While mental illness takes many shapes and forms, and some do become dangerous to themselves or others, the majority of us struggling with mental health are the people sitting opposite you in class, your bus driver, your boss, your friend, or your brother. And there is a fairly good chance you had no idea.
To celebrate Mental Illness Awareness Week from October 4 to 10, Vancity Buzz will be publishing stories from readers who have struggled with mental illness either currently or in the past.
“How Photography Changed My Life”
Bryce Evans, age 23 – artist, Marketing Consultant and Founder of The One Project
Back in junior high and high school, I felt really alone. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was going through severe depression and anxiety. Anxiety that would often leave me shaking, sweating and feeling nauseous — sometimes just at the thought of trying to push myself to go out to the party that was happening that night. The social obligation I never understood or really liked.
I never liked getting drunk and found it hard to connect with the people I was placed around for most of the hours in the day. This left me with a lot of questions about who I was and why I seemed to be so different, it left me feeling alone and the questions grew bigger and more existential as time went on.
I started getting depressed and began to withdraw more and more from those around me. I did my absolute best to act out my expected role and fit in so that no one would ask any questions or find out the reality that I was suffering inside. At times this lead me to some of the darkest spaces I’ve known, with suicide starting to look as though it was my only option out.
Looking back on it, I now know that there was a horrible cycle between my depression and anxiety that kept me from talking. Every time I wanted to reach out and tell someone that I was suffering from depression, my anxiety would kick in full speed ahead, and the opportunity would pass — leaving me mad at myself and even more depressed than before.
Everything changed when I got a camera of my own and began to explore the world through a new lens. My camera was glued to my hand and I would spend hours each day rediscovering the world around me and finding beauty everywhere.
This moment changed my life. I acted on my instincts (something I always ignored during this period of my life) and was able to capture this photo. I felt a shift inside myself in the moment that I clicked the shutter and although I knew it was one of my best photos I’d taken up until that point, I wouldn’t realize just how much this photo would do for me. This was the start of my process in opening up, starting to talk about my story, and overcoming my depression and anxiety.
I started to tell a story with the photo and as I worked at it, I realized that I could take more photos and tell more stories. The floodgates had been opened and everything that I had bottled up inside for so long was now spilling out through my camera and the stories that I created.
I told ten stories in total and then decided to share it online (on Facebook), as a personal photo series and project, to shed light on my story and hopefully help someone else that was struggling. I did it late one night after tirelessly working to ensure that it was ‘perfect’ and for at least a minute my finger hovered over the ‘enter’ button with immense fear and hesitation. Post.
Where I expected immense judgement, abandonment, and ridicule I was faced with overwhelming support for my story and this project that I put out in the world, with private messages from people relating to my situation. I was not alone.
It actually seemed to be the opposite. All of these people I would have never expected to be dealing with these issues were coming forward and saying to me that they struggled just the same. Much of my worldview flipped that day. My greatest fear had just unlocked a door that seemed to lead towards my greatest dream — using my photography and art to help people. The One Project was born.
Honestly, I don’t think I had the words to be able to express what I was dealing with… at times I still don’t. That’s why photography was such a powerful tool for me. And that’s why I am now working to teach people about the therapeutic power of photography and how it can help provide a safer and much more gradual process to start talking about and working through these type of issues that are shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding.
The One Project has evolved a lot over the last five years, I’ve met thousands of people around the world who have benefited in a similar way from photography. And yet, there was no proper space to help people learn these techniques and connect them with others who are going through the same thing. That’s why we’re building the first photography community for depression and anxiety. A way to rediscover yourself as a project that can constantly be improved, find the tools that work for you, and connect you with professional help if you need it.
I hope that if you’re reading this and silently suffering, you will try to use photography to help get it out. Even doing so on your own can help tremendously to start and eventually (for me it took a year) you’ll be comfortable enough to tell someone. It will most likely be a long and tough journey, but I can guarantee you it’ll be the best thing you ever do
Check back tomorrow for another story from our “My Mental Illness” series.
For information and resources on mental illness, please visit the follow:
- Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Here to Help BC
- BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services
- Kelty Mental Health for Child and Youth information