forgetting how to people because, you know, they only spend time with their roommates or their pets. And a lot of people talking about depression or loneliness that, you know, a lot of people are not comfortable or have not spent time like being by themselves, like, learning how to be a good friend to themselves. We've had a lot more people just talking about weird thoughts. I'd say like, intrusive thoughts, you know. During the pandemic, people are not in the routine of, you know, doing the same thing every day to keep their brain kind of distracted. So I think, like, a lot of weirdness crept in, but a lot of, you know, goodness, too. [Anna: absolutely] And, yeah, it's been interesting and cool to see all different people interact with that.
Anna Borges: What's, what's really striking me, funnily enough, is, as you're walking through the topics, it all sounds so earnest, and like serious and wholesome. But for people who haven't seen the page, these are all topics that are discussed in a really hilarious way, you know, and [Priscilla: yeah!] I wonder if, if you had to sum it up? How, what would you say is like the magic part of exploring these topics, but in like, a hilarious shitposting medium?
Priscilla Eva: The magic part for me is just the accessibility, because I think there's something about humor, especially something about dark humor, that allows us to laugh about things that, like, we're not even supposed to whisper about. And I think it's, sometimes it's that thin wedge in the door to actually open up a discussion about something. And man, I can't tell you how many people I know in real life, how many people I know through the pages, how many, just people who I've talked to who say, you know, I started looking into depression, or anxiety, or OCD, or getting on medication, or dealing with my eating disorder, all this stuff you know, it started with making jokes about it and reposting memes or reposting silly little stories. And I was just joking about it. But then I realized maybe I'm joking about it because it's something I actually care about. But once you allow yourself to laugh about it, rather than be scared about it, it opens up a door that you didn't know was there. And it allows you to, you know, really step in and explore those feelings in a new way. And for me, that's the magical part of it. And I just like the camaraderie too. I love knowing that there, you know, at any given time, I can post something on our Facebook or Instagram. And immediately we'll get responses from all over the world of people saying, yep, me too. [Anna: same!] I also experience that, like it's just nice to know that we are not alone.
Thank you again to Priscilla for talking to me about one of my favorite things. You can follow Priscilla’s page if you’ve decided this is something that could be for you either on Instagram or Facebook at Memes to Discuss in Therapy.
There is one part of my BuzzFeed story that I left out at the top of the episode. Even with all of the negative comments and emails and tweets I was getting about that post, the, you know, 21 Tweets About Depression, there were a lot of supportive ones, too. People who related and who were thankful for the opportunity to see that other people related, too.
They replied to the other commenters and essentially said, “Hey, just because this doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you don’t like it, if you don’t find it funny, don’t read it.”
That’s the rule of thumb I kind of follow here, too. You know, we have agency to follow accounts that make us laugh and make us feel seen and that give us language to describe our experiences, just like we have the agency to unfollow the ones that make us feel bad and just don’t work for us.
So I encourage you to get to know your mental health sense of humor and follow where it leads you, whether it’s accounts like Priscilla’s, or late night shitposting on Twitter (I tend to do a lot of that if you’re not already following me). You know, weird bits on TikTok, specific creators that really get you … whatever genuinely makes you laugh and is a bright spot on your feed, cause there’s plenty on social media that is not that, so the more you can feed in, the better.
For those of you who do enjoy laughing about your mental health experience, I’m curious: What are some of your favorite accounts and memes? Because I’m always on the lookout for more. And I would love to get to know your sense of humor as well. So tag us in them, send them our way, check us out on Instagram or Twitter @moodringshow, and I’m looking forward to laughing with you!
You can even tag me if you’re really into it — I’m @AnnaBroges on Twitter – that’s Anna B-R-O-G-E-S…because Anna Borges was taken. We want to hear from you. You can get in touch at Moodringshow DOT ORG and click “Contact Us.” Or follow Mood Ring Show on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call and leave a message at 833-666-3746.
Mood Ring was developed by Kristina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murriel, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erika Janik. Mijoe Sahiouni is our digital producer. This episode was produced by Jordan Kauwling. And as you know, I’m Anna Borges, and I write, host and produce this show too.
APM Executives in charge are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert and Joanne Griffith. And finally, our music is by Mat Rotenberg.
Thanks again for listening and I hope to see you next episode.