About the project

Radina Photography and Alongside You have partnered to create space for individuals to share personal stories of struggles. We hope to empower those sharing, and at the same time help reduce stigma and inspire others who are struggling to open up and seek help. This project combines photography and storytelling to help people celebrate the resilience they have built over time through their learning and working through life’s challenges.

The project is currently in progress as we select and work with our participants. Stay tuned for updates.

Celebrating Radina

Radina’s Story

”Combined, the depression and anxiety left me exhausted - physically I had no energy to do anything around the house. I didn’t want to socialize. I called into work sick multiple times out of fear that I’d burst out crying in front of everyone - I had already had to run to the bathroom multiple times to have my crying in private.”

FULL STORY

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Pam’s Story

“I vividly remember being terrified to take my rent cheque to my landlord in my apartment building, and some days being scared to leave my place period, which was really strange because I was a social butterfly when I went out with friends. (Turns out my extrovert qualities are more of a safety mechanism. The things you learn when you grow up!) I began to second guess everything I did and lost all self-confidence.“
FULL STORY

Denise

Denise’s Story

“If the life you’re living isn't working for you, don't be afraid to change it. Tell yourself every single day how absolutely beautiful and worthy you are until you begin to believe it - no matter how long that may take.”
FULL STORY

Celebrating Resilience: Radina’s Story

About Radina

Celebrating Radina

I am the photographer who initiated the Celebrating Resilience project. It all began with sharing my own story as I struggled with anxiety and depression before finding help. I found healing through opening up and telling people about my experience, but also found most people identified with parts of it and were more willing to open up about their own journey.

I hope this project helps us better connect as a community and be more open about sharing our struggles. Openness with ourselves and others is the first step to creating change.

What does this portrait help you celebrate?

It helps me celebrate the balance I have achieved in living with anxiety and depression. The darkness will always be there - there is no cure - but with the education I have acquired for myself in how to live with awareness of it, and the major life changes I implemented for myself, I feel confident that the darkness will not take over the light.

Tell us about your history with mental health challenges. How did your symptoms manifest, and how did that affect your life?

Until a few years ago, I was a mathematician. Today I am an artist. Here is how that happened:

I have a Master’s in Applied Mathematics, and I was working for the government - solid 9-5 job, great salary, four weeks vacation, all the benefits, wonderful boyfriend, homeowner, two cars, two dogs, decent health, good family. Yet more and more often, I found myself driving home from work, blasting the music and singing obnoxiously off-key, enjoying the beautiful scenery as I approached home in Ladner - only to suddenly explode in tears, out of the blue, for no apparent reason. Just a hit of intense sadness that I had less and less control over with time. This is what my depression looks like.

You know how 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 approaching but they are too late.

This is what my anxiety looks like. (Although the theme of the thoughts can change from car accidents to something else over time.)

Combined, the depression and anxiety left me exhausted - physically I had no energy to do anything around the house. I didn’t want to socialize. I called into work sick multiple times out of fear that I’d burst out crying in front of everyone - I had already had to run to the bathroom multiple times to have my crying in private. It affected my relationship with my partner big time - neither of us knew what was going on and felt helpless to change things.

What steps did you take to create change in your life?

I finally went to see my doctor about this - I felt like it was overtaking my life completely. After having myself a big cry in her office, she immediately diagnosed me with severe anxiety and severe depression. This was the FIRST time it occurred to me that *I* could be depressed. It made no sense - on paper, my life was perfect! Yet here I was, slowly falling apart. But now I knew, and that meant I could do something about it.

I started medication immediately - for me, this was a huge help in giving me the headspace to make all the other changes I needed to make. It slowed down all those negative thoughts enough to let me think.

I saw a few psychologists and counsellors until I found the one that was a good fit for me. I wanted to give up after meeting some not-so-great ones, but I’m glad I kept looking. I took a Level 2 first aid course to learn all that first aid accident stuff - that actually helped with the anxiety thoughts by changing the scenario from death and gore to minor injuries I could manage on-scene. I went on an intensive therapy retreat. I took part in a cognitive behavioural therapy group therapy study. I quit my job, which was a big contributor to my stress levels - I grew up being the best student in the class, always looking to excel at everything, feeling worthless when I didn’t, and being good in science meant I HAD to be a big fancy biostatistician.

No more. My wonderful father-in-law gave me a fancy DSLR for Christmas around this time, after I shared with him I am on a quest to change careers to pursue something I’m passionate about. I had told him about my love for photography in the past, and he went and made that a reality for me again. A few months after, as he was slowly leaving this world due to cancer, my last conversation with him was my promise to stick to my newly found passion and become a photographer full time.

It took a couple of years of hard work to get myself out of the deep hole I was in. And now that I am much better, I live with more awareness. The anxiety and depression creep in now and then - but I recognize them coming, I take a step back and don’t let them take control of my life. I use those moments as inspiration to create some of my fine art works.

Was there an “a-ha” moment that helped you take charge and create change for yourself?

