I have a mental illness. It’s depression and it sucks.
I was originally not going to mention this sort of thing in this blog. I wanted Heading into the Forest to be upbeat and more of a documentation of the steps I’ve taken, rather than an exploration of my personal feelings. Plus, for me, depression has a guilt association–there’s no external reason for me to feel like this because I have a good job, a nice place to live, physical health, friends and family. What more could you need to feel good?
But now, quite obviously, my depression has had an impact on the story of Heading into the Forest. For the last few months, I’ve done almost nothing creative, posted very infrequently and what posts I’ve managed have been kind of cop-out, wishy-washy ones. So now that I’m finally coming out of this latest episode, I thought I’d put it out there as a way to restart my writing and creativity.
See, for me, depression comes in waves, usually lasting a couple of months. In between these waves I’m fine. During, I’m definitely not. This last one was particularly bad, partly because it’d been long enough since the last for me to start to think that I wasn’t going to get any more (whoops), partly because it was quite a long one (almost four months), and partly because it was somehow worse than a lot of others I’ve had.
I’m quite lucky compared to many people with depression because I get time off from it, in between the waves. Which is nice, but doesn’t really help me during the episodes when the hateful self-talk and sheer exhaustion overwhelms.
On a more positive note, something a little interesting has come from this last depression wave. I finally connected my synaesthesia to my creative pursuits. (I seriously can’t believe this is only happening now.)
Synaesthesia is a union of the senses where two or more senses are involuntarily joined. One of the most common forms is grapheme-colour synaesthesia where letters and numbers have specific colours.
So for me, the start of the alphabet looks like this: A B C D E F G
Numbers look like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
The week looks like this: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
People with synaesthesia will get this, even if I have the ‘wrong’ colours. Those without will probably struggle to understand. It’s kind of hard to explain because for me it’s just a thing that is.
A colleague at my day job loaned me a copy of Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. Daniel has synaesthesia to an incredible degree and savant syndrome, which allows him to learn languages incredibly quickly and recite pi to 22,514 digits. I’m not claiming to be able to do anything like that, but it occurred to me that incorporating my synaesthetic perceptions into my writing and photography could produce some interesting and slightly unique effects.
I made the connection because, for me, depression literally feels like drowning in a pool of cold water filled with icicles and black plastic. The water offers no purchase or chance to rest; the black plastic wraps around my limbs and covers my mouth and face, making swimming and breathing impossible; the icicles stab and freeze. Sometimes I’m so exhausted from fighting the water and smothering plastic that I can’t even get out of bed. While that’s the real feeling for me, it also makes a really good metaphor for other people.
When I’m between the waves, I feel like I’m made of clear glass, floating in the air with a clean breeze blowing right through me. That description definitely captures the feeling, but also the fragility of it.
Sunlight is a mix of slow honey and bright lemon. Moonlight is tingly sherbet powder on smooth ice. Playgrounds crackle like Pop Rocks. Roads groan and hum…
I’ve just discovered an amazing catalogue of experiential descriptions that will enhance my writing no end and (with a bit more difficulty and creativity) could result in some really interesting photographic juxtapositions. Again, I can’t believe I only just realised this! Perhaps it’s because this is normal for me.
So here’s to once more getting out of the dark, cold water and back onto the path into the forest in the honey and lemon sunshine.