#41 What It Looks Like

October 7, 2015

Jamie Keiles is a writer who decided to photograph something that’s usually invisible. Her story plus a new Yes Yes No.

 

The Facts

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder.

Our ad music is by Build Buildings.

 

If you’re feeling depressed or want to talk to someone, here are some resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1800-273-8255 (1800-273-TALK)

The Crisis Text Line

7 Cups of Tea (an anonymous, 24-hour chat with trained professionals)

Depression Tribe (a site with blogs, forums, and news)

 

Further Reading

Jamie Keiles on Instagram.

Jamie Keiles on her depressiongrams.

 

Sponsors

Stamps.com

Naturebox

Squarespace

Show transcript

PJ VOGT: From Gimlet, this is Reply All, I’m PJ Vogt. Jamie Keiles has had depression for most of her life, but it got really bad a couple years ago, when she was in college. She was diagnosed as bipolar, and around that time, she started thinking about suicide. She pictured hanging herself. Jamie’s a writer, and she’s used to processing her life through her work. But when her friends told her to try writing about the depression she was going through, it just made her really mad.

JAMIE KEILES: It’s like, “Other people who were depressed wrote great novels, but all you do is lay around and like watch “Law & Order.”” I don’t know. I guess it’s because I was in college and I was like in a creative writing program. People would be like, “David Foster Wallace should be your icon. Like he was so depressed and he wrote “Infinite Jest” and that’s a long-ass book.” Like, I couldn’t even like –

PJ: Just be like one of the greatest American writers. That will get you out of it.

JAMIE: Yeah. It’s like if you’re not producing art you’re somehow you’re failing at being a fuckup in some way.

PJ: It sucked. Her world felt like it was shrinking. She couldn’t produce art. She didn’t want to see her friends. She was absolutely sure that she was going to kill herself. But for whatever reason, she still found herself able to post mundane Instagram updates.

PJ: Do you mind, can you just turn your phone on and pull up your Instagram and describe a few pictures from this era?

JAMIE: Yeah, yeah, let me grab my phone. Alright. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling… This is just a picture of me, it’s from 78 weeks ago, it’s half my face, like it’s like, my face is half in the picture, and I’m really pale and my hair looks really bad and I’m against a white wall. So it’s like my skin is almost as pale as the wall and I’m frowning so I look really like, what’s the word like, I have like a pallor. And the caption is just, “Can’t sleep.” And then 19 people liked it so I would say this is a more successful depressiongram.

PJ: Depressiongrams. I find these pictures really fascinating. Because in my experience, when somebody gets depressed, it means they’re feeling this deep pain that is mostly internal and invisible to everyone else. Jamie’s photos are actual pictures of depression in all its brutal monotony. These are not super artful photographs. There’s one depressiongram that’s just a line of prescription bottles arranged on a cluttered formica countertop. And then there are a bunch of photos that are just her computer screen: You see an online order for an anti-depression lamp. Facebook chats about Elliott Smith. There are cheerless selfies, one of them shows the top half of Jamie’s face in a bath, her eyes look blank, she’s floating above gray green water.

PJ: Did you put a filter on that to make it more like, funereal?

JAMIE: Yeah, I mean I think I definitely wanted, I was definitely into things being kind of like dark and obscure or like really like sickly washed out surreal, so I think there’s definitely a look I was going for.

PJ: Yeah.

JAMIE: Like, whatever the opposite of like a sun flooded brunch table is, that’s like the filter for depression.

PJ: A story starts to emerge from Jamie’s photos. New prescriptions and therapy workbooks appear. She gets a dog, a very cute one, to try and make herself leave the house.

JAMIE: Well then here’s kind of like a happier one in a way, it’s from 83 weeks ago, and the geotag is IOP because I was in like an intensive outpatient program in Chicago after I got out of the psychiatric hospital. And it’s sort of like, I’m in a sweater and I’m wearing a hat, and I look sort of like pajama-y but in a very like cozy way. And I’m just kinda trying to smile but it’s not like a smile, it’s sort of like a, my eyes are closed, it’s sort of like a wacky face. But definitely more on the pleasant side and the caption is, “Therapy all day every day literally,” and then the hashtag is “recovery.” And then someone commented, “I hope you’re okay,” and I sent back, “Yeah, I’m okay now, just dealing with #life, thanks for caring, emoji with heart eyes.” And then she responded, “Glad to hear you’re getting help and taking care of yourself,” and the person is like an internet stranger that I guess I’ve been in touch with… But I went back to the psychiatric hospital after this, but things seemed promising in this moment.

