Doing the Right Thing

Here is the story of my working life until early this year: After leaving school at 18 with ‘good’ qualifications I spent 4 days on an art course before leaving the course and working 4 days a week at a bookshop (the other day was supposed to give me more time for painting but I never did any). I applied to do art and philosophy at various different universities in England and Wales (philosophy purely because a teacher on the art course suggested that if I wasn’t doing art I would be doing philosophy and I then decided that philosophy was sufficiently academic so as to be completely different from that art course where I was expected to find stimulation constructing things out of cardboard with people who talked about “Jack Pollockson” and knew nothing about art, or art history, or themselves. Also I admit that I liked the idea in a lecture based course I wouldn’t have to interact with the other students, and I’ve never got on with art students anyway) I fell in love with a place in Wales where I’d applied to do art history and fine art, and I got accepted but I was too scared to take this place (that art course had put me off, I thought if I was forced to study art I would end up hating it) For various bizarre reasons I ended up on a prestigious philosophy course (read: full of pretentious Southern English posh kids who talked waaaay too much for my introverted island-self) in a city that I hated. I hated it but I stayed because I was doing the Right Thing. I didn’t want to be one of those people who people talked about who “went away to university but didn’t like it and didn’t finish their degree”. The contempt that people talk about vulnerable young people like that is awful to hear, like their lives are public property to manhandle all they want. I was miserable enough without anything like that thank you very much.

I graduated with a ‘good’ degree. A major in depression and a minor in philosophy. I sat shell shocked in my parents house for months, wondering what to do. Before I fell asleep I’d panic; I was depressed, I was unemployed, I had no friends, I lived in my parents attic, I had no plans, I had no future. A few months later I took a temporary Christmas job in the same bookshop. Everyone around me visibly relaxed, including myself. I was doing the Right Thing again. But then I started to fantasise about running away, started to cry uncontrollably upon waking, started to use the till in such a-verrrrrry-slow way as to look strange (but no one noticed). I left.

Over the next 4 years I was unemployed. I have been supported by my parents and my boyfriend. I have learned yoga, I have developed my painting, I have had counselling, I have reconnected with old friends and miraculously I have recovered from depression. These past 4 years have been so rich and transformative for me. I think they will be some of the most valuable years of my whole life. But I have been doing the WRONG thing this whole time. I have earned next to nothing. Teaching yourself yoga and meditation, painting and running and learning to live with (and now without) depression doesn’t count for anything in a lot of society’s viewpoint. At least not without an income.

It became very important to me that I was doing the Right Thing For Me. That I wasn’t wasting my life, or “rotting away in this house” as I was wont to scream at my boyfriend on a couple of memorable occasions. I’d need near constant reassurance some days from my boyfriend. I always got it.

Last month, after an exhibition where I had 46 paintings for sale (“you must have worked hard” was a common statement) I registered as self-employed. I am no longer unemployed. It was funny trying to explain to the man at the tax department (I live in a tax haven… moneymoneymoneymoney) that even though I said I wasn’t expected to make any profit, I do intend to.

Hey I’m a fucking artist! I’m allowed to not earn money now!

How I became depressed: Part 3

Here we are at part 3 of my depression retrospective. Here’s the prelude, part 1 and part 2. Right now my depression is very much at the forefront of my mind, I’m at day 3 of a low period. It’s unusual for me to feel like this in the middle of summer, I’m more of a winter depressive gal. It’s one of those things, the worse you feel the harder it is to get out of it.

So far I’ve talked about the feelings of isolation at university and of losing a friend and gaining a boyfriend. It’s spectacularly hard to try to sum up all the different pieces that got to together to conspire and cause my depression, the whole does seem to be greater than the sum of its parts. In the end I just have to conclude that I’m a sensitive person and these situations were enough to cause my mind significant, lasting trauma. There’s no shame in that, I just want to get better.

There’s two other major factors: the house and the university course itself. The house was a shithole. It was damp, the kitchen hadn’t been refitted or decorated for at least 20 years and the bathroom was much the same. The toilet broke, the fridge broke, the microwave didn’t break although it looked like one of the first microwaves ever to have been built so we pretended it broke in order to get a new one in fear of the radiation it might emit, my radiator broke, my boyfriend’s radiator broke, there was slugs in the kitchen (in the drawers and on the cutlery) the damp caused mould to grow on my clothes, it was freezing constantly and it STANK. My boyfriend (or friend as he was for most of the first year) C was, like I’ve said before, a very responsible young man and a pleasure to live with. He shouldered pretty much all of the responsibility of looking after the house when things went wrong and I did most of the cleaning, until I got so down I could barely look after myself. We had a couple of terrible landlords, they were Thatcher’s children, seeing their student houses as a nice little earner so they could jet off on regular holidays, completely lacking in any kind of responsibility towards actually maintaining this house. I have to say that I despise them, the landlady especially was a really nasty piece of work, I don’t think I’ll ever trust a Wendy again. At one point in my last year we had a screaming row, afterwards I cried tears of joy because I hadn’t felt so alive for months. Of course a lot of my self-compassion work is trying to deal with these people. It takes time.

