How a Children's Book Author Drew Her Depression
‘Night Shift’ began as a series of huge black and white drawings with no plan to publish them as a book. I’ve been a writer and illustrator of children’s books for all my working life, so the idea of investing so much time in a project with no clear purpose other than itself was something of a departure for me. However, at the time, it felt like exactly the right thing to do.
I’ve had depressive illness in one form or another since I was 25, and finally, I decided it was time to attempt to describe what felt like to be inside my head without recourse to words. I hoped that by drawing the territory, I might not be forced to revisit it so often, or if nothing else, provide myself with a map for future episodes.
As I drew the images of a small human becoming more and more beset by dragons, I wondered if the drawings might make sense to anyone who was familiar with this illness. Or if the drawings could help families understand what was happening to their loved ones? Maybe by using images, we could get some kind of s.o.s signal out from the bottom of the abyss? In my experience, trying to send the same signal with words wasn’t working. Words failed or were open to misinterpretation. ‘I feel awful’ can so readily be misconstrued to mean ‘You’re not able to help, are you?’.
And as for the many people down the years who helpfully inform us how lucky, how well-resourced, how comparatively blessed we, the sufferers of depressive illness are, and all that we need to do is pull ourselves together and get a grip…well, the drawings might give even those people some pause for thought.
I finished the images and took stock. They were powerful enough to make me feel as if I was about to fall back into the abyss. Yet there, on the final double page spread was an ending of sorts, with a hopeful twist. I sent a selection of the drawings to my agent Penny Holroyde and she immediately called back to tell me how much she loved them. And eighteen months later, she was shepherding me into a meeting with the amazing and hugely supportive team at Hot Key who are now the publishers of ‘Night Shift’.
This probably sounds like the best dream of getting-your-book-published ever. In fact, shouldn’t I be out there, glass in hand, celebrating the book’s upcoming publication date? What’s wrong with me? Don’t I know how lucky I am? Oh. No. I know I’m lucky, but the signal isn’t getting through. Right now, I’m in the prodromal phase of fog and exhaustion that precedes yet another descent into illness.
For me, now, the only way to avoid that is to lace up my running shoes and get out in the winter air and literally run for my life. Wish me luck…