The Depression Chronicles: Volume One

I have been depressed for a long time. I’m not 100% sure when it started; sometime in my early teens. I have spent over a decade of my life dealing with this insidious disease, and I think, after a while, it became part of my identity.

I mean, of course it did, right? Depression isn’t a quirky habit that you pick up and then drop a few months later, it isn’t something that you try on and then decide isn’t right for you. It is something that you don’t get to pick. For a long time, I thought it was my own fault that I was depressed. That I couldn’t “just choose to be happy” like so many people desperately wanted me to.

A little part of me kind of … liked it. I felt like being depressed made me a special snowflake, somehow. I felt like it made me a little bit different. Like no one could understand my special brand of pain because I was depressed. 

I hate being depressed, don’t get me wrong. It is awful. Feeling hopeless, like life isn’t worth living, even when your life is actually great, is one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had. To look around you and know, intellectually, that you are damn lucky, but to still feel like you’re living in a pit of despair is a war zone of guilt and agony. How dare I be unhappy when I have so much? It’s terrible. Which makes me feel even worse to think that some part of me wanted the depression to stick around for a while longer so I could continue thinking that I was special. But depression is not a simple problem, and deeply ingrained thought processes are not so easy to change, and I am learning to cut myself some slack.

Six years ago, my doctor prescribed me an antidepressant. I carried that prescription around in my wallet for a long time. Months. Eventually, I lost it. (Maybe on purpose, I don’t know.) I never did fill it. I had a vehement opinion about taking medication; it was great and life-saving and life-changing for other people, but it wasn’t for me. More than any other aspect, in my mind, depression had come to define me. Maybe I was afraid of giving that up. Maybe I was afraid that being happy because of a pill meant that I was fundamentally broken, and that I would be living a lie; like, “I’d rather be myself and miserable, than be happy and fake.” I never could quite parse out why I was so resistant to the idea of medication.

Fast forward six years. I have been battling depression for all of those six years. On and off. I have done yoga and exercised daily, changed my eating habits for the better, started getting enough sleep. I have practiced meditation and gone into therapy. I kept a gratitude journal and practiced bringing mindfulness into my life. I changed careers. All of these things worked, for a little while. But, inevitably, I would end up right back there in that pit of despair. I think it turned into a kind of hubris, believing that I could do it on my own, that I had to do it on my own, even long after it became clear that I could not do it on my own.

And so, a few weeks ago, while laying in bed, tears soaking my face, I said to Bryan, “No matter what I do, I always end up back here.” There was a pause. “Maybe I need to try medication.”

Last week I went to my doctor. She asked me a lot of questions about my symptoms, how I was feeling, what life was like for me right now. She flipped back through her notes. She said, “The first time we talked about this was in 2009.” Flip flip flip. “Then again in 2011.” Flip. “And 2013.” I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had thought that dealing with it on my own made me stronger or something, healing myself by myself. Like I wore my constant suffering and struggle like a merit badge. She closed my file, laid her hand on top of it, fixed me with a kind smile. “You have done enough on your own.”

I had to get here on my own. I spent a lot of time over the past 13 or so years suffering. But I made a lot of healthy changes in my life too in order to help with it. And there is no one in the world that could have said to me, “You have to take this medication. This is the right and only way.”

I’m willing to try it now. I am willing to see if it will help. I am willing to see if there is the possibility that I will not have to suffer with this illness for the rest of my life, a belief that has plagued me for years. Every day now I take a little white pill, and I stare at my reflection, try to see if I feel any different.

It has only been six days, but I am seeing a difference: for the first time in a long time, I feel real hope.

The Depression Chronicles: Volume One

2015 Photo Project: March Has Been a Slow Month

I am so very far behind on March’s theme (letters and numbers). Oh well, chalk it up to spring fever, depression, and my current inability to focus on anything.

Here is what I’ve got so far! All of these were taken on my Samsung Galaxy S4 and edited in VSCOcam.

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River Valley shot, from a different angle:

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I am not finding this theme particularly inspiring. I will be glad when I am on to April!

