Black History Month Essay Contest: Fourth Place Winner Dahlia Seiter

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Coping strategies, while always developed and enacted for a good or protective reason, often have their downsides. These strategies, especially in a person who is depressed or suicidal, are not always sustainable or healthy but they can be incredibly useful if their main objective is survival by any means necessary. 

In the article, “Black Girls Don’t Get to Be Depressed,” Samantha Irby makes clear that she has developed coping strategies to keep herself alive despite her sometimes general disdain for that idea. A common coping mechanism for people struggling with mental illness is to try to trick their brains into thinking that maybe the constant unhappiness that they experience is the way that life should be, even going as far to say that life would be worse without experiencing constant fear, panic, or sadness. 

Irby writes “… I don’t want to be some shiny, happy idiot. This is gritty, this is real.” In the span of one thought, Irby identifies coping strategies that are incredibly damaging while simultaneously convincing herself that a life without the pain she has endured  would somehow be a disservice to herself. In other words, she finds that the pros and cons of coping with her depression coexist in her. 

This tension runs throughout her piece. In explaining some of her unhealthy coping mechanisms, Irby unconsciously reveals a benefit–by attempting to convince herself and those around her that she’s better off the way she is, it lessens the burden of her pain.

Similar to Irby, a coping strategy that I have used in my struggle with anxiety and chronic physical pain has been to pretend like everything is fine. On the positive side, this benefits my daily functioning. By giving myself permission to pretend that I don’t need help, I don’t need to share my struggles with others. While this may seem like a practical tool that my mind and body can use to get through the day, it is also a kind of crutch. By convincing myself that everything is fine, I have a hard time asking for help when I really need it. Irby’s writing teaches us all an important lesson: coping strategies allow for a passive experience, but it is never too late to advocate for yourself, admit when you’re struggling, and get the help you deserve.