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Using Art to Find New Perspectives on Mental Health

I believe that mental health struggles are a natural part of the human experience. My mental health only became a problem for me in my adult life and as such it took me a while to reach this conclusion. But it’s the only consolation for my seasonal depression that I’ve found. I came to carry this perspective by using symbolism in my art to shift the way I see life experiences.

As winter approaches, I can feel everything starting to change. The weather is getting colder and so am I. My feelings are shifting. Things are losing their shine. The multitude of everyday things that would normally not phase me are becoming difficult to handle, anxiety inducing and demotivating. I’m becoming sluggish, slowing down.


ined The difference between who I am when I’m depressed and who I am otherwise feels so stark that for so long I couldn’t understand it. For a long time I subscribed to the idea that my depression was abnormal and needed to be 'fixed'. I now know that this is limiting, foolish, even harmful. In the graphic novel that I wrote for my MFA, I imagined myself as a beetle. I imagined my experience of depression as being a beetle that is stuck on its back. This metaphor was a way for me to accept the depression as part of who I am, not something that I can avoid or need to 'fix'. The feeling of needing to 'fix' it and feeling unable to do so only contributed to my depression. Accepting mental health struggles as part of who I am helped my self esteem. It helped me be kinder to myself.


But I still wanted to understand why I struggled with depression. I wanted there to be some deeper meaning, some profound reason for my suffering… Spoiler alert. I didn’t find any. That’s when I made this painting.

It’s called ‘I thought I had found the key to the mystic secrets but it seems there is no lock'. Bees are symbolic of secrets. They encircle a lotus which here represents myself. I’ve heard that the lotus flower sinks down into the mud at night (sinking into depression) and rises again in the morning (the depression easing again). In this painting the bees willingly bring themselves to me as if there are no secrets - some things just are the way they are. Sometimes the sun shines and sometimes it doesn’t. And there’s nothing I can do to change that.


So I’ve come to accept that I have seasonal depression and it’s just the way things are. Just like my skin gets darker in the summer - it’s simply a matter of how I exist in the world. I know that the way I’m beginning to feel right now is just the changing of the seasons. I know that the seasonal depression is on its way and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve come to accept this, but it’s still scary. Winter is long...

So instead of thinking about it as the cycle of seasons, I decided to think about it as the cycle of day and night. That’s when I painted the moon and the sun beetle. They represent the two sides of myself - my summer self (the sun beetle) and my winter self (the moon beetle). I feel a very strong connection to the sun and to summer. The sunshine lifts my mood. Its warmth energises me. I love how excited and ambitious I am during summer…

And then winter comes along and I don’t feel the sun as much anymore and I lose my vitality. But I can’t hate myself during winter - my winter self is a living being who deserves love just as much as my summer self. So I’d like to be able to appreciate what depression has to offer. The ancient Romans believed it was a time for reflection. There are things that can only really be appreciated in the dark - the moon, the stars, the quiet of a sleeping town. So maybe it's not so bad...


All that being said, the truth is, depression sucks. I know it does. There's no magical cure or book or blog post that will make it easy to deal with. I'm sorry. All you can really do is pray that this time won't be as bad as last time.

And if nothing else, know that it doesn't last forever. The sun always rolls back around. All you have to do is hold on until morning.
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