To Write Love on Her Arms is a “non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.” They exist “to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.” What’s funny is that I’m just now finding out about them, despite the fact that I’ve been in and out of therapy for depression for about a decade now.
I appreciate their general message, which is, “You were created to love and be loved. You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known. You need to know that your story is important and that you’re part of a bigger story. You need to know that your life matters.” That’s great. I’d love to hear that coming from an actual person who cared about me. But how do they go about facilitating and spreading this message (assuming that they do at all, considering that I never heard a thing about it)?
Well, I know they sell merchandise, so you can buy a shirt that says, “I care about your depression,” basically. In fact, this is how the organization began, with a group of kids selling shirts to raise money to get therapy for a friend who was struggling with some mental issues. I think that’s awesome, too.
I’m not too pleased with what I see on their website, though, and what I know about their organization. I don’t like this trend of commercializing issues, like pink bracelets, shoes, blenders, shirts, dishes, cheese graters, socks, etc., for breast cancer. It’s great that you want to give to an organization, it really is. But must you get something in return? Why can’t we just give to do something nice, to support a cause we supposedly care about? We don’t need to receive a shirt or a bracelet in return so that we can wear it around and say, “I care that some women get breast cancer,” or “I care that some kids get depressed.” Where’s the humility in all that?
From what I can tell, the To Write Love on Her Arms movement is very much tied up in the music scene, particularly with (*cough* reallycrappy *cough*) psuedo-Christian rock bands like Switchfoot and Anberlin. They support the cause and encourage their fans to do the same. Here’s my problem with that: I don’t want people feeling obligated to fake “care” about my mental issues because some awful band told them to. I don’t want their support to become clouded by or to completely rely on their love of that band. I don’t want it to just become a form of showing their allegiance instead of actually caring. I worry that depression, suicidal thoughts and self-injury have become a source of credibility in some circles. It makes you more “hardcore.” They’re really not issues to be fetishized or appropriated by people who want to “rock” harder. What a great way to say, “I’m not taking your problems seriously!”
I feel like we’re creating this strange world of commercialized philanthropy. We’re consumers, so why not tack on some charity just to make ourselves feel good? To make us feel like we actually did something worthwhile, and we didn’t even have to try? When did charity and caring about the issues become so selfish? It’s all about appearances now. For example, we’ve all seen those Facebook statuses about what color a woman’s bra is, or where she likes to put her purse. Supposedly this is to raise awareness for breast cancer. I don’t get it either. I bet maybe 1% of the people who post these things have actually given to the cause of breast cancer awareness. I think most people are aware of breast cancer. But that doesn’t mean they’re giving money or time to the cause, and that’s the real issue. The same goes for depression. TWLOHA sponsors a day when those interested in their “cause” (a.k.a. “the people who follow them on Facebook”) will write the word “love” on their arms, like so:
Don’t you feel more aware of the issues I and other depressed people face now? And, bonus points, because these kiddos and their Magic Markers get to feel like they actually did something non-selfish for once. But not really. What this does is draw attention to THEM, the the words on their arms. It doesn’t blatantly have anything to do with depression, just like a Facebook status about my bra or my purse has nothing to do with breast cancer. I don’t look at this and feel that people care about my problems. I don’t see a bunch of people who would like to hear about my depression, who would listen without feeling uncomfortable if I told them about the times I was on the ledge. I look at this and see a bunch of people who want to feel like they did something charitable, but don’t want to put time, effort, or money into it. I look at this and see a bunch of kids who probably enjoy the attention they get for having scribblings on their arms for a day. Sure, I’m making assumptions about these people. But they’re not doing anything blatantly proactive, and I’m mad.
I’m not even asking that they give money. We’re all poor, I get it. I’m not asking that they volunteer at a youth shelter or even hand out pamphlets on the sidewalk. But we can do so much more than write a word on our forearms. Why don’t you look at your own social life and the way you treat people? How can you know that the girl you ignored in class today doesn’t have depression? How can you be sure that the clumsy boy you laughed at in the hall isn’t suicidal? If you must make these issues about yourself, then turn a critical eye on your interpersonal relationships and social interactions. Reach out to a lonely person, and try not to act like you’re a saint for doing it. Reprimand a friend if they tease someone. Listen to your friend’s problems. Put a stop to meanness, in general. Be kind and respectful. Don’t stop at writing a word on your arm, or a Facebook status about bras. Go one step further to say you actually care.