Photography, Anxiety and Me
Many of my clients ask me how and why I started out in photography, and what made it become such an important force in my life. I decided to arrange my thoughts on this subject and put them down on paper, partly to answer their questions but more pertinently, to answer some of my own.
A few years ago now, Nathan and I had our wedding reception on a working farm. It was an amazing day! We set up everything from scratch in a cow barn and had hay bales to sit on and local Black Sheep on tap. Not being particularly formal people we just wanted all our friends and family to enjoy themselves and eat and drink their fill; basically a really special kind of party, except I got to wear a white dress! We didn’t want waiters, or a sit down meal with protocols to follow. We also wanted the day to be captured in the same relaxed way, without overly posed photographs, basically in a relaxed candid style.
With this in mind, we put a shout out for a budding photographer, looking to gain experience, and to our surprise, received two offers! Both ladies had totally different styles and were building up their portfolios so it seemed only right that they got to be part of our day. On the back of this, we also spoke with an up and coming Videographer and although this was never our plan to record the day, she was so amazing and in tune with our relaxed approach that we hired her as well, a decision well made as it turned out.
The entire day and night was amazing, and better than we'd even dare imagine. The decision not to go down the carefully planned and choreographed wedding route really worked for us.
I often believe that things happen for a reason, if you are in the right place and time, and that if opportunities arise you should take them. When I mentioned to our talented videographer than I had been keen on, and studied photography at college, and I had been playing around with my professional camera, she generously invited me to second on a couple of her wedding shoots. Although I had no idea what this would entail I said yes immediately. The thought of actually attempting to do this myself was beyond exciting, in fact it was also terrifying!. So, we went ahead with the plans, brushed up on everything I had learnt at college and got ready for the first big day…
Before I reveal how that first dip into the world of photography went, I need to side track slightly, and get a little bit serious. It’s no secret to anyone that knows me well that I suffer with anxiety, and currently take medication to keep it under control. This anxiety was triggered when I had my first child, and I suffered from post natal depression/anxiety. Those days were pretty dark and I often shudder when I see pictures of that time or re-live those days. Since then I have battled with it on and off and have concluded that it’s just something that is a part of me, and rather than let it control me, I will live with it and control it instead.
And when I say control, I mean full control. I take medication daily and feel on top of it for the most part and I work at dealing with thoughts in a better way. My husband is the most amazing counseller and has really helped me to get through the rough parts and for now I am on top of it. My parents have also helped incredibly and being able to talk honestly to them about it has been a massive help. But I can honestly say it wasn’t always this way, in fact after my first child I was fully out of control. The thing that people often don't understand about anxiety is that you can't switch it off, it controls every thought and feeling and if you're not careful it can take over your life. Sometimes you can't wait to go to sleep so you can stop thinking!
Back then I took tablets for the first six months but I didn’t really level with the fact that I wasn’t well and I cringed at the thought that I might be seen as ‘crazy’. The stigma in my head attached with taking antidepressants terrified me and so I stopped taking them. I was ashamed, sad and angry that I had to feel that way when everyone else was seemingly ‘normal'. I honestly thought that I could deal with it by myself and that I didn’t need the pills as help. I had no idea!
I’m sad to say it affected all parts of my life – from work, to relationships to social life – I just didn’t feel like me. I wasn’t sure if this was a new version of me since becoming a mother, but I knew that I wasn’t feeling truly happy – it was really hard to be upbeat about anything. I came off the medication as I felt like I could surely cope – much to the worry of my mum, who I think knew I wasn’t anywhere near being ‘better’. I was anxious and obsessed about the smallest things. It’s almost like having another voice in your head – questioning everything, worrying about everything and then the physical side of it of feeling sick and tense most of the time. I got so used to it that it just became the new normal, and I think until you can get ‘better’ you don’t see just how poorly you were. I’m not saying I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, because I could – and for the most part I functioned fine. But deep down I would have moments where my thoughts would spiral out of control, sometimes triggered by the smallest of things and I would react in completely inappropriate ways - I often look back and cringe at how I became. At those times I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything, let alone eat and sleep. I mostly kept myself busy so that I wouldn’t allow myself to overthink.
The wedding was a welcome distraction and for a few months I felt a little better but the negative thoughts were still there. After we got married however, we decided to try for another baby. This has to be the scariest decision I had ever made, as the thought of upsetting the hormones all over again and getting so ill again frightened the hell out of me, I had only just managed to get through the last few years! but, I wasn’t going to let it stop us from giving Isla a sibling. By this time I had already been doing a few weddings, working on a few family shoots and getting some of my confidence back.
Immediately after I had Elodie, I decided to bite the bullet and get straight on anxiety medication, I wasn’t taking any chances! I had spent a lot of time thinking about whether I would get ill, whether I could fight it myself or whether I should just take the drugs – and I’m happy to say I took the help and the drugs, much to the relief of my family. I just couldn’t imagine my daughter seeing me going through what I had when I had her – and knew I needed to be well for her and the baby.
Six months after I had Elodie I felt for the first time in a long time like my pre parent self – and started to see just how crazy and down I had been! Its cheesy, but it’s like someone took away the black cloud hanging over me.
At the same time, and maybe as a welcome sideline to the medication, I was going for it with my photography business – as I had lots of free time when baby slept and throwing myself into something in these quiet times helped me to focus on something different rather than obsessing about the baby, and how many ounces of milk she had consumed that day! Even though I was crazy busy with a toddler and a newborn and an emerging business, I enjoyed the feeling of control I had over my life and enjoyed meeting new people to work with and having new experiences. I felt excited about the future which was a great feeling.
Every shoot I did during this time was like a small buzz of confidence and excitement and the output of the photos and parents/brides reactions really gave me real job satisfaction – I really started to think – why haven’t I been doing this for years?!
The truth is… I wouldn’t have had the guts, confidence, drive or ability to do this years ago, and not just because of the anxiety but because now I have my own children, I have a new found confidence with other people’s children and I can understand now what parents want from their photos. I can really see through the eyes of the clients! Not only that, both getting myself well, and pushing myself to start this new career has taken away a lot of self-doubt and confidence issues that often stops people chasing their dreams, photography has definitely been the best type of counselling for me.
One of my friends said to me a few years ago that they couldn’t imagine me taking pictures and being a photographer, presumably as I would generally be too quiet to give clear direction – and that makes me feel so proud of where I am today as although I’m not the loudest person in the world (nor am I the quietest!) – I’m also not afraid to be me and do my thing, and the thing that gives me the balls and backs me up is that I know that I can do it and that I’m really good at it, and that keeps me going and striving to be the best I can be for my clients. You don't have to be the loudest person in the room to be a photographer, you just have to be in tune with your clients and understand what they want and need - and be able to give direction... pretty much similar to being a wife and a mother really ;-)
You might read all this and think it’s a self-indulgent post, and maybe on some level it is… but what I really want people to take from it is that I had post natal anxiety and I felt like I would never get better for a long time and I felt angry at the world for it. But through a lot of support from my husband, family and friends and in doing something that I love to do – plus taking the amazing medication – I have come through the other side. I’m not saying I don’t have the odd bad day or week when I freak out about stuff – but isn’t that just normal life?! What I'm saying is that I'm so grateful to be better and if that gives just one person some hope, then this post has been worth it.
So when people ask me why I started doing photography – I say, I do it for my clients, for my sanity and for my family – to make me a better, happier and healthier person. And because my passion for it lights up my days and will eventually allow me to spend more time at home with my family. In some ways this profession has helped me to be the person I want to be and push through the nastiness of anxiety, self-doubt and unhappiness.
If you are struggling with any sort of mental illness, be kind to yourself and do the things that you love – and take the support! And if you know someone that's struggling, then reach out to them, give them some time and be patient - they are not themselves and need your help to battle through it. You will get better and you can succeed – as long as you believe in yourself and keeping pushing forwards.
Thanks for reading :-)