PJ: She’s doing a good job of sort of, you’re expressing something real with a little bit of irony laced through it, like saying #recovery feels like, at least to me.

JAMIE: Yeah.

PJ: And she’s doing a nice job of just hearing the thing you’re actually saying. And just like responding to that. You know what I mean, like she’s like totally unjokey and straightforwardly like, “I hope you’re okay.”

JAMIE: Yeah, and it was nice cuz it wasn’t so like doting, like I hate when people would be like, “Rooting for you!” or like “You’re gonna kill em this time!” Something that’s like too aggressive in its optimism. Like this was just very much like, “Hope you’re okay.”

PJ: One of the depressiongrams I keep looking at is just a close-up shot Jamie took of the weekly schedule that her Mom printed out for her. The photo’s framed pretty haphazardly, you feel like you’re kind of taking a sidelong glance at something, you can’t even see the whole piece of paper. But in Times New Roman it lays out a very simple Tuesday. Shower. Put on Clean Clothes. Take Medicine. Walk Dog. Walk Dog. Walk Dog. I look at it and I feel the thing that depression does to people, how it drains you of your energy, how it makes simple things like getting out of bed feel ambitious bordering on impossible. Jamie’s dog eventually stops appearing in the pictures. She couldn’t take care of it, she had to give it away..

JAMIE: When we tell stories about depression in general, we always try to fit them into this formulaic triumph narrative, where it’s like I was sad and I got better and my life is so much better and then I won a prize for a thing that I cared about or something like that. My thoughts on this are really just to say that people are sad and they don’t disappear from life.

PJ: It can feel like depressed people disappear. The people who experience depression often don’t talk about it, often they can’t. And not everyone who sees that world survives. When I was 18, my strongest, smartest friend, the one everybody I knew in high school most admired, she got depressed. Her depression got worse in college, just like Jamie’s did. My friend took some time off from school, went home to Philly. I saw her in October, and I remember just looking for some sign that she wasn’t herself anymore, but she seemed OK. She seemed like her. And then, on December 6th, she hanged herself. I found out on the phone that night, and I flew home the next day. I made it to the hospital a little bit before midnight and I said goodbye just before they took her off life support.

My friend left a suicide note and I copied the note down, word for word, because it felt like it was a code I could solve. The note was about the day we’d graduated high school. I had been with her that day and I remembered it because we’d driven by the scene of a car accident together. My friend kept a pair of surgical gloves in her purse, because earlier that year she’d skipped our senior prom in order to take a first responder class, and she always wanted to be ready, in case there was somebody who was hurt who she could help. So we stopped the car, and she got out, and she tended to the two boys who had crashed. They were alright, they were just in shock. When the paramedics showed up, they complimented my friend, and then that was it. We drove off. But in her suicide note, she wrote about how that day had stuck with her. She said that she couldn’t help anyone as much as she wanted to, and that she’d gotten lost in her head. She expected we’d all be mad at her, and she said she was sorry. And that was it.

I remember sitting in her bedroom after she died. I felt like there should be some evidence of how she’d felt, of what had gone wrong, but there was nothing. It was so tidy. I went online and found what little pieces of her existed on the internet and I saved them on a folder on my computer. And then I would return to that folder over and over again, late at night when I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know what I was doing. I know that I spent a long time feeling numb, and very gray, and when I would open the folder, if nothing else I would feel sad, and feeling sad felt better. It was a sharp feeling that cut through the numbness. Whatever I was doing, it felt important, even if I didn’t know why. In retrospect, it seems clear that I was just compulsively returning over and over to the saddest thing I knew, which is something depressed people often do.

JAMIE: You kind of ruminate in a circle where you think if you can think about your depression hard enough, that you could some way think your way out of it. So then you’re in this constant thing where you’re like thinking through the same cycle of ideas, and even if you recognize that there’s like, some chemical element to it, or that maybe getting out of your depression would require some lifestyle changes, I think part of the disease of depression is that you just ruminate in a circle like, if I could just figure out why I’m sad then I could become less sad, then I would be happier but I have to keep thinking about why I’m sad, and it just like, you get more entrenched in the depression which makes it harder to get less depressed.

PJ: For most of my twenties, I thought about killing myself. Often. Had I told anybody, they would have told me that that symptom of depression. But I never made that connection. I was hunting this thing that had taken my friend away, Depression, and I was wondering what it looked like, how I could understand it, completely unaware that it was in me. For all that time I just thought that everyone’s brain was like that. The same way I genuinely can’t imagine that anyone doesn’t always kinda want to be eating potato chips, I also just thought that anybody’s brain, faced with a sufficiently difficult problem, would suggest that one easy solution would be just dying. I just figured people learned to ignore that voice, no matter how insistent it got, no matter how loud. And then a friend of mine gently suggested that this was actually unusual, and I got a therapist, and I got medication, and now that does seem unusual. It seems hard to imagine. Which is really nice.

