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“I spent many years in denial and running from depression.”
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- By : erzählmal.
Bei diesem Beitrag handelt es sich um ein erzählmal.-Spezial auf Englisch. Wir bekamen die Chance, mit dem neuseeländischen Buchautoren Brent Williams zu sprechen und möchten seine Worte nicht durch unsere Übersetzung färben.
Brent Williams is a New Zealand Community Lawyer who built his career to help vulnerable people – particularly children, young people, and victims of family violence. He moved to Tübingen about a year ago to self-publish his first book – a graphic novel. “Out of the Woods – A Journey Through Depression and Anxiety” illustrates Brent’s personal experience with depression and anxiety. He decided to make his own struggle public in order to help other sufferers understand and eventually overcome the disease. He’s currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the process of promoting the book.
erzählmal: “Out of the Woods” tells your personal story through depression and anxiety. What exactly does the reader get to see in the book?
Brent: I start the story at the point I was depressed, lost and very confused about what was happening. The story then tracks my journey out of depression with all its ups and downs, insights, hard work, and joys too. It is not a linear recovery – depression rarely is. Neither is depression just about a physical illness. Yes, it is that but its much more too. It is also about self-discovery and without wanting to sound too pompous, liberation! I wanted to capture all these elements in my book.
erzählmal: Why did you decide to share your experiences publicly? Did you plan to publish a book about your depression when you got sick?
Brent: No. Publishing a book about myself, and talking about some of the most intimate experiences in my life, was certainly not on my mind at any stage – neither when I was depressed nor later when I had recovered. I tried to write a bland self-help book but it didn’t want to come out. When I started to be honest and write what I experienced the floodgates opened. I had little control over the process. Same when I started to talk publically about the book.
»I wanted to reach people when they were in the pits of depression, not when they were well.«
erzählmal: Has everything we see in the book really happened?
Brent: Yes! In a few places I had to change the location so as not to head off into another country, which would have needed too much explaining. But everything is very faithful to my actual experiences – childhood memories, conversations, dreams, emotions and events. I kept journals so they were a very good source for me to make sure I recalled things accurately.
erzählmal: The story you tell is very personal and shows difficult moments of your life. What was your family’s and friends’ reaction to the book?
Brent: A mixture. There was a lot of childhood abuse in my first family and the scars are still raw. It’s not something we can talk about easily. I have been the first to talk publically. Some have been really supportive – my Mum especially. My little sister said to me: “let the crows fly”*, which was very brave of her too.
erzählmal: There’s not many graphic novels in the “mental health” sector. How did you come up with the idea?
Brent: When I was depressed I couldn’t read text. And others experience this too. I wanted to reach people when they were in the pits of depression, not when they were well. It had to be in pictures. There wasn’t another option really if I wanted to help people. And illustrations allowed me to cover the information, my story and the emotional journey all at once. It was the perfect medium.
»The worst part: the utter hopelessness and the pain of wanting to end my life.«
erzählmal: The book has been printed and published in several languages already – what do you need Kickstarter for?
Brent: Publishing a book like this you become a mental health advocate and I enjoy this role. There is so much shame and stigma that goes with depression, which keeps people depressed. Talking about my experience helps others come forward, get help and start their recovery journeys. Unfortunately you don’t get rich, or even get an income from self-publishing a single book about depression. All the book’s income and more goes into the costs of producing it, printing it and promoting it. The Kickstarter campaign would cover my basic expenses and enable me to continue this work over the next 12 months. There are many people contributing to this project – all volunteers and I am very grateful for their support and commitment. It is humbling.
erzählmal: What exactly was the timeline of your illness? How long did it take you to recover?
Brent: It was a 10 year experience from when I became depressed to when I could really say I was well and strong. There were many different phases in this and I spent many years in denial and running from depression but the whole journey was a decade.
erzählmal: What’s the worst part of being depressed to you?
Brent: The utter hopelessness and the pain of wanting to end my life. It’s a pain that is so hard to describe. I later got cancer and experienced pain that was excruciating. But depression’s painful hopelessness was in a class of its own and very dangerous.
»You can’t deal with depression on your own.«
erzählmal: What helped you personally to get well?
Brent: So many things big and small. The biggest I guess are: facing your depression, not running from it and getting help. You can’t deal with depression on your own. It changes your thinking and emotions so much you lose the resources you thought you had to cope. You need a lot of help and support to get through.
erzählmal: In the book you have a guardian angel who’s following you on your journey. Who is that?
Brent: He is my older wiser self, watching me go through all the ups and downs and helping me when I get stuck. Did I have that person in the middle of depression? In a way I did. So he also represents the spark of hope and inner voice that I found to overcome depression’s voice, especially in my darkest moments. Had I not found that I would not have gone to my doctor, not found a therapist and not done many other good things to help myself. This character’s informed wisdom is the sum of my total journey and what I learned in the 3 years of writing my book and getting well. To readers he could be a friend, a therapist, or a spouse. I wanted to leave it open, so people could bring their own ‘helper’ into the story.
»Walking away from my 30-year marriage exacerbated the guilt and shame that went with depression.«
erzählmal: You describe how being depressed made you leave your family, workplace and surroundings because it was “the only thing that seemed to make sense”. What do you think about this decision and what’s your relationship to your family now?
Brent: It was extreme but at the time it felt like the only way I knew how to preserve my life. I didn’t know how to change within the roles I had created in my family. I was much too rigid and lacked insight into what was happening. I was completely burnt out and felt the only way I could survive was to be on my own with no demands from anyone else, especially my family – my own family and my first family. Of course, there were other better ways, but I didn’t know them then and neither did my family. Walking away from my 30-year marriage and responsibilities as a committed father were also unbearable and confusing for me as well as them and this only exacerbated the guilt and shame that went with depression.
erzählmal: Do you regret having made the step of leaving them?
Brent: Yes, I wish it had worked out differently. There was so much pain and I really regret that they had to go through this. I still love them, even more now in a way because I have so much more capacity to be available, and my children know this and we have good contact now. So much has changed. I cannot go back to what was. Ten years on it’s about building new relationships with them all. Finding new ways to love my children and be there for them. Some close friends at the time are still angry and unable to forgive me for walking away from my family. But I live in hope that even these relationships will mend in time.
»There is the chance for a wonderful life after depression.«
erzählmal: What kind of advice do you give people with depression and their family members?
Brent: Understand the illness. Get help. Surrender to being helped. Open yourself up to change. There is a reason you are depressed. In most cases you can’t just take a pill and carry on thinking you will get better. Everyone needs to work together to understand what is going on and why. Only then you can make progress. It’s not easy, some people prefer to stay depressed – but what a shame and what a waste of life. There is the chance for a wonderful life after depression.
erzählmal: Do you have any other projects or maybe a new book planed?
Brent: Never again! One is enough (laughs). But seriously, a psychiatrist who loves my book wants me to write a graphic novel about psychosis. It is appealing. I would like to do one about another mental health issue that is not about my own life. And I would not self-publish it. I have learnt that this is a one-off labour of love and you can’t do that too often.
Editor’s note: If you’d like to contribute to Brent’s Kickstarter campaign, click here.
Anmerkung der Redaktion: Wer die Kickstarter-Kampagne von Brent unterstützen möchte, kann dies über diesen Link tun.
*English saying: To go in a direct line (beeline), without any of the detours caused by following a road.