If You Really Believed in God

“You Wouldn't Be So Depressed If You Really Believed in God” is a photographic response to my lifelong battle with depression. Through abstracted self-portraiture I attempt to portray my inner world as I navigate life with an invisible illness.

“You Wouldn't Be So Depressed If You Really Believed in God” is a photographic response to my lifelong battle with depression. Through abstracted self-portraiture, I explore how this invisible illness affects my children, my creative practice, and my relationship with daily life. In turn, through photography I look at how my faith (or lack there of), cultural assumptions, and role as mother shape how I understand and relate to depression. I do not attempt to create self-portraits in the traditional sense, but instead I show the fragmented and sometimes distorted ways in which I experience relationships and the mundane rituals of every day life. How inanimate objects can often represent more than just an eaten orange and how depression can make your world, regardless of how beautiful and safe it might be, feel heavy, dark and frightening.

Whenever I was having a particularly hard time, my mother would say to me: “You wouldn’t be so depressed if you really believed in God,” or “If you just have faith and God allows it.” As a child, this advice made me feel like I was not only failing God and my family, but that I was completely powerless. Only God had the power to provide me conciliation. I became afraid and resigned to the fact that I would never know peace.

After I went to college, I very rarely expressed myself about the turmoil I was regularly experiencing and instead channeled my discomfort through drinking and trying my best to pretend all was well. It has always felt so exhausting being around others. Then I came across Jane Kenyon’s poem “Having it out with Melancholy”, and discovered that the same phrase my mother so often said to me, “You wouldn’t be so depressed if you really believed in God,” appears in her poem. The poem is one of the most powerful and accurate depictions of depression that I have read, and it filled me with great emotion to read that the “advice” which had haunted me since childhood had factored into Kenyon’s life as well.

The first section of the poem, cited below, was a catalyst for me to begin this photographic series and allow myself a form of catharsis.

“1. FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited

behind a pile of linen in the nursery,

and when we were alone, you lay down

on top of me, pressing

the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on

everything under the sun and moon

made me sad-even the yellow

wooden beads that slid and spun

along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.

You ruined my manners toward God:

“We’re here simply to wait for death;

The pleasures of earth are overrated.”

I only appeared to belong to my mother,

To live among blocks and cotton undershirts

With snaps; among red tin lunchboxes

And report cards in ugly brown slipcases.

I was already yours - the anti-urge,

The mutilator of souls.

……….

3. Suggestion From a Friend

You Wouldn’t be so depressed

If you really believed in God.”

- Jane Kenyon

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