I feel like I’ve written this story before, but this time the ending is different, because in fact there is no ending.
I have written several articles about my mental health and they have always had a similar shape: the revelation that I’ve had difficulties with my mental health off and on throughout my life, that I had an epiphany that a practice was working for me, and ta-da! Now I’m better. What I didn’t realise was I was always seeking happiness as a destination, a state to achieve and keep. And invariably, I would dip again.
When I went up to Oxford to study languages, I’d left behind mental health difficulties in the family – difficult to acknowledge or talk about in a nicely-kept cul de sac nestled in the Warwickshire countryside, so I didn’t and as such my own began to brew. Hertford was an incredibly contented and exciting time for me, but I also struggled with the pressure of deadlines and managing my time.
After leaving, I subsequently struggled for most of my 20s with crushing anxiety, dissociation and depression. I continued to smile through it, as most would know me to do – I performed my way through it – and developed a kind of colourful shell of success and shininess. I carved an ambitious career up though the publishing ranks at a global educational house, but under the surface I would swing between anxiety, low, low mood and hyper excitement about fresh starts. At a time in life when you are surrounded by so many people, it was also really lonely because I felt separate, and that is a symptom of mental illness.
Depression disconnects you from yourself and from others. I used to, and sometimes still do, take solace in my academic mind and try to logically reason my way out of anxiety, to learn about mental health professionally and work my way out, and I’d be happy forever. Instead, I simply started going round in ever tightening circles.
In those difficult times, outside work hours, I gradually found drawing, writing, creating and practising yoga on my terms, gently and regularly, helped me feel grounded yet lighter. They weren’t huge epiphanies – simply small individual moments of relief and peace. Over time, I realised these were easy things that I could go through the motions with without needing to think too much, and the little moments added up to longer stretches. Slowly, it dawned that anxious and low thoughts were symptomatic of being disconnected from myself, rather than truth.
I found peace doing simple things that got my creative flow going, regularly, and in accepting whatever I was feeling. It was ok not to always feel ok. Happiness wasn’t a destination, nor a dramatic dénouement. It was engaging in regular happy-hormone-inducing activities, time and time again. Accepting that I live with depression, and that is ok – I am not the only one.
Over the past year, I have set about building a business and career – The World of Amy – that pops these little happy hormone moments into people’s lives and sight lines, celebrating connection and humanity, whilst also allowing me to manage my own mental health every day. I celebrate and create connections between people, bring pockets of lightness through art, movement, and breath into everyday life. In doing so, it helps me remain connected and grounded, and in a healthy state of creative flow, and raises the level of happy hormones in society around us.
When I was 14, my art teacher told me not to bother with art GCSE – to stick to science or something more academic for a secure future. It’s taken me 23 years to realise how wrong that decision was because when I am drawing, I feel happy. It is as simple as that. So I’m about to start an MA in Illustration with Falmouth University and will follow this next chapter. There is no ending. There’s just always the next moment.
I’d love to invite you to find your next happy moment with some doodling, some play, and maybe even come and try a movement or breathwork class? Have a look and see what works for you!