“My work tangles depression, self-harm and sci-fi. Instead of seeing it as a failure to cope I recognize the survival skills within depression. This re-framed resilience is just a starting point, as I go on to explore the strategic use of such behaviours and non-verbal gestures.
In 2018 I published a short story in Kontur journal, Sigh-fi, in which a global crisis leads to the visibility of the lived experience of depression. The crisis is a loss in gravity, and the story describes people’s struggles in this new destabilised reality: from re-learning how to walk, to religious uprisings. A silly joke – the weight of melancholy is real, and acts as a counterbalance – acts as the twist in the tale, swapping the roles of able-bodied and disabled. Depressed people are surprisingly well suited to the new normal.
With the arrival of COVID-19 some things that were speculative have moved into real time. Lockdown is eerily familiar for those of us who are used to being stuck inside all day, alone, crushed by despair or anxiety. To being forced into financial precarity by job losses or crap sick pay. To time dilating. While the crisis has caused serious mental distress, it’s also been weirdly uplifting to see our daily struggles shared en masse and given credit.
When I applied for home residency grant I suggested updating Sigh-fi to take our COVID-19 reality into account. But now I realise it’s the collision between the two that’s interesting, not a smooth merger. I’ve been writing a new text that begins with the hyper-empathic protagonists in Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novels, then turns it around to ask why depression is only ever a character trait, never a skill set.
Linking this to the present, I’m curious about the new modes of communication and relation that emerge from crisis. Our new habits to combat the virus – face masks, no handshakes, two metres apart, video-conferencing – share something with depressive behaviours, in that both change the terms of access to us. I want to look past the refusals to see what this renegotiation of boundaries might offer, using the residency time to develop a performance.
Self-isolating is a privilege not shared by medics, carers and many workers. To do this supported by the Kone Foundation grant is doubly so. The residency has been a safety net for me, not only for the financial relief from unemployment, but because of how it’s run. I’m in an online community with the other residents, and weekly meetings give structure to days that would otherwise drift. It’s a setup that is also ideal for disabled or chronically ill artists but which was only introduced when able-bodied people needed it. This accessibility must remain when the virus has gone.”