Mental Illness and the Photographer

Photo by: Jacqueline Kueppers

   Photography as a passion can bring joy into many people’s lives. It’s perhaps why the Caliburn girls pursue it. In many ways the process of photography, in and of itself, can be a peaceful and joyful moment. That being said, always finding a way to do what you love isn’t always easy to do. This is particularly difficult when mental illness is involved. So then what do you do when you find yourself down and out? What do you do when you want to do what you love, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it? Well, it’s not as simple as a one word answer, but let’s see if we can find an answer none the less.

   Photography hasn’t always been my passion, and it’s far from my only one, but like my other passions through life it brings me joy. I love learning how to use my camera and its settings. Setting up my perfect picture, hearing the many clicks of my camera as I take pictures only to check them, readjust, and then take the picture again. I love being able to take out my camera and capture a moment and the feelings it creates. As a landscape photographer, being outside in the world with my camera has given me some of the most peaceful moments in my recent past, because of the silence, the sound of the camera, the fun of setting up the shot, the emotions and feelings that are portrayed in the photo, and most importantly: getting lost in the moment. Being able to lose myself in what I’m doing is wonderful. These are the things that make me love photography and why it brings me joy. You may have different reasons why photography makes you happy, but in the end it brings you joy, and that’s what matters.

Like many things in life though, the enjoyment that you get from photography can be hard to obtain. There are lots of reasons why a person might feel like they can’t get out to do a photo shoot. It could be having to drive to a destination that’s just to far away, it could be the human factor (someone not showing up, feeling particularly introverted, having to wait for a booking or someone else’s schedule to fit yours, etc.), some sort of emergency, or it could be as simple as a mental illness being involved and making life harder over all. Part of the reason this can weigh on you is because all of this adds to the kind of stress you do photography to escape from. We can be so wound up in our heads that we forget the simple bliss of taking photos. It requires immense focus and little work in the perfect kind of storm that lets you forget all of the troubles in our lives. In the chaos of life it is easy to prioritize stress, it is easy to remain inactive and soon we get lost in ourselves and forget just how relieving photography is for our souls.

   Mental illness is a difficult burden to bear. Most of us know what it’s like; depression, anxiety, OCD, Bipolar disorder, and so many others are becoming more and more prevalent in this post-post modern era of uncertainty and instability. According to he Canadian Mental Health Association, 6.7 million Canadians are affected by some type of mental illness over all. Over 28% of people age 20-29 suffer from mental illness, and suicide accounts for 24% of deaths in the 15-24 year old range. (CMHA-Menatl-health-factsheet.pdf pg.1 2ahUKEwjOvp7t-OvpAhUoGjQIHU_CAz8QFjAegQIAxAB&usg=AOvVaw29DB_QN0M52HPK6X-sBqQG&cshid=1591403830296).

It’s not easy, it’s not fun, and if most of us had the choice to be free of mental illness, we would probably release ourselves of it the first chance we got. Sadly it’s easier said than done, and we don’t have the option to just “get rid of it”. So what do we do when it gets to the point where going somewhere, possibly being around people, or even just moving from the bed to the couch seems more difficult than it should be, and ultimately prevents us from pursuing the things we love; When you’ve run out of energy and it doesn’t seem to matter how much sleep you’ve had you still feel tired; When you are experiencing any of the multitude of problems that living with mental illness brings into your life that make life that much harder; What do you do? It’s easy enough to say “go do something that makes you happy” or any of the number of things i am sure we have all heard variations of at some point. Sometimes, we just need to step back and take time for ourselves to heal. Sometimes it’s not about you losing touch with the things you love, it’s more about remembering why you loved them in the first place. You just need to take the time to love yourself. Don’t add the things you love to the stress pile of things you feel like you should do.

Photo by: Jacqueline Kueppers

  Take a step back and heal. What does that even mean? Time and time again I have stepped back from a situation to regain perspective or to heal myself and have ended up wallowing for too long. I end up letting myself spiral before finally pulling myself back together. I used needing to step back as an excuse to go farther into the darkness of my mental illnesses. I used stepping back as an excuse to give up and give in. So while taking a step back is necessary, do not let it consume you either. Eventually I would slowly start making myself take the care I need to start doing the things I love again. Over time I have gotten better and stopped letting my mental illness win. When it got so bad that I needed a break and to step back, I force myself to bring one thing that brings me joy along while remembering to keep it off of the stress pile.

What does this have to do with photography? To put it simply: everything. Whether it is photography, painting, pottery, stamp collecting, video games, or the number of other things in this world that could bring you joy, then it matters. You don’t have to go out and take pictures of the most beautiful mountain or the perfect head shot, paint a mural, make a sculpture, or beat your highest score. Start out small again when normal seems too hard to manage. Make something small, or take pictures of something close to you. Stay in bed, and take pictures of your pets, your partner, or even the lamp beside you. Bring yourself some joy, even if it’s just a little bit, to remind yourself that there is still good in this world for you to enjoy. 

Photo by: Jacqueline Kueppers

   Sometimes it’s hard to to do the things that you find enjoyable when the world seems like it’s crushing down on you the way mental illness does. Sometimes even doing small things can be more than what is manageable. In the end, when we are faced with mental illness, all we can do is our best to take care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, and physically even when it feels impossible. Sometimes this means taking a long shower, singing into your pillow so no one else can hear, being happy when you manage small things like brushing your teeth and remembering to eat. Remember to find the happiness around you. Not all of these things are able to be fixed by photography, but photography has given me the outlet to be able to remind myself to find happiness when I loose sight of it, and hopefully it will be able to do the same for you.

Written by Guest Writer: Jacqueline Kueppers of Kueppers Creations

Published by Caliburn Photography And Design

Small business in Edmonton specializing in Photography and Graphic Design by Keshia Erin. Capture. Create. Community.

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