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Photography as Therapy

I wrote an article back in January about my struggle with anxiety and my illness. If you haven’t read it, please take a moment to do so, because it will give some backstory to what I am about to write without having to repeat it.

Basically, a couple of years ago, before I started really getting back into film photography, I was suffering from horrible anxiety. I explained it all in length in the aforementioned article, but now I wanted to give sort of an update.

It is a special kind of hell living with a mind that just doesn’t feel safe in certain situations. If you have anxiety disorders then you know what I mean. If you don’t, then the easiest way I can explain it is picture yourself in any moment in your life where you felt out of control. Picture that fear that you felt. Remember the uncertainty of that moment. Now what if everyday situations made you feel that fear?

My doctor told me it would never be cured, I would deal with anxiety in some form or another for the rest of my life. I remember one therapist I went to as a young teenager told me that my anxiety issues were like a stack of books, and as I grew older, if it kept going untreated, that stack would rise above me and I would never be able to get out of its shadow. That has always stayed with me, because it proved to be true.

Doctors office
Canon FTb QL Fuji Pro 400H

After my first very traumatic stay in the hospital, I had so many bad experiences with doctors that slowly I began to fear going to them. I was diagnosed with PTSD and my anxiety grew so bad that weeks before an appointment I’d be pacing back and forth at home. I tried breathing apps, meds, lavender, everything, but it just kept getting worse and stress only made my Crohn’s and colitis flare up worse. Then every hospital stay I’d come out even more damaged than before.

As I mentioned in that article, film photography and creating videos for my YouTube channel has given me something to feel proud of again and my love for vintage cameras has given me something to distract myself from the sadness, fear, and pain I have had to deal with this past year.

When I go to an appointment I carry a small camera with me and on the drive there I am so focused on what shots I can take from my window that I forget where I am going. I even take pics inside sometimes.

Yashica Electro Kodak Portra 400
Fujica ST801 Kodak Portra 400

During the appointment, I think about what photographs I will be able to get when we leave. A lot of my doctors are located by the water, so I actually look forward to going there.

My PTSD was so bad for a while that I could not look at the view below, because it was my view for two months in the hospital. If I looked at it, I felt sick to my stomach. Slowly as I have made new memories, going to doctors appointments near the hospital, I have replaced those bad feelings with good. Now I can look at this view and appreciate its beauty again.

The view outside the office
Fujica ST801 Kodak Portra 400

I have finally gotten some answers about why my left side has numbness and tingling, as well as the extreme pain I was going through after my last hospital stay. (If you don’t know what im talking about here’s another article.) That has helped some of my anxiety subside. It is so important, as a patient of any sort, to seek out the answers. I have learned that not all doctors know what they’re talking about. I have almost always had to do my own searching for answers. If you’re going through any kind of illness, search for those answers until you get them.

The View from my Doctors office
Fujica ST801 Venus 800
Fujica ST801 Venus 800

My fiancé has been a huge support for me as well. She always comes with me to my appointments, which helps my anxiety as well. This allows me to sit in the passengers side and take pictures to and from my appointments. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone in your life who understands your illness, or who is patient with your anxiety.

There are a lot of people out there that would say tough love is the answer, or you’re being weak because the mind is something you can control. “Its all in your head.” Emotional pain is not something that can be seen so it’s often swept aside as a weakness. To me that’s like saying a virus in your computer is just your computer being weak. Get an antivirus program and suck it up. That virus meanwhile does irreparable damage to your computer. Even after it’s been removed it’s never the same.

My Fiancé with me at an appointment
Fujica ST801 Ilford HP5 400
Hallway to the office
Canon TX Kodak Portra 800
Empty DR office at the beginning of Covid Pandemic
Canon TX Kodak Portra 800
Canon FTb QL Fuji Pro 400H

I have always loved art. When I was in elementary school, the assignments often would ask, what do you want to be when you grow up? My answer was always an artist. I did grow up and got two degrees in Art. When I was diagnosed, I had to quit my job at an ad agency and I opened my own business as a website designer. I hated it. I didn’t like the technical, I only liked the artistic parts of designing the site. Soon because I was running it alone, and as I grew sicker, the stress became too much. I had to shut it down. That has always haunted me.