 

2015 Photo Project: March Has Been a Slow Month

Split Personalities

There are two halves of me.

One longs for roots. Thick, deep, strong roots that will anchor me to a place and never let go. A warm home, with a well-curated library, comforting possessions, a garden. Children running wild, a shaggy dog, a purring cat.

The other yearns for freedom. The kind of freedom afforded by owning next to nothing and living in a camper van, or taking to the road to travel long term. The kind of untethered existence that sets a person loose upon the world and allows them to float wherever they damn well please.

One is anchored in comfortable convention, the other blazes like a bonfire, seducing me away from the conventional. But as of now, I have not been brave enough to turn my back on what I have always known to explore what I have always dreamed of. I do not know how to put down roots that will also allow me to float around at will.

There is a cliff approaching, and I do not know if I am brave enough to jump.

I close my eyes, repeat my new mantra: I am courageous enough for this. 

I see the edge.

What do I do?

What do I do?

Split Personalities

Short Story: On a Beach Far, Far Away

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The beach. Sundown. A cool breeze lifting my hair. A tight pain in my chest, the twisting ache of nostalgia. Worse yet, nostalgia for that which has not yet passed.

A hundred yards down the beach, firelight flickers, shadows dance, laughter echoes. It touches me, but barely, like a ghost trying to make contact through the veil. I am here, but I am removed, hugging the edges. They have all submerged themselves completely, and I just can’t. I hug my sweatshirt tighter around me, let the ocean nip, playful, at my toes. The heavy crash of distant waves is a comforting infinity, endlessly repeating itself, never tiring.

Stars scatter overhead, a goddamn cliche, but they’re so bright and close I could lick them like rock candy. In the city, you sometimes forget that they exist at all, but out here, they are the prima ballerinas, en pointe at centre stage. I suddenly don’t ever want to go home.

I have known this time was coming. It is why I’m not at the bonfire, drinking and dancing and laughing. It’s why the romantic spark between Peter and I fizzled almost immediately. It’s why I feel sick to my stomach and currently contemplating wading into the waves and allowing them to pull me away from shore, to join them in their tireless, rhythmic eternity.

Tomorrow, this all ends, and I must return to my real life.

But I am different now; I am deeper, I am more fully human, more fully me, more fully awake than I’ve been in my life, and I don’t know how that fits in back home with the soulless 9-5s and the desperate, scrabbling consumerism. The well-worn path that I am expected to trod now that I’ve “got all this out of my system” – my mother’s words, not mine. I’m petrified that I will be sucked right back in without much of a fight, and I’ll wake up twenty years from now to find that the grandest, riskiest adventure of my life amounted to nothing. Meant nothing.

The tears threaten. Strains of garbled song drift on the breeze; I curse myself for the sentimentality that is causing me to mourn for this night before it has died, to weep for it rather than embrace it. I try to drag myself out of the malaise but it is like swimming against a rip current. I stop.

A distant light glimmers on the horizon. A boat way out there, reminding the world that they are alive. I wonder how long they’ve been out there, if it’s a cruise ship or a fishing vessel. If they miss their families.

The crunch of feet on wet sand, then a shoulder brushes mine. “Deep thoughts?”

I manage to dredge up a smile from somewhere. “Deep and meaningful.”

Peter sprawls out on the sand next to me. Tall, gangly, not particularly beautiful, he carries himself with a kind of grace and good humour that immediately drew me to him. The tattoos don’t hurt, either. I’ve always been a sucker for a man with some ink.

His eyes glitter in the dark, bright with alcohol and the hint of ‘this could be our one last chance.’ Things have been cool between us since that night in Belize. Not hostile, just lacking in the warmth and security that I had grown accustomed to between us.

I open my mouth to speak several times but can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound trite and insincere, so I opt for silence. Peter’s eyes are closed, his arms folded behind his head. I think he’s fallen asleep until –

“You’re missing the party, you know.”

“I know.”

“Don’t do this to yourself.”

“What’s that?” A slight defensive edge.

