I’ve suffered from chronic depression and anxiety on a couple of occasions now.
The first time, when I was in my mid-20s, was when I thought everything was okay in life. I had everything you thought you needed to be happy - a stable job, a car, good friends and a supportive family. But despite all this, I felt unwell and disconnected from reality.
It all began with persistent pains in my stomach. A vice-like tension headache that never ceased. And a feeling of a fog around my mind. The worst of it was an ever existent sense of malaise and fatigue. This perpetuated a cycle. I worried about my health, whilst trying my best to put on a front that I felt fine. If I tried to explain my feelings, people seemed confused as on the surface, I looked young and healthy. And from this focus on the symptoms, I allowed a feeling of despair to creep in.
I couldn’t understand why this was happening. Although I felt awful every second of every day, there was no explanation. Because of my perception of how life is meant to be, I did not link mental health and these physical symptoms. I was in and out of the doctor's surgery trying to find answers. I remember, sitting in those appointments, were the only times I felt hope. And immediately after leaving, that hope was always shattered as I faced the symptoms alone.
After two years, the pain faded away. Why and when they did, I will always be unsure about - I was too relieved to care. However, this was short lived.
The second time, during lockdown, was more challenging. This time I was frightened, as well as miserable, frustrated at the return of an invisible illness that I believed would not return. Could this be what life was going to be like for me? I often pondered, searching for answers obsessively online.
I will forever feel fortunate for being in a position to pay for private therapy - a potentially life-saving privilege that many do not have access to. I needed to talk to someone, to offload without judgement and talk about the pain I was in.
It was through this therapy, I discovered that I have been completely out of touch with my emotions. I was unable to identify my feelings. It is without a doubt that therapy helped me to understand emotional intelligence and overcome the dread and despair.
I’ve always been a (some would say) sensitive individual - always trying to please others or keep quiet when I thought my words would be uninspiring or unamusing.
When I was younger, I ran into trouble a few times. I understand now that I’d behave in a way I believed would impress a friend. Or because I could not express my emotions, I would explode in an outburst of anger.
I have been on a transformative journey. I used to be ashamed, but I’m now proud of my sensitivities and the creativity they inspired. When I was a child, I loved drawing. This was something that was missing in my life when I suffered from depression. Now that creativity has returned and it is incredibly therapeutic - and best of all, is now helping others.
From learning about my emotions and my passion for drawing, I wanted to create a book for children. The aim was to help young people develop emotional intelligence early in life. I believe that my disconnect from my feelings comes from our culture. In the workplace, for example, we are expected to act professional no matter what - if anything upsets us, we have to swallow that.
I think that this is a belief that is carried out throughout society. From a young age we see adults as stoic and unwavering, despite being overwhelmed. We rarely see emotional reactions to situations. As a result, many of us can feel uncomfortable in the presence of emotional reactions.
For example, if a friend is crying we will say “Please don’t cry". We find it tough to allow someone to process their feelings. This can cause the person who is upset to feel isolated, and too worried to share their thoughts as a result of being judged.
I want to challenge the stigma of emotions. I think it is essential for children to be able to discuss their feelings. This doesn’t just help them build resilience for the challenges of adult life and a vital compassion for others. It also helps parents, teachers and others who work for children to communicate with confidence.
One of the best ways to help others is to listen to their experiences. Once we understand the problem, then we can support children by providing safe spaces without scrutinising.
Following this trail of thought my first book, “That’s Okay”, was created. An illustrated guidebook for children covering a variety of feelings from “Happy” to “Sad”. Accompanying each emotion is a colourful creature with expressive faces. The book explains how certain emotions may feel and in what situations.
Although some emotions are perceived as “negative” throughout society, they appear fun and friendly in this book, reinforcing the message that we shouldn’t be ashamed of natural emotions.
After receiving feedback about a book for an older audience, I set out to create “That’s Alright”. Following a similar theme, but with more detail, I aimed this book at teenagers and adults. The book has been created with slightly different emotions which are more relevant to an older audience, this includes “Depression” and “Anxiety”. These illustrations have a more mature appearance.
In addition to these two books, I’ve also created one for climate anxiety empowerment. “That Feels Earthmazing” highlights the ways children can be environmentally conscious and help nature. By adopting environmentally-friendly measures ourselves, we can manage our fears of the future of our planet and wildlife.
And finally, my latest book "That's Calm", is a guided meditation storybook for children. It has an accompanying audio book which helps children relax if they are feeling stressed. I have implemented my usual style of illustration using colourful creatures to bring the book to life.
My anxiety and depression now feels under control. I am currently off the anti-depressants that I was prescribed to help combat it. I don’t want other people to go through this. And I do think emotional intelligence is key. If we are proud enough to talk about emotions, the less likely we are to suppress feelings and cause chronic problems later in life. Prevention tends to be better than cure.
It’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to be happy in every scenario - preparation for emotional fallout from situations will help children become resilient, compassionate and confident.
Thank you for reading!