What prompted you to write your pieces Jo?
My writing is generated from an intense desire to understand life and the complexities of our world. Often when struggling with an aspect of life, writing provides the perspective and clarity to ingest experiences - it’s through the creative expression of words I process life and what’s happened to me. The two poems I’ve specifically written were prompted by my own experience of depression/anxiety, and also enduring depression and anxiety (and resulting homelessness) of close family. Depression/anxiety has visited me on three occasions and I am always intensely aware my family have a predisposition to depression so at any point it could return. My eldest sister had a debilitating five-year battle with depression/anxiety from 2010-2015, and there were times I experienced desperate grief watching her battle because I knew the beautiful person she was, and just wanted her to be well. During her battle my sister shared with me that she lives with suicidal thoughts and it was this brave act of sharing that I was also able to share my own similar experiences. My three bouts of depression they have also been marred by suicidal thoughts, mostly because I was so exhausted by the feelings of depression, suicide felt like a possible escape route. My sister’s battle, and her commitment to wellness, has featured her sharing much of her gained wisdom including the idea that maybe we will always have suicidal thoughts in times of anxiety/depression and not be ashamed of the thoughts, just be aware of them and acknowledge them instead of being afraid of them. It was the idea of being friendly with depression, chatting and joking with it in a playful way that was the inspiration for ‘Deliberations with the Black Dog’. If I could personalise depression maybe, just maybe, if it does return it’ll be kind to me.
How did your depression/anxiety affect you on a daily basis?
The three times I’ve had depression/anxiety I’ve masked it. I hide it from friends and family and often endure it in silence. The first time I experienced it, was in my third year of university and it almost killed me because I suffered silently, pretending I was OK to the outside world, even though I knew I was in real trouble. I was studying Psychology and History at the time and covering subjects on depression, history of violence and child abuse - this subject matter was adding to my spiralling situation. The worst part I recall was constantly feeling a deep sense of grief and anxiety weighing me down like being smothered by a dark blanket. It was with me when I went to bed and each morning I would wake and for a brief moment I would hope, just hope it had lifted and then the feeling would descend and it would take all the remaining scrimps of energy to get out of bed and face the day. I remember sleep was the only relief from pain of depression which is where the idea started creeping in that maybe permanent sleep was the solution.
Third year of uni I was sharing a house with two friends and my brother and I was living in the attic. Because I was silently battling depression/anxiety, I had reduced life to just getting to uni and work and coming home and studying – I couldn’t handle much else. I would study every night in my attic room and sleep was my only reprieve from darkness of depression. I lost faith in my ability to learn and express myself – I had essays to write for uni and I had to force myself to read old essays just to convince myself I could write and make myself start an essay. I just kept battling through.
Do you have any strong memories left of those times?
Yes, I remember once waking in the early hours of the morning and the blanket of depression was still with me. I was so tired from the darkness that I was incredibly tempted to take a bottle of sleeping pills I had and end my misery – it was an old bottle from when I’d been in hospital from a fall two years earlier. It was like the pills in the bottle were beckoning me whispering promises of relief. I remember being so scared to be alone with these thoughts that I ran out of the attic bedroom and found my brother sleeping and lay with him for two hours shaking. That had to be my darkest moment.
How do you cope any feelings of depression/anxiety you have now?
My sister has recently shared with me many great ideas of how to cope – one that I particularly love is that some days are going to feel like you’re caught in a hurricane. On these days you just need to grip on and let the day wash over you knowing all you have to do is get through the day. My sister also has great strategies for bad days – a care kit featuring all your favourite small comforts to make you feel good – like your favourite bag of tea, your favourite music, a favourite poem or magazine – on bad days grab your care kit and spend fifteen minutes looking after yourself.
Do you have any advice for anyone going through similar emotions and experiences?
Don’t view depression or anxiety as a failure. Own the feelings, share them, get help from family and friends and medical experts. Even go so far as to joke with them – ‘You again – OK you’re here but can I ask you to keep to yourself cause I gotta a life to live.’ Also, in times of wellness, read up on depression and anxiety – reading and understanding depression and anxiety has helped me appreciate the illness and ways to cope when I experience it, or when family go through it. Also, realising suicide isn’t a solution to depression it closes off your chances of getting well and recovering. There’s always hope.