“Words don’t justify the hell…Life is no longer a light between darkness, it is a darkness between light.”
– Alessandro Donagh-De Marchi
The name Alessandro aptly means ‘defender of man.’ He is an artist, writer and speaker of truth; his words actively inspiring children to deal with their complex emotional worlds . By twelve years of age he had depression, valiantly hidden from friends and family. He had a full breakdown in Year 11 and survived a suicide attempt. Here is his story.
Alessandro, you’ve experienced depression from a young age but not everyone understands what it is. How do you educate people about depression?
I was invited a few weeks ago to speak to year seven students about my experiences. I asked if anyone had asthma, and several kids raised their hands. I have been managing my asthma since I was small, and everyone knew what to do in the event of an asthma attack. When I was seventeen, I had the equivalent of an asthma attack with my depression, and neither I nor anyone else knew what to do.
As a child you lived with depression. Can you describe how it felt?
Words don’t justify the hell…Life is no longer a light between darkness, it is a darkness between light.
How can you possibly feel safe when you are the most dangerous thing to yourself? The idea of non-existence becomes far less painful than being alive.
What would you say to people who might think depression is a phase of growing up?
I believe we underestimate the complexity of children. Even if they appear to be coping, some things have a deep and lasting effect if left unattended. If they aren’t given the tools to deal with the issues that arise in life…it’s like not knowing how to properly treat a wound. It becomes infected and is no longer a small cut, but something very threatening.
How did your very first story come about?
One day, I was sitting meditating in my room, pondering the complexities of life. It turned into a conversation between two little creatures in my mind. One took the position of action – living life through doing, experiencing and consuming. The other took the position of contemplation -discovering why, how, questioning, being curious and finding answers. I sat at my computer and wrote ‘The Here and Humwhat,’ which is now under consideration by a publisher.
We also must give you congratulations on your story, The Womps, which is making an impact on so many children. For the uninitiated, can you tell us what a Womp is?
Everyone has a Womp and they’re ugly and rude and annoying and are always around when you don’t want them to be. The angrier or more frustrated you get with them, however, the larger and noisier they get. The story was about a character who has had enough with his Womp and can’t get it to leave. Another character tries to help him, explaining that everyone has a Womp, and we can’t change that. All we can control is how we deal with them. A Womp can be anything; depression, anxiety, your parents’ divorce, drug or alcohol use, abuse, bullying or social shyness. We shrink our Womps in different ways, and speaking about them is a big one.
Giving young people a way to deal with “the womps” is such important work that you have done. Tell us how your message is getting out into the world.
I was approached this year by one of the community developers at Headspace who asked if I was interested in turning this Womp story into an animation that she could take around schools in order to start a dialogue of ‘what could be a Womp?’ A safe way of allowing young teens and children to address things they may not have felt comfortable saying out of that context. Since then we’ve met with an animation academy in Sydney to develop the idea. The project will hopefully be completed by the end of 2015.
What is the best advice you have for anyone dealing with depression?
If you wake up one morning and you don’t want to get out of bed, and the light coming in your room sucks, and the birds outside your window suck, and you hate your pillow and you don’t like the way anything is, there’s a good chance you’ll put your head under the covers and try and forget the world. The key, during these times, is just to keep going.
If a friend asks you for coffee, go out for coffee. Take your terrible mood with you; you don’t have to pretend or fake happiness. You can be absolutely miserable but do it outside with someone, or somewhere. If you are having the worst day of your life, go to the beach to have the worst day of your life.”
Alessandro is now in his twenties, surrounded by good friends and leading a very busy, creative life that is impacting so many young lives in a positive way. We are relieved that you’re here, making a difference.
For an engaging overview into the experience of depression you can’t go past this Ted Talk with Andrew Solomon.