Isolation and Self-Destruction: My Interpretation of 'Welcome' - Part 1
In this post I will give my interpretation of my painting 'Welcome'. If you would rather watch it in video form, click below.
“In retrospect, crappy chemicals in my brain were working overtime, driving me to destroy myself, like that thing that makes lemmings throw themselves over a cliff.”
- Felicia Day, You're Never Weird on the Internet
My painting 'Welcome' is based on the theme of voluntary isolation and self-destruction. It is the second painting in a series of seven based on my experience of depression: The Seven Gates.
If you think that you are currently experiencing any of the issues I discuss in this post linked to depression, please visit a doctor. It's better to get yourself checked out than suffer something that can be treated.
When depression has hit me in the past, it has tended to start quite subtly. Isolating myself through various means was usually one of the first signs. This was accompanied by a low-level form of self-destruction. For ease, let's call this Stage I Self-Destruction (I'll get to Stages II and III in later posts). All of this stemmed from feelings of worthlessness and the desire to punish myself for perceived wrong-doings.
For a long time - over ten years - I didn't even know that what I was doing was actually a symptom of mental illness; I thought it was a part of my personality. Maybe I was isolating myself because I was weak and unable to cope with life. And possibly I was destroying relationships with friends because I wasn't a particularly good person. With hindsight, I can see how this led to a vicious circle:
My uncanny ability to isolate myself began just as I entered adulthood. While still in Sixth Form education, I was making excuses for why I couldn't go out with friends: I was ill, it was a family member's birthday etc. This became worse as time went on and I avoided as many social events as possible. I even started to think of reasons why my friends weren't really that great to make it easier for me to isolate myself. The underlying thought that I wasn't good enough for them was also ever present.
Going to University was the catalyst for me eventually breaking all ties with my school friends. I kept in touch with some of them for a while but then let this contact dwindle away. Funnily enough this has led to a certain amount of guilt - and what a surprise, guilt fuels depression. Another vicious circle (and it certainly isn't the last where mental illness is concerned) that leads me to the conclusion that depression is a crafty little creature, perfectly designed to send the sufferer into a downward spiral.
This pattern has continued through much of my adult life: make new friends, become depressed and then isolate myself. I have miraculously managed to avoid this with some of my friends - despite the process starting at times - and I am still in contact with them to this day.
One of my friends - let's call him Terry - was certainly on my radar for being part of my isolation process. I was just becoming aware that I actually had an illness called depression, but I didn't realise that the process of losing my friends was a part of that. I had begun to distance myself emotionally from Terry and I was about to move to another area many miles away. You can probably see what my depression was thinking. But Terry sent me a Good Luck card in which he told me that I'd been the best friend he'd ever had. It was a kick up the backside at the perfect moment. A friendship had been saved. The moral of the story - don't give up on friends with depression. Tell them what they mean to you. It will eventually sink in. And when they finally re-emerge, they will be grateful beyond measure. As I am to Terry.
Voluntary isolation was a way of hurting myself, a form of self-destruction. (Now, I say 'voluntary' but more accurately it is 'depression imposed isolation', the illness wants you to believe that you are acting of your own volition.) Cutting off all ties from my friends wasn't the only tactic I used against myself in Stage I.
I've written about this in a previous post, but when I was teaching, I bought stuff. A lot of stuff. I consumed to make myself feel better. Despite the euphoric feeling being very short-lived, I continued to behave in this way for many years never seeing that this pattern of behaviour was actually stopping me from achieving happiness.
It logically follows that a way to hurt myself would be to get rid of these material possessions. And that's exactly what I did.
One of my favourite games on the PS2 was Rez. So when I heard that a sequel was coming out for the XBox 360, called Child of Eden, I was a tad giddy. Plus it used the new motion sensor device Kinect. Giddy x 2.
I bought a Kinect and a copy of the game for well over £100 and started to play. Then a pretty huge bout of depression struck. Within a week, I had sold the game without finishing it, plus the Kinect and the Xbox 360 went too for good measure. I lost quite a lot of money on that deal.
But it was just the start. I got rid of a lot of my possessions, things that I actually liked and used. I've mentioned before that having a hobby is one way of keeping depression at bay, so what better way to help the illness in its dirty deeds than by selling the things that I need for my hobbies. Removing things that gave me pleasure was the start of a pretty sharp decline that would last for about a year. I was getting rid of something that may have helped me come out of it and I knew it. Again, depression is a crafty beast.
Ironically, I now get rid of my possessions to reduce clutter and guilt for not using things. Plus it makes a fair bit of money for charities. (Read the excellent Stuffocation if you want to find out more about cutting down on excessive consumption.) Another irony is that I've chosen a job where I'm alone for a lot of the time. But that's solitude and not isolation.
"Solitude vivifies; isolation kills." - Joseph Roux
Being isolated - especially when I had instigated it myself, albeit through the encouragement of the depression - led to a pretty miserable existence. But fear not, there is positivity on the horizon. Next time, I'll look at how these experiences fed into my painting 'Welcome'.
Click here for Part 2.
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