Guest Blog – Alex

Drawing by Alex BottenWhen I first told Shaun I’d try to write something for his blog I intended to describe my experiences with depression, and outline how my music and art had helped me overcome some of the worst aspects of the illness. But the more I thought about it the more I realised I couldn’t do that.

 Why?

Well, it’s not like that for me. I wish I could tell you all an uplifting tale of triumph over adversity, about how my darkest moments have been bathed in light by the act of creation, or of the times I’ve turned the all consuming void of despair into some of the greatest art ever seen. But I can’t, because it wouldn’t be an accurate description of my situation.

My situation…..my situation is one where depression and anxiety has stripped me of confidence and robbed me of opportunity, where my relentlessly messed up brain chemistry has convinced me that everyone thinks that every single thing I do is shit.

I’m cursed with an exceptional memory for perceived slights, able to recall with vivid clarity the way I felt when, 23 years ago, on the afternoon before my first band’s first ever gig, my best friend at college suggested that he should sing for us that evening instead of me because ‘you can’t really sing, can you?’. I recall every single demo rejection from the days when that kind of thing seemed important, and I’m incapable of dismissing all the times I’ve been told that I’m not good enough, or that the music I made was ‘unsuitable’ for this or that venue, or event. Yes, I also remember the successes, the labels that wanted to put my music on vinyl, the Peel plays, the two appearances at T in the Park, the positive reviews (including having my guitar playing described as ‘inspired’ by Melody Maker, and Thee Moths’ second album being dubbed ‘lo-fi magic’ by NME), but those mean nothing to me. They seem too few and far between, and increasingly vanishing into the past.

No, my memory seems to disproportionately expand the negative events, and downplays the positives as if they were no big deal – hell, even writing the above caused a voice in the back of my head to start grumbling ‘stop being a boastful bastard’!

So I interpret someone having not noticed that I’ve got something available to listen to as a direct ‘fuck you!’ from them, I read ‘it’s not really the kind of thing we’d use’ as ‘you’re a worthless piece of crap, and your work is shit’, and I imagine that all my artist and musician friends see me as the talent less wannabe at the edge of their scene – the deluded hanger on who hasn’t the wit or self awareness to just pack it all in. Fuck, I even felt aggrieved that hardly anyone had noticed my birthday on Facebook! How messed up is that??

And I keep on making things, churning out more and more work, in many cases more in a single year than many artists make in a lifetime, as if quantity will make up for a self-assumed lack or quality, or the sheer weight of created things will cause people to pay attention…and then I get bitter and upset when I’m not hailed as the genius part of my ego thinks I should be praised as, even though a much larger part of my super-ego is simultaneously telling me that I’m rubbish and will always be cursed to obscurity.

Maybe moving to another city will help, as Birmingham is an absolute drag to do anything in. Maybe someone helping me out as a booking manager would be good, as I loathe having to deal with venues and promoters, whilst always being desperate to play as many shows as possible. Or maybe telling people what’s going on in my head will allow them to better understand me, and so lead to more opportunities from those who may have mistaken me for someone confident, someone in total control of his ‘career’. Maybe, or maybe not.

At the heart of it all is a mental illness, a depressive disorder with an anxiety component, which has whispered ‘you’re shit’ in my ear for 25 years, which would like nothing more than to see me give up creating altogether. Whether I do or not might ultimately depend of the levels of support I get from my peers and friends…help I feel unable to ask for. So, screwed if I do, screwed if I don’t. Yay,

So what’s the message from all this? Depression is a horrible thing to live with, and makes the standard struggles of artists into a bitterness inducing series of mis-interpreted reactions and imagined slights….and that’s not great for creativity.

Anyone want to be my manager?

music/visual – alexbotten.co.uk

blogging – athingadaybyalex.wordpress.com

writinghttp://www.lulu.com/shop/alex-botten/hanging-around/paperback/product-15055607.html and https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/hanging-around/id443746821?mt=11

t-shirtshttp://www.mysoti.com/designer/theealex

more arthttp://www.gigposters.com/designer/11753_Alex_Botten.html

Guest Blog – Jim (Depression & Photography)

SunriseMy name is Jim and I’m a long-term sufferer of depression, going back to when my Dad died when I was 12 (I’m 53 now, 3 years younger than my Dad was when he died. For a coalminer, he didn’t have too bad an innings). As life has gone on, the depression has ebbed and flowed, but never left. I’ve occasionally been deluded enough to think it had run its course, but it always comes back to haunt me in many varied ways. Sometimes it has obvious and evident causes – relationship breakups, a few severe physical traumas, unemployment and so on, but now and again it’ll catch me unawares.

I’ve had most of the modern antidepressants – I started on the lovely Amitriptiyline, which I now take in a much lower dosage for nerve pain, but they won’t allow me to use it as an antidepressant anymore. I don’t get on with any of the SSRI’s I’ve tried, so I’ll only use them as a very last resort. The last one I tried was Citalopram, which seemed to have less side effects than the rest, but it still increased my anxiety levels to beyond the pale.

Anxiety has been a constant companion for the past 20 or so years, following an unprovoked attack in which I was stabbed and almost killed. I was on diazepam for 5 or 6 years, but came off that cold turkey after hassles with psychiatrists. I’ve also used Beta blockers (propranolol) for lengthy periods of time. They’re fine if you can live without adrenaline.

I’ve undergone various therapies, mostly in vain. 2 equally disastrous attempts at psychoanalysis has left me with a healthy contempt of analysts. Counselling helps, but only up to a point. A course of CBT worked well, but I felt it was a bit too short. I still use tricks I picked up there to help now (but at the end of the day, they are just tricks).

I’ve kind of drifted around from job to job, quite successfully at times. After school I lounged around on the dole for a bit before going to Art College. Prior to Art College, I’d met up with an Art Therapist during a period of hospitalisation, who remains a good friend to this day, and he had kickstarted me into taking my artwork seriously. College was a bit disastrous, really and undid all the good he’d done. When I left I never wanted to paint again. I did gain some experience of photography and darkrooms, though, and a love of photography has remained with me ever since. I never did get the chance to build my own darkroom, but it was always a plan until digital cameras came along.

During student life I did as many others did and worked in bars and restaurants to keep myself solvent and drunk. When I left, I kind of stayed with it, finding a sleazy late night place I liked and taking on the kitchen duties. I was the chef, interior decorator, menu designer, and promoter of a small but select back street dive with a late licence and live music every night of the week. Life did not get much better. When managership was offered, I took it, along with becoming the sole licensee of the premises when the owners moved on to bigger and not necessarily better things around the corner. It wasn’t to last. (see 3rd paragraph, I don’t want to talk about it)

I lost about 5 years or so to Post Traumatic Stress, lived on benefits, became a recluse… that kind of thing. While I’d been running the venue, I’d used my “showbiz” contacts and had a good run as a “performance poet”, doing regular gigs on my nights off from the club, self-publishing a couple of books, recording cassettes and so on. That all stumbled to a drunken halt too, though some friends did get me to record a CD with some funding they procured. I didn’t promote it and it didn’t serve any purpose, really, except as a vanity project.

I met my wife around this time, and when she became pregnant with our first child (we now have 4!) it occurred to me that I should quit my low down lounging ways and get back into the world of work.

What to do though? I’d had enough of restaurant and bar work, but there wasn’t much else I was any good at, so I ended up slaving away in a string of call centres just to bring a wage home at the end of the week. It made me desperately miserable, but I had a potential family to support, so I gritted my teeth and answered those phones as cheerfully and helpfully as I could. As soon as one job got too much, I’d move on. That kind of work was plentiful, once you had your foot in the door, and most places had a high turnover of staff.

Once we had a baby or two in our arms, it became clear to us that city life had lost its attraction, and when a chance came up to drop everything and move to rural Wales, we did just that. I scrabbled around taking any work I could get for a while, while trying to live as simple and uncomplicated a life as possible. I gave up car ownership when my Transit van was leaking oil everywhere and due to fail its MOT. I started to use my bicycle, which I’d always had, as my primary mode of transport. I got a job in a bike shop. I went to work for a cycling charity. I now teach safe cycling and general road safety to children.

I bought one of the first waterproof and shockproof digital compact cameras, and still have it. I took it everywhere with me. It fitted nicely into my pocket, and didn’t fall apart if I fell off my bike or dropped it, or wandered into the sea with it. Having a bicycle and a camera is a magical combination. Driving along and seeing something magnificent is frustrating if you can’t stop to get your camera out. On a bike, you nearly always can. Having a camera gives you an excuse to look at things, and to look at them again, from another angle. It gives you an excuse to lay down on the floor an look closely at a beetle or a flower. It gives you a reason to look outwards from yourself, which is sometimes very difficult if you’re in the grip of a deep depression. A camera is something to go for a walk with. You don’t need another person (though another photographer is always perfect company – they won’t talk you to death or walk too fast!).

Through posting my photos online I’ve met many like-minded people, some have remained online-only friends, some have become firm real life friends, just because we both enjoy taking and posting pictures.

I learned a lot from other bloggers and my own photography took on new dimensions. This wouldn’t have been possible without the interweb and digital cameras. I briefly joined a sketching club many years ago, and I’ve been a member of too many writers’ groups to know that an Amateur Photography Group who meet at the local fishing club headquarters every other Thursday would never have benefitted me in the same way.

I bought a DSLR, thinking it would open new doors, give me more creative control, but it wasn’t the right size, and it didn’t sem to do a great deal more than my compact does, so I let it gather dust for a year or so before passing it on to my wife, on condition that she buy me a new compact. It’s even more shock, water and freeze proof than my old one (which my oldest daughter now has) and will soon, when I’ve got a cradle for it, be heading skywards attached to the string my kite. KAP, or Kite Arial Photography is something I’ve wanted to try since my online friend Joker posted some photos…

I’m deeply depressed at the moment. I broke my wrist in a cycling accident about 3 months ago, and the lack of physical activity coupled with the general trauma and pain of a badly broken bone has sent me into a downward spiral. I love my wife and children more than anything in the world, but home is a bit claustrophobic at the moment, and `I must be a right pain in the arse to live with just now. The dreary wet winter weather doesn’t help, but even when I can’t get out, I can find something around the house which will make an interesting subject. My camera can captivate me like nothing else can, but capturing the image, perhaps tweaking it a bit (I used to be a photoshop obsessive, but beyond a little light cropping I don’t retouch or manipulate at all anymore) is only half the process. It’s not “done” till it’s been posted online.

Last year, my friend’s mother attracted my attention by creating a blog called “Silent Sunday” which consisted of a single photo, taken during that week and posted every Sunday, with no words or title or caption or anything. I started one, but it fell into disuse. I’m resurrecting it this week. It’s here

My camera, it’s window I can look out of, wherever I am.

In search of a superhero?

I’ve been playing with my iPad a bit over Christmas, partly to try and push the winter blues away through being creative and partly to see what apps would be good to use in mental health settings.

I will be writing a more detailed blog about audio apps, I have found some great things but need to look at them more closely before working out how I can use them to make music.

So just a shortish post looking at a couple of little fun art/creative apps I have been playing with. I’ve never been that great at drawing but have always been interested in comics and graphic novels and have had great fun with this –

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Buddy Poke is a 3D avitar maker where you can create a comic version of yourself easily and then pose it for photos, change clothes, make little films. Great fun and I can see it being great to use in workshops. This is myself and how I want to approach 2013, feeling good and upbeat 🙂

The other app I have played with is Comic Life a comic making app that uses templates to easily get a comic built using photos and putting your own words in – here’s my first attempt. Setralineman was an attempt to tell a serious simple story using images I had on my iPad. I think this kind of simple easy to use app shows real promise to work with people to express themselves through art, without having to be scared of drawing etc. you can concentrate on the narrative and what message you want to get over.

Will look forward to getting stuck into it more and making a longer form comic to try and tell more of my story and to find ways for others to do the same.

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I will be writing much more about such things but will say again I am not a professional mental health worker, I am a community based musician and digital artist with mental health problems, so this is very much a personal journey for me, both emotionally and creatively. If you suffer from any mental health issues please go and see a professional, go to your GP, go to MIND or another like minded organisation, all the comments on this blog are about me and are personal observations rather than anything else.