International Women's Day - How Photography helped me defeat Depression
I've been meaning to write this post for some time and it being International Women's Day has given me the kick up the arse I needed to finally do it! I had set out to try and help other women who have experienced Depression and Anxiety after having a baby, but I couldn't think of how I could go about this.
So I'll share my story with you so you know why I want to help other women and along the way maybe I'll have a brain wave.
This time last year I was an amateur photographer, bitten well and truly by the shutter bug. I could often be found stopping the car at the side of the road because I’d spied a barn owl or walking up hills with Michael on my back and a camera at my front.
This was a bit of a miracle in itself, as a year before that, I was struggling to get out of bed. I had depression for the best part of 10 years, triggered by having a baby (now 9 year old Bruce) during my 2nd year of university.
I developed post-natal depression very badly and had a degree to finish. It took me 2 years to get treatment because I didn’t actually know what depression or anxiety was then, or that I had it, I just thought I was a terrible mother who didn’t deserve to have this beautiful baby but I thought that if I told someone how I felt, social services would take him away. (As an adopted person myself, I’m a bit wary of social services).
Luckily, my mum eventually put her foot down and rang the doctors for me, and I’m so glad she did.
I got emergency care and once a week a mental health nurse came to visit me at home (as I was agoraphobic by this point) As part of my CBT course, the nurse gave me some homework:
"Find 5 photographs that make you feel proud and happy, print them and frame them"
I framed the photos and put them somewhere prominent, and when I walked past them I did smile a little. So the next week, she gave me more homework: (Although I confess it took me over a week to complete)
"CREATE 5 photographs that make you feel proud and happy"
Well, I took photos of Bruce on my phone inside the house, and while they were cute photos, it didn’t give me the same proud feeling. So I knew I had to create a moment myself, which meant going out into the big scary world. I psyched myself up and took Bruce for a walk by myself, once the initial anxiety had worn down, I stopped and looked around and felt quite calm for once. I took photos of Bruce and of the pretty landscape, said hello to passers by and didn’t feel any anxiety all the way home. These photos are still among my favourite photos because they remind me of the moment I realised it was possible to live without anxiety.
I learnt how to look for things that make me happy, pretty things in nature, nice lighting, moments I could look back on and smile about. I had to actually go outside and do something that I would enjoy and take a photo of it, so that in the dark days I could look at it and smile. If you’ve ever experienced depression yourself, you’ll know that finding the motivation to go outside and do stuff is a big deal. Photography is a perfect excuse to get you motivated.
Blurry and a tad heavy on the old filters but I love them anyway.
A couple of years later, after a few ups and downs, a new baby (now 4 year old Michael) a marriage, a divorce, quite a few jobs and a house I’d finally lived in for longer than 6 months (isn’t the rental market shit?) I bought my first DSLR camera! A Nikon D3300 which was amazing, and for anyone looking for a starter camera, buy this! I also bought a copy of ‘Nikon D3300 for Dummies’ because I had zero clue how to use it. I was hooked, but not yet taking very good photos. I was doing it for me so It didn’t matter so much, but when I started posting to Instagram, I became obsessed with taking better photos so I spent all my time learning how.
This is where I hit a snag, it seemed depression wasn’t done with me yet. July 2016 was my lowest point ever, but that’s ok because going to the doctors would help again right? Well not this time, there was now a 6 month waiting list to see a mental health professional. A lot can happen in 6 months. Theresa May, please give the NHS more money. I eventually went on medication that made me sleep 20 hours a day, which is not great when you’re a single working mother. I had to stop working and rely on people to help take Bruce to School. I was ready to give up.
I was sat in my parent’s garden, wondering how the hell I was going to fix this one, I got a notification on my phone, It was just Instagram. I didn’t think much of it, but 5 minutes later, I had 20, then 50. What is going on? Well an Instagram page called ‘Scenic Britain’ had reposted one of my photos as their Photo of the Day, I was propelled into my first good mood for months! It wasn't thousands of likes, it didn't bring me internet fame but this small act from an internet stranger set me back on the road to happiness.
So I started going out to take more photos, because taking photos made me happy.
My friends started asking me to take photos of their kids, which I loved!
Not only does it get you in the feels when people think you’re good at something, but it turns out taking photos of kids is hilarious, all the in between photos, the fails, having to act ridiculously silly to get kids to smile. You can’t spend all day playing peek a boo in the woods and not return home with a big smile on your face. Then I load up the photos up to edit and re-live the day all over again, and then sending them off to the parents and receiving their lovely feedback. Amazing!
Then I got a message from a sister of a friend asking if she could pay me to take some photos of her little boy. Pay me? But it’s just a hobby, it’s not my job. I can't believe it hadn't struck me that I could actually do this as a job yet. Of course I said yes and I decided I wanted to always be doing this. I started a Facebook page and started to look for some models to practice on. I was so scared!! Would people laugh at me?? Was I making a huge fool of myself? Well I'll never know if I don't try. (The same feelings I have about making this post actually)
Well that was 7 months ago and I haven't looked back. I am so happy that I get to do the thing that makes me happy as a career. I'm learning more and more at every photo session so I can't wait to see the photos I take a year from now.
As I hoped, I did indeed have a brainwave while writing this! I would really like to help other women who are looking for a hobby, or a distraction from the daily grind of changing nappies, get into Photography.
I will be starting a Facebook Group for other women to join together and talk about photography and also to share their stories and difficulties. I'll also organise meet ups and walks to take photos and share tips. With or without children, whatever their skill level, whether they have a fancy camera or just a phone as I did in the beginning, I really feel that photography can help other women just as it helped me.
If you're interested in joining my new group, get in touch!
Thanks for reading :)