My first such moment was when I was sharing how I was feeling with a close friend, and he opened up and told me that he had struggled with similar issues as well. He shared how dark things got for him, and promised me that it does get better. Somehow, in that moment, the way he said it - I chose to just believe him. Even though I wasn’t able to picture things getting better - I took his word for it and kept going with my psychologist and with my plans to change careers.

Another a-ha moment was one of the first meetings I had with my psychologist. She asked me a simple question - she said that now I am depressed, OK, but can I tell her about a time when I was happy - what did that look like? I was stumped - I couldn’t remember a single instance. It really spoke to me about how much depression clouds our reality. This was the start of my Celebrate Yourself portrait concept - helping people photograph their strength, so they can literally have a picture to refer back to when they are going through a hard time and can’t remember.

What are some of your coping tools to deal with your anxiety?

Mindfulness is a huge one. Knowing that your problems will not be fixed in the next hour - why not take that hour and do something totally unrelated. For me, it’s creating art. While I do that, my brain gets to focus on the task at hand, thereby letting go of the negative thoughts. This gives my brain the much needed break to shake off the anxiety.

Another coping strategy is something I do in the afternoon - that’s when I usually start feeling like I haven’t done enough today to build up my business, or whatever nagging thoughts I have going on at the time. So, I take an hour and put away the clean dishes from the dishwasher, load it up with the dirty ones, etc.. This way I am not only giving my brain a break from the thinking by focusing on some simple tasks, but I also end up feeling accomplished because I’ve cleaned the house up a bit!

Finally, my dogs. I just let myself play with the dogs, on the floor, becoming one of them. It probably looks ridiculous if anyone were to walk in, but I don’t care. It calms me down and makes me laugh.

What advice would you give someone that is currently having a hard time with anxiety and/or depression?

Don’t be afraid to talk to someone who has had experience with this. Ideally, speak with your doctor about it, but if they are not much help - don’t give up - find another healthcare professional to talk to. Find a counsellor or psychologist who will listen and be helpful. They can help you devise coping strategies to take the load off, alongside a long-term plan to change things for you. Everyone’s experience with mental health challenges is unique - having someone on your side can be a great help! The journey may be tough, but take my word for it - it can get better.

Celebrating Resilience: Pam’s Story

About pam

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Pam and Radina (the photographer) have been friends for a long time. When Radina started sharing her own story about living with depression and anxiety, suddenly it became apparent that Pam shares similar struggles. It is amazing how many people you may know, close to you, who are going through something similar. The more we talk about it, the more we create space to support each other. Here is Pam’s story.

What does this portrait help you celebrate?

I wanted to celebrate the feelings of accomplishment I was having after taking a look back at my last year. I felt like I had broken through a longstanding battle with myself and come out the other side with a better view of who I am, what I’m capable of and how to create my own happiness, rather than to rely on anything or anyone to do it for me. I wanted a portrait to commemorate the time that I made the choice to DO SOMETHING about the things I was unhappy about, and the time that I finally realized that I was in control of changing the things I didn’t like. I wanted a portrait where I could look back and go “Ya, I did that!” and remind myself that I’m always capable of doing anything that I want to.

Tell us about your history with mental health challenges. How did your symptoms manifest, and how did that affect your life?

My parents divorced when I was young and like almost every other teenager, I struggled with how to deal with my depression proactively. But as I went out into the world on my own in my 20’s, I became less sullen and broody, and more anxious and panic attack prone. I vividly remember being terrified to take my rent cheque to my landlord in my apartment building, and some days being scared to leave my place period, which was really strange because I was a social butterfly when I went out with friends. (Turns out my extrovert qualities are more of a safety mechanism.  The things you learn when you grow up!) I began to second guess everything I did and lost all self-confidence. I didn’t feel secure in my own skin anymore and wallowed in worry over everything I said and did. I wouldn’t speak up in class. I would run from any communication where there could be potential conflict. I just didn’t feel good about myself and didn’t like the fact that I felt anxious.

Was there an “a-ha” moment that helped you take charge and create change for yourself? What steps did you take to create change in your life?

Fast forward to a new job within a department I’ve been moved around constantly in, and I’m miserable for at least 2 years. After endless discussions with friends, family and coworkers, it didn’t feel like there was any relief and I began looking for other work. Still very low confidence in everything I did and massive anxiety over trying to balance work and life. Looking back now, I was waiting for someone to make it better, to change what my work day was like, to make it a happy place, to fix the things I didn’t like.

After one lunchtime conversation, I was ‘forced’ to put kickboxing into my schedule. I had been complaining about how I don’t get to work out anymore, how I loved kickboxing but can’t find time, etc. A new gym was built at my workplace, with a kickboxing bag, and my coworker put a rotating invite in my calendar – every Tuesday & Thursday at 530am, kickboxing. There it was. Scheduled meeting. I had to go. That was the start of the positive change.

That begun the journey of realizing that I really can do anything if I’m willing to put the effort in. I put the effort in to waking up at 4am and going, sometimes kicking and screaming with my own self, but I went. And marvellous things happened. Confidence! Positivity! Feeling like I could take on the world! And I had muscles to prove it! That feeling of confidence and positivity drove my ability to make my work life what I wanted it to be; it drove my ability to not have to wait for someone to fix things and to do it myself, for myself.

