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Illustrating through depression

Friday, 29 April 2016 Nami Chikhlia

Nami is a freelance illustrator & works for The Koestler Trust, a prison arts charity. She blogs about her experience of depression and how discovering a passion for drawing helped her cope.

Last year, I gave a talk about my life at a meet-up event to an audience of about 80 people.

I was excited to talk about many things, like the time I lived in Japan, the time I was in a band, the time I studied art, the time I worked in India.

But there was one part of my life that I needed to include and that was being diagnosed with severe depression.

"I felt like I had nothing of any worth to give to anyone."

I struggled to find a suitable slide to represent depression and so in the end I decided to leave it blank. As I came onto this part, I could feel myself getting nervous. I stopped to gather myself and the room went silent for a few moments.

The audience immediately picked up on my feelings. One person clapped and everyone else joined in. They encouraged me to continue and I heard someone shout:

“You can do it Nami!”

I started to talk about how I had been struggling. I revealed that I felt hopeless, that I felt alone, that I felt like I didn’t deserve anything and above all that I felt that I was not good enough.

“No one has to live with these thoughts but me”
I would often say to my Mum who would hold onto me on my worse days.

My friends know me as a happy and confident person. They had noticed a change in me and it made a lot more sense once I had told them about my depression. When I shared what I was going through they were really supportive.

"I was emotionally and physically drained."

By this point, I was already receiving treatment. I was prescribed Citalopram and referred for counselling. During counselling, things got worse before they got better. I brought things up in my sessions that I had spent a long time avoiding.

My counsellor helped me work through my anxieties. Suicidal thoughts became more frequent and my dosage was increased to help with this. I thought about ways I could harm myself in detail. I didn't see any point in anything any longer and I just wanted out. I knew that I was having these thoughts because I wanted to end the pain. If I had ended my life, I would not be able to "feel" that relief.

"Whilst I was drawing, I felt very calm. Something inside me had quietened down."

One day I sat down in the garden to make my cousin something as he was visiting from Vancouver and it was a tradition for me to give him something before he leaves. I drew two characters inspired by Japanese street style. While living in Japan, I admired the Harajuku style a lot. I spent about 6 hours working on the illustrations in the garden using a variety of materials. When I looked at the illustrations I felt utterly proud. Whilst I was drawing, I felt very calm. Something inside me had quietened down.

I began illustrating more.

I went to Cass Art and bought new materials and even went to Ikea and bought a new desk. My family encouraged me. The illustrations were helping me cope with my anxieties, and my family felt that I could really do something with them. I was having dinner one night with my cousin and his girlfriend and I showed them my work. They suggested I try getting a stall at Spitalfield's Market.

So I sent Spitalfield’s an e-mail and set up a meeting. They liked how I pitched my illustrations and asked me when I would like to open my stall!

I worked really hard to prepare my space. On my first day I sold three illustrations, got one client for a commissioned piece and I met a French blogger who then went onto write about my work.

"I finally feel like I am in the right place."

My treatment is ongoing but turning to art has helped me cope with my depression better. For anyone that is suffering the way I did, I would encourage them to pick up a pen, an instrument or even a paintbrush as a way to become more mindful.

Last year, I began working for a charity that encourages rehabilitation through various art forms. I finally feel like I am in the right place. Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” When I make my illustrations, I feel really calm. More importantly, when I look at them, I feel good enough.

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