Award Winning Depression

December 2011

On days when I feel faded like someone has clumsily water coloured my surroundings and hung them up before they were dry, I look up to my wall where a bright painting and certificate hang. I stare at them until the words “you have accomplished that, you have the ability to accomplish much more,” forms boisterously above all negative thoughts in my mind.

It was the week leading up to my big night out and I daydreamed continuously, not of the event, but of my nurse and husband coming to the agreement that I should stay home that night.” Yes,” I imagined them saying “you can be safe in the comfort of your own misery, with your suicidal thoughts and unwashed skin, yes, we believe that is best for you.” However, I knew it was unlikely they would agree to this.

I talked to my nurse, who made sure to book me in for an appointment a few days before the show, knowing all too well I was trying to avoid that night. Once in her office I explained it was still too soon, I couldn’t face anyone in the condition I was in. She continued to listen patiently as I carried on, hoping she would take pity on me and agree, but when I finished she looked at me confidently and disagreed.Then, she went one step further and in precise detail explained the reasons why I needed to go , but more importantly the regrets I would have if I didn’t. As I left her office, I envisioned a brighter scenario for that night, but as I walked further, I felt the vibrancy of her words dissipate like the paint I rinse off my brushes.

I arrived home; thoughts once again muddied and told my husband I wasn’t ready to be in a room with that many people. He calmly reassured me “I will be there with you the whole time, nothing to worry about. “ I expected this answer, but still I hoped he would have agreed for me to go into hiding just until the night passed. I wanted to live the invisibility I felt, I didn’t think that was too much to ask. The problem was I had too many loved ones counting on me; I had to start fighting to get better again, even though all I wanted to do was accept defeat.

I woke up early that day, had breakfast, took my prescribed pills, and “one” extra. I thought the “one “would aid my shaky nerves, unfortunately, it did not help. I then went upstairs and laid out newly purchased clothes, costume jewellery, and makeup all bought two days before the event. I looked over everything and thought “I don’t deserve this” and more so, this is all just a masquerade. My husband urged that I must wear something spectacular for my special night, even though I would have been content in paint clothes.

I took a long needed shower and began to carefully construct myself.I painted my face immaculately as if it were one of my canvas and added the finishing touches, the most perfect, lively red lipstick I  had ever seen. I combed and parted my naturally wild hair, pinning it in back with jewelled barrettes. I then slipped into a pair of long black palazzo pants and a flowing shawl top. I finished by putting on an ornate choker necklace and fake pearl earrings.I stood up, put my slumped shoulders back, and there she was, the illusion of the charismatic  artist, the woman I used to be, once strong and confident.

My husband came into the room “you look like a doll!” he said and smiled “are you ready?” I knew this was not a question that needed a loaded answer and I replied “yes “but couldn’t help myself and added, “I am just so nervous” but as always he reassured me and we went on our way.

We arrived several hours prior to the show so we wouldn’t be stuck in traffic or get lost. To kill time and settle my worries, we walked around the cold streets arm in arm. We sought shelter from the bitter wind by sneaking into the closest place; McDonald’s. We ordered and sat down keeping the conversation light. He joked about how sophisticated we were eating here tonight, and then he added; “sorry I can’t give you everything” I responded back “this is perfect” and I smiled as we continued to eat our greasy food.

After we walked around the block a few more times, we went back and sat in the car; I was staling. “Look at all the people that are going in “he enthusiastically said, I replied “at 5:05 I will go in I promise “and at that time precisely he said, “Times up” and shut off the car.

Holding my hand firmly he walked me through the doors where we were greeted by unfamiliar smiling faces.They told us where to check our coats and me, being an artist in the show, was told where to get my name tag. After we had completed that, we walked the steps up to the gallery, confidently he held my hand, and lead the way looking back with a smile.

Once through the doors I looked for my work, there she/I was my reflection. “ Brand” in shades of vermillion paint , clenched arms around myself, gritted teeth and the most horrific feature, my psychiatric file number carved aggressively into my arm. There in front of me, displayed beautifully, was the torment I had tried to hide for so many years, with smiles and the right outfits, until I crashed and the hospitalisations began. I looked over at my husband with glassy eyes “I don’t think I can do this “he held my hand tighter “its ok, this is a good night “he said reassuringly. He took the lead again, we walked around looking at all the beautiful and emotive art, and I began to relax.

About halfway through the night, when the gallery was full and lively, an announcement was made. Everyone was asked to come into the main room as speeches were to be made and awards were to be presented. I listened and looked on intently, not for my name but to see who would be called.I was trying to get a good look over everyone’s head. Then it happened they said it my name. I stood paralyzed, thinking there must be someone else in this room with the same name as me when no one went up and they called out my name, again I knew it was me. For the first time since this depression took a hold, I had to find the courage to stand on my own, no Doctor, nurse, or husband could accept this award for me, I had to move forward, and to my surprise, I did.

