It’s depression awareness week this week. Usually with this type of week I like to write a post every day, but I have been kind of out of things. Partly due to an influx of work and partly because of… you know, depression. My dosage was recently altered (lowered) and whilst that is a good thing in the long term it has actually precipitated a bit of a low swing in the short term. Which, I hear, is not uncommon. Because change is scary.
But I have been mulling around this idea about clothes and emotions for a long time and decided to kind of link it to this week. Because I have been blessed in the awareness and kindness of my family and friends over the years – they have seen me go through a lot and have gone through it with me. For me, those times are carefully bookmarked in the story of my life and they are often bookmarked with clothes. I believe that the reason I manage as well as I do, the reason that my depression and anxiety have not got worse over the years, is because I am constantly clothed in the strength and love that they provide me.
That sentence might not make sense now, but it will do by the end. I promise.
I am seventeen years old and my best friend is leaving the country.
I can barely look him in the eye, too afraid of the swirling emotions bubbling in my stomach and throat. I’ve had boyfriends before, but he is my first “boy-friend.” He is the friend I am closest to in the world at this time: he is my confidante, the person who makes me laugh, the first person I call when I get dumped or have a fight with my parents. People have died and we have grieved together. Relationships have fallen apart and we have survived together. Hearts have been broken and we have still sat together, on the couch in my living room, and watched whatever was on. Above all of this, he has lived with me in the reality of my mental illness before it was properly recognised. I was caught in a cycle of self-abuse that I was ashamed of and liked to run away from. He would come and find me. He sat with me in the rain, unsure of how to manage a teenager’s fluctuating depression, and didn’t judge the raw scratches on my arms. And now, he was leaving the country, and leaving me his hoodie.
Some children grow up with comfort blankets, items of clothing that they cannot sleep without. Blankies, Bumpers, AhAh, those are some of the family names for comfort blankets that my brothers, sisters, and nephews have used over the years. I didn’t have one. It seems my emotional attachment to material items wouldn’t emerge until much later. My best friend’s hoodie was my first real comfort blanket. When I was afraid or lonely I would wear it, feeling that it in some sense wrapped me in his protection and care. It was the first item of clothing I really felt was essential to managing my battle with depression.
When he returned I had to return the hoodie (by order of his mother, weirdly!) but it wasn’t the last piece of clothing that would help me face the day and my own depression. My wardrobe is a vast collection of memories and hand-me-downs, physical reminders of people that I can carry with me into the day to give me strength and hope.
There’s the too-big cashmere jumper that belonged to my Dad that I pull out when I need to remember the feeling of his hugs. There are the battered, worn black loafers that my Mum handed down to me for my first serious job. I can’t bear to throw them away. They are comfortable, loved, full of memories. Both mine and hers. When I step into them I feel like I am literally walking in her footsteps, and she’s walked a rough path. If she could survive, so can I. There’s also the oversized tracksuit bottoms that belonged to my little sister. They always make me think of her, extra comfortable and slouchy in our house at home. Those times when we are lounging around together, watching movies in her bed, are some of the times I feel most safe. Wearing those trousers relaxes me when I am most anxious.
There’s everything my big sister has ever handed down to me. My wardrobe is essentially hers, but several years behind. She kitted me out with everything from shoes and bags to work wear and gowns, and all of it gives me courage when I need it. When I wear things that belonged to her, even if they have been mine for years, I can still smell the whisper of her scent on them and that’s enough to make me brave. She is the strongest woman I know. She has endured the unbelievable and still manages to be the funniest woman I know, along with the most stylish. Wrapped in her hand me downs, I feel as if I am wrapped in her strength. And her style.
Then there is the leather jacket that I can’t help but associate with my best friend from uni. When we met at University we were both always leather clad, coming to recognise each other’s tan or brown silhouettes from across the quad. There were a series of photos taken of us strolling on the beach, wearing one another’s leather jackets, a quick swop over for fun. I cherish those pictures. Not because I was very happy at the time, but because despite the deep unhappiness I was experiencing, I felt very supported by him and his friendship. He once told me he loved my leather jacket because it was the jacket he most associated with me. He is the coolest person I know. When I wear the jacket he loves I feel cool and confident, just like him. I feel as if I am 100% the person he sees me as in that jacket, even on the days when I feel the least like it.
And on the days when I can’t pull myself out of bed, when I am too afraid or too tired or too anxious, there are the endless jumpers belonging to my partner that I hide myself in, like a child in a fort. Cocooned in the knitwear that is full of his scent and warmth, I am secured in an embrace that he might not be able to physically provide at that moment. Our relationship has been a long tale of cosy knitwear that I have cried into, fallen asleep upon, and curled up in when he is absent. There have been jumpers I have borrowed to travel in, jumpers I have taken exams in, jumpers I have worn to serious doctors appointments and hospitals. A whole host of wool and knitted fibres, all smelling like the person I loved, that have calmed me and comforted me when I needed it the most.
All of these items of clothing bring the people I love close to me at the times when I feel I most need them. When what I crave most is their companionship and presence, these clothes give me a whisper of that, and sometimes a whisper is all you need.
All you need to keep going.
All you need to get out of bed.
All you need to go to your job.
All you need to keep living, and believing that you are loved.