HealthMental Health Reading About Van Gogh And Recovering From A Depressive Episode

Reading About Van Gogh And Recovering From A Depressive Episode

Van Gogh expressed his love for the world through his letters to his brother and his art and hence disproved his own words: the sadness will last forever.

On a phone call when I was travelling in the Northeast, outside under the stars and mosquitoes, I talked to my sister about how I hadn’t cried in a long time. A friend’s concern about me sounding abnormally unbothered when describing traumatic events met with my therapist’s discussion with my psychiatrist about me showing signs of SPD (Schizoid Personality Disorder), I am reasonably paranoid about my subconscious patterns. Crying has always been a sign of health, and not feeling enough was scary to me. However, months later, having cried a few times in the last two days I feel considerably hopeful.

My mind is difficult for me to understand and justify. “I am in a grey place right now. Stress paired with mental illness is not a good combination for creative work”, I wrote in declination to a kind lady from a publication offering me a book deal. Drinking warm tea that I made myself, and looking for freelance writing jobs on my laptop I let out a sardonic laugh at how ridiculous life was at the moment.

Sometimes it is almost as if my mind is against me. Money from a book deal would have helped me out but I refused to write; it’s almost as if I didn’t recognise art or creativity. Stuck in a limbo, I had been making tea a lot – a thoughtless method and made with touch – I had been creating something.

Without trying to understand my mental illness I would have never known that the sadness does not last forever.

It’s not a neon sign blinking at you, or the sounds of a car crash – sitting among friends in a mustard yellow outfit, laughing and blowing air-kisses, it wasn’t obvious that I felt as if I was playing a character in a film and not in touch with my personal emotions. But reading about Vincent Van Gogh’s life an hour ago and sobbing into a sheet had been cathartic.

Mental illness at its worst feels terribly permanent. A couple of years ago, in a wave of manic frenzy I cut my hair as I cried at myself in the mirror. There was no “I will look stupid with this haircut” or “this is not a logical solution to anything”, there were no thoughts about the future. At its worst, mental illness will affect everything that makes life – work, relationships, health, and your sense of self.

“The sadness will last forever” were Van Gogh’s last words to his brother, in the hospital after he had shot himself. Van Gogh struggled with his life, often swinging between unreachably optimistic highs and equally overwhelming lows. But the sadness had never lasted forever. Van Gogh wrote with joy and inspiration; he encouraged love and expressed his admiration for the world and nature in his letters to his brother over the years.

Also read: The Late-Night Diary Of An Anxiety-Ridden Insomniac

His theoretical bipolar disorder had always the nature to sway in the extremes. He’d live in loneliness and drink away his time but on other days he’d dream of starry nights, fall in love with mellow yellows, and paint delicate almond blossoms in a breezy room with the window open. But I believe I understand – the sadness does feel like it will last forever.

One of the good things about not being conceived in the 1890s is that my therapist exists in the present era. Without trying to understand my mental illness I would have never known that the sadness does not last forever. It’s difficult but it is not permanent and there is great relief in that revelation.

Working for a web series on mental health last year, I would often read messages from struggling individuals looking to rant. Many of those people were so pessimistic they would disregard any attempt at consolation, convinced that they were hopeless and no therapy or efforts at self-help would make a difference. Even if  I was frustrated and feeling helpless trying to comfort them in any way, I could believe their hopelessness. The “there is nothing worse than this” feeling is real, and it is maybe even true in the moment.

find a few ‘okay’ things that you like and let it make you a little happy or comforted or tolerable.

Mental illness is hard to deal with and a lot of the time it is not pretty. There is no healthy way to romanticise or make mental illness look beautiful. But one can cope so much better with the understanding that the sadness does not last forever. Drinking tea in an apartment I hadn’t left for weeks out of anxiety, struggling financially and having just declined a great career opportunity because my mind was feeling stressed and mundane, I am thankful I knew this was not life – this was mental illness.

If you’re feeling hopeless today, I honestly don’t know the best thing that I could say to you. But maybe there is no ‘best thing’. Maybe there are little ‘okay’ things that help you go through the next hour, next couple of days, or the few months to come. If you have the resources to see a professional therapist, I would absolutely suggest you go. Understanding and getting to know your mind helps you make life so much lighter and uncomplicated.

While you’re in the dark, find your mellow yellow; find something insignificant that you like doing. Maybe scribbling in your journal is nice or the sweet smell of that vanilla scented candle comforts you. It could be a dance class or a cup of tea. Not the best thing, but find a few ‘okay’ things that you like and let it make you a little happy or comforted or tolerable.

Also read: A Recipe For Chai And A Hope For Better Days

“Bookstores always remind me that there are good things in this world” -Vincent Van Gogh Find a bookstore, dear reader, and you will slowly get through this.

Featured Image Source: Daily Hampshire Gazette


  1. Jaya Dubey says:

    Ahhhh. I haven’t cried for decades. I wait for a day when I will cry and some of the mental illness will wash out. Ugh, when those days of deep depression strike! Want to burrow into a hole and pull it in after me and seal it forever. Yes, sadness won’t last forever but when you’re neck-deep in the sadness—it feels like forever. I wonder if I love Van Gogh’s art—the blues and yellows—because of this. Something on those slathered on yellows and blues speaks to me. Fills me with joy and wonder … and reminds me that creativity will come.

    • Kavita Sarmah says:

      Hi Jaya. I can imagine how hard it is to want to express but not being able to. I feel there must be solace in being understood; there must be healing in “I’ve been there”. Maybe Van Gogh’s blues and yellows, exist to make the heart feel a little more. I hope you find in you to explore ways to make the dark days a little more bareable. I wish you love and creativity. 🙂


  2. Charu says:

    Dear Kavita,

    It can’t be put in words I thought but you did. I can’t thank you enough to give words to what I have been feeling for the last ten years. I shared the article with loved ones who struggled to understand why I make the choices I make in those grey days or otherwise.
    Please continue to write about mental health, it needs to be understood not just by those who are dealing with it but especially those who are standing by those suffering.

    Lots of gratitude. .

Comments are closed.

Related Posts

Skip to content