Since the beginning of the year 2018, I’ve been dealing with severe depression. As it turned out to be drug-resistant and all my psychiatrist’s attempts to find the right medication have repeatedly failed, I’ve learned to live with it, coping with worse and better days on my own. You just accept you are functioning at 10% of your normal capacity and continue doing whatever you do in your life. The same you, just ten times less efficient. Still, you can manage.
My mental health issues are not a secret—I talk about this experience openly and have worked through it in my art practice. The good thing about being an artist is that you can turn virtually anything you encounter into an art product.
And then in 2020, the quarantine came. At first, I was almost relieved. No more noisy overcrowded gatherings, no more awkward small talk with strangers, no more public events, which due to my mental state were my personal torture. I wasn’t going out much anyway, so I was pretty sure my life won’t change significantly. I could use some quiet and finally concentrate on my projects.
But oops, my son is now at home all the time and he is always hungry. And bored. Ah, and homeschooling for teenagers somehow does not work on its own and you have to manage it. And your house is in constant need of a clean because everyone is always indoors. And don’t forget to do some cooking. Yes, AGAIN. And look, here are more deadlines for you. And there are shortages in the cultural sector everywhere. Are you worried yet? For sure I was.
I opened Facebook looking for some comfort, but everyone there seemed to be enjoying extra free time, doing yoga, learning new languages, helping elderly neighbours with their groceries, or sharing some wise thoughts on world-after-the-virus issues. The same mood was everywhere: social media flourished with energetic people, eager to use their quarantine time for good. Obviously, I failed to fit into this newly formed self-improving virtual society. Although there weren’t many, I was already barely coping with my daily chores and duties, let alone improving myself. And suddenly with borders closed and all public events cancelled (including all exhibitions and conferences I supposed to be part of), I realized that most of the things I loved or was good at had become impossible or pointless.
Soon I found myself sitting on my chair, overwhelmed with anxiety and guilt about all the things I failed to do in time. Some days I was unable to work or even move. It wasn’t just me—my female friends who live with depression and/or anxiety also noticed that their symptoms are getting worse.
Pandemic lockdown put even more pressure than usual on women, demanding that they simultaneously teach their children, do unpaid domestic labour, and work as if none of this had ever happened. Recently the Ministry of Health of Ukraine published a video on its Facebook page urging women to “simply create the best school in the world at your home”. The Internet is full of “quarantine diet tips for weight loss” or lockdown inspirations like “perfect your cat eye with liquid eyeliner”, “knit a bad hair day beanie”, “clean your windows”, and so on. Sure, it’s not like only women gain weight or wear cat eyes, but we know who the audience of all these tips is, right?
I consider myself lucky and privileged—I have only one teenage child, not a pack of toddlers, my partner is always here for me, and we all have enough living space. For many, life is not this good. Add the social pressure to “do better” and mental health issues and bang, you’ve got a bingo.
So, what do depressed women do in lockdown? My friends came up with the idea of online ‘cook and drink’ parties, so once a week we cook together on Zoom. This helps us to keep bits of sanity, strengthen the emotional bond, and if anything, it just feels good to eat something delicious.
April 27, 2020.
Lia Dostlieva is an independent artist, curator and cultural anthropologist. In October 2019 she was a Visiting Fellow of IWM’s program Ukraine in European Dialogue.