Depression and the Tidal King


It’s a vague and certainly over-used word, depression. It has become erroneously synonymous with sad or feeling “blue.” It’s not that simple, as anyone who has had it can attest. I do, and have for decades. I will not classify it as “suffering with” depression, because I believe it is a permanent state, a part of my core being, and whatever genetic anomaly or strain has taken hold is not something you can extract or easily overcome. To be honest, I am not sure it is wise to try. In the interest of full and honest disclosure, let me be clear: I consider myself a moderate case. I am not extreme, I am not schizophrenic, I am not sure I am manic-depressive. I have never tried to take my own life or hurt myself outright, though have contemplated the former a few times. I think there is a kernel of optimism in me somewhere, but it is hard to find, and harder still for others to see. Mostly, I feel at odds with the world, with the people in it, and I feel like an alien most of the time. I am someone that most classify as “negative” but I don’t really believe in that word or give much credence to classifications like “positive” or “happy” or “dark.” I am simply who I am, like everyone else, a product of personal DNA and circumstance and life experience. I do not see a way up and out of it, because I am not entirely sure that what I am is something that needs extensive modification.

This is one of the benefits of getting older: clarity. I am not the most wise, the most intelligent, the most insightful, but I am no slouch either. And living with my eternal inner companion, depression, is as natural to me as anything else, for better or worse. There are pluses and minuses to this companion though, and that is where this confessional diatribe finally arrives at the world of art and photography.

I believe that a person’s point of view and state of mind, if they are channeling honestly into their art, informs the work, and can be seen or felt in the results. I believe that a lot of art is an allegorical, abstract personal expression totaling a sort of autobiography of the author or artist. Since these are my convictions, the best thing I can do is ride the waves of my ebb and flow, of my “mood swings” and let them flow into the pixels of my compositions. I do not think that waiting until you feel “better” is the time to do the work, I think a spike in your depression is the perfect time to dive in, to channel it, and hopefully give it expression, and maybe help it resolve into a transformative experience and hopefully a piece of art. I do not mean for this to be a “how to” blog about coping with depression, in fact, I have no insights into it, as it seems to be the Tidal King, the ruler of your oceans, the wave and the undertow. I do not think this king a dictator, a corruption or a thief, I believe he was in place since birth, and is likely to rule my oceans and islands for the rest of my days. He has, I suppose, taken things from me, robbed me of some peace of mind, but he has also been generous with his influence – he has given me some depth, some insight, and some art, that I may otherwise not have. I hope there is something “more” or some meaning that some of my work provides the viewer with, but that is dependent on not only the success of my vision and execution, but also the experiential palette of the viewer. But either way, creating something has been a fixture in my life from earliest memory, it is something I have always gravitated towards, and it is now as embedded and indelible to my identity as my depression is. They may likely be tied together, twin entities from the same source.

My spikes are tied to certain month of the year, certain days of the week, and I am very much attuned to them and can see them coming. I know which months are loaded with memory and wear me down, which ones are revivifying and uplifting, and what days of the week I am likely to be “up” or “down.” I will admit that the times when I am clear of the fog and spray from the Tidal King are easier to work in – my mind is more focused and intent on completion and procedure and diligence kick in and are accessible. But the “darker” times have a richer substance, and air heavy with meaning and symbolism, and the work in that time seems more personal and vital to me. There is a song I wrote, and borrowed its title for a recent image, called “Monday Bleeding” that I distinctly remember writing in a really low period, and I was sad, I was angry, and the words were pretty direct and focused. I remember the goose flesh that the coda outro of that song gave me long after I wrote it, every time I performed it. It was a feeling of vindication, of taking the “poison” from the Tidal King and turning it into an elixir, a potent and transformative moment accessible whenever I sang it. I get these flashes and feelings in some of my imagery now, when I am composing in those times, and the results sing to me. Those are the ones that make it worth it, give meaning to my sometimes difficult life, and keeps me invested in working on my portfolio – they are the fuel for the engine that drives me, that keep me coming back for more, that make it all okay, ultimately. It is sometimes hard to even want to work in the high tides of depression, it seems impossible, at this moment, for instance, that I will ever complete another piece, that there is any point to it, or any purpose that makes how I feel worth it. I have lived enough years though to know that it is worth the effort, and it is a catharsis in itself, and worth the struggle to begin. And so I will, because the tide is high, and the king demands it.

It’s a funny thing to be branded as negative so often by so many people. It is cause for concern I suppose, that you are not one of the Joneses, but then again, what is the value in adapting to the majority for ease and convenience? Why is the dissent of the masses, the people in your life, cause for a complete psychological overhaul? Who has vetted their dispositions and certified them as more valid? In terms of artistic composition, the negative space is just as vital sometimes as the focal point, and informs and frames the focal point, and gives it context. The same can be said from within – my “negative” space, my high tide, is as crucial to my inner ecology as the low tide. Being “negative” defines the positive, and shapes its borders and colors it. If it is easier to see people as black or white, negative or positive, depressing or inspiring, so be it, but I choose to look at them both as vital, and equally useful.

I suppose this has amounted to a personal statement more than a blog entry befitting a photography/art site, but then, to anyone who has viewed or commented or appreciated what I do, you already know who I am in a way, through the abstract, through the concepts and themes I gravitate towards. Once again, I see no point in pulling punches and keeping a blog that is less than honest. The Tidal King and his turbulent waters are just as important to what I do as Photoshop or my Wacom tablet or my Mac are, so perhaps you can consider this another blog of the tools of my trade!

July 10, 2013

Michael Bilotta