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.
It took me a day and a half to get myself in the shower today. That’s day and a half from the moment I thought ‘I really need a shower.’ It was hard work to get myself there.
Once I had a shower though, I felt a bit more energised and ‘ok’. This made me realise one thing anyone can do to help a person they care about that is suffering from depression.
I know trying to help someone is depression is hard because you don’t know what to do to help besides saying ‘you’ll get through this’ or ‘it’ll pass’. As much as that support helps, there’s something concrete you can do to help them.
If they are depressed, it’s very likely they have been neglecting self care. It could be eating a proper meal, having a shower, brushing their teeth or even moisturising their body. Find out what basic self care they are struggling to get done, and encourage them to do it.
It’ll make them a bit more human, like they CAN do something, when their brain was telling them they are worthless and can’t get anything done. It’ll show them they DO have energy they didn’t think they had. It’ll help them feel more competent and capable. It’ll give them more energy, not drain them like they thought it would.
So if you have a little more time, help them figure out a basic self care task they have been neglecting to do and try to get them to do it. Thank you for caring about someone suffering from depression. You are absolutely making a difference. xxx
If you have a partner, family or friends who suffer from Bipolar or depression, I want you to know one thing. Many times, you will do everything you can to cheer them up, everything seems perfect, yet they are stuck in the depth of depression. I want to tell you that even when it doesn’t feel like it, your love and efforts matter. They really do. Likelihood is, your effort keeps them alive.
I was at rock button yet again a few days ago. My amazing husband & friends all gathered together to help me. They gave me so much love and support. I’ve had the perfect last few days. So many people shared their love and support. And yet I found myself crying in the shower this evening. I wanted to hurt myself. I thought about escaping it all once or twice(I’m okay now).
So here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how much you do to help them. It doesn’t matter how much they try to stay happy. Depression will try its darn hardest to creep back in anyway.
That doesn’t mean all your efforts were wasted or you shouldn’t help them when their depression takes over again. Depression is a series of ups and downs at the bottom of the mood pit. And trust me, YOU ARE NOT BACK TO SQUARE ONE! You are so not. Now they know they can ask you to help them and they’ll get help in getting a break. That’s trust, and that’s hope. Real hope that will keep them going. Hope keeps them alive.
And if you are the one suffering, I know you feel so guilty. Guilty that you let all those people who helped you down. You worry that you can’t keep bugging them for help. I need you to know that you have not let them down! It’s just your brain being horrible to you. The next time your brain says ‘oh you can’t ask them for help again’, ASK! They helped you once because they care, and they still do. So please, ask them for help again.
BECAUSE it’s time for celebrations and cheers, this is an important time to talk about this. It’s easy to forget that there are family and friends who are locked up in their mind that is telling them to die. I REALLY want to de-stigmatise talking about suicide.
Not actual suicide, but talking about wanting to. The only way I can think of de-stigmatising talking about suicidal thoughts is to talk about it on this platform I have as an artist.
It’s easy to freak out when someone you know say they want to kill themselves. And for some, at some points, they really do mean to do it. BUT, and it’s a big but, a lot of the time, they don’t want to really kill themselves.
I’ve suffered from Bipolar for 23 years. I go through depression twice a year, every year. That’s about 46 depressions I’ve had so far. Each and every time, one of the strongest symptom of depression for me is the suicidal thoughts. It’s not me wanting to kill myself though. My brain feels like it gets rewired, so thinking about any issues I’m having automatically ended up with the thought ‘well, if I killed myself these problems will all disappear.’ Can you see the difference? What people think I want is to die. What I actually want is to resolve the problem I’m dealing with. Suicidal thoughts does not equal wanting to die.
So why am I talking about this? Simply, the best way to make these suicidal thoughts lessen is to talk about it to someone else. The worst thing you can do for suicidal thought is not allow the person to talk about it. Just being able to say ‘I’m having suicidal thoughts’ to someone resets the preoccupation of wanting to do it. Having to put on a ‘I’m doing fine’ face and not be able to say it fastens and increases the desire to actually commit suicide.
What can you do to help? I can only tell you what helps me, and I’m sure it’s different for each person, but this might be a good place to start. If someone says they want to kill themselves:
1) DO NOT FREAK OUT. Consider it the same as them saying ‘I have a splinter in my finger’ – it’s something they need help with. You freaking out is only going to shut them down.
2) do NOT, please please please DO NOT, tell them they shouldn’t think about killing themselves. Their brain is focused on this thought already. You telling them not to think about it is just going to shut them down.
3) Don’t say ‘you have so much to live for’ or ‘your family would be so hurt’ or whatever else you think of saying at the time to try and stop them. Remember they don’t actually want to kill themselves. They just don’t know how to fix things.
4) let them know that it’s totally okay they are having the suicidal thoughts. That you love them, and understand this is painful, rather than wanting to actually die.
5) ask them what they are struggling with. Every single suicidal thought I’ve ever had has stemmed from a problem. They are usually minor issues that has things I can do something about. However, their mind is fixated on suicide as the solution, so they can’t see the solution for themselves. So help them tease out what the real issue they are struggling with is. Try help them find something they can do about the problem.
6) encourage them to focus on taking the actions identified in above, so they focus less on their desire to commit suicide.
7) let them know they are safe to talk about this feeling whenever they need to, and you won’t freak out on them.
8) If they are talking about actual attempted suicide – as in actually taking their life rather than what we’ve been talking about – then encourage them to seek professional help immediately.
I hope this helps someone out there. I am writing this in the hope of helping someone who needs the love and acceptance from their family and friends.