I spent most of the past two years in a depression so deep and dark I never imagined I’d be able to claw myself out. My creativity fled quietly and quickly. My mind, which was always teeming with ideas, was deserted. Days, which were once busy and beautiful and inspired, became dismal and distressing and monstrously difficult to drag myself through.
I would wake up in the morning exhausted. Nine times out of ten, when I’d eventually haul myself out of bed, I’d be back under the covers after a few minutes and I’d stay there until I could be coaxed out.
When I wasn’t sleeping, I’d sit and stare vacantly, unable to have a coherent thought. Having a conversation with anyone about anything was impossible. The few words I could manage were ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘maybe,’ and ‘I don’t know.’ I dreaded anyone contacting me in any way, shape or form because I couldn’t conjure up the words to reply.
The days blurred into each other. I would dread waking up in the morning and started to hope that I wouldn’t.
In September just gone, my depression sunk to an unfathomable depth and on several occasions I found myself standing next to a railway crossing, waiting. I knew that if I didn’t express my pain in some form or other, I was going to step onto the railway crossing and not make it to the other side. So I took my camera out of the bag where it had been sitting for months, and I charged its dead battery.
I slung a black scarf over my bedroom door as a makeshift backdrop, opened my curtains to let the light in, put my camera on a tripod, set up my camera’s self-timer and, makeup-less and bedraggled, photographed my agony.
I cried as I took the photos, I silently screamed. I cried as I edited them and then shared them on social media. I didn’t know what kind of response I expected to get…I suppose I didn’t really care if I got any response at all, I just needed to have something out there that could represent the horrendous impact that my mental health and particular life events were having on me.
After taking that initial set of photos, depicting my grief and sheer misery, I knew I’d have to keep going. If I didn’t, I’d only keep sinking. And so, tentatively, I kept moving. The ideas for photos weren’t forthcoming though. I had to hunt hard and long for them. But as the weeks went by, I became more familiar with my camera again, and ideas started to slowly, ever so slowly make contact.
I started to get frustrated after a while though. I, unfortunately, don’t currently live in an area where I have immediate access to wilderness where ideally I’d shoot most of my pictures, so I’d have to make do with taking photos in my bedroom. And I’d have a limited amount of time in which I could take those photos, as my room gets very little light. So I invested in some softboxes…and suddenly, the possibilities seemed endless.
After a month or so, I found that I was waking up in the morning and feeling okay about it. I started to look forward to seeing what my camera and I could craft together. After almost two years of living with no purpose, I began to feel as if I had one. But I still had to fight for that purpose, as the voice that had, for so long told me I was nothing, continued to tell me that it was stupid of me to think I’d found a reason to stay alive. It told me I was a fraud who had no fucking clue what she was doing so just may as well give up. To stand up to those claims and keep going was difficult beyond belief.
However, as more time went by, I grew mentally stronger with each photograph I took and I began to climb out of my comfort zone. I started making my own props. I invested in Photoshop. I featured my body in photos in ways I’ve never done before. (I never imagined I’d take a photograph and my bare feet would be in it.) I started to take myself seriously. I would, at moments, panic that I hadn’t found my ‘artistic voice’ yet, but then I reminded myself that I was patient while on the voyage of discovery to find my ‘writer’s voice’ and that I had to be patient this time around too.
By the end of November, I was at a stage where I was starting to feel proud of what I was doing. I knew I’d have to go out of the year on a high, as I’d entered it barely able to lift my head. I also wanted to take my work – it feels strange but wonderful to say ‘work’ after spending so long unable to create anything – to another level and I knew that a month-long photography challenge where I’d create one photo a day would encourage that.
I’d missed the previous Winter entirely. I rarely left the house during the months it lasted. I don’t remember seeing frosty spiderwebs or feeling the tip of my nose being bitten by the cold or tasting that special Arctic air that pummels down from the Far North. So I knew I’d devote my challenge to December, to Yule, to Winter and all the dark aspects of my favourite season. I’d call it ‘The Darkest Days.’
I wanted each of my photographs to be accompanied by a small bit of text talking about the story and inspiration behind the picture. I felt fierce anxiety about this, and at moments thought that by wanting to do that, I’d set myself up to fail. But, almost like magic, the words came. My sacred cold season returned my voice to me. (The majority of the time anyway. Some days my mood dipped, my mind became foggy and impossible to navigate.) I’m just past the halfway mark of the project, and I’m satisfied with what I’ve managed to accomplish so far. I haven’t been happy with all of the photos I’ve produced, some I just think are embarrassingly bad, but I’m learning and growing as I go.
During the past four months, I’ve found myself on a creative journey I never could have imagined I would take. I thought I wouldn’t see 2020 through. So to be going towards the new year with a flame flickering in my heart is wondrous.