This project was created in the summer of 2015, during a class taught by Mitch Marson - previously President of Global Consumer Practice and Chief Creative Officer of Purpose Branding at Ogilvy. The aim of the assignment was for the students to develop a personal brand by responding to three questions: why, how, and what.
Although the subject is increasingly becoming less and less taboo, the discourse surrounding mental illness – and more specifically depression – was truly opened and magnified in 2014 when the actor Robin Williams committed suicide.
The day he died, I remember crying. I had never cried about a complete stranger’s death before. As someone who used to suffer from depression, I felt like we, the mentally ill community, had lost one of our members in the battle.
In the following months, a controversy arose: had he committed the most selfish act there is? How could he ever abandon his family like this? These questions, however, led to an open-heart discussion; it was time for everyone to understand that depression was a real and lethal sickness, and not just a personality problem.
A few weeks before we were given this assignment title, the actor Jared Padalecki (best known for playing one of the main characters on the TV show Supernatural) revealed that he was battling with clinical depression. It led him to create the Always Keep Fighting campaign to help people struggling with depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts. His openness regarding the subject was received extremely positively and sparked incredible fan support, thus offering the opportunity for people to share their stories online.
Padalecki's story truly inspired me. The subject of mental illness has been regarded as shameful for a very long time, so on a personal level, it never appeared to be an appropriate matter for me to discuss – with no one, ever. Seeing discourse slowly but surely opening was extremely uplifting. I wanted to participate in the discussion and continue to raise awareness; I wished to sustain the momentum and the work that Padalecki began doing with regards to destigmatising depression. I decided that the purpose of my personal brand would be to drive positive energy and support, from within the community as well as outwards.
Depression is an isolating illness, which makes it even harder for its victims to communicate. Sharing, however, helps – which is why most patients undergo therapy so as to spell their feelings out loud to another human being.
Sharing your story with another person affected by this disease can also help them, to a great level. Padalecki’s personal struggle, for instance, paved the way. It led other people to talk about their own fight and how they were keeping the upper hand on the disorder. Depression sufferers need inspiration as well. They constantly need to find new ways to keep their head above the water – and if they can’t, they can at least find comfort in the fact that there are other people trying to surface, and that they are never alone.
I chose to share my personal experience with depression. We are predisposed to connect to each other through stories because they convey authentic human experiences; it is a universal trait that we all share across the world and through all of known human history. I wanted to give people the opportunity to read an honest story and know how I felt.
Storytelling is also fascinating on a neurological level. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences and thusly represent reality way better than any statistic ever could. Storytelling is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience. It therefore has the potential to create genuine emotion, whilst giving the opportunity to influence someone’s way of thinking. This is what I wanted: to connect with the readers, be they affected by the disease or not, and inspire them.
Depression was exhausting. Every once in a while, I would feel hopeless. I would feel alone. These feelings would get overwhelming and I wouldn’t be able to function properly anymore. I went through depression at university and was scared to fall back into it when I started working in London. My very last three months in the capital, right before I moved back to Paris to start my master degree at the American University of Paris, were extremely traumatising and could have easily sparked a relapse. But instead, the worst three months of my life taught me how to let go of negativity and strengthen my willpower. The misfortunate chain of events, ranging from a difficult break-up to being essentially homeless, turned out to be therapeutic for me. It’s when I lost all of my bearings that I realised what was important, as well as the things I shouldn’t lose sight of. This project made me realise that I was ready to tell everyone to keep on fighting because I knew it can be done.
Although I love writing, I felt that transcribing the story into words wasn’t really quite enough. I wanted to convey the moments of utter despair and the times of perfect hopefulness. I wished to engage people in a different kind of way, for them to walk a mile in my shoes and see through my eyes. This intent of mixing my personal voice with visual cues sparked the idea of creating something akin to a graphic novel: I enjoy writing and love drawing, so the conclusion came naturally.