Wellbeing

This Comic Explores What Depression Feels Like

Romantic relationships get a lot of the spotlight when it comes to “meaningful connections”. But for those of us who aren’t living in a rom-com or a reality show, it quickly becomes apparent that friendships can be just as fulfilling – and that the support of friends can be crucial when times are tough.

So it is for Melbourne artists Tava and Alice. They met eight years ago as teenagers, “on a boozy trip to Byron Bay (a weird starting point if you know either of us!) and immediately hit it off as friends.”

“We see our connection being every bit as important, valid and nourishing as our romantic ones with other people,” explains Alice. “This means valuing it in a time-priority sense as well how highly we value the other person’s input when it comes to making major decisions and handling big life events.”

Big life events like, in Tava’s case, a deep bout of depression.

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One of Tava’s drawings, describing her depressive feelings

Despite the temptation to withdraw, Tava tried to open up to her friend about what she was going through. “One of the most difficult things for me when I was in thick of it was the struggle to understand or express what I was experiencing to myself, let alone to others… I still don’t know how, but somehow Alice managed to push through my walls.”

Tava moved to Canada in late 2015, hoping that the relocation would offer her some time and space to work through her depression. Tava found she was still having a hard time, so Alice suggested that the two friends become pen pals. But instead of writing letters, they made a comic by correspondence.

From there, Eyes Too Dry was born.

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The comic is a touching and at times heart-wrenching exploration of what depression is like – for both a sufferer and those who love them. Chapters alternate between Alice and Tava’s perspectives, revealing the twists and turns in their friendship as both of them confront their vulnerabilities. Working together creatively “meant our relationship has had to grow and bend in unexpected ways,” says Alice.

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One of Alice’s drawings

Both credit their creative output as having a role in their healing. “I felt like a massive foggy-leaky-blob-mess,” says Tava. “It was as if I was holding all these threads of feelings and experiences and ideas about myself, my depression, and what might make me ‘better’, but it was all muddled and I had no idea where anything began or ended. The comic was my way of working with this mess, trying to find ways to trace each of these threads and see where it lead.”

Alice reiterates this sentiment. “The creative process definitely helped me move through that complicated tangle of emotions.”

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They also emphasise the importance of professional support, for both sufferers of depression and their loved ones.

Tava says although she’s still figuring it out, there are a few things she’s found helpful for her depression:

  • “Get a GP and psychologist you like, and be super open with them.”
  • “Know your boundaries/signs when things are getting bad/dangerous and create safety plans along the lines of “if x happens, I will do y.” Share these with your support people.”
  • “Be gentle with yourself and try to tone down the self-judgement. A really good exercise I do in my head is ask myself, “if my friend was saying this to me, what advice would I give them?” If what I say to my friend is different to what I’m telling myself (and it nearly always is), go with the advice you’d tell your friend. We deserve to give ourselves the compassion we give to others.”
  • “Try to figure out what it is that makes you more able to coexist with all the feels. Overcoming the sense of isolation was big for me. I turned to books and art for this. Finding Ann Cvetkovich’s book Depression: A Public Feeling was like finding a lilo.”

While Alice shared some tips for a support person:

  • “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Respect that the person might not always want or be able to talk it through with you, but don’t let the fear of ‘not getting it’ or feeling like an ignorant idiot, block you from reaching out. That’s when emotional distance can begin wedging you apart. So find your own ways to try to bridge it. For us it was drawing. For you it might be something else entirely. Either way, let your loved one know that you’re there still with them.”
  • “Also – look after yourself in practical ways. If you’re finding you’re becoming distressed and at a loss for how to help, or it’s simply gone beyond your ability to know how to respond, seek out professional advice. I started seeing a psychologist when things got really hard for Tava. It began as a way for me to understand warning signs, learn about existing support services and create an emergency plan, but our sessions quickly turned into us talking through my own personal stuff that was starting to leak out. We are all delicate creatures when it comes to our mental health. Respect that you need to find your own support systems and people, especially if you want to sustain your role as a support for your loved one.”

If you’re in need of help, try Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue.