This article appeared in Issue 12 of the wonderful Oh Comely Magazine. It was my first piece of writing to ever get published.
I had my first therapist at 15. I took my first antidepressant drug at 23. I bought my first sewing machine at 24. That was two months ago.
My counsellor refers to depression as “that big black dog.” I know that dog pretty well by now. Being depressed is not the same as feeling really sad. Apart from the low mood, there is anhedonia—the inability to experience pleasure. It becomes hard to find anything that excites you or makes you feel good. I stopped dancing, going out with friends, going to lectures. It became difficult to think of a reason to get out of bed in the morning. But then for some reason or another, I got excited about making my own clothes.
The first fabric I ever bought was a gorgeous dark green silk. A tiny local haberdashery shop was holding a temporary silk sale. I thought the opportunity was too good to miss. I hadn’t even ordered a sewing machine yet. I went online and looked for free patterns—very tricky. Eventually I printed off an A4 drawing of a 50s-style dress and took it to the shop. The lady selling the silks spent a good half hour trying to figure out how many metres of fabric I would need for the dress I was vaguely referring to.
One thing I love about sewing is that it allows me to connect with my mum. I told her about the depression and the drugs last Christmas, and ever since it felt awkward to talk to her. It was as if the black dog was in the room, whether we acknowledged it or not. But then I got the idea to learn how to sew, and suddenly we had loads to talk about. I showed her various patterns I was considering. She thought they were all too difficult. I had no idea it was harder to sew a neckline with corners than a round one.
In the end, I ordered a pattern for a fitted sleeveless dress. I didn’t want to ruin my beautiful silk, so I bought a purple Primark sheet to make a practice dress. Armed with a big book on sewing and the instructions that came with the pattern, I gave it a go. It wasn’t easy and I got stuck at times, but with the help of my mum gesticulating via webcam and googling lots of technical terms, I managed to produce a wearable garment. I have made three dresses so far and I already have the fabric to make three more.
I guess it’s a coping mechanism. The day before a dreaded psychiatric evaluation, I sewed for six hours. I only took a break to eat when my hands started shaking. Then, the other day, I had spent the night sleepless with the black dog, and only made it from my bed to the sofa around three in the afternoon. At five, I made myself set up the sewing machine, even though I didn’t feel like it. But then I started to sew, and kept sewing. When my housemate came home in the evening, he was relieved to be greeted by the familiar rattling sound. His words were, “I was getting seriously worried about you. But now I know you are alright.”