Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of anxiety.
Throughout the early years of my life, just as I’m sure most of us were, I was full of naïveté and was blissfully ignorant about all the doom and gloom going on. Living with my family in a quiet town, I just complacently followed a routine, knowing what I was expected to do every day with almost no variation.
As I grew older over subsequent years, I decided to break free of this and endeavoured to become more independent. So, I accepted a daunting job offer and moved away from my family.
It was around this time as I was gaining autonomy that I started to feel overwhelmed as I became clued-up about politics and became more conscious of the privileges that I had taken for granted.
But when I take photos, I find that it allays any prior feelings of being overwhelmed.
The last few years have been incredibly hard for numerous different reasons:
I grew apart from some friends who I used to be very close to
My long-term relationship fell apart which shattered my self-worth
I was burning myself out, being exploited during my volunteering
My grandmother was diagnosed with dementia
The final nail in the coffin was how upon quitting a job that was proving severely detrimental to my mental health, I felt entirely directionless and couldn’t escape my anxiety telling me that I was a disappointment to everyone who knew me and thought I could achieve so much more.
As a kid, I faced confidence issues from bullying. As a teenager, I didn't know how to act socially or where I fit in amongst the cliques. As an adult, I've felt like an inescapable cog in the capitalist machine.
So many times over the years, I’ve caught myself feeling confused and unsure of my place in the world, struggling to pin down my own sense of personal identity, belonging and intrinsic value. I would constantly zone out and dwell on distressingly negative thoughts, then be trapped questioning where my façade ended and my true self began.
Would I ever truly help anyone, or was I just trying to convince myself? How can I be an active positive influence or should I resign myself to being passive? Will any of my contributions be meaningful in the grand scheme of things? Is there any hope to have made my mark and left a legacy when my mortality catches up with me? Who even thinks like that at 24 years of age? The only logical explanation is clearly that my diet growing up was undiluted cynicism.
Yet when I take a picture, none of that exists. In that single moment, there is simply the subject of the picture.
What initially started as a light hobby to distract from my anxiety, became a medium through which I could focus on something singular and block out surrounding issues.
I began using my phone camera to take photographs of my dog, in order to cheer myself up. I quickly realised that it was incredibly liberating to have all of my focus on something harmless, detracting from the overwhelming negativity that we may otherwise find ourselves unable to escape.
Through the camera, I was able to embrace and connect with my surroundings, using the digital shutter to save memories as they unfolded so that I could always cherish them without the fallibility of memory.
Where once I was embarrassed by my enthusiasm for photography, and was apprehensive about posting any of this content to my social media, I began to unapologetically upload content to Instagram. Whether it was a day out with family, a trip away with mates, or beautiful scenery, I used this platform as a journal that I could scroll through whenever I was down to remind myself of better days and to relive happy moments.
Looking back at old photos, and recently reminiscing with my friends about times long past, it feels hard to believe how things have changed over the years. At some point in the near future, I intend to collect some printed pictures together into photo albums to share with my family and friends, as a physical expression of just how much I appreciate the memories that I have forged with them.
While I do still struggle with my mental health at times, those fleeting moments where I appreciate life one frame at a time have proven to be an undeniable factor of emotional healing, and I am truly in a better place now as a result of that passion.
(Inspiration: Nature photography has helped heal my mind.)
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