JAMIE: When I was depressed, and I think a lot of depressed people share this, I really didn’t believe that anyone was happy.

PJ: Yeah.

JAMIE: And I believed that people that were happy were faking it for attention.

PJ: Yeah.

JAMIE: So when someone would post like a picture of a sunset and be like, “So grateful for this day,” I would be like, “So grateful I’m not you, ugh.” So sometimes I think, like I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll see a flower and I’ll be like, “Man, I should Instagram this flower and be like, “Grateful for this lovely morning,”” but then I think, “Ugh, a person that was like how I used to be would see that and be like you sack of shit, get off Instagram.”

PJ: Yeah.

JAMIE: It just sounds like so corny, or just like delusional, I don’t know.

PJ: So instead of looking at pictures of other people’s brunches, Jamie says when she was depressed, she’d go online and find really sad stuff to look at. She’d lurk Instagram hashtags populated by teenagers who had accidentally gotten pregnant. Or she’d search this one called junkie fam–

JAMIE: It was like people in active heroin addiction that would post pictures of heroin but also pictures of themselves going to rehab, I definitely followed it for like a full year.

PJ: One of the things I realized with you talking about that is that, kind of the world of depressed people and the world of not depressed people, they don’t have a lot to say to each other. Depressed people can make undepressed people feel like kind of put upon and exhausted, and undepressed people can make depressed people feel exasperated, and like they’re phony and annoying, and part of the problem of, sort of for lack of a better way to put this, how to be depressed online is that those worlds don’t mix well.

JAMIE: Yeah, no I totally agree, as someone that’s happy now and was once very sad, I can’t have any of my feeds populated with people that are just like chronically unhappy. And when I was depressed, I really couldn’t have my feeds populated with people who were like chronically happy. Like, I think there is something to be said about like, building the online universe that serves your needs in the moment. To some degree it’s like, you gotta let in, you have to let people into your life that bring out the things that you want to be brought out in you. So when you’re depressed, you want sad people in your life, when you’re happy, you want happy people in your life.

PJ: I think it actually goes even deeper than that. I can barely remember what being depressed felt like, or what I did when I was depressed. It’s just this gray streak. I could tell you I remember wanting to be in bed a lot. I didn’t sleep much. And the song “Long December” sounded better than it does now. And that’s pretty much it. Which is good—forgetting pain is what lets people move on. But that forgetting means that once you leave depression, it immediately becomes clouded over and hard to see. Jamie’s pictures help see it, and it still feels really important to try to see it. When my friend died, she left me with a lot of memories, but there’s 3 I still obsess over. The car accident in June, the time I saw her happy, in October, and then the hospital bed in December. A lot happened in between that that I’m never going to understand. Instead, I get older, and life keeps happening, and I think about everything she’s missing out on. There is so much of life that is just unimaginable where you’re 18. And it makes me furious.

But that is the last really good thing about Jamie’s feed. Because Jamie’s feed also shows you how life can turn out for someone when things get better and they stick around. She’s 23 now, and she’s on a road trip. She wants to report on one of the last Blockbuster video stores in America, so she’s driving from New York to El Paso to do it. And the world that Jamie shows you in her feed post-depression looks completely different. Like the photos look different. They’re bright. They’re outside. They have colors in them. They have other people in them. A few days ago she posted one from Nickelodeon Studios, where her and her friend were covered in that green nickelodeon slime, wearing goggles and just mugging with cheesy abandon. Then it’s nighttime, and she’s in Alabama, under a palm tree in a parking lot. Last time I checked, she was in in New Orleans. She says she still has 1,092 miles to go.

ALEX GOLDMAN: If you’re feeling depressed or you just wanna talk to someone, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. That number will be on our website, along with other resources, like the Crisis Textline, and some online communities that have more people you can talk to. There’s more after the break, so stick around.

BREAK

ALEX GOLDMAN: Welcome once again to Yes Yes No, the segment on the show where PJ and I act as sort of an internet Rosetta Stone for our boss, Alex Blumberg. He comes to us with some piece of internet culture that he doesn’t understand, and then we explain it to him. So Alex, you have a tweet you wanted us to help decipher.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh, yes. It’s from a Twitter account with the name “gay space rock.” Gay space rock tweeted: “tfw a group claiming to never have abused you has meetups in a location from a meme your ex created to call you a whore.”

