Engaging with Anger : Hannah Shucksmith
Married in 2011, by 2014, former interior designer Hannah Shucksmith had set up her own boutique jewellery line, BABU London, with a mission to encourage and empower. Yet by 2015 she had taken a ‘year out from life’. Alongside 350 million people worldwide, Hannah suffers from depression. With research by the World Health Organisation suggesting that depression is not only the most common women’s mental health problem, but that it’s more common in women than in men, here the 29 year old shares her personal story and the lessons she’s learnt so far.
‘2015 was my year out from life. I’d been physically unwell for a while and by February was suffering from severe stomach cramps. I underwent months of tests but it wasn’t until I told my doctor that I felt “very depressed” that depression, not the physical ailments, became the medical focus.
I’ve had patches of depression before and sought counselling, but when you’ve had depression on and off for a long time it becomes the unspoken norm. I used to think that when people said, “I feel really [crap]” they meant, “I don’t want to be alive.” It was only until earlier this year, when I confided in some close friends, that I realised just how serious it had become. I was suicidal. Afraid to be alone, I was caught in a physical battle between wanting to harm myself and not wanting to harm myself. Speaking to them made me realise that what I was dealing with wasn’t normal.
Depression is the most horrendous thing. It feels painful to wake up, to be alive. I feel as though my hands are dripping in ink and I’m contaminating everything around me. That I carry the stench of my shame wherever I go. The shame isn’t attached to anything in particular, it’s just a state of being. Of feeling ashamed for being alive, for not “having it together”. When I’m in this place I just want to get away from everyone, even my husband. At the beginning he wanted to fix it, but now he just holds me in his arms when I want to cry or listens to how hopeless I feel. I’m fortunate to have close friends who have suffered from depression who I can talk to, and a husband who’s a rock, but not everyone has that.
I think part of the reason why so many people suffer is because our culture doesn’t value our minds and hearts enough. I hear people boasting about how much of a life they don’t have because they’re always working. That’s nothing to boast about when all you have is today. [In part], that’s why I set up BABU London. I wanted to empower and encourage other women. However, my client isn’t the idyllic superwoman who’s strong, perfect and achieves her dreams. My client had a rubbish day. Her baby pooped in the nappy, or maybe she had a row with her boyfriend or just got fired. Sure, sometimes life is going well, but she still needs reminding that she’s good and worth it. The part where we fall apart, that’s the part of the brand where I realise, “Oh, I was actually speaking to myself.”
When the pressure to succeed can be both mentally and physically destructive, I’ve had to learn how to listen and love myself. My husband recently bought me a puppy, which has proved an incredible source of encouragement. Playing with her, practicing mindfulness, meditating, having more stillness is my life – it’s all helped my anxiety. I’ve worked on my own a lot, which doesn’t help depression, but learning to be alone in a positive way, doing nice things for myself like buying a gingerbread man then coming home and enjoying it; these have all been really good for me.
It’s been a struggle to get to this point. When I consider how bad my depression has been, emotionally and physically, at every stage, admitting I need more help has been a challenge. Having said I want one armband, asking for the second has been as hard as asking for the first. Alongside medication, which, if you have a doctor who’s concerned with your entire wellbeing, can be useful, I also decided to see a counsellor and, as part of the process, began re-evaluating my relationship with and expectations of God.
I do believe God can heal anything, but I think mental health healing is not the same as physical healing. God healing a broken leg doesn’t require much mental capacity in terms of one’s belief systems, whereas it does when it comes to your mind. Living through these two years has enabled me to untangle certain lies about myself and God which I don’t think a click of the finger could’ve solved. I’ve had to learn to create a life that’s liveable and the kind where what I expect of myself is to be forgiving and gentle.
In part, I’ve had to learn to engage with anger. There was a period when I was just swearing a lot. My husband hated it but I was like, “that’s how I feel right now”. I’d rather the crass than the inauthentic, and I feel that God has said the same. He knows my heart, my worst thoughts. He doesn’t want a polite conversation with me, He’s my father. He already knows what’s going on, He just wants me to share it with Him. That’s what gives us so much freedom. We’re known anyway. We’re free to be ourselves. That’s what this year has taught me. I don’t believe I’ve done anything to deserve my depression, and I don’t believe I’ve done anything to feel free. I believe freedom is God’s grace and depression is part of being broken. But I don’t have to hide that part of myself because to be known by God is to be free.’
WORDS BY Justina Kehinde Ogunseitan
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Ester Keate