He cracks one eye open. “Deny yourself the fun because its easier to inflict the pain on yourself than feel it afterwards.” He props himself up on one elbow, all earnestness now. “Seriously, April. You’re only hurting yourself. You can either enjoy a great party and be a little sad later, or you can just be sad. I’d rather have the party.”

And he is gone, brushing his hands on his shorts, casting a smile over his shoulder, retracing his footsteps across the beach.

I sit there awhile longer, arms wrapped around my knees, arguing with myself. It is the most Herculean effort of my life to pick myself up off the beach and follow him. My heart rages in my chest, but I console myself with the idea that maybe my plane will crash before I ever have to deal with all the big questions weighing on my mind.

And then I am engulfed in voices and arms and light, and I forget to think about tomorrow, or anything much at all.

*

Constructive feedback and comments are always appreciated! Leave yours in the comment section below if you’re so inclined. <3

Short Story: On a Beach Far, Far Away

Hometown Tourist: Paint Nite

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The water is murky with paint, my palette whirling chaos. My paintbrush flies across the canvas in wide, swooshing strokes that make me feel like a real artist. The contours of my vase aren’t exactly right; for a moment, I resist the urge to paint over it, to start again. I add some details to it, see if I can convince myself to accept the mistake, to go with it, but I can’t. I spend the next five minutes trying to fix it, and ultimately laughing in surrender, “I should have left it how it was.”

Next to me, Bryan is doing his first painting (ever? I think), leaning close to the canvas, his paintbrush held aloft in his hand as he carefully dabs white paint onto the edges of his flowers, adding highlights. “How do you do that?” I demand, incredulous and proud and a little jealous. “How are you just good at things all the time?”

We are at Paint Nite at Hudson’s in South Edmonton for my friend’s 25th birthday, an evening of drinking creatively, as the company slogan says. The premise is super simple: pick a painting that you would like to recreate from the long list of pieces that have been created just for Paint Nite, reserve your tickets, show up, get a drink or two, and follow the instructions to paint that painting. Voila! Easy peasy.

This was my second Paint Nite. I loved it the first time, and the second time was no different. I have been exploring my visual creativity more and more in the past year, and Paint Nite has been a great, low pressure way to learn new techniques and show myself what I am capable of achieving. The event itself is great: the instructors are knowledgeable and friendly, they know how to go with the flow when things go wrong (such as technology malfunctioning, because isn’t that what technology does?), and I always end up with something that I created at the end of it, even if it is not perfect. The only complaint I have is that both events I went to were rather squishy; the four of us were at one table, the backs of our canvases practically touching, my beer hidden behind my painting where I had to snake my arm around without disturbing said painting or any of my other supplies every time I wanted a drink.

Worth it, though. If you have any creative bone in your body (and let’s face it, all of us do!) then Paint Nite is a fun, casual way to dive into that and do some exploring. There are paintings for many tastes and ability levels, they take place in bars all over the city, and you can often find deals on LivingSocial and Groupon (tickets are generally $45 each). While you do receive detailed instructions, you are free to adapt them as you see fit, and it is a fascinating experience to see how everyone’s paintings turn out different despite being given the same supplies and instructions.

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Have you ever done Paint Nite or an event like it? What did you think?

Disclaimer: I was not paid or perked for this post, I just really like Paint Nite!

 

 

Hometown Tourist: Paint Nite

2015 Photo Project: VWXYZ

Well, these were definitely the easiest letters to come up with items for. -_- But I managed! And now another month has flown by and I am on to the next theme (letters and numbers, which, I’ll admit, sounds similar to February but is, in fact, quite different: words and typography and cool looking numbers are the name of March’s game).

V is for Vinegar

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ISO 800  ||  28 mm at f/4.0  ||  1/4000

W is for Wand

(I got it at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s Luna’s wand.)

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ISO 800  ||  38 mm at f/4.0  ||  1/4000

X is for Xi

(X was the hardest. So so hard to come up with something. So I decided to make a Greek letter out of office supplies, because why not? What object would you have chosen?)