Somehow though, now that I have been doing film photography, I am finally feeling those feelings of accomplishment again. While it isn’t making me any money, it has given me something much more valuable.

Pieces of my Father
Mamiya 645Pro Ilford HP5 400

I have always expressed my self through art. When I would feel sadness, I would often draw and you could see my feelings in the strokes I took with my pencils.

Now when I am feeling something, I express it with my photography. I feel an urgency while taking the pictures and even though they may not all come out as something artful, I have found that my best work is often when I was feeling something at the time.

Mamiya 645Pro Ilford HP5 400

I decided to write this article because I mentioned on my instagram that I often took my cameras with me to appointments as a therapy camera. Kind of like a companion dog. I received many messages from people saying that they suffer from anxiety as well and they were going to give this a try.

I hope if you are reading this and you suffer from anxiety, this gives you something to try. I know how scary it can be when you feel as if you’re out of control. Even if it’s not photography, find something you’re so passionate about that you can’t ignore it.

Here is another article I wrote on this subject.

Until next time, stay motivated, and keep shooting.

8 thoughts on “Photography as Therapy

  1. Hi Aly. Your anxiety or rather your thoughts that fuel and drive the anxiety are not ‘you’. Your thoughts are not ‘you’. Mindfulness meditation teaches that and will (for those who commit to it), sever the connection with those thoughts and break the circle. You only have control over three things in your life – what you say, what you think and what you do. In tandem with that, there are only two types of problem in life – things you can have some influence over and everything else that you can’t. Worry about the latter is redundant emotion, so don’t bother and just let go. Set a cap, a price on the former and when you reach it, again let go. A lifetime of anxiety doesn’t mean it can’t be banished. Practice mindfulness and learn to regard your thoughts as things that come and go and are passively observed but not connected to you. On the Chron’s front, a brother of mine has it – I advised him to dump simple carbs (rice, potato, pasta, bread), along with all grains; to eat ‘primal’. The transformation was dramatic. I really wish you well Aly. All this is offered purely on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis but with the proviso that Mindfulness and the other things mentioned have been curative for lots of folks I know. Acceptance is the root of happiness…

  2. Hi Aly! Just found your blog tonight and this post really hit home. I actually picked up doing photography again as a result of a discussion with my therapist last month for my anxiety and control issues. Reading your journey is inspiring and I’m really loving your blog and pictures.

  3. You have had quite a tough row to hoe there – and here you are, alive and alert, thoughtful and reflective. Life is tough, and awful, but also filled with such beauty despite the pain. I really admire your perseverance in the face of it all. Prednisone and disease and the drugs used to treat the diseases can all mess you up. Add to that, for me, monthly cycles made me crazy with mood swings that seemed uncontrollable – super happy, super depressed. Being on the pill really helped get things more predictable – don’t know if you are on it, but you may consider that as a possible method of some emotional control. On one pill pack, I would start on a Monday, and would tell my husband that the first Thursday after I started it he needed to Not Bug Me or he would lose his head. I could just feel things rising like clockwork on those Thursdays. One day he ignored me, and zap!
    He behaved after that!

    The point is that patterns are always something to watch with things like this – it helps to find out what triggers anxiety, what helps with anxiety, and all this mixed bag we are. Changing of a med, dosage or new, needs vigilance and self-observation. I find that routines help, such as regular bedtime, even if I am not sleeping, eating at given times, eating foods I know I can handle (I have UC), and so on.

    Keep it up! Your photos are lovely and your writing is genuine and informative. <3

    1. Thank you. I appreciate your kind comment. Hormones definitely do play a roll. I think this last run of prednisone may have done something to my levels. I’m going to get that checked out. I’m sorry to hear you have UC. Anything with the intestines affects every part of your body. I am glad you liked my photos. Thanks again. Take care.

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