“One summer night, out on a flat headland, all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will.”
- Rachel Carson
There is a tag going around and I’ve seen it both here on Facebook and on Twitter in different variations but its ultimate goal is the same. Too many people do not understand depression. Too many people feel that they have not been exposed to depression and therefore it does not affect them. The problem is simple – depression isn’t something we talk about. It is the very nature of this disease to keep silent, to hide, to keep to ourselves, to close the curtains and withdraw into the dark and lose ourselves to the black comfort of sleep. Talking about depression brings on doubt, ridicule, disbelief. A shake of the head, a laugh, as people don’t take you seriously, don’t understand you – they don’t know what it’s like to look into that bleak, welcoming, hole that is depression and to fall into it and stop caring. To stop living. They don’t know. And they don’t care to know. So we keep silent.
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society
But the death of Robin Williams – something I have yet been able to get myself to talk about or acknowledge – has sparked a sudden social media storm of people suddenly willing to fight to be seen and heard. In his last act of making us better people, Robin Williams has given us the ability to speak. To raise our voices and to say that he is not alone. That we are not alone. People have taken to Facebook and Twitter with the hashtags #depression, #depressionlies, #thisiswhatdepressionlookslike, #depressionkills, #depressionawareness all with the intent to bring light to this disease. To show those people who believe they are unaffected by depression that at some point in their life – they have been. They have friends, family, lovers, who are quietly suffering – loved ones who have never spoken up. Until now.
Yesterday I said, quietly, “It’s always the happiest ones who hide the darkest feelings.” A friend laughed and jokingly said, “Does that mean we have to worry about you?”
It made me realize that there are a lot of people who have no idea how much I’ve fought against it. How much I still fight, despite my ability to find amusement in anything. Yes, I am quick to laugh. Yes, I love to make people smile and I love being the picture of ridiculous silliness. And while that IS me, there’s also more than what you see. So I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone and sharing with you a little story. The picture below was taken of me in 2008. I look pretty happy right? Well I was. At least at that moment.
The moment captured in this photo is a hard one for me to talk about. In fact it’s been really hard to write this through tears as I remember this day and the ones surrounding it. It was the first day I was allowed to leave the behavioral unit at the hospital. In fact, it was the first day I had left the hospital entirely after trying to kill myself. I had locked my dorm room and taken an entire bottle of prescription pills and waited to die. I very nearly succeeded and while I don’t remember anything leading up to the ambulance ride to the hospital, I do remember being in the hospital and the pain and sickness that came with recovering. I remember being angry because I had failed. I remember being devastated that now I had to see the faces of the people who knew what I had tried to do. Most of all I remember the regret that I was still alive.
Even after I recovered from the physical pains, they kept me in the rehab unit in a separate building for awhile while I tried to get over the emotional pains. I kept a journal while I was there and it’s really hard for me to even look at it now, though I’ve kept it with me through the years as a reminder. After the hospital and rehab center, came the local behavioral house where I also started therapy before moving back on campus and seeing a counselor, a therapist, and a psychiatrist all at once. I withdrew from that semester at college and holed myself up into my own little world, trying desperately to claw my way out of the pit I had dug for myself.
That picture was the first time I got to go home. I was allowed only an hour off site from the hospital unit I was confined to. The first thing I did was visit my dog. That’s Spunky greeting me in that picture. I AM happy. I am happy because I honestly thought I had said my final good-bye to him and I was surprised by how relieved I felt to see him again. How glad I was to feel his tongue on my face because he was so happy to see me he couldn’t contain himself. And it felt good to be loved so much. This picture shows the first time I felt regret for what I tried to do, and the relief that I was still alive.
It was a really long road to recovery. And to be honest. I’m still not recovered. In fact, a little over two years later, I tried to kill myself again and landed once again in the hospital. Depression isn’t something that can be fixed with a few pills and a bunch of happy memes (though they can help). It’s a constant battle. It’s a fight to live. It’s a fight to wake up in the morning and breathe and it’s a fight to find happiness in the world when so many things seem so bad. When you’re in that mindset, in that downward spiral of feeling worthless, useless, dead – it’s hard to get out and remind yourself that depression does lie. It LIES. It is a battle. But, and this might sound cheesy and cliche, it DOES get better. The more you fight, the more you start really living and stepping outside your routine of just going through the motions, the more you open your eyes, the more good days you will actually have. The more light there will be on the other side of that dark tunnel.
Maybe I’m a hypocrite – I still fight every day. I try to do small things to keep me going. I call the door to my bedroom my “Happy Door” – every time I’m sad, I doodle a picture on a post-it note of something that makes me happy and I put it on that door. It’s now covered in small, colorful pieces of paper and it makes me happy every time I look at it. I made a playlist with nothing but happy songs that I make myself listen to when I feel down. When I’m dangerously close to horrible thoughts, I make plans with my friends so I’m not alone. I play the ukulele. I beat up villains in video games. I draw. I go to the dog park even though I no longer have a dog. I try to put myself into happy situations as much as I can because I know that I can’t do this alone. I can’t fight it when I’m by myself, with the covers over my head.
