Life 9 – Fighting Back
131cms x 159cms
This quilt is covered in text, some obvious and some more difficult to read.
The body is stitched with words (as with all the Life quilts) and these are about depression and were written for me by Deborah Henderson.
The panels to the right of the body are also covered in text which has been gessoed over and painted. The panels are copies of pages from an altered book (a re-used, recycled, old book, that I collect and alter to use as sketchbooks)
The text of both are below, should you have the energy to read!
Words on the body
“You just need to think positively, like I do.”/“You always dwell on the negative. You’re just making it worse for yourself.”/“Pretend you’re happy and then people will want to be around you again.”/“There’s nothing wrong with your life. Just snap out of it.”
Yeah, it’s true. You’re right. You who live in a world where depression is something to be sneered at or pitied. You who lives in a world free of this. There is nothing wrong with my life. I shouldn’t wake up feeling like I’m caught in a vice. I shouldn’t stumble through each day a second away from tears, with a knot of tension in my stomach that never eases, afraid of everything and everyone.
I am alive, not destitute, not in severe pain every day, I can move my limbs, I am cognisant, I am smart. I’m a middle class, white, privileged English woman. What the hell do I have to be depressed about?
But on a semi-regular basis my world fades to black. And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you say to me. It doesn’t matter that you think I’m pathetic, or self-pitying or hysterical or overly dramatic or selfish or self-pitying or wanting attention or boring or needy or any of those things I’ve been called and told over the years. My world remains black, whatever you think of me.
I’m good at hiding it, for the most part. Some people only see me as short tempered and moody and all the rest of that hilarious stuff. What they don’t know is that I spend days at a time choking back tears, that my amusingly low tolerance for teasing and banter makes me cry till I choke when I’m in private, that the simplest noise, like someone talking loudly or the phone ringing, can make me jump out of my skin because I am so tense, that I wake up in the morning with my heart racing and my limbs aching from clenching muscles, even in my sleep, that I wake up and cry, that I cry myself to sleep, that I can only see, hear, think and feel black and dark and despair and blank terror at the pointlessness of existence. That during the bad times I feel rudderless, so that I am floating, untethered through uncertainty and fear and every face I see is blank and every person I meet wants to hurt me and every path I choose is blocked.
My depression traps me, it smothers me, it makes it hard to breathe, it makes it hard to think, it makes it hard for me to look at my own face in the mirror, to talk to my own mother, to set foot outside my door. I want to crawl away from the world. And not stop. Just keep going until I die or the world ends. Whichever comes first.
Depression is insidious, it is without logic, it is without charm and it is without romance. It twists everything you see, you feel and you do. Depression has robbed me of relationships, friends, jobs and opportunities. As the years go by, the web of despair may flex and change – sometimes it’s way in the horizon and I can breathe and live, and sometimes it is clinging to my very skin, a damp, stultifying gauze between me and the world – but it never leaves me. And it most likely never will.
Words on the panel (taken from pieces written by Stephen Fry and others about their condition)
The funny thing about depression is that when I’m not depressed I find it really hard to describe what it’s like. Some say it’s like a fog, others like their body is full of lead. For me, it feels like being dead: You’re conscious of breathing, smelling and you see people walking about, but to all intents and purposes you’re completely dead inside. You wouldn’t ask why someone got cancer or diabetes or asthma like it was their fault. You wouldn’t say: ‘What have you got to get cancerous about?’“There comes a time when the blankness of future is so extreme. It is such a black wall of nothingness. Not even of bad things.- it’s not like it’s a cave full of monsters that you’re afraid of entering, it is just nothingness. ‘Néant’ as the French would say: the void, the emptiness. And it is just horrible.”“Cumulatively, therapy had a massive effect. I mean like not washing my hands thirty times a day, I’ve actually gained years of my life that I would have spent cleaning and washing. It was so energy-consuming and so depressing and so I not only had time, I had hope and energy.”Suicidal feelings can be terrifying.If you can no longer see why you should go on living, your distress will seem unbearable. You may hate yourself and believe that you are useless and unneeded. You may feel rage, shame and guilt.Repeated painful experiences, particularly losses, can lead you to blame yourself and feel that you haven’t lived up to your own standards. Faced with an unbearable situation, unsolvable difficulties, overpowering feelings of guilt, failures or conflicts, you may start to think that death is your only option.Sometimes everything gets on top of me. I get tired of fighting and wish I wasn’t here anymore.You may feel suicidal for no apparent reason. You may think that you have no reason to want to kill yourself. This can trigger feelings of deep guilt and shame and you may find it difficult to tell others what you are going through.People kept telling me that I should be grateful because I had a lovely husband, a nice house, and two perfect children. This just made me feel more terrible and guilty for thinking about killing myself.Whether you are aware of a cause or not, it can be difficult to relate to others at this time, so you are likely to feel withdrawn or irritable. Even if you have family and friends around, you may find it impossible to tell them how bad you feel. If you have been badly hurt by someone close to you, you may be thinking of suicide as a way of getting back at them. It is understandable to be angry with people who have hurt us, but suicide turns that anger in on ourselves.What you may experience: sleeping badly and waking early change in appetite weight loss or gain feeling cut off from your body or physically numb a loss of energy you may have stopped taking care of yourself e.g. neglecting your physical appearance. Mixed feelings You may be very clear that you want to die; you may simply not care if you live or die; you may be thinking of death as a release. If you feel powerless to influence circumstances that are distressing you, the idea of suicide may give you a sense of being in control again. Depending on your beliefs, you could be looking forward to ‘nothingness’ or to being reunited with loved ones or to reincarnation.If you feel low and suicidal for no apparent reason, this can also make you feel powerless: if you can’t find a cause for your difficult feelings, you may find it hard to believe that there might be a solution.You may be harming yourself by cutting, biting or burning your body. Perhaps you are getting into fights or taking extreme risks. You may also be overdosing on drugs, binging on alcohol or have developed anorexia or bulimia. However, even when you are not sure why you are self-harming, it is usually a means of trying to stay alive – trying to kill the pain you are feeling inside rather than a wish to actually kill yourself. For most people, suicidal thoughts are confusing. As much as you want to die, you may also want a solution to your difficulties in life and you may want others to understand how you “If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, liketheweather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” “Choking with dry tears and raging, raging, raging at the absolute indifference of nature and the world to the death of love, the death of hope and the death of beauty, I remember sitting on the end of my bed, collecting these pills and capsules together and wondering why, why when I felt I had so much to offer, so much love, such outpourings of love and energy to spend on the world, I was incapable of being offered love, giving it or summoning the energy with which I knew I could transform myself and everything around me.”Certainly the most destructive vice if you like, that a person can have. More than pride, which is supposedly the number one of the cardinal sins – is self pity. Self pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive. It is, to slightly paraphrase what Wilde said about hatred, and I think actually hatred’s a subset of self pity and not the other way around – ‘ It destroys everything around it, except itself Self pity will destroy relationships, it’ll destroy anything that’s good, it will fulfill all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself. And it’s so simple to imagine that one is hard done by, and that things are unfair, and that one is underappreciated, and that if only one had had a chance at this, only one had had a chance at that, things would have gone better, you would be happier if only this, that one is unlucky. All those things.