So there we are, a nice dose of resentment that we were struggling in this horrible house with no help from our housemates or the landlords. I began to despise people in general, not trust anyone. Other people became strange creatures, I was not one of them, they only were nice to you when they wanted something. They’d hurt you and ignore you and make you feel alone and insignificant and stupid for caring. The only person I trusted was my boyfriend, everyone else was out to get me. It became us against the world. This was terrible for my thought patterns, especially because my boyfriend is a bit of moaner and a ranter. We’d spend hours ranting about our former friend, the other people we lived with, the landlords, the students, the lecturers, the people in the world in general. I knew it was bad but I couldn’t stop, I just sank further and further into this belief that the world was a terrible place, inhabited by terrible people. I didn’t belong in it.

I think I’ll have to leave the second factor until next week. If you’re reading this and suffering, or even if you’re not, just do something nice for yourself today. Or if you know someone who needs a bit of kindness, reach out to them. Everyone deserves kindness so be kind to yourself and to others.

How I became depressed: Part 2

Marmaduke the comfy cat

Aww look at his little paws!

Above is a not very good photo of a drawing I did earlier today of my lovely ginger cat Marmaduke. It’s here to lighten the mood because it’s that time again, it’s Depression Recap Wednesday! So get a good eye feed of that calm, happy kitty because it’s 100% misery from here on in!

Here’s the links to the prelude and to Part 1.

There was another circumstance that contributed significantly to my depression. As I’ve said before I moved in with my 2 closest friends from school, a girl I shall call B (because that’s her initial) and a boy I shall call C. There was another boy called A who was B’s (and also C’s) friend and together we lived in a crappy two up two down terrace house in Crookes, Sheffield. I had no say in the house we lived in and for reasons unknown to even me we all stayed (except for there was a brief roommate swap in my second year when A went to France) living in that house for the whole of my 3 year degree. We called it the House of Fun. Oh bitter, bitter irony.

B is a bit of a depressive herself, she was very worried that living together would wreck our friendship. I couldn’t possibly see why, I knew her and although she’s not an easy person to be with but I had been friends with her for so long I thought I knew what I was getting myself in for. I was wrong. Our friendship imploded in the most spectacular and yet mundane way. At school we were both pretty unpopular, B being very insecure as an in-the-closet lesbian. At university she came out, got a girlfriend and loads of new gay friends at the LGB. I was very happy for her but unfortunately me being straight I was not allowed into a lot of this new world. I never found a place for myself at university, there was no place for sensible straight people who didn’t want to just drink and shag. Maybe I would have had a great time if I were gay! Anyway me and B grew apart and as I got more depressed I got more angry about this. The angrier I got the less chance we had of repairing our friendship. We argued a bit but then unable to see any way out of it we just stopped talking. So our high school-long friendship disintegrated within those years and I haven’t spoken to her since.

One of the main worries B had was my growing closeness to C. I should explain that unlike B and A, C was a straight boy who had been a close friend since we were about 17. It had been hinted at many times that we should get together but we always brushed it off. In my first year C was invaluable to me, the most considerate person I had ever lived with. He was also in the same boat as me, an untypical student. When A and B were off out me and him would hang about playing computer games, eventually spending most of our time together. As we grew closer B grew more and more jealous. It got to the point when we did get together (which was a surprise for us but not for anyone else) we felt the only course of action was to hide it from everyone until we left for the summer.

My relationship with C is the only continually good thing about the past 5 years. It lifted me temporarily out of my misery and confusion at university. I was lost and I hated my whole existence at university, but I had him.

Wow I didn’t realise how sprawling my tale is. So I lost my friend, I had no life at university. Next time my proper descent into depression.

How I became depressed: Part 1

Here’s the prelude to my depression story. Maybe Wednesday’s can be my talking about depression days! Now there’s an idea.

So I left off with me leaving school. I decided to do the foundation art course at the local college, the one you kinda have to do if you’re going to do an art degree at university. It wasn’t a good place for me. First week we were playing with cardboard and the second week we were told to come in dressed in white. I’m a painter. I left after 4 days. I found myself a bit lost, working in the bookshop with plans to go to university to study art. I applied to university to art courses and (on a whim) philosophy courses. As time went on I started to really like the simplicity of my life. Most of my friends had left for university, all I had was working to and from work and selling books. But I was happy enough!

It didn’t last though, I got bored after a few months and I missed my friends at university. I couldn’t imagine myself working at the bookshop and being happy but I couldn’t imagine myself going to live on my own to study art. So I compromised and I took a place at a university where my 2 closest friends were to study philosophy (that university didn’t do an art course). The plan was I was going to go live with them. It was too neat and perfect!

It really was too good to true. You see, I’ve never wanted to go to university. Most young people are unshaped pieces of clay, pliable and unformed, waiting to be shaped. I was set, I had a home, I had interests, I had a personality and beliefs and I knew what I wanted and what would make me happy. But I wasn’t brave enough to say this or to acknowledge it. I did what other people thought I should do, not what I thought I should do. I hated university, hated it. I was trying to force a round peg into a square hole (I’m the peg in this metaphor) I felt lost in all those people, I felt apart, different, isolated, insecure, insignificant. There’s thousands of students at Sheffield University! Thousands! I was stuck there for weeks on end, seeing as I live in an island in the middle of the Irish Sea. I hated living in Sheffield, I missed the sea and the peace of home. I began to hate the braying students too, all comfortable ‘middle-class’ (I never knew such a thing) from the south of England. They all talked the same, dressed the same, did the same weird carefully constructed messy hairstyle and I resented that they could just take their suitcases on a Friday and get on a train and be gone.

And I was stuck there, slowly getting damaged.