I read a really good article about depression today called In the Fog by Ginger, who shared her personal story and the things she has learnt about depression and how to cope with it. If you get the chance it is well worth a read.
It amazes me the number of people that suffer from depression and the common story they all tell of isolation and loneliness. There is a lot of stigma around depression, I think perhaps mainly because people who don’t suffer can’t quite understand how it works. They can’t see any visible sign of the disease, they don’t understand how you catch it or if it is contagious and they’re scared by the fact there is no simple cure. Those that suffer hide their pain and loneliness. They feel an understandable, but unwarranted shame and weakness, when the truth is far more complicated. All of this leads to further isolation and more loneliness, often prolonging the suffering needlessly. The reality is that people with depression, the doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists are not much more the wiser either!
What can we do to lift the stigma?
So many people suffer with depression and stress, far more than admit it and it’s about time we lifted this insidious stigma that has been placed upon the sufferers. The only way I can see this being possible is if people like Ginger, Shelly, Melissa and I share our experiences and by doing so encourage others to as well. Please read Ginger, Shelly and Melissa’s experiences and please share your experiences either in my blog’s comments or on your own blog and link it back here. Let’s take a stand once and for all and shed some light on this murky topic, give solace to those suffering through our experiences of surviving it and helpful tips of how we managed to get through the bad times. I know when I was at my lowest ebb I would have loved to know that I was not alone.
The artist and depression
One thing I have noted in my discussions of depression with others is that individuals who suffer with depression are often touched with a deep artistic and emotional vein. They are deeply in touch with their imagination, creativity and the emotional core of their being. This means they can appreciate the simple pleasures, find beauty in what others might find ugly, will find goodness in unlikely places and are capable of producing the most wonderful, engaging, magical and beautiful works of art. But in all things there is a balance, a yin to the yang and if an artistic individual has the ability to see the merest light and beauty in life, they are equally capable of falling into the darkness and becoming mired in the ugliness of life.
My personal experiences with depression
I have suffered with depression over the years, sometimes to the point at which it became completely debilitating and other times where no one, not even my closest friends and family were aware that I was anything more than a little bit blue. I think it started fairly early around 14, but I didn’t understand what it was. I just felt like I didn’t want to be around anyone, I didn’t want to leave my bedroom, let alone the house. I just wanted to escape into books and my artistic outlets, listening to music, shutting myself off from the real world, existing in an imaginary world where no one could reach or hurt me. As I was living at home it was fairly mild and went unnoticed by my family. It was a recurring theme of my teens, but it wasn’t until I was 24 that I had my first real all out fight with depression, which also turned out to be the most cataclysmic!
At 24 I was in a relationship that was stifling me, that I couldn’t see my way clear of and my relationship with my mother had hit an all time low from which it never recovered. I had no direction, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, though everyone seemed to think they knew who I was, what I stood for and where I was going, what I should be doing and it was at odds with the secret dreams I held deep within me. In addition to the symptoms I had suffered in my teens I got severe anxiety, being unable to keep down any food, sometimes not even being able to drink water for the severity of the butterflies that took up permanent residence in my stomach. I lost a terrible amount of weight in a very short time (a lot of people thought I was anorexic or bulimic). I had severe insomnia and would drive around at night for hours on end, (it was not uncommon for me to do over 100 miles in a night!). I was restless and yet listless, I didn’t want to leave the house and yet could not stay in the company of my partner. I barely ate or drank, and on weekends when my partner wasn’t there I never got out of bed and just slept.
Finally I found myself completely exhausted, at my wits end standing at the edge of the ocean with an insidious voice calling out to me of what it would be like to just keep walking and then just swimming out further and further from shore, until my limbs grew tired and cold, my mind peaceful and numb and I could just not worry about living any more, to give myself over to the tide of death and her deadly siren song. It seemed to me that I did not have one reason to live, not one bright spark of hope in my future and that the world and everyone in it would have been better off without me. I was so alone, stood out in the wind and rain not feeling the cold or the wet, ready to give up on life at such a young age.
This is not an easy thing for me to share, even as I type this I am transported back to that beach and it brings tears to my eyes, but it is important to me that I share this, so that should just one person suffering read this then they might know that they are not alone, that I have stood where they do now and that through reading this they might see that there is hope.
The Light in my darkness
And in my darkest hour it was my art that shed the light that saved me. Just as I was contemplating moving my feet forward into the water a single line of poetry entered my head and suddenly for just one more minute I had a reason to keep breathing, a need to live to give birth to the poem that began to beat incessantly within my head. I turned away from the insidious whispers of oblivion, got back in my car and went home to write the poem and then fell into an exhausted unconsciousness.