I finally gave feedback to those that were bumming me out, and lo and behold, relationships got better! My outlook on my capabilities changed. My pride in how hard I was working grew. Everyone around me noticed the change. I looked better, had a more positive aura about me, I took on more challenges with excitement instead of whining over the fact that they were ‘challenges’. I was promoted. Twice. And now I can take on difficult situations, conversations, conflict, all of it, with confidence in myself. And most importantly, I’m not afraid to fail because I realize now how much you learn from failing. I still have anxiety for sure! But I know how to handle it better because I’m not shrinking away from it, I’m punching it in the throat.

What are some of your coping tools to deal with your anxiety?

Recognizing when it’s anxiety definitely helps! Being mindful of when my head wanders to those bad thoughts or worries and knowing I’m in control of stopping it is helpful. Literally spelling out the specific thing that is causing me stress. For example:

“I’m stressed out.”
“what is stressing you out?”
“We have to get the garbage out and I haven’t started cooking the potatoes yet, and the dog has to be fed…”
“Okay, I’ll take out the garbage, you cook potatoes, I’ll feed the dog. Done.”

Recognizing that I had anxiety issues helped in that I was able to ‘own it’ and explain it to others instead of hiding it and essentially making it worse. Being up front with my husband whenever I feel panicky over things that may seem silly to him has helped because he’s not wondering why I’m freaking out over x, y and z. He understands that I need support and calm and time to breathe it out.

Reminding myself to breathe, relax my shoulders and unclench my jaw helps.

And punching the bag, obviously, haha.

What advice would you give someone that is currently having a hard time with anxiety and/or depression?

Recognize that it’s giving you a hard time and take the step to find out how to make it better. Because you CAN make it better. And it’s about balance! You cannot start working out tomorrow and expect the change in a week, or a month. But if you’re consistent and you keep the path reasonable (Rome wasn’t built in a day and you cannot keep up with a crazy intense diet, schedule, or cleanse. It’s not realistic and it’s why so many of those ‘fads’ fail), you’ll see and feel the difference and so will everyone else.

It may not be a choice to feel anxious or depressed, but it IS a choice to do something about it. Nothing can hold you back if you don’t let it. You just have to put in the work.

 

Celebrating Resilience: Denise’s story

About Denise

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Radina and Denise met at Denise’s hair salon, when Radina needed a haircut. It took all of five minutes to connect on the topic of mental health and the struggle to get better, and the passion to spread the message that the stigma needs to come down. Denise has a powerful blog that inspires its readers as she shares her journey of self discovery and life with Lyme disease, and all the challenges and life lessons her journey brings. She is a strong mental health advocate for youth, a talented hairdresser, and has the biggest heart.

What does this portrait help you celebrate?

This portrait helps me celebrate my divine feminine strength and the gentle warrior whom I have found within myself throughout this ongoing battle. It reflects and celebrates not only my resiliency but also the healer that I have - that we all have - within ourselves, if only we do the work to find her.

Tell us about the major struggles you have encountered in your life - how did they manifest, and how did they impact your life?

As a youth I struggled significantly with issues of low self-worth, depression, anxiety, panic disorder and ptsd. What I didn't understand at the time was that this was my body's way of telling me that I wasn't embracing my true self or processing emotions or trauma in a healthy way. Throughout those same years I was diagnosed with endometriosis and later vestibulodynia, both conditions include severe chronic pain. Later, in my early twenties my body was overtaken by more severe chronic pain and debilitating, disabling symptoms that later, after several misdiagnoses I learned were caused by Lyme disease - which may or may not have been the root cause of both my mental and physical health issues as a youth as well.

Was there an “a-ha” moment that guided you towards a path to take charge and create change for yourself?

Not so much one moment but a series of moments, or decisions really, to find out what small steps compounded together would create large change for me, and then making the decision to take charge of my life and my health and to do these small things every day in whatever way I can, in order to create a life that I love and that I feel is worth living.

What steps did you take to create change in your life?

Personal development reading, exercise, nutrition, proper sleep habits, removing the people who aren't good for me from my life, focusing my energy on healing rather than what is ailing me, meditation, hydration, and energy work have made significant differences in my quality of life and my healing. I also created my home space into a space that feels good to me, is calming, positive, and conducive to healing. I have also filled my home with reminders of positive affirmations to keep my mindset on gratitude and healing.

What are some of your coping tools to help you navigate through life’s challenges?

Meditation is a huge one for me but I have also found art, energy work, and positive affirmations to be significantly helpful. One of the most significant things that I have done for myself is turned my home into a zen-like healing space that feels good to be in.

What advice do you have for someone going through a similar journey?

Educate yourself on your challenges and how you can retrain your brain in a positive and healthy way. Surround yourself with whatever makes you feel good. If it doesn't bring you joy, get rid of it. If it isn't conductive to healing, change it. If someone doesn't make you feel good inside, they aren't your people. Find a safe space to learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable because healing and growth do not happen in your comfort zone. If the life you're living isn't working for you, don't be afraid to change it. Tell yourself every single day how absolutely beautiful and worthy you are until you begin to believe it - no matter how long that may take.