Taking that first step is the hardest part. Taking action is against everything your depression tells you to do. But depression lies. When it says you can’t do something, tell yourself YOU CAN. When it says you aren’t good enough, tell yourself YOU ARE. When it tells you that you will never be happy again, tell yourself YOU WILL BE. I am fighting too. I am with you. You are not alone. I am not alone. WE are not alone. THAT is why it is so important to speak up. To use this time when the world seems to be suddenly sitting up and listening to act and to say that this disease, this horrible horrible disease that kills so many people, needs to be acknowledged and that EVERYONE has in some way or form been touched by it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t sweep it under the rug. Don’t roll your eyes when someone tells you they’re depressed and need help. Reach out your hand and take theirs and tell them you will do everything you can to help them. Even if you don’t understand it. Just tell them you’re there for them. Because sometimes, that’s all we want. To not feel alone.
We are living, breathing beings made of stardust and particles of forgotten galaxies. We are here for a purpose and in this short blink of a lifespan, we are given the opportunity to change the world. We are given the ability to make others smile and laugh and cry and live and we owe it to ourselves to sing and dance and LIVE. I am telling you this as much as I am telling myself. Because I am still fighting this every single day. But it’s worth it. Because you matter. I matter. This life we are living matters, to every single person around us.
“All things by immortal power,
Near or far,
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star…” – Francis Thompson
Nobody is untouched by depression. We are all connected. So this is my story and I’m sharing it with you all in order to bring awareness to those who think they are untouchable. And to hopefully help those too afraid to share their stories – who are too afraid to believe that they are not alone. You’re not. I’m here. We are here. We are in this together.
Please keep fighting. You can do it. I believe in you.
On my bedroom wall is a an art print called Life in Motion, by an incredibly talented artist named Julie Dillon. I’ve been a fan of her work for years, so when I heard tell that she had created a kickstarter to fund the first book of her Imagined Realm series, I was ecstatic to pledge.
This campaign isn’t just great because it showcases Julie’s amazing artwork, it is also an incredible for another reason: “‘Imagined Realms’ gives me the opportunity to spend more time creating my own illustrations and projects, and also gives me the chance to create more illustrations that feature positive and diverse representations of women.” Every piece of artwork in this book is of a beautiful, empowered, diverse and unique woman, all set in a fantasy world all her own. The end product is breath-taking.
I am incredibly excited to share with you an interview with Julie Dillon herself. She has graciously taken the time to answer a few questions about her artwork and her already-funded Kickstarter campaign.
Interview with Artist Julie Dillon
01. Your kickstarter only just launched and it’s already exceeded your goal. How do you feel with having such an amazing success already?
I feel relieved! This whole process has been really stressful, and it’s a big weight off my shoulders to know that I was able to get it funded. There’s still a ways to go to reach the stretch goals, and I have a lot of stuff to add on if the kickstarter gets to that level. Of course, while I want this to be as successful as possible, I’m also very aware of the fact that the higher it goes, the more work I’ll have to do to pack and ship everything. It’s just a big undertaking in general.
02. Tell us a little about what your process was for launching your kickstarter.
There was a lot more preparation work than I realized. At first I was only focused on making the art for the book, which was a big enough task in itself and took up several months. But as I got ready to launch, I realized I had to make all the site graphics, write up the press release, create a video (which I’d never done before), shop around for printers, price everything out, etc. I tried to stay on top of everything and not get too overwhelmed. If you just take it one small task at a time, it’s not so bad.
03. I adore that you’re focusing on empowered and diverse women. Is there a female person (fiction or non) that has inspired you in your work?
I don’t know that I can point to one individual person. I think rather I take inspiration from most women I meet, in some way or form. Their perseverance, how they handle adversity, their joy and love and how they express that in different ways.
04. Your work is so wonderfully colorful! Do you have a favorite color palette you enjoy working with the most?
I noticed a while back that the purple and gold combo tends to show up a lot in my work. I’m partial to anything with a complimentary color scheme, since that tends to be a very eye-catching and dynamic. Sometimes I try to do something with a more subtle or desaturated palette, but I always end up making it more bright and colorful in the end.
05. What advice would you give another artist who is hoping to launch a kickstarter for their own work?
Get as much prepared beforehand as possible, and plan your promotion strategy long before you launch. You need to get the word out, or it’ll be a lot harder to get funded. Avoid promotional services that you have to pay for; I tried a few and so far they have done absolutely nothing, whereas working with my existing contacts and networks led to most of my traffic. Think about what kind of blogs and websites might be interested in your project, and send them your press release and ask if they’d be interested in featuring you or maybe even interviewing you. Many won’t respond, but some might, and every little bit helps. Be prepared emotionally if the kickstarter doesn’t go well, but also be prepared logistically if it ends up being really successful. Lots of people get overwhelmed in the order fulfillment stage because they didn’t plan properly. But, also bear in mind that at the time I’ve written this, I’m only about a week and a half into my first kickstarter, and I still have a lot of learning to do myself. :)
Pledge to this Kickstarter!
You can pledge to Julie’s Imagined Realms: Book 1 Kickstarter by going to that page and donating at any pledge level. She has some great rewards and some even better stretch goals! So pledge, share, and celebrate in the awesome crowdfunding abilities of art lovers!
Anna Akana is an actress and YouTuber extraordinaire, and while she says she’s still trying to find her voice, I think she’s pretty solidly found it, if this recent video of hers has anything to say about it.
This is the best “make-up” video I’ve ever seen. Be confident. Be bold. Be the most beautiful You you can be. (And there ain’t nothing wrong or anti-feminist about wanting to look good to give yourself that extra confidence and happiness boost – I’ve had THAT conversation way more times than I can count.)
As Anna says, “The power of make up is incredible, but the power of you is cray cray.”