A day with the ‘black dog’

Islynde Bourke (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

At least three million Australians live with depression and / or anxiety, and manage their symptoms in various ways – including hiding their condition behind a mask of functional happiness.

While it’s not a formally recognised disorder, some psychologists call this ‘smiling depression’, where a person suffering depression or anxiety appears happy to family and friends while internally suffering depressive thoughts.

Health professionals recommend that you talk about your depression, because speaking about the illness can be a useful form of treatment.

But if your method of coping is to wear a bright smile every day and get on with life – or try to – it can be difficult for anyone to spot what’s going on, let alone support you in getting help.

Islynde Bourke has been living with depression for around a decade, and who gave me some insights into how she copes with her disorder on a day-to-day basis.

She’s a vivacious 20-year-old who loves her friends, going out on the weekend and playing with her partner’s dog, Bentley. She works full-time in her Mum’s café in Morwell, and says she hides her feelings behind a sharp sense of humour  and contagious smile.

The habit of smiling came in part from being bullied about her mental health, and she says it now makes it difficult for her support network to know when she’s having a particularly down day.

“Sometimes I just want to stay in my room all day, away from others,” she says.

Island agreed to take part in a photo essay for this story showing her in her most natural, everyday form, and to talk about what life is like for the estimated 300 million people worldwide who live with ‘the black dog’.

Islynde Bourke walks with her dog Bentley at Woodside beach. (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

Q: How long have you had depression for?

I can’t pinpoint how long I’ve actually been feeling this way for. It all started from my childhood. I think my depression and anxiety comes mainly from things that have happened in the past and they affect me now as an adult.

Islynde looks beyond the waves at Woodside beach. (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

Q: Has social media ever made your depression worse?

Social media makes things a lot worse because you see a lot of what you’re supposed to be and who you should be, rather than being who you are. Which for me, makes me more depressed.

Islynde has a giggle in the sand dunes. (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

Q: Do you find it difficult to be ‘happy’ in front of others?

I find it very difficult to be happy in front of my friends, boyfriend & everyday humans. Some days I cannot be bothered to interact with people and I just want to be on my own.

Watching children playing in the ocean. (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

Q: Has all the campaigning around common depression helped you to talk about it?

Not necessarily. It mainly just makes me think more about having depression myself, because I’m too embarrassed to speak about it with others.

Islynde lets the sand trickle between her fingers at Woodside Beach. (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

Q: Have you ever felt discriminated at work for your condition?

I feel as if people have different attitudes about depression. Some people have this stigma that you should just snap out of it and you’ll be fine, so it is hard to work and feel as if I’m not being a burden to other staff and my boss if I’m having a ‘bad day’.

Arms spread and taking in the salty air. (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

Q: How has depression affected your relationships?

Depression is the main cause as to why my relationships have gone downhill.

Living day-to-day stuck in a rut really takes its toll on how much attention I would pay to my partner. I have felt like my communication with them was very poor, and I have found it hard to talk about how I really felt about situations.

Islynde looks towards the sun with sandy hands. (Alanah Hallam)

Q: How have you tried to treat it in the past? Did any of it work?

Treatment-wise I have seen a bunch of doctors and psychiatric nurses. I’ve done everything. I’ve been on medication for quite a number of years now and unfortunately no, I still feel depressed on my best days & I don’t think the medication helps me in any way.

Islynde Bourke. (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

Q: How do you stay on top of your depression?

Keeping a positive mind set is a massive thing for me, I really try to wake up and start my day off doing something I love.

At Woodside Beach Surf Life Saving Club. (Photo: Alanah Hallam)

Q: What did your worst day with the black dog look like?

I really can’t pinpoint a ‘worst’ day. I feel as if that’s a difficult question because it’s a feeling that I feel, all the time.

If you or a family member or friend is going through a tough time, don’t hesistate to reach out to someone, and if this story has raised any issues for you, here are some contacts that can help you:

Lifeline: 13 11 14  or Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800 or Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 or Headspace: 1800 650 890 or Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636. – Alanah Hallam (@Alanah_Hallam).