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The Last Sad Girl Alive
good damage and being post-wounded in an online era
Google Meet therapy is awkward. The Wifi connection lagging behind your therapist leaving less time to talk about the gnawing stress that’s built up over the week, the repeating sounds of “sorry, could you say that again”, and the inward pride that prevents you from crying on camera like so many cancelled Youtubers before you. It’s inhuman.
That’s not to say my therapist doesn’t try to help; in fact, I could say that the longest relationship I’ve had with someone would be with her. It is because of this that amongst the depressing stories of eating disorders and childhood bullying I admitted something I had never said aloud before: I was in a writer's block. Everything I wrote or tried writing followed the same monotone ‘we are all doomed and I’m the saddest person of them all’ thematics that made my teenage self want to be a novelist. I was fuelled by writing about pain, spite and my familial arguments. What’s the point of going through things if not using them as a grounding force to do better? The guilty obligation to turn your trauma into a monetisable book, tv show or podcast; otherwise, you feel as if you’ve wasted your prime creative years.
In the episode titled ‘Good Damage’, Diane Nguyen who for the most part is the perpetual sad girl of ‘Bojack Horseman’, finds herself unable to write her book of essays cemented in the pain she felt growing up. Instead, she wanders off and begins writing a story about a teenage girl detective, and Diane’s inability to stick to her essays gives us one of the most insightful speeches in TV;
“All the damage I got isn’t ‘good damage’. It’s just damage. I have gotten nothing out of it and all those years I was miserable was for nothing. I could have been happy this whole time and written books about girl detectives and been cheerful and popular had good parents, is that what you’re saying?”
For the longest time, I believed that the damage I had was good, that it made me a more interesting and insightful person. After years of watching women and girls in media as tortured beautiful souls that only received care and attention once they had gone through pain, my brain had turned into rot. My self-awareness of how hurt I was made me better than others because I could pinpoint where I was hurting and I could wax lyrical about the thousands of reasons why.
I am what Leslie Jamison describes as a ‘post wounded woman’.
In her essay ‘Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain’, she states that the post-wounded woman feels wounded but is “aware that “woundedness” is overdone and overrated. They are wary of melodrama, so they stay numb or clever instead.”
Being self-aware is gauche. It is tacky and uncomfortable. It feels similar to being trapped under sweat ridden sheets in the middle of a summer night, the fabric clinging to your body in the most grotesque manner. I no longer want to be self-aware. I don’t want to be post-wounded. Instead, I want to be blissfully ignorant. I want to be delusional and live in a world where my mind is not racing at every minute, not screaming at the highest level, only to be silenced by the inflow of media I use to distract myself. Self-awareness has disintegrated the fabric of humanity. It has made us into bumbling fools who parade around our deepest insecurities within public forums for nothing more than a minuscule amount of attention. We’re a generation of people who claim to be more understanding and patient than our parents but posting about pain in online spaces is the easiest way to be told that online spaces are not to be used as journals. I wish someone had told me that when I first used social media.
I've been on social media since the age of twelve, operating a Twitter account dedicated to my adoration of Justin Bieber. I think that's an embarrassing fact to relay.
In my eyes, my father was a technological wiz; he knew how to fix our desktop when my brothers and I accidentally downloaded viruses after playing flash games that ranged from cute to irresponsibly violent. He taught me how to torrent and that movies, music, and video games aught not be hidden away from those who couldn't afford them. My father in many ways tried to teach us how not to let the internet ruin our lives. But even with his knowledge and care, my persistent need to express myself online undid the efforts of a doting parent who, like many others, found themselves in new territory with children who could see the world beyond its physical manifestation.
In Year 8 (or Grade 7 if you're American), I had a YouTube channel that no longer exists. The benefit to being born in 1998 was that once you hit 12 access to a basic shitty laptop is all you need to create online content. The downside to that though is that without the demand of a post-production process that combs through your videos or short films for irregularities, you’re essentially posting content just because you can. It’s easy, and it’s fun. The hidden opinions I had, the worries I faced, and the cultural zeitgeist that found itself trapped in the body of a severely anxious 13-year-old wanted so desperately to be set free.
During this time, I made a video ranting about how much I hated the Kardashians. My classmates thought I was a bitch for judging the women so harshly, and in hindsight, I was. Although I remain convinced that my disdain of the triple K Klan was justified, the language and ideas I was internalising came less from good-faith critique and more from the hordes of misogyny I was consuming through pop culture. I was rash and judgemental and angry. I had so much anger in my body that, at moments, I wondered if I could harness that heat into my fingertips and melt everything around me. I assume years prior that would’ve been a diary entry had I been 13 when my mother was 13 (the 1970s) but now, I didn’t have to sit and write for hours on end. I could just record, confess and share how I felt. It was cathartic, speaking to power my annoyance had been something I had never been allowed to indulge in before. But I also did not predict that the public visibility would open me up to judgements I didn’t quite comprehend.
Being a teenage girl is confusing. Nothing makes sense and nobody wants to listen to you. But Twitter does.
