My morning ritual consists of coffee and usually Portuguese olive oil cake or Cree bannock. I love scooping the coffee into the machine and while it’s percolating placing breakfast onto a small tea saucer. The bone china tall ship cup is my favorite. Both of these go on an ornate tray where I bring them back to my bed and check email and the news. Sometimes I pull a playing card, tarot, or the Sibyls Oraculum. Sometimes I just roll the dice. This has been my ritual every day that I’ve lived in Chicago and perhaps every day before then. I love making the bannock, cooking my own meals, and adding herbal medicines to whatever I’m creating. Part of this ritual is to create consistency, the other part is to create balance because as long as I can remember depression has been a part of my life. There are times when I’m happy, excited, and inspired and there are times when I’m so down I can barely get out of bed and get myself to the pool or for a bike ride. There are even times when I find it hard to work.
The days that I’m depressed I wake up with the heaviness of what feels like swords a la Our Lady of Sorrows deep in my heart. I push myself to do day to day business. Sometimes I succeed and other times I don’t. As an adolescent the depression came from people pleasing and unrequited friendships. I had a hard time making close friends. I think I had one main friendship from kindergarten to 5th grade and a few other friendships that ebbed and flowed during certain periods. As a pre-teen and teen the depression was a mixture of unrequited love and a need to be on my own which didn’t really work in a teenagers body. I requested a therapist in my teens. My Catholic school had me sign a document indicating I wouldn’t kill myself. I was goth and that was problematic. I had a certain number of free sessions with the therapist and when they ran out I requested medication. I was already on Tegretol for seizures and Zoloft had just come out. It’s intent was to be milder than other drugs such a prozac or lithium. I had a bad reaction to Zoloft which left me more depressed. Later studies showed it increased risk of suicide. I was taken off Zoloft and given Paxil. I gained 20 pounds but could sleep and it was important that I be on a medication that could mix with the seizure meds. I don’t regret being on medication during that time. Years later in my late 20s after a horrible breakup I requested medication once again. The doctor gave me a three month prescription. When I started to feel better he gave me another three months with the second and third weening me off. I was glad to have the medication although I don’t remember what it was. Looking online it seems to be APO BU 75.
My late teens consisted of alcohol and drugs. Luckily I had a few scares and by 21 I was free of drugs. Drinking had a bit of a longer run but these days I barely take a drink at all. Most of my twenties were spent not understanding why I was alive. I had gone through two traumatic deaths due to drugs and wasn’t coping. Day to day I went through the motions. This isn’t to say I didn’t have good days but I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I felt like a fraud and I hated working the retail jobs I kept falling into. Other people I had gone to school with had gotten design jobs, jobs with magazines, jobs that gave them healthcare and a weeks vacation. They lived in big apartments with significant others. I was still collecting change in a wine bottle and hoping I could cash it in. I went through a series of bad relationships. I didn’t realize at the time that someone could be with you and not love you. I knew I was connecting with someone out of trauma and wanting to connect our traumas as healing but it didn’t work. My art in my twenties was mediocre at best. I knew there would be a point where it would get better but I didn’t know how, or when, or what to do. I didn’t know how to connect with people, especially men, and I didn’t know how to better myself which was odd because I had a great relationship with my father and men in my family. Articles on dating told me I was too depressed and insecure and no man wants that. Men I did date told I wasn’t the type of girl you take home to mom or that while I was nice, I wasn’t someone they wanted to spend all their time with. (Side note: If someone does want to spend every waking hour with you, that’s usually a red flag.I have had this happen and felt like I was drowning.) I was glad when my twenties finally came to an end, although the process was rather excruciating. I had miscarried without knowing I was pregnant while the person I was with ghosted me when he found someone he thought worthy of his time. While I no longer feel attached to this person in any way, I do understand that the experience itself stuck with me and hindered me for a long time.
That above was the depression I understood well. I knew why it was there and I spent days trying to release it. Luckily I had really great women friends who not only spent time with me but acknowledged what I was going through. My family was very good with the situation as well. I felt grateful for that and worked on getting my mental health back. One of the things I’ve always hated was the idea of being depressed or needing a therapist or even taking medication made you automatically broken. There were some people that told me not to say I was depressed, or not to admit to needing therapy or medication. I’ve always felt that different things work for different people. While medication both failed and helped me in the past as I’ve gotten older I’ve found that herbal remedies and vitamins work well to balance me out now. So it’s important to try different solutions and to see how they affect you. I like to think of it as my alchemy time, a place for me to experiment. Sometimes I create sulphur and other times gold but I have realized the important thing is to be curious. In depressive states try to tap into any sort of curiosity. Curiosity has saved me in times where if I had spiraled enough I might have done harm to myself.
I found that being by water generally became very healing to me. In NY I spent years in secret spots by the East River crying my eyes out asking for better days. Those spots went from tear filled ones to ones of peace and solace once I realized how healing the water could be. In fact when I went through my rough patch at the end of my twenties I bathed nightly in collected healing waters from around the world. Friends would send them to me on their travels and I’d collect them in a bottle and add a few drops to the bath. It didn’t heal everything but it helped. As I got older, more in touch with myself and started to speak with others I learned many people entertained thoughts of death. Thinking these thoughts during rough times is relatively normal. It shows you where something needs to be changed wether a behavior or if something is off balance. It becomes a warning when these thoughts last days, weeks or you take certain steps to go forward with a plan to harm yourself. (Click the blue link above to check wether your thoughts fall into the normal or warning signs. If you are feeling helpless or suicidal call 1-800-273-8255.) I know when these thoughts are about to occur within me. There are certain signs that over time I’ve realized are my body warning me that I’m about to go through it. Different types of depression may have different cycles so please talk to your doctor, therapist, or talk with someone here that will help guide you. (They have resources for everyone and include information about crisis centers local to you.)
When I was stressed and made a mistake I would start my spiral which would then turn into a series of mistakes leading me further and further into despair. I can remember being very young and doing something that got me in trouble. I went to bed praying that God would take me in my sleep. Looking back, I don’t remember what it was that I did and perhaps no one else remembers either. It wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things but in that moment it consumed me. I eventually got through it and no longer felt embarrassed or ashamed. When I start to spiral I think of these moments. I think of the moments when I was in my pre-teens and snuck out of the house only to get grounded for a couple months. I think of all the times I thought it was the end, thought there was no way out, felt small, insignificant, was made to feel bad etc and I think of how I got through them all. Some took days, or weeks to get through and others looks years on and off. I recently went into a spiral that was very difficult to pull myself out of. I ended up reaching out to a friend who really helped put things into perspective. I take time to remember these moments to show myself that I’ve been through these periods. I also talk to people who have been through these periods. Some friends have been victims of vindictive people creating mobs to hound them for things they never actually did or people they didn’t fully associate with. Some have lost their careers over it having to start fresh elsewhere. Most of them got offline for a while, some had no choice but to ignore the vitriol thrown at them. But they all pushed through it. I reached out to them and they reached out to me. We supported each other in these moments. I do believe however that groups of people banding together can be powerful and beautiful in the face of justice but we also have to remember to not blindly follow a pack. In talking about depression and it’s various forms and triggers it’s important to see each other as human. There are many good humans in this world that simply made a mistake or were in the wrong place last the wrong time. There are also very horrible humans that prey on what they perceive as weakness or naivety. This is very real and what people have called Wetiko virus. You can read up on Wetiko Virus here or listen to Chiron Armand talk Wetiko on Rune Soup and every day possessions on Mystic Witch.
There are so many different types of depression and I’ve only expressed a few examples. Others came from trauma, early deaths from drugs losing people I loved or romantic relationships that looking back were emotionally abusive. It can be a part of sadness or grieving but it can also take over long therm. Depression can come in waves sometimes with no apparent reason. I’d wake up certain mornings listless and without inspiration. There’d be a dull ache in my chest that no matter what I’d do wouldn’t seem to go away. Over the years I’ve learned certain coping mechanisms that help me pull through. At first I’d let myself go, not brushing my hair, wearing whatever I could find and as time went on I found that small acts would start to get me in the right direction. I started exercising, trying to get sunlight every day, stimulating my mind through art, writing, and music. I’ve also been able to slightly shift by watching something that is happy or funny. Sometimes it feels forced but after a few days I can usually find myself back in a good state. Even when it does feel forced I keep doing it because I now know there will be a breaking point. I don’t always feel that point or see it but I push myself to look at past situations.
I started taking self portraits as a way to understand my emotions. There was a certain kind of magic that happened when I set up a camera. I was able to release and become anything. I was able to process my feelings in a physical way, and I was able to create beauty out of something that sometimes feels so crippling. When my mind gets particularly dark sometimes I dream my wrists are split and my veins flow out, from them shoots and blossoms start growing and bursting with blooms. It was my initial green light to create that beauty from sadness. I often find myself looking back to fairytales for guidance through rough waters. I have certain things I become interested in. Sometimes it’s paintings of tall ships and other times is graffiti. It just depends on what catches my eye and inspires a spark. Sometimes there is no spark right away. It can take days, weeks or months. As an artist I try to work through these times. Yayoi Kusama constantly creates because once she stops her mind is filled with dark thoughts. She calls her work ‘art medicine.’ Rothko’s depression became worse as his fame grew and eventually lead to his suicide. Frida Kahlo used her art to work through chronic pain, depression and infertility. Francesca Woodman was genius with the camera but her heartache could be seen through each incredible self portrait. She eventually took her own life. Some of these artists survived and for others the pain was too much to bear. We’ve lost some beautiful souls suck as Kurt Cobain, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Marilyn Monroe, Robin Williams, Alexander McQueen, Misty Upham, Lee Thompson, and so many others including great writers such as Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Wolf and the list continues. It’s important to check in on people. It’s important to show people we love and care for them, but it’s also important for us to be able to talk about mental health without shame. My friend William Patrick Corgan recently spoke about the back story of “Today.” He details a particularly dark period in his life where he thought about suicide daily and even planned a date. It’s so important for us as human beings to understand each other on different levels, to remain empathetic, and to understand no one’s journey is the same. Sometimes we don’t know the backstory to someone’s life. We are a society of projections. Projections of our own lives, baggage, and history.
For me art, friends, and family create my support system. There are times when I get quiet and disappear. There are times when I need to be checked on, and there are times when I’ll reach out and say, “I really want you to hang out with me.” Depression is a complex disease with many roads and highways. It’s easy to to say there’s a chemical imbalance but as more research is being done, they are finding depression has to do with certain parts of the brain. Depending on the size and function, people can have similar symptoms but need to be treated in different ways. Stress, emotions, trauma, and lifestyle can all add to this.
I just recently came out of a very bad depression. There were a number of things that triggered it but I knew it wasn't fully being helped by my lifestyle. Being freelance I spend a lot of time alone. In NY it was manageable because I had such a strong friend base. Moving to a new city where I’m almost always working or creating has made it hard to meet people and I find I spend approximately 90% of my time alone. Being a solitary creature most of the time I’m okay but during that period it really got to me. The warning signs were there. I didn’t want to stay in my apartment, I was too tired to clean, I just wanted to spend money, I wasn’t eating well and despite going to the gym I couldn’t do what I normally did. I made stupid mistakes that I normally wouldn’t have made if I wasn’t stressed or upset. Instead I could feel myself spiraling. I am lucky that I have friends in my life that know me well enough to know when I’m off or fixating, hiding away etc. Social media wasn’t helping. I pondered shutting down my pages. Chiron Armand gave me a an exercise to call my power back to me. I did it. I cleaned the house, did a working and the next day I felt lighter. I went to my favorite place by the lake and bought book of fairytales. I made myself a daisy chain crown. I wore a peach 1960s dress and read as the water hit the rocks surrounding me. A young child stared at me smiling and laughing before running into the water. Her father ran after her. Her mother looked at me and smiled. I could feel the warmth of summer again and for now the cycle had ended.
I hope for everyone who has suffered from depression that you do not see yourself as broken. I know at times it can be easier to smile and pretend for fear of being judged or labeled. Often I think those who have depression are the greatest actors as we/they have to push through every day trying to appear “normal.” And I hope that no one ever thinks, “This person is too much. They’re a downer, broken, not worth it, etc.” We each have our own demons to deal with, our own mirrors, and histories. We must talk of our paths and share our experiences. We must become community healers for each other and get out of only seeing our own interests and perspectives. We must become storytellers weaving our experiences into sacred medicines such as art, music, writing or whatever you feel called to do. Below are a few ways you can start moving to shift out of that depressive state. This in no way should be substituted for medical advice.
1. Create a schedule for yourself. Getting into a routine can help you focus on small goals helping you to get out of any self defeating behaviors that may arise.
2. Focus on your diet. Try to get vitamin rich foods. Focus on protein. I find I need more iron, D, and B12 when I’m feeling low so sometimes I add those supplements. If you’d like to try some herbal medicines for depression, St. John’s Wort, lavender, chamomile, black walnut, saffron, ginseng, valerian, and lemon balm. Deerwomen.net has this tea for depression and postpartum as well.
3. Exercise. It releases endorphins which act as anti-depressants.
4. Focus on daily chores. Keeping up with small tasks like doing the dishes, putting away clothes etc will help you from fully spiraling.
5. Get out into the sunlight. You may feel like you need to force yourself out sometimes but it does really start to push things into gear.
6. Talk to someone. It can be a friend, a therapist, any one that you feel you can trust. There’s also groups that you can join and centers to help guide you through. I listed some in the above post.
7. Meditation. Focusing your thought patterns and getting into a daily practice can help ease anxiety and depressive thoughts. It also helps to refocus your thoughts. When I start to go down the rabbit hole I’ll try to focus on something else. This can take a while, especially if you are stubborn like me.
8. Try something different. Go to a new area of town, try a new sport, check out a museum you’ve never been to etc. I just found out there are salt caves in Chicago and I’m excited to try them out.
9. Try melatonin or valerian if you are having trouble sleeping. I sometimes get insomnia and these two things definitely help most of the time.
10. Resist procrastinating. Procrastination never helps depression it only fuels it. By completing small tasks you can pull yourself out. Set deadlines if you need to.
11. Listen to uplifting music. Music can often shift the tone of a room. So find music that you love that makes you happy and listen to it while you work on those chores etc.
12. Write, draw, do anything you need to to get out what you need to get out. I often do both. In fact when I’m down I often write in my journal but as a way of problem solving. I write my way out of the problem. I give myself an escape exit and a safe place to dwell.
13. Get a massage, even if it’s a 15 minute one. You can even ask a friend to do it. A small massage can do wonders for balance.
14. Try to notice positive things and changes in your life. It can be as simple as acknowledging a beautiful flower.
15. Be kind to yourself. A lot of times when I’m depressed I want foods that I had as a kid when I was sick, soup, toast, ginger ale and popsicles. I’ll then make my bed with clean sheets and spray it down with lavender. Sometimes I get myself flowers. Do something nice for yourself no matter how small.