My Dark Days: Before

A really exciting opportunity has arisen in the form of an art exhibition called Piece of Mind. It is being set up by a group in St Andrews trying to raise awareness about mental wellbeing and health. It is to encourage self-expression and I felt that the piece I wanted to submit, might also raise awareness of depression and what people go through, what I went through

Over a short series of three posts I want to try to explain a little about how I came to be diagnosed, how I felt and coped through my depression, and how I’ve been in the last couple of months having come off medication. Alongside each I will be showing you progress of the piece I hope to submit.

I am generally against pieces of writing that make you cry just for the sake of it. I’m not going to try to make you feel sorry for me, make you think I’m brave, or think that I’m attention-seeking – none of those things are true. What I do want to try to do is explain how depression can feel from the inside, the medical stuff that is related, and how it can affect your willpower, decision-processes, and ability to move your body.

Before: The Year Leading Up

Summer 2009 was a fun time, and a peaceful one. I relaxed and wrote letters, designed postcards and sent them to friends. I did quite a lot of funny art pieces, and set up a small Facebook page where people could buy them off me. I didn’t sell much but that was fine. At the same time I was planning a lot of student residence events for the next freshers’ week as I had been elected Female Senior Student the summer before. That particular bit was a little stressful but could have been worse. I was also Publicity for CMaD which meant designing lots of cool posters again for Fresher’s Week. It was a good summer; my second year had been one of my best and I’d gained some great friends; and I was looking forward to having another great year.

September started off tough. Running a committee with another person is hard at the best of times; it’s much harder when the person you’re running with starts making decisions you morally and ethically don’t agree with, or when he starts acting in a way that seemed irresponsible at best, completely inappropriate at worst. I started receiving worried statements from other students, and those on the committee, and at the same time trying to have reasoned conversations with the cause of it all. I felt powerless, disrespected, concerned, and alone in a lot of it. That was just the first couple of weeks. After that the committee as a whole found it hard to pull together, there were rifts, arguments, and times I wish now I had stood up and defended a good few of them.

Through the Autumn, CMaD was also getting a little tough. I was trying to organise an event I was passionate about and there had been an awkward tension around it. This continued into other decisions and friendships were affected. I will take my responsibility for it: I can’t just blame someone else, but the time was hard.

I had also started a brand new relationship and by mid-December it was under attack. Judgements and condemnation was rife and we struggled  to figure out what to do with everything. When I visited his parents with him at Christmas the days were hard: we’d go from being together and happy, to doubting and terrified by the night. It took a long time, and a lot of tears, to get past this, and the rumours didn’t stop moving… haven’t stopped moving.

In January, I resigned from my post as Senior  Student. I was the third to do so on the committee and I was surprised more didn’t too. I tried to help my friends on the committee over the next few months, let them rant to me, and trusted that they would make good decisions. What was hardest to deal with was my own shame: I constantly felt I had let them down, by not standing up for what I thought, for not standing up for those who were hurt right infront of me. I felt angry that I hadn’t been able to deal with the manipulation. I had expected more of myself and hadn’t met my own standard.

By Easter, I had also given up on CMaD. I had felt some pressure to get out the way for the society’s good and it hurt to let go. There was a gap left and I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was a society I had big plans for, but plans I would never see come to fruition.

Gradually, my sleep patterns changed, I became very tired, very emotional over little things. My boyfriend tried his best to help and cheer me up, but didn’t quite know what was wrong. To be honest, nor did I. If asked I could recite all the great things in my life: I had time to relax, work for my degree was going well, I had a great boyfriend, great friends, my family were getting on better than we had for a long time. Yet something was wrong, there was something heavy in my mind, as if it pulled my mind down.

There were a couple of events that made me really worry about what was happening to me – and it felt exactly like that – happening to me. I didn’t know what I had done to make me feel like I wanted to bury into a hole, disappear. I didn’t want to die, or kill myself, it wasn’t like that, it wasn’t so dramatic and I didn’t hate myself. I just wanted to disappear.

The first time I realised something wasn’t OK, wasn’t just tiredness, was when I would sit on my bed in my student room with my boyfriend offering the decision between a movie, dinner out, or maybe just a DVD in my room with some takeout. A pretty simple decision for most people had me silent, struggling to say anything, confused about what I wanted, the pros and cons of each option. I couldn’t make my mouth work, no words would come out. Each words was clamouring for attention and yet not one would let me form a sentence, and even if I could form a sentence I couldn’t make the decision. I couldn’t make the decision between dinner out or takeaway. The way I finally managed to explain this problem to my boyfriend was a tube train with so many people trying to push out, that everyone is stuck in, not able to move. Instead of speaking, instead of answering, all I could do was fall sideways onto the bed, curl up and stare lifelessly. It took a long time to get past that, and I’m not sure now how I managed it.

The other time which terrified me was one day where everything was going fine. I had been invited to a friend’s birthday party that night and decided I would go out and buy a top to go under a rather low-neck dress. I walked into the centre of St Andrews and bumped into a friend, we started talking, got a cupcake, and sat for a while. It was a really good time. It was when I had to go that I realised the time, rushed into New Look, grabbed a top, a necklace, and a hairclip I thought would work, and ran to the till. That was when I saw the desk was closed and the sales girl was locking the door. Something went wrong then: I didn’t want the fuss, I didn’t want to plead with her to let me buy the things, I started worrying about the money I would be spending, so I put down the items, went to the door and left empty-handed.
Walking back to my room I was panicking: I was late for a lunch with another friend, I didn’t have anything to wear that night, if I just went with the dress I would feel self-conscious, if they asked how I was I didn’t want to lie and tell them I was feeling crap, but I also didn’t want them to worry. I ended up in tears on the phone to my boyfriend saying I didn’t want to go anywhere that night, I wanted to hide out. So I did, I stockpiled food and barely left my room for 3 days. I had sent a text to my friend saying I was sorry but I wasn’t feeling well, then ignored anything out of my phone.

Things were not OK. I had to deal with the frustration more than anything: I knew some of the stuff in my head wasn’t rational, I knew there was no rational reason I could think of that would make me feel this low. I hated the fact I couldn’t get rid of it by sleeping more, being busier, or by taking a break. My normal go-to strategies were not working. I was powerless to control my own body and mind, and they seemed to be working against me. I had started going to Student Support and they had suggested a doctor’s appointment. Pills had been mentioned and I hated that idea. I didn’t want to lose control, or not know what was normal, or be numbed and not feel anything. I waited until the end of the academic year before going home and making an appointment to see someone.

Piece of Mind: Progress

When thinking over everything what sticks with me is that feeling of heaviness, as if something was clinging onto my brain which wasn’t meant to be there. It was dark and heavy and like nothing else I had experienced. It made me weary because it fought with me – sometimes making decisions was too much because I simply didn’t have the energy to fight with myself. I clung to safe places, I clung to my boyfriend, because they were easier than dealing with questions, explaining, worrying people. Some days would be fine, because they were good days and I had a good life. Others simply weren’t. It was living a life where at any moment this weight in your head would decide the things that you were doing, you were no longer allowed to do. It was frustrating more than anything.
My piece needed to express the normalcy of life and yet this surreal thing happening inside. It was a debate as to whether I formed a  3D sculpture, or a detailed painting. I have decided on the painting, a type of self-portrait with surreal tweaks.
Here’s a few pictures as inspiration:
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