Sunday, September 12, 2010

THE ONSLAUGHT OF DEPRESSION - Experiencing Emotional Hell in a Seemingly Perfect and Carefree World

"Why are you so downcast, O  my soul. Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my saviour and my God."                                                       PSALM 43 v. 5

During the summer holidays at the end of 1997, my second year at University, things began to fall apart  prayer, but also had a lot of confusion and unacknowledged anger within me in regard to having a brain tumour and my body preventing me from being able to live the seemingly fun and easygoing lives of my friends. By the beginning of 1998 I was rapidly sinking into depression.

I was blind to see what was happening but after much concerned urging from my parents, who could clearly see that i wasn't coping, I went and saw a doctor. Through her persuasion I began seeing a counsellor and taking antidepressants. I made absolutely sure that neither my mother nor the counsellor knew just how often I entertained thoughts of suicide. It just seemed that would make everybody's lives, including my own, so much easier. I felt that if I ended my life my family wouldn't have to worry about my tumour growing, or any of the complications that had accompanied it.

Due to having been asked repeatedly how I was whenever I was in Waiuku, I had a three word pat answer that became my mantra over this time. "I'm fine thanks", that was always accompanied with a smile. It was what I desperately wanted to be , but much like the positive affirmations that I repeated while swimming (mentioned in my previous blog post), it was far from being my reality.

Within a few weeks of being on the antidepressants I began to feel a difference, a lightness that I hadn't felt in a long time. But after months of extensive counselling I realised that what I really wanted, in fact needed, was to be myself. I wanted to consistently be the same person no matter who I was with, instead of feeling that if I was the "real me" I wouldn't be acceptable to certain people. 

I was in contact with a woman in Auckland during this time who had overcome great odds and become an author and inspirational speaker. When I told her what was happening with me she asked me if I was journaling. Up until that time I had kept a diary of events and things that happened but no record as to how things made me feel. Pauline advised me to start writing everything down.

Over the next few months I wrote out everything I was feeling. A lot of it was in the form of a poem and I would have this set to music in my mind.

During this time I kept in close contact with one of my oldest friends in Palmerston North who was a musician. He put backing music to the songs I had written and this proved to be a lifesaver. Being able to go around to his place and sing out my fears and frustrations proved to be extremely cathartic, and his putting beautiful backing music to go with my songs gave me hope that maybe something beautiful could come out of these difficult, dark six months.

During this time I also frequented a jazz bar in town and always chatted with the others who were there. There was something very alluring to me about jazz music. There was so much freedom in it. It seemed that there were no rules as you could even make the music up as you went (scat singing) which was an enormous contrast to the rigidity of classical music. Through these contacts I ended up singing with a four piece group and thrived on it. Even though it was a totally new musical experience for me, and I had absolutely no idea what I was actually doing, once again it gave me hope.

After a month or two we recorded a demo CD and even though it was done very cheaply it proved to be very useful for getting singing work over the holidays in the years to come. One of the songs on it, Gershwin's "Summer Time", was by far my favourite as it represented how I was beginning to feel - light and free. 

One night early in the second semester of my study a very strange thing happened. I had an extremely severe headache come on that was accompanied with my vision crossing and bad pain out the sides of my eyes. I rang a friend and got him to take me to hospital. Then in the early hours of the morning I  woke up greatly distressed with no idea how I had ended up in there. I called up another friend who came up to the hospital and stayed there with me. The doctors booked me in for a CT scan the next morning but by then there was nothing to see. I had had a bad chesty cough for weeks and was told that what had happened was all due to my having pneumonia and pleurisy. I was, once again, sent home and told that I would need a few months bed rest.

During this time I did a lot of thinking and soul searching and I realised that the reason that I had had such problems with my self-
image was due to the fact that I could never buy clothes that were long enough for me during my teenage years (I was 184cm tall at 14 years old). I had interpreted the reason for this as being my fault, that I was clearly too fat and unacceptable.

As a teenager I wasn't able to see that this was actually a problem with the industry and not a problem with me.

I had been sewing since I was a child (my mother was a sewing teacher) and during the year prior to my getting sick with supposed pneumonia I had sewn a lot for friends and myself. I soon felt that by making clothes at flexible lengths I could actually, in a practical way, help women to not have the same frustrations and self esteeem issues that I had struggled with. This, to me, was a practical means of achieving the same goal and I began to seriously consider studying fashion design.

I want to dedicate this blog to Clay McGregor who, during this difficult period in my life was prepared to set time aside and work with me to make beautiful music out of my writing. I don't think you ever realised it, but your friendship, support and encouragement saw me through Clay. Thank You.