PJ: Wow.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And then, there’s pictures in it, right?

ALEX BLUMBERG: And then there’s pictures in it of like, people crowding around a Five Guys burger stand.

ALEX GOLDMAN: This, there’s many layers—

PJ: Wait, there’s a question that we gotta ask. Just calm down.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I get excited.

ALEX BLUMBERG: So, Alex Goldman do you know what this tweet means?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes.

ALEX BLUMBERG: PJ Vogt, do you know what this tweet means?

PJ: Sort of? Vaguely? Alex Blumberg, do you know what this tweet means?

ALEX BLUMBERG: No.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So let me ask you a question first, just about the nomenclature of this tweet. Do you know what “tfw” means?

ALEX BLUMBERG: No, that was my first question.

PJ: That’s the part of it that I know.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Alright, so let’s start there, easy.

PJ: Okay so, tfw refers to “that feeling when.” And so originally when people would use it online, it would be like, “That feeling when somebody who wasn’t texting you texted you back,” and there’d be like a picture of a gif with someone looking really happy. And the sort of 3rd stage meme level that tfw’s at now is that you’ll say like, “That feeling when…” and then describe something ultra specific. Like, whatever this is.

ALEX BLUMBERG: So it went from, “That feeling when your baby smiles for the first time,” and you post a picture of your baby smiling for the first time, to, “That feeling when…”

PJ: “That feeling when this morning this guy on the bus pushed me as he was getting off the bus and I felt really mad and I went to say something to him but then like my iPhone fell out of my pocket.” Like, it’s a joke about this thing that used to refer to something broad and relatable, and now applying it to things that are very specific.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So to understand this, you have to understand who tweeted it and you have to understand the context around it. And it’s actually pretty dense.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay, good. So, tfw we explained. Tfw is “that feeling when.” So now it would be, “That feeling when a group,” so this makes a lot more sense already, “That feeling when a group claiming to never have abused you has meetups in a location from a meme your ex created to call you a whore.”

ALEX GOLDMAN: So gay space rock is actually a woman named Zoe Quinn.

PJ: Ohhhh, I just went up like 30% clarity.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So Zoe Quinn is a video game developer. She made this game called Depression Quest in 2013. Which was sort of like a choose your own adventure game. You play as this character who’s depressed, and it was sort of an artsy game. And it got a lot of rave reviews from the gaming press, and some people didn’t like that it got a lot of press because it wasn’t a game proper. It wasn’t a game with like a graphic interface. It literally played like a choose your own adventure book. You read a page, and then at the end you get the option to do x or do y, and it sort of takes you to another page and then it gives you further options, and you know, it’s got this branching story. But it’s not like, a video game the way that most people understand, like an XBox game. And then, a little over a year ago, her ex-boyfriend…

ALEX BLUMBERG: Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes. Put up a blog post that was ten thousand words long. And was this just vicious, unrelenting, and minute in detail description of their relationship, all the times that she had cheated on him, she allegedly did all these things. And sort of embedded in the accusations made on this thing was that she had slept with a number of game developers to get positive coverage for her game.

PJ: Slept with a number of game critics.

ALEX GOLDMAN: A number of game critics. This website that her boyfriend put up was the beginning of Gamergate. This was the powderkeg that set Gamergate off. So embedded in all these accusations about her sex life was the accusation that she had cheated on her ex-boyfriend with five guys.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Got it.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And very quickly, the notion that she had slept with five guys, in sort of the internet’s disgusting mematic way, transmuted from an accusation that she had slept with five guys to a huge joke about the burger chain Five Guys.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So there are tons and tons of like sort of image macros of her standing in front of a Five Guys and like, the hashtag “fiveguys” is used all the time in reference to her, and it’s meant, it’s like shorthand for “Zoe Quinn is a slut,” basically.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Got it.

ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s really, really gross.

PJ: The thing, games journalism is super corrupt, just not in the way or with the power structure these people are imagining, like. Game studios that make like, huge blockbuster games have a lot of control over the gaming press because they trade like, exclusive previews in exchange for like good coverage, and it’s not, it’s sort of like car reviews in that it’s, the industry and the criticism are pretty close.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.