I got up on stage and all I kept telling myself was “don’t cry, don’t break down here, please just hold on”.I looked around for something to ground me and there he was, as always, my husband. He had rushed up, front and centre and reassured me with jesters it was o.k. Still shaking I listened to the gallery owner speak beautifully about my work, my chest swelled with honour and pride. When he was finished I shook his hand and looked at the audience.I could feel the encouragement of the crowd, not because I was mentally ill but because I was there, like the many other artists and guests that night we had persevered, we had erased stigma simply by showing up.

I wish today I could tell you that everything is better in my life, but I cannot. However I can tell you this, when I won the award for “Best Emerging Artist “  at the Touched by Fire show on December 8th, 2011, I emerged as much more that night, I became a fighter again, a fighter who reaches for brightly coloured paint and smiles when it stains my fingers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 The Empathy of Ravens

 

November 2017

I have always had an affinity to bright colours and equated them with perfection
And Love
Until I heard a story about ravens.
An empathetic bird, that given the chance picks a mate for life.
I always wondered how something so dark could carry those traits
Until you….

Today is your weather, the in-between skies of light and dark.You in the lucid, my half-awake morning with arms extended to both sides. You, the middle holding me together as you always have.

I walk
Uneven
As Novembers air licks my neck and whispers “you will fall again into my arms my darling” my constant remembrance of my love affair with Monsieur Morose before you, my heart clenches until your voice of perseverance knocks him down and wins me over
“Keep walking, Keep pushing forward”

With my ravenous shadow behind my eyes that look up with hungry hope.I feel a face you have pecked away at over the years until you formed smile lines around my mouth and eyes, signs of love, like the initials by foolish lovers carved on trees I pass.

I imagine ours would read

Fool
+
Madness

However, are we not mad fools to be in love?

Or is it bravery?

it’s a fine line my darling…

There are many frail structures in my mind but love grows brash and brave in every direction, filling in the cracks of the 40-year-old ruins.

Love is adaptable in our world.

You taught me, Love, is more than placid moments and things in common, more than the embrace of lips, the tussle of sheets in good lighting. It hurts, it dives it struggles and holds on for dearest life, scratching and clawing in an unflattering light.

It surrenders to be free.
And only then can it begin to soar…

Your commitment of love took refuge in my hatred. My nights of loss, my river of weeping, my bastard bread incurable disease. When everyone saw me at face value you listened to my pleasant lies of sanity and smile to match, and when I plummeted you were there holding the bloodiness of truth.

There you lived… in my wounds, fresh and healed picked. You have never shied away from the broken. You only were the keeper to the pieces I tossed aside as garbage and built as a nest of recovery.

You took my scrapes when it’s all I had
or all I would give….

Love, you took on everything I could not.

Memories plunge into me, I was a little girl on a ferry boat down the Mississippi, the black water turning the massive wheel of the lifeless water .l embraced the rails with my scavenger hands as if it were hope and flashed a smile you would have known to be false even by a picture. The railing did not seem large enough for the wanting thoughts of going under, the feeling to leap into that endless.

To be free

When I did leap years later, your hands were my enormous barriers that grabbed me by the hair bringing to your mouth to suck the black out of my lungs and take it upon yourself. My demons, my agonizing hurt, the desolation of depression, the terror of night, the lighting, the electricity all became yours.

And even when I begged

“Please tell me what I have forgotten”

You replied

“Only some memories are mine to own”

Forgive me
Because I have yet to forgive myself
of even the forgotten….

As I sat hopelessly caged away from everything I loved, only you came to see me daily, perched on my ruins. You held my ravaged hand as if it were an uncut rose in perfect bloom and said, “If I could take it all away I would “in that moment you created seeds of hope.

I know in this life you are the sole person who would take all that away
If you could…

I can only imagine as you left me caged, how the helpless, how alone you must have felt but you never gave up.

Not even for a moment.

When I wore insanity as perfectly as I once wore red lipstick, You fought the whispers, the gawking, leading me through the dance floor of life with confidence as those whispers fell into background music  “one day this will all be a memory ” you said holding me close.

Your acceptance is all that mattered
In your eyes
I was not
The patient,
The madwoman,
I was your partner, your equal
Your mate for life.

When I lay down at night my dreams ready take flight through storm-ridden skies, I look into your eyes, the blindness, the blackness and I forget about the world that created me this way.

