There had been a heatwave in Melbourne at the end of last month; a week or so of not only hot but stifling humid weather, where the air feels thick and oppressive. The night temperatures were hardly any better, so there was no real escape from it. You just had to lie still in the dark and listen to the fan or the cooler running and pray that it would be over soon.
When it finally did break, it was almost like the end of a delirium fever. I remember coming out of a shopping mall (that I had escaped to because their air con was better than ours) and it felt like rain. You know that feeling? There were cracks in the walls of heat and the moisture was getting through. You felt like you could breathe again.
The funny thing is, that is the second time I have felt that relief so far this year. But the most recent wasn’t a heatwave. It was a realisation, an epiphany, and it happened to me yesterday. I hadn’t realized it fully, but I had been laying in the dark not wanting to move for so long, for possibly a year, and last night the fever broke.
I have depression. It’s not something a hide. I like to think I’m not ashamed of it, but the truth is I am. But I don’t hide it. It’s an illness. I’ve had it since I was 18. I would ride out the waves of it when they would come as best I could, and try to carve out some form of existence around it and through it.
When taking photos became a big part of my life, that process became a whole lot easier for me. I had something that filled me with so much passion there wasn’t room or time for anything else. For the first time in my life I had something that was truly mine. I taught myself, I practiced, I traveled. I would have never traveled on my own before, but now I was doing it regularly. I was doing photoshoots with the incredible cast of Supernatural. People actually wanted to work with me. No one ever paid me any attention before, but these people didn’t care about my past or how I had spent most of my 20s hidden in my house. They liked my work and wanted to work with me. I made so many friends. So, so many. People that changed my life. People would actually want to meet me at conventions, and would tell me that my photos made them feel happy when they were sad, and they would say the nicest things and I was so overwhelmed. I felt like someone feeling the sun on their skin for the first time in a long time.
Then it got to 2017, and I was still going to cons and still taking photos and still having opportunities but something was changing. The seams were starting to fray a little, but only a little at a time. It was too subtle a thing for me to notice. It was like the temperature climbing steadily up, so steadily you don’t notice the change. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I found things harder, more confusing, more frustrating. I felt like I was walking around with that hot feeling behind your eyes, the feeling like you know you’re going to cry but you’re desperately holding it in. I started to withdraw; not just from my friends, but from everything. My world shrunk and shrunk until it was basically my room. I work from home, so I would work and sleep. I avoided going out. I didn’t really speak to my family. I went from being almost sugar free for years to eating too much sugar, which is bad for someone with depression because it made my lows unbearably, uncontrollably low.
I took photos, but didn’t get the abject joy from the whole process I did before. Nothing I did felt like it worked for me. I would look at other photographer’s work and despair that I would ever do anything like that. It didn’t feel like an incentive, it felt like an irreparable fault with me. Whenever people would try to offer advice about what to do next in my budding photography career, I would feel like I couldn’t breathe and it would start a spiralling tailspin of thoughts until I couldn’t see myself doing anything at all. When I tried to look at my future, all I saw was black. I didn’t try to harm myself, but I did think it would be okay if I just … stopped being.
I still went to conventions, but everything felt stressful. That was my overriding feeling. I would feel so happy to see my friends, and to see the cast of people I love so much, but this anxiety would plague me. I would avoid people and sit in my hotel room alone as much as possible between taking photos. I started to convince myself that I was out of place, that I was supposed to be able to just launch off into the next phase with this whole photography thing and that was what was expected of me. That the cast must have wondered why I wasn’t making anything of myself. That Chris was disappointed. That my friends would get impatient with me. That if I wasn’t what people wanted when they met me that I would be a horrible person and a huge let down. I felt like Stardust and Melancholy was this wholly separate entity from me; that she was the one who had it all together, while I was putting on weight, not sleeping, getting worse at photography and slowly falling apart.
San Francisco Con was the worst, and the few months over Christmas was where it was at its peak. I felt like I was encased in this glass that would just shatter if someone so much as looked at me the wrong way. I can distinctly remember an incident happening towards the end of the convention that sent me up to my hotel room and I didn’t even say goodbye to anyone. I just packed, cried myself to sleep, woke up and got on a plane home. I was at my lowest point.
But all this was happening so so subtly that it wasn’t until it had hit its fever pitch that I realized that I had been trapped in this for so long. I put up a sign on my Stardust & Melancholy twitter to say I was going on hiatus. It was one of the hardest things I’d done, because I’d felt this intense pressure to put out work and that if I wasn’t, people would lose interest. But I needed to relieve some of the pressure, and it was the first thing I did.
I tried to be more gentle with myself, tried to improve my eating and sleep hygeine. I did it slowly. I kept a diary. Bad thoughts would go in there and be shut away. I went to my doctor. It felt like fingers grasping one by one around the reins of a careening horse, but it was some semblance of control. But it still didn’t fully feel like that oppressiveness was really gone until last night.
Last night I talked to my mum and for the first time I told her how bad it was. It just all came out. It was like thunder rumbling in the distance of the heatwave, the fever bursting. I told her I hadn’t felt like myself in something like a year, and I was scared. Why was this happening to me again? I think she was upset that I didn’t tell her sooner, but how could I when I didn’t even fully realize it for myself?
I don’t know where I go from here, but the heatwave is over. Rain is weirdly cathartic and washes away a multitude of sins. I’m crying when I write this, but it feels like relief, not confusion.
It will be back, it always comes back. Depression is a thief, and a liar, and it’s persistent. But I want to be the version of me that made it work around her, not the me that shrunk down to let it consume her.