PJ: But it’s not a thing where a person who’s making like an artsy, one-person video game is gonna be able to corrupt everybody. I think, she said at some point like yes, at one point, I had a relationship with somebody who wrote about me prior to us having a relationship. But her thing was like, why do I have to litigate my personal life in this public forum, why won’t you guys leave me alone, please would you leave me alone.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, part of the pushback that the Gamergate movement has made against Zoe Quinn and other critics of it has been, “We don’t care about Zoe Quinn. We care about ethics in gaming journalism. That’s all we care about. We have no ill will towards this person other than the fact that she compromised the ethics of game journalism by sleeping with people in return for favorable coverage.” Allegedly, again, allegedly. However, Gamergaters are getting together in the real world and taking pictures of themselves in front of Five Guys restaurants and saying things about how hilarious it is, I think one of the captions to one of these pictures is, “This is like level 80 trolling.” So, it’s very clear exactly what they’re trying to do.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Alright. I’m almost there. What’s Gamergate again?

PJ: It’s a group of like, loosely affiliated people who think that video game criticism is essentially too progressive, that there’s so much pressure on game developers to make games that have things like playable female characters and women who are wearing entire pieces of clothing, and not every game being like an Arnold Schwarzenegger style shoot em up, and so they say that their banner is like, “We want an independent and free gaming press,” but many of their concerns seem to just be, just like, frankly outright misogyny.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And Gamergate is much bigger than just like the harassment of Zoe Quinn alone. It seems to target basically any high profile woman who speaks critically of sexuality in games. So, there’s a woman named Anita Sarkeesian, she does a web series that’s called “Tropes vs Women in Video Games,” and it’s really straightforward, very academic discussion of the way that women are presented in video games. Doesn’t seem controversial at all. People have made flash games that you can play on your web browser that are like, punch Anita Sarkeesian in the face, and it’s literally just her face getting bloodied.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Jesus.

ALEX GOLDMAN: They’ve made pictures of video game characters raping her, they have put her personal information out on the internet, she’s had to like go to the FBI with all of the threats she’s getting, and just a couple weeks ago, there was this UN panel on how terrible being on the internet for a woman is, and two of the people who were asked to speak at this panel were Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh really?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Wow.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, I mean these are just two of the people who have gotten this kind of harassment, but they’re far from the only people. Just, they’ve become sort of these poster children for everything that Gamergate organizes against. Women who independently create sort of, who look at games through a feminist lens.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Alright.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So do you want to try and explain this to us?

ALEX BLUMBERG: Alright, so I’m gonna try to give it a shot.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright, let’s, go ahead.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Alright, once again: gay space rock tweeted, “tfw a group claiming to never have abused you has meetups in a location from a meme your ex created to call you a whore.” It makes so much more sense now. Alright, so, gay space rock was, is a video game, is a video game designer who created a video game that then became a hit, and then her ex-boyfriend released a venom-filled Tumblr claiming that, sort of insinuating that she had slept with lots of people to get good reviews for her video game. Located inside the insinuation was the number five, somehow she had slept with five guys to get her video game well reviewed. The five guys became a meme, sort of like crossed, morphed onto Five Guys the hamburger stand, and then a bunch of angry men rebelling against what they saw as the over, sort of too PC culture in game reviews, they have risen up, and that group, the Gamergate people, claim that it’s no longer about the woman who tweets as gay space rock, but that claim was belied by this most recent manifestation of the Gamergate movement which is many, many Gamergaters have meetups where they bitch about the state of game journalism in Five Guys restaurants.

PJ: Nice.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Wow.

ALEX BLUMBERG: And, Zoe Quinn, the woman who tweets as gay space rock noticed that, and tweeted a sarcastic tweet that says, “That feeling when a group claiming to never have abused you,” meaning Gamergaters, “has meetups in a location from a meme your ex created to call you a whore.”

ALEX GOLDMAN: Whew.

PJ: Nicely done.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, good work.

PJ: That was a difficult one.

ALEX BLUMBERG AND ALEX GOLDMAN: That was a difficult one.

ALEX BLUMBERG: That took a long time.

PJ: It felt like long division.

ALEX BLUMBERG: And now I’m like, now I’m not, now I was confused and now I’m mad. Like, really?

PJ: Yeah. It’s awful, and now you know about it, and you’ll have to know about it forever.

PJ: And that’s the show. Reply All is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, with Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni and Phia Bennin. We were edited by Peter Clowney. Production assistance from Kalila Holt. We were mixed by Rick Kwan. Special thanks to Emily Kennedy and Emma Jacobs. Our theme music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings. Matt Lieber is good advice from an old friend.

You can find more episodes of the show at itunes.com/replyall. If you haven’t gotten a chance to leave us a review, please do, it helps a lot. And you can visit our website, which is replyall.soy. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.

View full transcript

Subscribe

Subscribe to the show feed here

You can also subscribe to the show newsletter