For a moment suspended in your sight is an unspoken bedtime story of hope.

I remember when I was young; I wanted to believe fairy tale love, the kind they cut all the dark and ill-fitting parts out. However, I could not relate when something was missing.

And my story I believed was already composed

I would take my own life,
It was just a matter of time.

Then came you, keeper of time and the missing parts and I am still ticking…

Tick
Tock

I close my eyes and feel my hearts time continue beating.

You tell me the moment you saw me you instantly fell in love

I reply, “That’s crazy you can’t fall so quickly”

You smile

And I remember the first time I met you, you swooped in and pecked my cheek, then later took my hand and we became airless on the seedy bar dance floor.

You danced me from chaos to calm ever since

And here is how my story continues…

Portraits of Hope 

2008

 

I have just completed the final painting of my series.These images are ones that have plagued my mind until they adorned the paper they now live on. I think of the fragility of the surface and the emotions they encompass just like a human being. The urgency of these works needed to be free; or rather free from me. This journey has left me with little sleep over the last five months and now I feel that I can breathe once again. As I sit here surrounded by my work, they seem to stare back at me questioning “what have you done to me?” I am now blatantly and callously aware of where I have come from, and what I still am. In these works lie the places in my mind where I should never want to go again. Unfortunately, I am all too aware, my illness is neither curable nor is the insatiable desire and compulsive need for the madness diminishing……so I hope.I hope that I will find that place that will fill me with contentment, a place of safety and belonging, but for now, that place will live in my passion to paint; create.

This series is entirely composed of self-portraits. I began by struggling with the images in my mind, trying to use other people in my place as models, but when the emotion and truth fell short I knew I had to use myself. I had to put myself in a vulnerable position, as mental illness has done to me over most of my life. I had to stop hiding behind my paintings and tell my story. There is an inspired madness I have come to love and adore; in fact, I am addicted to it. Sadly, the glorious high always wears off, and this is when Darkness takes his turn. I often question why such a cursed gift was bestowed upon me? Why am I willing to risk my life and happiness just to feel the fleeting moments of grandiose madness? Why do I so ignorantly forget about the Darkness that follows; the destruction he causes?  This, the madness, has stolen away so many things I have loved, created moments of unforgivable chaos, and taken pieces of my life away that I will never recover. This is where my paintings are created; take life. These voids I fill with hope, and I draw from them the strength to continue onward.

For the most part, I have hidden my illness, fearing I would be judged, labelled and considered a burden to anyone in my life. The fear of confronted with questions that I could not answer. I did not want anyone’s pity, but true understanding would be impossible. Why can’t I just take my medication and lead a normal life? Why do I treat the ones I adore the worse? On and on the question circle my mind, all too often without answers. For the first time, I am completely open about what I feel through my paintings.  I put my melancholy, my depression, the utter loneliness, the constant cycling thoughts of suicide, the fear of losing my mind,  everything I didn’t want anyone to see. These paintings began as my “portraits of my hope” but I now know this is not just my battle, everyone paints their own “portraits of hope” either in one’s mind or on canvas.

to see the series visit Portraits Of Hope

Photograph By Miguel Mansilla

 

Weeping Willows

 

2008

I dissipate some days like paint washing out in water

I fall in love with things.

I have always had a thing for weeping willows, you know they just put out there how lonely they are, no disguise or brightly coloured leaves. They are what they have always been; weeping. It started to rain today as one touched my head with her long arms; I felt my heartbeat for a half a second in this moment.

The show must go on, even in the dark

I have learned to put on a good show so no one would guess how melancholy I am, even my Doctor says I have almost perfected the mannerisms of sanity. I have a wide smile and stars in my eyes, falsely lit by a pharmacy of help .it is when I am alone that I can’t hide the solitary flaws. I dress in down set eyes and a black sweater that wraps around me like night. I counted the holes in it today, it’s  becoming threadbare and eaten by days of wearing it in sadness.I have nothing to replace it …nothing that fits like this.

I am terrified of November.

I am shutting down when I know I should be getting stronger, watching leaves let go and the wet ground seeps through my shoes. There is nothing I can do but wait, wait for the worst date in my life to pass, so I can be free of it. I want to see and feel the first snowfall outside this year. I don’t want to be a living snow globe trapped in a world I can’t touch.

I believed in Santa Claus until I was twelve, almost thirteen and after that, I pretended.

They told me I would really come know what happiness is, they sold me that and I desperately bought into it.Now everything they said a year ago seems likes a lie. Everything of my 33 years seems like a lie except for a few untouchable things.” You were never well” they tell me.So have I have been in Love? Have I never felt alive? Is that scar on my left knee even real?

