Mental Health + Photography: why I created the Celebrate Yourself! photoshoot concept

 Project: Celebrate Pam! Nothing captures joy quite as well as a jump.. for joy!

Project: Celebrate Pam! Nothing captures joy quite as well as a jump.. for joy!

It is rare that I get this personal and vulnerable in a blog post, and I feel the time has come for me to share the story behind my journey into photography. For those who don't know me, I left a very stable career as a mathematician in medical and health research nearly two years ago, in pursuit of happiness. After going back to school to study photography, and starting my own business, I feel that I have finally figured out what it is that I am meant to do. It took taking a look at how I ended up here, and being true to my personal values. I am excited to be officially launching Celebrate Yourself! - a sort of mental boudoir photoshoot, custom tailored for every unique person to take the time and reflect on their accomplishments. To celebrate overcoming challenges, reaching milestones that seemed impossible, and to commemorate that moment of self pride with a physical piece of artwork to look at every day as a reminder of how hard work eventually pays off. Everyone’s story is different, so how we celebrate YOU is always going to be different. The creative process involves talking about the essence of what we are celebrating, and together we generate ideas on how to best accomplish that using photography.

So here is my story. Four years ago, I found myself having a picture perfect life. Master’s degree in Science. Full time government job. Four weeks vacation, all the benefits. A loving partner. Home owner in my twenties. Two dogs. Two cars. Healthy. Lots of friends. But something wasn’t right. You know how sometimes you drive in your car on a beautiful sunny day, blasting your favourite song on the stereo, and singing along at the top of your lungs - not worrying how off key you are, because nobody can hear you? And then suddenly out of nowhere you are overcome with a wave of intense sadness and start crying uncontrollably. What the heck??? 

Sometimes you see a person jaywalking, and for a split second you have that gut wrenching thought that the car around the corner might hit them. Actually, in that same split second, your brain puts together a full feature visualization of the car hitting the person, complete with a series of horrible images of mangled body and gore. Later in the day you are sitting at home enjoying a nice cold one watching random Netflix, and suddenly a similar scenario plays itself out in an instant, your brain not giving you a chance to turn it off, but this time it is your partner and your dogs mangled and dead in the street; ambulance coming but they are too late. 

This got worse and worse over the course of about a year. That’s how long it took me to tell my doctor. I had to, I was starting to miss days of work because these thoughts were happening multiple times a day and left me shaken and crying, unable to get out of the house. I was shocked when she told me I have severe depression and severe anxiety. Why??? I have the job, the house, the partner, the dogs, the cars… It took a lot of reading to educate myself. Nobody is immune to depression and anxiety. It was hard, and I spent about two years working hard on myself. I took medication. I saw a wonderful psychologist regularly. I went on a mental health retreat. I went to cognitive behavioural therapy workshops. I even took first aid training - this turned my fantasies of horrific car accident deaths into occasional minor accidents, during which I run up to the scene and provide first aid - ending with a broken leg or arm, but everyone lives! Pretty insane how the brain works. I am better now, thanks to all that hard work, which took a lot of will power and support from my partner.

My depression and anxiety will never go away fully. I have learned to live with this fact in a way where its effect on my life is minimal. However, I needed a long term solution - enter my father in law. I shared my goals with him about finding a new career that I am passionate about and that gives me time flexibility and lifestyle freedoms. I told him a tidbit about how I loved photography way back when, in high school, but never pursued it as a career. So, of course, a few months later at Christmas, he gives me a top notch super awesome DSLR. Until this time, I shot back in film days, so now I actually had to take a course to learn how to use this fancy camera! My passion was reignited full force. My only regret is that my father in law passed away a few months later from cancer, so I cannot share this journey with him. The last one-way conversation I had with him, in which I said my goodbye (he was not able to speak), I told him I had come to a decision to pursue this dream of mine. I thanked him for giving me my passion back. I will not disappoint him. 

One thing that stands out the most in my journey to recovery is my very first visit with my psychologist. She asked a very simple question - “So, you are sad now. Can you tell me about a time when you were happy - what did it look like?” Well, duh! Of course, my analytical mind tells me, there have been a ton of times I have been happy. That’s a silly question. Wait. Hmmm… I was stumped. It is amazing how much depression can cloud our brain. No wonder it’s often depicted as a rain cloud hanging over your head all day. I could not remember a time when I was happy. I could not visualize myself as a happy person.

This is where my idea for Celebrate Yourself! comes from. We must take the time to appreciate and celebrate the moments of happiness and strength. In fact, we should be photographing those moments, printing them and putting them in front of our bathroom mirrors. Let’s look at those photos every day, so we never forget - no matter how crappy today may be - we will come out of this. We’ve done it before - and we’ll do it again. We are not our depression. We are not unhappy people. We are strong; we persevere. We just need to remind ourselves of that.

Over the next year, I look forward to sharing others’ stories with you about why they are celebrating. Maybe it’s finding yourself again after a divorce. Maybe it’s finding yourself for the first time? Maybe it’s going back to school. Maybe it’s spending the year working out and feeling good in your body for the first time in a long time. Maybe you beat cancer. Maybe you didn't, but found a way to not let cancer beat you!  Maybe you took control of your life after learning to live with a chronic illness. Insert your own story here!

Today, I celebrate myself - I finally have a clear vision of how I can combine my authentic self, my empathy, and my love for photography into one cohesive experience that I can share with others. Before deciding on photography, I almost pursued a career in psychology. I feel like I’ve finally found that happy medium that makes perfect sense! I am at my happiest when I can help others be at their happiest! The two strong women depicted in my celebratory photograph in this post were two of my first Celebrate Yourself! clients. In the coming days, I will share more about their stories.

Thank you for reading, and please do get in touch if you are interested in learning more about my journey, working with me, or if you want to share your story with me. I always encourage people to tell their story - someone out there will identify with it, and it can inspire them to do great things. Cheers!

 Celebrate Yourself! selfie. People say to visualize yourself where you want to be. Well, here I am. Creating artwork for people to celebrate their accomplishments and appreciate themselves just a little more!

Celebrate Yourself! selfie. People say to visualize yourself where you want to be. Well, here I am. Creating artwork for people to celebrate their accomplishments and appreciate themselves just a little more!