Past Work: Untitled (Depression Video 2003)

Today I’m looking back at a past work that I did for school that documented my struggle with depression. Why? Maybe it’s just to show that everything isn’t about hopeful declarations about love or pop art robots. I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly great piece, but that it is at least important in the lessons I learned from it. You’re welcome to watch any and all of it, but be warned, it is not exactly riveting or short.

At first glance this video probably comes off as narcissistic and self-indulgent, but that was not the intent at all. If we’re going to compare it to other video works, I like to think that it pulls ahead of Andy Warhol filming himself sleeping for eight hours.

Sometime around the fall of 2003 I sought out the counseling services at the university and received a diagnosis of depression which was treated with counseling sessions and a short course of anti-depressants. I had resisted medication initially and had tried counseling two years earlier, but I suspect now (as my counselors did then) that my symptoms started much earlier than college.

I’m not sure how much detail I want to go into about my personal struggles. I’ve never talked about it much because it’s sort of taboo, isn’t it? On top of making people feel uncomfortable, people tend to look at you in a different way after knowing something like that. And maybe we should talk about it more. Maybe it shouldn’t be taboo, because over time as I’ve shared this information with a few people I found that quite a few of them had relatable experiences.

The Fall of 2003 will hopefully go down as the very worst of my experience with depression. It comes and goes, but has never been as bad as it was then. Part of what makes it bearable now recognizing it when it starts to come on and being able to talk to people with similar experience. Am I all better now? I will say “sort of.” I suspect it’s something I will always wrestle with from time to time. As recently as February of this year I sought some tune up sessions with a counselor. The biggest take away from that was that I can’t stand what I do for a living (of which I was fully aware) and that I need to make more room in my life for art and music. Rest assured I don’t need to be on suicide watch and I haven’t turned to drugs and alcohol to treat my symptoms (although I might have, sort of, kind of, maybe started smoking cigarettes more regularly).

During one of the worst waves of depression of this time (a wave is the best metaphor I have to offer) following an episode that was basically a non-event, I decided to set up the video camera and just see what I got. At the time I had a video project coming up for class. Typically with these assignments we would discuss our video proposal with the professor and get the go ahead before proceeding.  I can’t remember what the agreed upon proposal was or even what the parameters of the assignment were, but I knew that this was better and two days before the video was due I told the instructor I scrapped the original idea and this was what I was turning it.

I don’t recall if I had a plan when I turned on the camera, but what happened was I sat down at my drawing table and began to make observations about myself in the second person voice. Looking back at it I can remember how difficult it was to spit the words out, and knowing my state of mind at the time I can’t believe I had the wherewithal to set up the camera . The video is black and white, but I can see the color in all those objects around the room and almost feel the heat from the light fixtures. I recall the buzzing in my head and how each breath felt premeditated and unnatural. It only took thirty seconds of watching this video today for me to go right back into that place and it was uncomfortable to watch. When I did finally get through all of it I was more at ease and impressed with how far I’ve come since then.

As difficult as it was to actually turn on the camera and decided to capture that moment, it was just as difficult to take it to class, turn it in, and show it to an entire classroom of my peers. In a sense the peer reviews were positive. Not because everyone said they loved it, but because most said it made them uncomfortable. It provoked a reaction! Most of them realized what I knew about it, that it was an honest work of art even if it wasn’t a great one. Too often in too many classes I’d seen my peers and myself present work and just bullshit through the presentation. Art is subjective to a point and bullshit is a skill you acquire along the way to get the grade. But I didn’t have to do that with this piece and it’s a reminder to me that better art comes from being honest and embracing the uncomfortable. And that’s part of what I like about the Love poster I’ve been working on because it is a subject that is uncomfortable for me…but more on that later.

2 thoughts on “Past Work: Untitled (Depression Video 2003)

  1. Heather

    Yes, we should talk about it more. I can relate to a lot of what you said in that video; more than I wish. I hesitated to comment because I don’t want people to be worried about me. But I couldn’t very well tell you people should talk about it, and then refuse to talk about it.
    I occassionally grab a spent journal from the shelf and start reading it at random places. Upon opening one such journal I thought, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I wrote that. I must have been really depressed.” When I shared this with someone they said, “Yeah, it was scary,” or something like that. I didn’t even know others knew. I thought I was hiding it pretty well.
    Still events from my past will come back to the forefront of my mind to haunt me and bring me to tears and difficulty breathing while I’m driving down the road. I wonder if I need to seek out help to keep things under control, but I doubt there’s anything that can be done. It’s just something that will always be there to be dealth with occassionally. And I still have those episodes of knowing I need to do things, but not being able to make myself do them. This leads to feelings of self-loafing. I’m buried in to-do lists and feel completely overwhelmed. I occassionally wonder if this is depression, or just the normal stress of adjusting to life changes. I think right now it’s just normal stress, because the feeling doesn’t overwhelm every hour of my day. I have lots of moments where I can say, “It doesn’t matter. It will be all right in the end,” and have a beautiful time with my family. I remember when I was going through depression that the feeling of helplessness was unending and at the same time, not being able to find a reason for the feeling.
    I also remember not having any words for these feelings. I just had a discussion about teaching my children to recognize their feelings and put words to them. I don’t want people to tell them they’re fine; I want people to ask them if they’re o.k. The other person asked how I learned to identify my feelings. After much thought, I remembered that I didn’t until I was an adult, and it took a lot of work. Not being able to name your feelings is a very confusing feeling. But it seems I’m not at a loss for words now…
    Sorry for taking up so much space on your blog. :/
    (I hate that feeling right before hitting the post button.)

    1. John Post author

      It is sometimes difficult for me to know the difference between regular stress and depression until the depression hits and then it’s, “Oh, right, this again.” I think in addition to it being taboo I never wanted it to be my go-to excuse for not getting something done. It’s also very difficult to explain to someone that hasn’t experienced it and it’s likely that people experience it differently.

      I think a lot of people can benefit from a tune up through counseling and I was encouraged by my friend who has experience counseling others. I might have done more sessions this last time around if my insurance had actually covered it like I was told, but it ended up being very expensive, which is a topic for another time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>