Twitter listens, so does Instagram, and so does Tiktok. They listen to your anger, and they listen to your love for celebrities and boybands. They take in every molecule and element of what makes you the person you are. And so you feed into it. This is why every other post on your For You Page is begging you to engage in a vast display of trauma dumping. What use do the platforms have for you if you’re not stripping down and selling your parts like a used car? Every private and personal aspect of yourself is no longer yours, it becomes the public domain.
I believe I've had at least 10 Twitter accounts, all either deleted or suspended. I've taken on identities of the celebrities I 'stanned', putting a pause to my current reality of a disillusioned girl living in a patriarchal country. One year I was into One Direction, the next it was Fall Out Boy, and the year after that, I found KPOP. And year after year, the ending to my love affair with each personality I donned went out in fiery flames of Twitter spats and fallen out online friendships.
I had no self-awareness; I could not tell what was wrong with me or why I found myself continuously repeating the cycle I had set into motion. I would go months on end gorging myself on online binges and then promise I’d go cold turkey and develop a life outside of Twitter, but the reality of having to make friends in person and being honest about who I was always became too real and too frightening. And that would continue until my eventual breakdown in 2016.
2016 is a year of Drake, Brexit, Carrie Fisher's death and the year I became self-aware.
My self-awareness was gradual. First, it was the acceptance that I was an intrinsically sad individual. I am sad when I wake up, I am sad when I sleep. The sadness follows me around like a stalker that somehow figured out how to cement itself inside its victim. Accepting that I had that sadness inside of me felt revolutionary. I no longer needed to engage in conversations of deep-rooted change with my parents because I knew I couldn't change, and the most I could do was manage the sadness. I knew that I had to keep the rot from spilling outwards.
I did just that, and in 2017, I put myself on anti-depressants. In 2019, I put myself into therapy. In 2020, I sought out a BPD diagnosis. I did it all so I could be self-aware and figure my shit out because perhaps if I did that, then maybe I would stop hurting.
And for a while it worked, I told people that the meds didn't bother me and feeling numb at times was more straightforward than feeling anything. I stomached the costs of therapy because asking for an apology from my parents was a thankless task and they argued that I should just accept they were trying to do what was best for me at the time. It worked, and it worked, and it worked until it didn't. I became so aware of my actions, I knew what made me tick inside and out. With every choice I made I found my head being my own therapist and spelling out how my deeply damaged brain made sense of the actions at hand. The self-awareness haunted my every day, prying open cracks in relationships and holding my hands back from writing.
Further along in her essay, Jamison states the following:
“I find myself in a bind. I’m tired of [female] pain and also tired of people who are tired of it. I know the “hurting woman” is a cliché but I also know lots of women still hurt. I don’t like the proposition that female wounds have gotten old; I feel wounded by it.”
I am tired of it as well.
I’m tired of tweeting about being sad and then having a barrage of strangers liking it, which emphasises that they relate. Because that's what I want to be; relatable and reachable. I hate the joy I find in being relatable, I wish I felt embarrassed. I wish my writing didn’t feel like the amalgamation of every sad girl trope on TikTok.
Because who really wants to read about another sad woman? Sad women rule our pop culture, sad women thrive in Fleabag, Sally Rooney novels, Taylor Swift songs and Mitski Tiktok posts. Sad women are shamed for being sad, and they are told they are annoying for being sad. It is not lost on me that the aforementioned sad girls are not Black and that my sadness is unique to my racialised experiences. I am not given the space to feel my emotions even more than a white woman who finds herself posting ‘The Worst Person in The World’ quotes on her IG story or lip-syncing to Faye Webster. The white sad girl is deemed beautiful in an ‘I Can Fix Her, Slyvia Plath, Virgin Suicides’ sense. For her, the wasting away or waif aesthetic is fetishised. She’s admired for playing into her neurotic tendencies, whereas for women like myself, even acknowledging sadness would be an ugly stain on what some would consider a beautiful face.
In her article titled, ‘The unbearable whiteness of the 'disaffected young woman' genre’, Heven Hailie writes, “Black women are not afforded the luxury of dissociation due to the continuous cycle of racial violence we are forced to confront.”
My politics seem to conflict with dissociation. I believe myself to be a socialist or at least some sort of Marxist. I’m a feminist, and I believe that the world needs to become a better place. I believe that we should use love, care, and empathy to progress forward. That the world should not have suffering and we should all actively do better to prevent that. Does my need to shut off my brain co-exist with that? Or am I becoming the selfish individualist that I often find myself critiquing?
Were the people before me not also self-aware? Was bell hooks not self-aware when she wrote about her life, black feminism and how we treat one another. Was Audre Lorde not self-aware, or Frantz Fanon? I am by no means comparing myself intellectually or creatively to them but I wonder if they figured out something that I’m missing. Or perhaps it is the institutions of online spaces that have made it so hard to reconcile with the awareness of your own misery and the need to do better?
My therapist would argue that I am doing better, that in the 50 minutes we have together every week, I make progress towards finding a version of myself that isn’t fixed but at peace. Within that empty space, I am shut off from the noise of the internet. I ignore the current trends and the discourses, and I tell her about my day. And it feels refreshing, she lifts the burden of being self-aware, or post-wounded, instead, I am merely a spectator. Watching myself from afar as I’m allowing someone else to do the thinking for once. In that space, my brain is shut off, and I am enshrouded in silence.