When I take inspiration from films, I usually try to reference them in my titles. In this case, my imagery draws heavily from the 1960's French film "Blood and Roses." It's a mesmerizing tale of vampires and unrequited love, and it unfolds like a painting has come to life, or rather, various paintings have been woven together to create a visual masterpiece that is equal parts horror, love story, tragedy and art.
You can feel our heroine Carmella unraveling as the story progresses, and a doctor's commentary raises just enough questions that we can never say for sure which events are real, and which are products of Carmella's deteriorating mind and childlike imagination. Carmella's unraveling is not unlike the story of Kathleen Hagen, so it seemed like a perfect fit. Kathleen's mind was in a state of decay and illusion — a feeling that I am acutely familiar with.
I knew immediately that I wanted to build a set in a state of decay and shoot in the woods. The problem I had was representing that state of mind in the style of pin up or noir. So, while I went with typical pin up & vintage boudoir costume choices, you'll notice classic gothic and horror motifs throughout this series. (See bloodstained white nightgown.) My goal here was to really capture the feeling of loosing ones mind. I felt compelled to show this in part because I frequently see cute comics and encouraging articles about dealing with depression and anxiety and I always feel that they just scratch the surface. Things like fear of social interaction and the inability to leave bed are frequent topics, and while they are certainly nothing to belittle, the less palatable issues like paranoia, disassociation, and hallucinations tend to get pushed aside. I think people tend to associate these things with "scarier" illnesses like schizophrenia, but for someone suffering from manic or chronic depression, frequent insomnia can lead to a host of psychotic symptoms. In Kathleen's case, it led her much farther.
That can be a sobering fact for many of us struggling with depression. We live in a society that values a strong work ethic above all else, and scoffs at the idea that someone could be struggling because they are tired. “We’re all tired,” seems to be a popular response. For us insomniacs, we may sometimes feel like we have a bit of an edge over “normal” people when it comes to this. Staying up all night — or days on end for that matter — is not uncommon for many of us. I remember tossing and turning and writhing in frustration while I was in college. Coupled with my overactive creativity and ambition, sleeping was damn near impossible. I eventually decided to put my insomnia “to good use” and stay up all night working. If my body didn’t want sleep, I guess I didn’t need It, right? This contradicted every medical opinion I’d ever heard, but I convinced myself anyway.
I was getting more work done, and I have to be honest, while it wasn’t my best, it wasn’t terrible either. My professors were still impressed by my thoughts or words or whatever. Trouble arose when I started doing odd things. I sat under a table in class because it was “more comfortable,” I’d see shadow people on the subway and around street corners and I just knew they were coming for me. I was even going into my second closest Duane Reade and buying things in the middle of the night, having conversations with people that I couldn’t remember. (I still have no clue why I didn’t choose the closest Duane Reade.) I only discovered this when I went during the day one time and a cashier made a comment about how it was weird to see me during the day. All the things that had been showing up around my apartment suddenly made sense. There was not a creature sneaking in and replenishing shampoo and cigarettes while I was gone. This isn't a sleep-medication horror story either. I wasn’t taking anything for sleep at the time. I was just so fucking exhausted that my body and mind didn’t know what to do with themselves.
I’ve had bad reactions to plenty of medications too, but that’s a story for another time. Now I have to take medicine every night before bed. I don’t care about the stigma, I don’t care about new research that suggests sleep quality is not as good on medication. If you can get on without it, you absolutely should, but if you’re stuck, and the alternative is seeing shadow people on the subway ... well, I’ll take poorer sleep quality over no sleep any day.
Anyway, I believe Dr. Kathleen Hagen’s official diagnosis was manic depression, or bipolar disorder, and she was sent to a hospital instead of a prison as it was clear she’d had no idea what she was doing at the time. I’m really glad the state came through on this one, as it can too often be a shit show when crime and mental illness collide. It’s just too difficult to understand these mindsets if you haven’t experienced something similar first hand.
What I can’t stress enough is that Bipolar disorder, Anxiety and Depression can absolutely cause audible and visual hallucinations, and can lead to intense paranoia and disassociation under the right (?) circumstances. We can’t really capture these feelings in cute cartoons or cheeky memes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them. I swore for the longest time that I was the only one on earth suffering from my specific form of insanity, and thought that I was basically incurable. I now realize how ridiculous that is and I want to help as many people as possible avoid that way of thinking.
We may not have our own cutesy paraphernalia to raise awareness for these “scarier” aspects of depression. The closest I’ve ever gotten is this Cerberus drawing.
It’s ... not cute. But neither is depression. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding humor in it, as that can be a great way to cope, but I want our societal discussions on mental illness to scratch deeper. It’s extremely difficult to talk about these scarier aspects of our illness — its taken me awhile to get to this point, and it’s something I force myself to be as open as possible about. But I can do better, we can all do better.
And I don’t mean to imply that you should push yourself into doing anything that makes your depression worse, but find your limits, figure out your triggers, decide if your lifestyle needs changing — I had to move out of New York City because living there made me sicker. Think carefully about the people in your life, and if they’re harmful, distance yourself. And please, get some fucking rest. It’s so important. Take care of yourself, no matter how difficult that may be, because we often think the worst case scenario is that we’ll commit suicide. I think most of us are pretty numb to that thought, right? Once you’ve contemplated it 15-20 times or so, it sort of looses its scare factor. But suicide isn’t the only end game — Dr. Kathleen Hagen killed two people she loved, and it wasn’t because she had some extraordinary mental disorder or a violent personality. Kathleen could have been any of us. Any of us could become the next Kathleen if we neglect caring for our illness.
Miss Arsenous Apple Pie