I use my pill bottles as maracas, shake-a shake-a cha cha cha

I take two and a half pills in the morning, five and a half at night, next week they will add more. I wiped the drool from my mouth as I spoke two days ago but the fact is they still can’t get the nightmares to stop. They can’t stop the corridors mind from hearing words or thinking of paintings that still live dancing down those halls saying “pick me “pick me”.

Cages make heart sink to my knees, chin quiver and pace in defiance.

They can’t tell me I don’t feel like a caged animal. They can’t tell me those feelings are not real.they can’t tell me what is real? They can’t fucking CHOOSE what is real? I close my eyes and that reality is so much better, then I open and it’s a war zone and my hands are weapons .how difficult it is to live when your hands are weapons. I can decorate them like everything else in my life but this is the fact of fates. Ugly and beautiful, beautiful and ugly. Then I question maybe my life is better in another’s hands before I become extinct?

And they will say” lordy lory hallelujah she finally got her fireworks”

They send me to a class to help my behaviour.At 11 it is break time and I shuffle down the hall alone, I don’t feel the need to make friends here, anywhere? Thoughts go over in my head about the patients in class promoting shock therapy (yes it still does exist) and how they lost their memories to it. They have lost pieces that should have made them who they are but they chose to lose them because of the cruelty of depression. I would never choose this unless it is chosen for me… When I am alone I can cry about all this either in hysterics in my car or in slowly carved trails down my face in perfect quiet, salt filling in the cracks in my lips.

If my hands would say still I could bite my nails properly.

November 15th to be exact. I have never been one for dates but this one is solidified. I wrote in a book in the madhouse you have two choices up or down, but I want so badly to reach the middle? I want to be sane enough so my hands cease shaking as I write these lines. I stood in the hall there and thought random thoughts like god the paint colour is tacky and others I don’t care to mention .for a moment no one passed and it was hush, still, perfect.I looked outside and my stomach hurt.I wanted to scream so loud that the windows broke but I carried on listening to my footsteps echo.

A woman spoke as she sat close to me “with eyes like that you must see world with such beauty”

Yesterday I tilted my head up to the sun .it made my heart rattle and the corners of my mouth curl up “ah it is still there “I said as I placed my hand on my chest. When night came I looked at the stars and thought of the million things that go through my blood each and every second, the million and one things still left to live, breathe and love within my skin.I am no exception, to anyone else (besides I am half mad of course) I want to find my place in this world. I want to see the stars align.

And

I still have great expectations that travel between vermillion and Prussian blue

(Photograph By Miguel Mansilla in 2008. I eventually did chose ECT if you read through my other blogs I explain why.I put past and present on this site to show my struggles and recovery)

Soar

Friday, September 22,3017

 

If it were that effortless to rise after
A fall
Wouldn’t more
Be abounding with rooftop grace?
Walking the fine line
Of thrill
Then drop
Only to soar

Smash
tires screech
bones break
windows smash
Not from the fall
But the screams
Of loss

Inside the bones are fragmented
The mind has lost some spokes and grinding
Over if only thoughts
Oh and
My
My
My
The heart,
Pulverized
Ready for the tasting
For anything that resembles
Life

And only a few run out
Because to most
You are a mirage
You look fine
Or the latter
Depression is not convenient
And you turn
A full knowing and Seeing Eye
(You know who you are)

The bed
The hospital
The pills
The image
Nothing is your own
You’re blurry
And can’t quite make out the picture

But wait
Just hold on
(Please hold on)
Because
Your fall is the catalyst

To soar to a new
belonging

The first steps are the hardest
The looks
The pain
The anger
For the lack of empathy
and
Insufficient understanding
For an invisible disease

The second steps even more so
Because
well pain
With a mix of indifference
Has been
All you have known

All I knew…

Nevertheless, you walk
You fight
and keep walking
Sometimes for years…
Swinging those fists of courage in the air
Maybe with a few stumbles along the way
But you continue
Even with your skinned
Knees and pride

I continue

And then it flashes in a moment
Like the perfect photograph
And it stills
And you can see the full
Picture
That moment when you
Realize on firm ground

You have soared the furthest

 

 

As She Dreams

Written in 2008

And I will be the one to steal the nightmares away
As you dream
I will ravenously ….glutinously eat at all the spoiled memories and chaos
Remembered and forgotten
I will eat with the appetite of a million hungry men
Until my stomach
And Heart aches
Like your has all these years
As you dream love
And I will kiss you
No not like the others
I will place my mouth over yours
And breathe in the ugly heaviness
Your lunatic laugh
Your screams of agony
Mercy !Mercy!Please!
They are all now mine to own
Because I adore you …and want you to dream
I will lay with you in my arms you as quiet as whisper
I as your shadow
I will take your bed of destitute and destruction
Filling my veins with your plague
Keeping me awake
Keeping me only half alive and half sane
Just for you.
To dream of what I always believed you were

