Why ‘Depression Island’?

A 2016 update

trainers and pillsHello! Just wanted to pop in and add some notes to this post. It’s 3 years since I wrote it and since then my mental health has fluctuated and changed quite a lot. I still manage depression but trying to come off my antidepressants really increased my anxiety for a while. And a complex combination of this and the pressures of getting married led to a significant relapse into disordered eating and an exercise addiction.

These experiences have changed my perspectives, helped me move forward with my recovery and improved my relationship with my medication. I’m getting there. I intend to keep writing but my blog should more accurately be called ‘From depression, anxiety and muddled eating island’. That’s not a very snappy title though. So I’ve changed the title to ‘Writing my mind’ until I can think of something better.

And here’s what you came here for – a bit more about what the whole island thing was about in the first place.

Where the metaphor of ‘depression island’ comes from and what it means to me.

Mental trickery

I find that knowing and understanding how my thought processes work and what influences my mood is one of the best ways to manage my mental health.

One of the hardest elements of depression and anxiety is that it encourages types of thinking which can go on making it worse. Things like reverse motivation and discounting the future (read more about these here). For me recognising and responding to these tricks is key to recovery.

Part of what I wanted to capture was the sense that when you are unwell you can’t imagine that you will ever feel better. And not just that; you can’t imagine that anything you might do to try and improve your mood could possibly ever work.

Whenever I feel better, I feel better in a way that I couldn’t have possibly imagined when I was feeling low.

I find metaphor a helpful way of trying to get a grip on my own experiences of mental health and communicate them to others( if you’re interested, have a look at my post on metaphor, mental health and online support).

I was searching for a metaphor that might help me and others better understand this phenomenon and I came up with the idea of two islands.

The islands

It’s as if my depressed, anxious mind and my healthy mind are two totally different islands.

a sunny islandMost people inhabit one island all the time. An island where sometimes it is sunny and sometimes it rains – an island for someone who in the normal course of life sometimes feels happy and sometimes sad. That is the island I inhabit when I’m not depressed or anxious. It rains sometimes too, but I can remember what the sun feels like when I’m there.

When I am unwell I am not on this island at all. I am not on an island wherefog the sun used to shine but now it is raining. My depressed anxious mind is an island where there is always dark fog and rain. When I inhabit it, it is as if I always have done.

This is something like CS Lewis’s nightmare island in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Or JK Rowling’s Dementors (written from her experience of severe depression). The characters that experienced those horrors forgot they had ever been happy. They forgot what happiness felt like. And if you’ve forgotten that, how can you ever believe you’ll feel it again? It’s just a word with no emotional link in your mind.

When I am an inhabitant of depression island I can’t even imagine the sun. Something or someone external tells me that there is an island where I usually live where the sun shines. It might be my writing, or my partner, or someone I look to for support. They tell me that somehow, perhaps due to an action I take, or perhaps just with the change of the days and the chemicals in my system, I will be back there.But when I have become an inhabitant that has always felt the rain and seen the fog, I can’t know what sun even feels like. It’s hard to trust in something you can’t feel. Trusting that you will feel better in a way you can’t imagine now is enormously hard.

I think that a lack of understanding of this can often be the cause of some of those really frustrating phrases – ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘we all feel sad sometimes’. That is the understanding of someone who has only experienced the rain intermittently as part of a permanent life on the sunny island. They can usually remember the sun even while it’s raining – and they can’t imagine how you can’t.

Sending messages between the islands?

When on the sunnier island, we don’t have a memory of the actual feeling of being in endless fog and rain. We can feel the sun and can’t really imagine ever not being able to remember it. While this is lovely, if we are trying to manage fluctuating mental health, it makes it easier to forget to look after ourselves. We might continue to do whatever we are enjoying here and now, despite it sometimes being a one way ticket back to depression island.

Unfortunately the all-encompassing nature of depression and anxiety means that it’s very hard for inhabitants of that island to remember their lives on a sunnier rock. And vice versa it seems. Real depression weather isn’t found much on the sunnier island.

I realised that much of the management tricks, ideas, experiences and strategies that I blog sending a message between the islands about are attempts to find ways to help me communicate between my islands. By even just recognising the tricks our mind can play we are in a better position to counteract them. I write about my search for my own tools and tricks to ensure there is something of a connection between those two different islands my mind inhabits. This helps me work out how best to spend most of my life somewhere where I know what sunshine feels like. And, I hope, it helps others do the same.

8 thoughts on “Why ‘Depression Island’?

  1. Rose

    A beautiful metaphor that really captures the essence of why depression is so very hard, for those that experience it and also for those around the sufferer. Really helpful, thank you!

  2. Pingback: Three tricksy things your depressed mind does to you – in pictures | Clare Rose Foster

  3. Alison

    I.love your writing. I’m.on depression island and it’s true that sunny place seems non existant.. it’s lonely and frightening cold and baron. This article resonated with me and makes me want to write poetry again… thankyou for sharing xx

  4. Liz Potter

    Your metaphors of depression island and sunny island really resonated with me. I often use metaphor with clients to help them to articulate their depression. I will certainly keep your article in mind . I’m sure it will come in useful in my future work with clients.
    Thank you for being so open and willing to share your experiences. More people need to be prepared to do this in order to take the stigma out of mental health issues.
    It was my own experiences of suffering from depression and finally deciding to go for counselling, which proved to be very powerful in helping me, that led me into training to be a counsellor myself. I feel privileged to be able to sit alongside clients as they go through their own journeys of understanding their personal mental health issues and learning strategies to help them cope.

    1. fostress Post author

      Hi Liz,
      Thanks very much for your thoughts. I’d be interested to hear more about other metaphors you use with clients too!
      All the best,


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