The darkest hour comes before the dawn.
Have you ever had a migraine? A headache where the hurt comes in flashes and pulses, and you experience a split second of pain so intense that you wish to be outside your own head. A split second where you feel separate from humanity and – religious or not – hope and pray that the feeling isn’t going to last forever.
This is somewhat analogous with my experience of mental health. People, I think, assume that depression and anxiety are a constantly smouldering fire and, in a way, they are. You get used to the constant hum of anxiety and the dull ache of depression: swallowing the rising panic and grasping at the fleeting thoughts are a part of life. But, sometimes, similar to a migraine, everything becomes overwhelming.
I remember sitting on my bed once, begging under my breath that anybody and everybody would come and help me.
Sometimes it feels like too much.
Usually at the weekend I do anything I can to avoid getting dressed. A mixture of medication and millennial entitlement renders me far too tired to achieve anything. However, on Saturday, I bit the bullet; rode the bucking bronco that is social anxiety and visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s the sort of place that makes me want to write, and to explore myself and to question everything I already know. Personally, I think this is a mixture of the ravishing scenery and the tuna and lemon sandwich with leaves that tipped me far outside my comfort zone but to be fair, it could just be that I was doing something –for once – which wasn’t on Youtube.
Alfredo Jaar is a Chilean born artist, writer and film-maker whose exhibition, The Garden of Good and Evil, is currently installed in the Underground Gallery. I tend not to be very good at places where there is a mixture of outdoor and indoor activities in the winter, because hats give me a headache (told you – millennial) but I was lucky yesterday that I had left my hat at home.
Sometimes, you see something that explains everything.
This is Jaar’s neon sign.
My experience on the other side of anorexia is that the difficult lies in the repetition. Everyday I must eat, and everyday I will have to fight against the urge to follow anorexia’s doctrine. The dichotomy is tiring and painful and boring.
Sometimes, I think that I cannot go on. Sometimes I wake up with the idea already lodged in my head that too much time has passed for anything to ever change. That everything will always be grey and meaningless and that all the words and all the days are a tautology of the all the days that have already gone before.
But Jaar’s message is comforting. His exploration of despair, experienced through three galleries and in three different mediums illustrates a catalogue of human suffering that is very real and very present, but also – perhaps most importantly – that is both permanent and fleeting. The girls, grieving for their father who has just been shot by rebel militants, burned onto my eyeballs with white light, are forever documented in their grief, but also, because the photograph is such an instantaneous medium, are documented in the beginning of their ‘going on’. The infamous photograph in which a vulture preys over a dying child, crawling to find aid shows the moment where social conscience awoke to the pain of starvation yet forgot the humanity of the photo’s author. Where people became outraged at the fate of famine victims, they forgot the fate of the photographer who became the scapegoat for hunger. One photo; one split second: a whole future diverging. Despite her impish innocence, Nguyen Thi Thuy is not a carefree child but a refugee: a victim of instability and violence in a land which is not her own. In documenting her despair using photography, Jaar shows us that it is both everlasting and already finished and, in the same way, and ending and a beginning.
All these people can not go on, and do not go on because their photographs capture so finally a moment of grief, and yet time has passed so they are no longer living in doubt, but moving forward through necessity. When these photos were taken; these films made, these people were already going on; when I wander round a gallery on a sunny Saturday, these events are memories. Painful, yes, but moved on from. Perhaps the most powerful part of a split second of hopelessness, of not being able to go on, is that it gives birth to going on-ness.
Jaar tells me that, even when I believe that I cannot continue, in that moment I already am. Even in the depths of depression and the corners of anxiety; I am already surging forwards, and this gives me hope.
Perhaps it’s not that the darkest hour comes before the dawn, but that the darkest hour is the beginning of the dawn?
I can’t go on
I’ll go on