Depression and Bipolar is an excruciating disorder. I’ve had Bipolar for 23 years and depression visits me twice a year. I’ve had about 46 depressions in my life so far. It’s a debilitating sludge of absolutely no energy and murky waters of anxious, paranoid thoughts. It’s a tsunami of heavy thoughts and inability to even do the simplest task like brushing my teeth.
As someone who have been brought up to aim very high and achieve what you aim for, the depressions were nothing more than a complete ruins to my life. I had to give up half of the year, every year, to this stupid, horrible, numbing and paralysing thing that stopped me from doing what I needed to do. I hated it so much. It brought me nothing but sadness, suffering and despair. I despised and fought it.
Then I realised something. I have depression twice a year like clockwork. My Bipolar started when I was 14. Hoping to live up to 80, that’s at least 132 depressive episodes I’m going to have in my life. I don’t have a choice in this. It will come whether I fight it with everything I’ve got or not. Am I really going to fight something that is going to happen 132 times in my life? Or am I going to learn to live with it. Not encourage it, of course, but to get myself through it. Learn as much as I can about depression, and then do everything in my power to make each depressive episode as easy to get through as possible.
One of the things I used to struggle with the most was the view that depression had nothing to offer me. It was dark, it was heavy and it was ugly. There was nothing creative or pretty about spending three months laid up in bed, cutting everybody around you out of your life. It’s just you in your small bedroom feeling helpless and hopeless. There was nothing beautiful about it.
My own solution came when I started painting last summer. It turned out to be something I could do throughout the ups and downs of Bipolar. When I am manic, I could pour my energy into painting rather than focusing it on something a lot more self-destructive. Even better, it turned out to be one of the handful of things I can still do during my depression. I can at least drag myself out of bed, along into my studio and make a mark. That’s all I had to do. Make a mark.
I have been going through depression again in the last few months. I kept painting but my usual bright colours became alien to me. Instead, I felt a strong pull to simplify my palette down to just two – black and gold. I hadn’t used black before, partly because I was afraid to make ‘depressing’ paintings. Of course, happy bright paintings sell better. But for me, what became more important was to show you we can create beautiful things and be beautiful even through depression.
It’s easy to let someone’s depression become their defining label. The Beauty Behind Depression series, is about how depression feels like and how there is always a beautiful person behind the depression. Some paintings show how there is a bright person behind the dark clouds of drained, anxious and paranoid thoughts, trying so hard to get out of the cloud. Others show how lonely or drowning depression feels. Most importantly, this series is a testament of how something beautiful can come out of the suffering of depression and bipolar.
It’s Mental Health Awareness week next month (8th-14th May) and my hope is this series will do two things. One is to give visual representations of what going through depression feels like. Another way for suffers to be able to say ‘this is what having depression feels like’ to those around them. To create another channel of the very important conversation between the suffer and the carers.
Second is for those experiencing depression to see that they are still beautiful and is capable of creating something meaningful with their lives. Depression doesn’t have to absolutely drain you of all that is wonderful about you. Find a way to show the real you behind the depression in any way you can. You are more than your depression.
I will continue to work on this series, as long as this depression lasts. All pieces are 70x50cm, made with acrylic paint and India ink. They won’t be up for sale for a while (because of the depression), so if you’d like to know when they come up for sale please sign up to my mailing list so I can let you know first.