The next morning I awoke petrified by my actions of the night before, it was like a terrible nightmare, but I knew that it was real, if not for the poem staring up at me from the paper on the desk. I phoned the doctors got an emergency appointment and was finally diagnosed and treated for depression with counselling and anti-depressants.
This is the poem that saved me:
It is easy to find oneself lost within the storm. It approaches so silently; no earthly being can escape its wake. Encompassing you within its heartless winds, buffeting your heart with its cool kiss. You stand alone as it beats down its tears of rage, blistering upon your furrowed brow, leave me, please leave me now. Insignificant spec, I cannot hear my heart, I am mute in my discontent and still this storm vents.
“I am lost”, I am losing my grip and I fear I shall fall. Who then shall be there to listen, who shall wait at the foot of the precipice for my ungainly fate? I am nothing, I am not even hate. What does it matter, I hear the hounds at my door, this isn’t my time, this isn’t my place, but who am I to question almighty fate?
Anger seething still within, but I’m so tired, the sea calls out to me through the din. Whispered longing to know my flesh, a reckless abandon rests beneath my breast. Silent entreaty I pray to the night, but my angel has taken his flight. To dance again my one request, I wait upon your true caress.
10th November 1999 11.20 pm
Copyright R.Weal 1999 ©
The importance of art for expression and as a coping mechanism
The Storm is just a few scant verses and stylistically not my best work, but it is by far my most important and most deeply cherished! You cannot under estimate the importance of art as a means of expression and a coping mechanism.
Perversely I have created some of my most charged and beautiful works of art in my depression. The depth of the emotions that depression draws from me has allowed me to open up my artistry to levels I never would have dreamed possible in my mentally healthy state.
It is an important method of coping with the emotions that you cannot verbalise or cry out. It gave me a sense of fulfilment that even on my very worst days I had not wasted them because I had written a poem, painted a picture, taken and edited a photograph. Art gave meaning to my depression, which allowed me to understand it and in turn better know myself and why the depression had taken hold.
Would I take a cure?
I have often wrangled with the idea of what I would do if a quick cure for depression became available. The decision to take it would not be an easy one, for as much as my demons haunt me and can be destructive to my life they can also be instructive, creative and humbling. My depression is a part of me, part of the balance of my being that makes me a better person I think.
When I took anti-depressants I found myself feeling strangely disconnected from myself, I was flat, no longer able to touch my emotions and engage with the creativity that they drew from me. It was quite a disconcerting and frightening experience and I took myself off the pills fairly quickly (not that I’m advocating everyone should do that, especially not without consulting your doctor!).
How do I cope?
For me pills were not the answer, there is no quick fix for my depression it is much like a reformed alcoholic of years who continues to go to AA meetings because they will always be haunted by the spectre of the addiction and relapses are always a possibility. Depression is a silent, insidious creeping disease that can take you by surprise if you don’t take the time to watch yourself carefully.
I am lucky not to have ever relapsed to the state I was in when “The Storm” came to save me. I am ever vigilant and yet sometimes the depression gets the better of me, but today I understand it and me well enough to weather the storm. I know how to combat and control it with my coping mechanisms.
Here’s what works for me:
- Channel the emotion through art - Whatever it is, no matter the medium or how good or bad you think it may be. Get it out, let it live in all its glory and make something positive out of the experience. All my depressed pieces rank amongst those I am most proud and fond of
- Share your art and experiences – the first time I got up and read my poetry out loud was a revelation and it is an amazing feeling when people come up to you and tell you they’ve felt that way, or that what you read has helped them too. Not to mention the wonderful comments I’ve received on my flickr account for my artistic photography
- Give yourself leave to feel the emotion – Sometimes you have to give in, let it consume you for just a little while to bank the fires and keep control
- Try and be open about how you are feeling with those closest to you – This is the part I find the most difficult. I’m a very emotional person, but I keep it all very close to my heart and find it excruciating sometimes to externalise what I feel unless it is through art, but I am slowly getting better at it.
- Seek help – I had a fantastic doctor when I was 24 who couldn’t do enough to help me. It felt wonderful just to know that I wasn’t being silly, that I really was ill and the counselling was a great experience that gave me a completely unbiased person to talk to, who didn’t have a stake in the lives of any of the people I spoke to her about.
To my fellow suffers
Though I do not know your names, I know your hearts, I hear your souls crying out. I have one truly important thing to tell you YOU ARE NOT ALONE and I am here for you if you need me. Feel free to comment on the blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I promise to respond!
Take what you can from my experience and my art, it is freely given with all my love and friendship and no requirement for you to give anything back. But when and if you feel strong enough I urge you to share your experiences so that we might lift the veil of silence, burn off the stigma and maybe help another sufferer or two along the way.
Sleep safely, and find me in the newborn night.
Oblivion knows my name and she whispers softly to me.