I was giving a talk at a church in Oxford last weekend, on the issue of Doing Christian Ministry while Battling Depression (it should be online soon). These are tricky, because it is a tightrope between describing exclusively personal and even unique experiences, and then managing to build bridges for those who have not experienced it. The seminar’s purpose was of course to assist everyone in the duty of carrying one another’s burdens, so there had to be some attempt to explain the inexplicable.
I do think that helping sufferers work through specific metaphors to identify what they are going through is an essential way ahead. Which is why poetry is so helpful. So I drew on a number of different writers in the talk, beautifully read by Louise, an old friend and member of the congregation.
This one by Stevie Smith is so powerful – and perfectly captures something of the agony of trying to ask for help. She herself battled with the affliction for many years. So it was just asking for a Q combination, it seemed to me! It’s been too long since I last did one.
So i started surfing for an image to accompany it, playing with different themes and search-terms. I didn’t want something too literalistic, because the whole point of the verse is that onlookers don’t realise he’s drowning. ArtStack is a wonderful trove for digging up interesting works, by the way, and today’s little browse didn’t disappoint.
i came across a young Swedish painter, Fredrik Wimmercranz, about whom I know next to nothing. But I found some remarkable pieces on his website. One in particular stood out – a portrait of an impressive but troubled man. It’s elusively called The Path and I’ve found myself gripped by this inscrutable face. There is a weighty presence and force of personality here, but simultaneously, he’s impossible to read. Rather like the tragic man in Stevie Smith’s poem.
As usual, here are the two creatives side by side: