In 1990, when I was 15 years old I had my first depression. At first I was just a “grumpy teenager”, but soon it was clear to my parents that this was not “normal”. At that time people did not really speak about depression or mental health. Not in my village in the Netherlands, anyway. Due to not really understanding mental health, my parents and I feared I would end up in some sort of asylum at some point, and that fear made me want to be as normal as possible, so I hid my darkness as well as I could: smiling on the outside, dying on the inside.

When I was 19 my mum read an article about depression. As far as I know that was the first article written in a main stream magazine. It was such a relief that the hiding in my room, dark disturbing thoughts, not being able to get out of bed, waking up in a panic, fearing the outside world and endless crying was experienced by others as well. But now what?

Well, I went to a psycho-therapist. My experience wasn’t great, I don’t think she took me seriously. I just had to accept I was a “glass half-empty” kind of girl. Pessimistic would be my middle name. Just deal with it.
Even though the experience wasn’t quite the break-through I’d hoped for, it did shift a few things for me and for a little while I believed I was “cured”.

I became an au-pair in Ireland. It was an empowering experience and apart from a few “down moods” I did not fall into depression.
Surely I was cured! Hooray! …but the worst was still to come.

I went to Art-school, a life-long dream. The beginning and the end of it were great. The middle bit was pretty dark. My depression got magnified and suicide became a very pleasing thought. A few times I got very close. Usually the thought of what it would do to my parents was enough to stop me and instead fill me with guilt for even considering it.
I did not really want to be dead, I just wanted that endless, heavy feeling of hopelessness and despair to end. I wanted to be “normal”. I did not want to be the difficult daughter. The problem-child.

I was stubborn enough to not want any medication, even when it was clear I was dealing with full-blown depressions.
A friend of mine suggested yoga, which led to meditation, which led to reading all sorts of books. Spiritual, self-help, you name it. I wanted to make sense of what was going on inside me.

In 2002, I started seeing a coach. She really made a difference. She taught me how to use my imagination. This was so powerful, it was a real game-changer.
I had a few tools to work with.

I knew I had a long way to go still, but for the first time in my life I was hopeful for the future. For the first time, I knew suicide was not the answer.
It was around that time I got inspiration for a story: WorryBoy. I guess I choose a boy, because a girl would be a bit too close for comfort, still.
I would sometimes draw a few images and begin to write some of the story, but then I would put it away and forget about it.

In 2003, I moved to the UK. Also, a life-long dream.
Every year things would get a little better, but I would still fall back into dark moods regularly. Many days still started with red, puffy eyes. This time though, I made sure I had a coach, so if things did get out of hand, I had someone who would inspire me to pick myself up again.

About 3 years ago, I got inspired to continue with WorryBoy again. I had been doing a few life-changing courses with Natural Success and Super Genius. Their courses really resonated with me. I stopped waking up in a panic, something that had become normal after 20 years. My depressed moods shrunk to a minimum. It’s not that depressions have gone away completely, but I am actually enjoying my life, most of the time. Something that, for most of my life, seemed like an impossible dream!

This time I took WorryBoy more serious. But also, this time I had a little more to say and share.
For a little while I thought about changing WorryBoy into WorryGirl. But when I read about the suicide statistics, I decided to stick to boy.
I used my own journey as an inspiration.
My first idea was to create an exhibition and let people walk through the story.
I started sharing the story at the school where I worked. I got the idea to let their artwork become part of the exhibition as well.
Oxford House, where the exhibition was going to take place, got 2 more schools interested and their work featured alongside mine as well.
I received a lot of positive feedback.
WorryBoy is still a school program, and I’m developing it and fine-tuning it every time. At the same time, I’m creating the story as a graphic novel.

For me sharing WorryBoy is a great honour. It has given me something that I was missing in my life: purpose and passion.
My biggest wish for the WorryBoy program is to inspire children to be aware and value their mental health. To know that it is okay to feel sad, down, angry, etc. We are human, after all. But there are people to talk to, tools and strategies to use. No one should have to suffer on their own.
Most of all I hope each child will appreciate their own uniqueness and creativeness. We are all far more powerful than we realize!

Born in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, 1975.
Wanted to be a comic book artist since the age of 7…hasn’t succeeded just yet, but still working on it…
Went to Art School in Breda, the Netherlands and graduated in 2000.
Moved to Edinburgh in 2003 and then finally to London in 2006…and hasn’t left!
Depression has been her companion for most of the time.

Elsbeth van der Poel can be found on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram