Numerous theories have emerged to understand the etiology of depression, each backed by credible evidence, ranging from genetic predispositions to environmental influences. Despite this variety, not all of these theories emphasize the role of personal agency in managing depression. The Evolutionary theory of depression offers a unique perspective. It likens depression to physical pain, suggesting that it serves an adaptive purpose in human development. 

Just as physical pain signals injury and prompts rest and recovery, depression might signal social or environmental problems. It prompts withdrawal, introspection, problem-solving, and behavioural changes. In this view, depression is a valuable tool in overcoming suffering. It may be beneficial to view depression as a guide. Albeit, a very harsh, cold, and unforgiving guide, it is a guide nonetheless —a guide back to oneself and community, returning better than one was when they left.

The Edge of You by Jenna Barton. Image courtesy of Dappermouth.

Jenna Barton, also known by her online alias Dappermouth, is an American illustrator and artist known for her distinctive style that often blends elements of nature, animals, surrealism, and mystery. Her colour choices often lean towards earthy and muted tones, leaning toward a moody and atmospheric feel. Barton’s high level of detail creates a sense of realism that complements the surreal and fantastical worlds she creates, adding to the atmospheric, otherworldly feeling.

Barton primarily uses digital tools for her artwork. She often starts with a sketch and then moves to digital platforms for colouring and detailing, utilizing tools like Adobe Photoshop and digital drawing tablets. Her style, described as "magical-realism-animal-gothic," emerged around 2017 after completing her BFA in Illustration​. She draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including folklore, mythology, and her personal experiences and emotions to tell unique stories through her renderings.

Her evocative and atmospheric artwork gained significant attention and a following, particularly her illustrations featuring wolves, foxes, and other wildlife in mystical or ethereal settings. Her animals often feature blank glowing eyes, suggesting a deeper inner world. Among her series of illustrations, she artistically represents the journey through depression. Central to this theme is her portrayal of a lone black wolf, serving as a symbolic guide navigating the dark depths of despair, leading the way toward the light of recovery. 

By visualizing depression as a lone wolf navigating the way through the stages of depression, Barton inspires resilience, acceptance, and the journey to self-discovery, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Good Health and Well-Being.

Withdraw and Isolation

The darkness stirred and said —you’ve given up your teeth and tongue to some cruel voice in your head,” said Barton on her social media in regards to Edge of You. 

The Edge of You by Barton depicts the feelings of isolation one begins to feel as they withdraw from everything familiar to them, as one stands on the edge of who they are and decides to leap. 

Just as a wolf may distance itself from its pack in response to injury, threat, or stress, individuals withdraw from social interactions at the onset of depression. This withdrawal is a response to various triggers such as loss, trauma, overwhelming stress, or internal turmoil. People find solace in isolation, using it to process their internal feelings or avoid situations they find too challenging. 

When one withdraws, they become subservient to the voice in their head, which can exacerbate depressive symptoms. The voice of self-doubt, worthlessness, regret, and anger. But it’s important to hold strong; the journey is just beginning. One should use this period of withdrawal to understand their feelings and the root causes of their depression.

Tracers by Jenna Barton. Image courtesy of Dappermouth.

Facing the Wilderness

“Some nights, you hear it calling from the vast and lonely dark,” said Barton on her social media in regards to Tracers. 

Tracers depict the relapse that often happens in depression. The lone wolf is lost in the wilderness, looking for traces of a way back home, a way back to himself. In relapse, one will hear the call back to the comfort of the vast and lonely dark, urging them to give up. They become tracers, using their instincts to find their way to a warm meal, fresh water, and a place to call home. A wolf is born with an instinct to survive.

For individuals with depression, this instinct may not feel as strong. Sometimes, staying alive feels like the problem, and departing from this world is the solution. However, within oneself is an intrinsic drive to seek healing and wellness. Navigating depression demands personal resilience.

Individuals learn to adapt to their emotional states, developing coping mechanisms and strategies to manage their symptoms. Even when faced with the darkest emotions or the most challenging circumstances, hold on; the journey through the emotional wilderness takes time, and one will find their way back home.

Grim Fields by Jenna Barton. Image courtesy of Dappermouth.

Learning and Patience

“In far-off fields, a strange beast is resting at a broken grave— and til dark it lies there, weary-eyed and unafraid,” said Barton on her social media in regards to Grim Fields. 

In Grim Fields, the chaos is in the distance, but it is not forgotten and will return. Grim Fields tells the story that one must rest on the broken grave of their old self, for they are dead, and emerging from that shattered grave is who they are becoming. Once one becomes more comfortable in their new emotional wilderness, utilizing what they have so painstakingly learned. They begin to feel inklings of their new self emerging. While this new self may not feel like a good thing, give it time; it is young and battered, tend to it and be patient. Mustering up the courage to be patient is challenging and leaves one weary-eyed and tired, but profound personal insights, greater self-awareness, and new coping skills are on the other side. 

Night in the Hills by Jenna Barton. Image courtesy of Dappermouth.

Reintegration and Strength

“Strange, the way it felt like home—to wander through the dark, alone,” said Barton on her social media in regards to Night in the Hills. 

After the journey through depression, one emerges with a new sense of purpose and identity. One can only solidify this purpose by returning home, rejoining the wolfpack, and rediscovering joy, love, union, and connection. The night will feel like home; it's where one has learned to survive, giving the gift of a new perspective on life and a deeper understanding of meaning. Night in the Hills tells us that it's time to come home and reintegrate into a new life, a better life. Although one may still feel the call back into the wilderness, this time, they won't be alone.

Haunt by Jenna Barton. Image courtesy of Dappermouth.

Guidance and Leadership 

“I feel them there, just out of sight—haunting the places we left behind,” said Barton on her social media in regards to Haunt. 

Haunt depicts the lone wolf guarding the doorway while a timid wolf stands behind him, not yet ready to pass through. The lone wolf that is guarding the door has been through the trials of depression and came out the other side, ready to take their place as the leader of the pack. People who have suffered through depression have invaluable insight and experience to gift to the younger generation. The journey through depression creates a profound connection to suffering that will always haunt them.

Depression will always be a part of those who endured it, but it doesn’t have to have power over them. Instead, it gives them the power to guide others through the emotional wilderness, preparing them to adapt and survive better and faster than they once did. It allows them to advocate for those who have lost their voice, hear the callings of others to darkness, and sit beside those who lay on their broken graves, unafraid because they are no longer alone.

Barton’s illustrations beautifully depict depression as a journey rather than a disorder. An opportunity to grow rather than die. She shows us that we are not weak; we are strong like a lone wolf, navigating the darkness with resolve and courage, and one day, we will return home, ready to lead the wolfpack.

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