.
And I now own the thoughts of suicide
The padded walls covered in piss and cum
The fear of breaking
Of falling
The fear…. always fear in your eyes
Shhhhhhh now baby
We won’t ever speak of this
It is mine
You sleep with dreams love
And when you ask me
Why I never sleep
Why I am so distance
It is because
I hold this for you
This secret
That I can’t ever let you have back
We know what it did to you
I can’t see you like that anymore
I am not that cruel
That I love you so much that I would own your hate
More so than your love
So you can always dream
As I lay awake knowing
I gave you the peace you always needed
But could never ask for.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have the cure to the great depression step right up

 Written -September 18,2011

 

Now that I have your attention I can tell you I am one hell of a liar

 

but if you read through my depression I swear you will see my joy and p.s. my fingers are not crossed

 

So here it goes

 

I had an affirmation I was alive today and it held my breath as I raced home….

 

Because the night before thoughts cycled as I looked at my reflection

And I looked at her

She is me and not me

Not again

Please not again

I reason with her

But there is no

Reasoning

No please

No, I will give you this and yes that

If you just spare me

The depression never plays fair

because it wants

EVERYTHING YOU HAVE.

 

I try not to think of that look I just saw in the mirror

But

I still see it even with

my eyes shut

but still, I beg and bargain

I beg tears not to fall

 

And breathe in weighted and say over in my mind

 

Don’t cry tonight

Be strong

Don’t buckle at the knees

I repeat this and a million more

Things

And I know they don’t sound like prayers

But everything is a plea as soon as that

“Look” comes back

 

I gaze out the window and fiddle with my hands

 

And think of all days I feel so desperate but

I can’t say any of this

Because I am all

Better?

 

So I drink the rest of my tea and say

“don’t cry tonight”

Don’t cry, baby

Just lie down

And find your

Still

I take my pills drift off

Ask many why me questions

As I

Wind

Down

Like

A music box doll…

 

It is not easy this disease

(Fucking God damn Understatement of the century)

And if anyone knew how hard the battle was maybe they would take it easier on you

Maybe the lady in the market wouldn’t act so snide when you forget to say hello at the cash

Because all day you had to keep away thoughts from killing yourself

And the meds are so hard they make you sick and spaced out

And loved ones would understand why you don’t want to go out for days

Weeks

months

And stay by your side…

Or just bring coffee and say hello

How are you

(Now that isn’t so fucking hard is it)

Because so many of us die from this illness

ALONE.

And

just because (for the most part) the wounds do not show

Know this

the insides are a bloody pulp

(mostly the heart)

 

But there are no answers and I know this

And my nails are chewed down as far as they can go

And my mouth is scared from biting the insides of

Cheeks so I don’t say things I will regret

(Oh too late for that)

And my brain

well now

on x-rays

it is perfect of course

(sarcastic smile)

But what the x-rays don’t  show

Is how

I keep reeling in terms of yesterday if I only had

Yesterday back

But yesterday is so far away

The time when I used to believe in magic

Running fast

And laughing hard

 

 

It is getting cold

I almost saw my breath

Or is that the ghost of my remains escaping

Whatever it was I caught it

Because I fight every day to not fall apart

 

Want to know the cure

there isn’t one but today…

 

 

I walked home missing a few steps

As light as air

(How is this possible?)

That just for a moment the veil of melancholy was lifted

To let me know I was capable of being whole…

And I raced home more rapidly so as not to forget and write down I just had an affirmation I was

Still

ALIVE

To read on the days the sadness comes back

Alive to see the grass that wavered but didn’t fall in the cool end of summer wind

Alive in the way the sun blinded me

and as I closed my eyes for a moment

Yes

It was in fact still lighting me up

It was there in the leaves that the rays passed through and turned them into stained glass

These

all my affirmations of life

And that even though I was alone….

I felt surrounded by a million beautiful things

 

(See I told you so I am not always so depressing)

 

And now I have the answer to one why me question…

 

So I can give

Another

Hope

If nothing else

That I will smile at you in the market or anywhere else when I see you are having

Those days

Months

Years

Because I know who you are the minute I see your eyes

Because you are my reflection and I yours

That I will keep

Fighting

And I hope this

For you too….

 

And we might never find a cure but I hope for you moments of happiness

I hope for you

With my eyes towards the sun

 

 

 

(Photograph and words copyright April Mansilla)