“Fuzzy is drawn as an externalization of my depression because when I am in good space I know that the things depression tells me aren’t true and that I don’t have to believe them.”

Name: Jess
Art materials: Prismacolor Pencil

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am 27 years old and have been coping with depression and anxiety for most of my life. The catalyst for me in trying to focus on recovery and wellness came in college when I experienced my first severe episode of suicidal ideation. I’d like to say that I have all of the answers to keeping depression and anxiety at bay these days, but the most important thing I have learned is that they come and go. The best I can do is to learn the cues for when they come and make sure I am surrounded by people and things I know will support me through the bad days. In the day time I work in the mental health field with teens and try to help families communicate and strengthen their relationships to support young people with mental illnesses.

Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from wanting to create a way to show those with depression and anxiety that they are not alone. I also want to help to make some of the feelings that come along with depression and anxiety more relatable to those who do not have a mental illness. Many people experience sadness, fear, hopelessness, worry, etc., these are things people regularly experience. But when they are intensified or when a person becomes stuck in them is when they become symptoms of a mental illness. Fuzzy is drawn as an externalization of my depression because when I am in a good place, I know that the things depression tells me aren’t true and I don’t have to believe them. I am a strong and positive person who loves to enjoy life– and these things are always true despite what Fuzzy has to say about it.

Has externalizing your disorder made it any easier to live with?
Yes, I think externalizing my depression has made it somewhat easier to live with. For me it helps take away some of those guilty feelings that can creep up like, “why am I so sad all the time?” “Why am I broken?” “Why can’t I just be “normal?” (Whatever that means anyway!). I know that these thoughts and feelings created by Fuzzy do not reflect who I really am as a person. The thoughts are just a result of the depression taking control.

Tell us about your creative process. 
There isn’t really a shortage of topics to draw about. Depression is always present in my life whether it is quietly standing by or actively interfering with my day. I start with a basic list of situations where I feel the most depressed. These often include some of the frustrations I feel around others not understanding. One night I woke up suddenly around 3 AM with over 70 ideas for drawings. They just flooded out of me! I am continuously working my way through this list. Although it can be difficult to keep up because as things happen in my every day life, I focus on those first because I draw best when I am currently feeling whatever the drawing is about. I usually don’t outline or plan before creating a drawing. I pick a location, what I am doing, and what Fuzzy is saying to me in the moment.

What is the story behind your artwork, if any?
I started creating my artwork about two years ago when I was in graduate school. I was sharing a poster presentation on some research pertaining to adolescent depression and suicide. Many people showed interest in my project and I felt pretty good about it. At the end of the class time, one person came up to me and said that he liked my project but he didn’t know what depression really looked like. I felt a little stuck in that moment, because I knew exactly what my depression looked like but it was not the time nor place for self disclosure. I quoted some DSM information, but it didn’t feel sufficient to me. I know that depression can look different to everyone who experiences it. Fuzzy is how it appears to me. While there are some traditional images of depression that I can relate to in some way, the dark shadowy figures never really did it for me. The scariest part of my depression/Fuzzy is that it pretends to be my friend and I can’t always see when it is influencing me negatively. Fuzzy likes to validate all of my worst fears and concerns. He tells me the thoughts that I have are true when others tell me they are not (like I’m not good enough, etc.). He wants me to stay in bed all day and give in to all my negative coping skills. He sees the road to recovery and wellness is difficult and tiring, and he tells me that its okay to quit.

Being a brightly colored ball of fuzz, he does seem to accurately portray the look of innocence, which goes along with what you said about him pretending to be your friend. When (and how) did you know what you wanted him to look like?
I knew immediately what Fuzzy would look like. I imagined something warm, cuddly, and my favorite color. I also imagined Fuzzy as that feeling of wanting to crawl back into bed because of his familiarity. He also happens to remind me a bit of strawberry ice cream which is one of my favorite comfort foods.


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