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ISO 1600  ||  40 mm at f/4.5  ||  1/25

Y is for Yogurt

(Not an advertisement for Chapman’s Frozen Yogurt. But this stuff is damn good)

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ISO 800  ||  38 mm at f/4.0  ||  1/160

Aaaaaaaaaand

Z is for Zoom

Long exposures are SO FUN. I really want to do another one soon. I love how this happy accident shot turned out. Bryan raved about it. Which I count as pretty high praise, indeed. 🙂

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ISO 100  ||  75 mm at f/10  ||  20.0 seconds

Bonus shot because long exposures are fun:

Look at all those zoom-y lights!

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ISO 100  ||  28 mm at f/10  ||  20 seconds

So that’s it for February! Which was your favorite photo from this theme? Check out the whole project here.

2015 Photo Project: VWXYZ

The Failure Challenge: Drawing People Edition

A lot of the beliefs that I hold about myself are dichotomous: I am this, I am not that; I am this way, so I cannot be that way. I’m sure that a lot of these beliefs are unnecessary and limiting. Like how, for instance, I used to believe that I was creative, but only with words. I can’t count the number of times I said, “I’m just not visually creative.” I looked at my friends who could easily draw beautiful pictures, and my boyfriend who took stunning photos, and the bloggers who created perfect scrapbooks, and I told myself, “I’m simply not creative in that way and there is nothing I can do about it.” (Much the same attitude I had about fitness.)

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When I started taking photos more regularly, I found that I began to improve. When I began to draw and paint with the idea that it was for fun, that I didn’t have to be amazing at it, I found that it was something I truly enjoyed and that I was, actually, not that bad at it.

The one thing that I found very difficult and intimidating was drawing people. People are complicated. Even though they are really just made up of shapes, I found it nigh on impossible to break them down into said shapes and make them come out on paper looking like actual people and not some sort of half-melted candle wax cartoon character.

So I decided to run straight at the challenge. I started drawing people more and more often. Though I am still no paragon of drawing ability, I am seeing definite improvement amidst my modest successes and dismal failures. Let’s take a look, shall we?

 Bryan: half-success (technically blah but subjectively accurate)

I didn’t use a photo reference for this one, as far as I can remember. There is a lot to be technically desired in this piece, but I also think that I captured Bryan’s nature rather well, so I’m calling it a half-success. PS. Hair is so hard to draw without it just looking like scribbles.

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half-success (technically good but subjectively missing something)

I was impressed with myself with this one because it matches the picture reference pretty well, and it was the first decently good drawing I had done of a person. But it is rather lifeless. It is missing something subjective and emotional. So another half-success.

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Jamie: success (looks pretty good both objectively and subjectively)

This past weekend, I decided to do a portrait of my middle sister. This one I am damn proud of. I think that it is technically pretty good (there are a few weaknesses, such as the areas where the perspective is slightly off, but overall not bad), and it actually looks like her. I think I got a bit more of her spirit and nature. So I am chalking this one up to a true success.

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Robin: failure (what the what?!)

Oh God, I don’t even know what happened here. Seriously, what is this disaster?! I was trucking along pretty well, not 100% happy with how the picture was turning out, but not too disgruntled either. Her mouth was giving me problems (the teeth were turning out more hillbilly than adolescent), and the shading was giving me problems because the shadows and highlights were so intense in the photo. And then…and then, I dunno what happened, it’s like I went crazy, I decided to use a really dark pencil in her hair, and then it all went off the deep end and I ended up staring at the end result in utter consternation. This one is a huge failure in my books. So I will have to give my baby sister another try; I’m sorry, I love you, you don’t look anything like this!!

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Malissa: half-success

This drawing looks nothing like my friend Malissa (except for her hair, perhaps). But I am calling it a half-success, because I am pleased with the way that the body turned out (the crossed legs were particularly difficult). Not including a photo reference because I drew this one from life, which was a fun new experience.

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A few resources I have used to improve my drawing skills:

 The Creative License by Danny Gregory

Just Draw It! by Sam Piyasena and Beverly Philp

The Art Channelthis video in particular

 

What difficult things have you been running at full-tilt lately?

The Failure Challenge: Drawing People Edition