I had something else I was going to write on representation. But then I heard about Robin Williams, and I thought of other things. About feeling alone. About depression, that horrendous, hideous beast that traps you and makes you feel like there’s no reason to get out of bed. I thought about my depression, which I still struggle with. What I struggled with during high school, particularly (I hesitate to say because of) my struggles with my sexuality, with not feeling like I belonged anywhere, especially when I was still in the closet.
It was lonely. God. I can’t speak for everyone but I felt so God damned lonely, all the time, like no one understood this fog that had taken over my brain. I wasn’t sad. I didn’t feel anything except loneliness and an acute desire not to get out of bed. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to do anything.
But wading through the fog gets easier with help. For me, that help was friends and writing. Writing is what’s been there for me when I can’t get out of the slump. Sometimes it’s the only thing I do in a day, sometimes it’s just twenty words or a scene but some days that feels like enough, and when I want to just lay in bed and sleep it helps to immerse myself in this fictional world that I’ve created, replace the fog with words. Writing, it would seem, helped more than anything else has.
Reading helps, too. Reading, especially now, is my way of not feeling alone. It’s my way of connecting with characters who are feeling the same things I’m feeling, regardless of whether or not they’re fictional. And as books have become more diverse it’s been easier to find those characters, whether they suffer from mental illness or are queer or any number of things. They help me not feel alone.
And that, I think, is what it boils down to. At least for me–this issue of representation, of seeing yourself in literature. Because the worst part of depression, bar the not getting out of bed, bar the fog, bar the sadness, was the indescribably crushing loneliness. That’s why books helped, that’s why reading was so important to me, because of representation. Good, accurate, thoughtful representation where my issues and fears and doubts and feelings were important. Where I was important, where I could feel like I was, and because of that—because of those books where people like me were valued—I began to find value in myself, too.
Because when you can’t find yourself represented, not only in literature but in every type of media, you start to feel like you don’t exist. When all you read are straight protagonists, you begin to feel like your story isn’t worth telling. Where every YA has a cis-male love interest for the cis-female protagonist, where the only books with queer protagonists you can find involve the angst of coming out and how awful it is to live in a world and be queer, you start to think that people like you don’t get a happy ending, or even a story at all. You begin to feel like you don’t deserve a story, or your story has to end in angst and tears. And if you’re me, it means that, for awhile, you just stop looking for your story at all. You stop looking for queer protagonists, you stop hoping that maybe you’ll find yourself in the pages, that the girl will fall in love with her best friend rather than the boy next door. You give up. You just… you stop.
But I do exist. My story does have value. I can have a happy ending, even if I have to write it myself. And you, reading this, whoever you are—you have value too. You exist. You are so, so important to the world, and to me. Even if you don’t see it yet. You are important. Your story is important, and I won’t tell you it gets better, but there are things that haven’t happened to you yet that are going to be amazing. And you need to experience them.
You’re not alone. I promise. Even if it feels like it, even if you can’t find yourself in a book right now, there’s someone out there experiencing the same things with you. If you tell your story, I guarantee you’ll get someone agreeing with you, with your experiences. Just stick around to tell it.
Nita Tyndall is a tiny Southern queer with a penchant for sweet tea, cardigans, and words. She’s been writing since she was five, and her first piece was Scooby-Doo fanfiction in bright pink, all caps font—though now she prefers to write about sad teenagers. She’s currently in college attempting to get an English degree, and briefly was a college columnist for the lesbian webmagazine, Autostraddle. You can find her on tumblr at nitatyndall where she occasionally writes about YA and queer things, on Twitter at @NitaTyndall, or at her website nitatyndall.com.