We welcome Alice Cannon, popular international photographer and good friend of ours to introduce the first story in this mental health awareness visual project. This project is intended to give a voice to those with experiences with mental illness as this is something that is very close to our hearts. We hope that those who view our work and read the experiences of others will be able to better understand or empathize with people who are affected by mental illness.
I was diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and anxiety when I was a freshmen in college. There is a long story that goes along with that, but I will save that for later. For now, all you need to know is that I really struggled with my diagnosis and accepting it for an entire year. I did not like talking about it because it was something I was ashamed of. I didn’t want anyone to know just how broken I truly was.
I was in a photography class about six months after my diagnosis. I had found photography to be my way of coping with my mental illness, and one day, I realized that I wanted to do a photo story of my journey. My journey of being broken, struggling with being broken, and then accepting that it was a part of me, rather than something that defined me. I spent six weeks putting together a photo project, and it was the most difficult photography project I have ever had. (I will be sharing my images later, don’t worry.) In the end, seeing my final product was one of the most freeing things I have experienced in regards to my mental illness. Ever since then, I have dreamed of doing photo stories for other people for three reasons. First, I wanted them to have an experience like mine. It is so hard, but so rewarding. Second, I wanted to build a community. I wanted people to know they are not in this battle alone. In fact, I believe it is a battle we all face. Third, I want the people who do not struggle to be able to get a glimpse into the lives of those of us who battle mental illness each day.
Now, fast forward a few years. In January of this year, I told Arielle about my dream, and she said that it is her dream, too. Arielle’s husband attempted suicide a few years ago (which was around the same time that I did my photo story), and she also battles mental illness. I will tell more of her story later on, too. We decided to join forces and bring this dream to life. We had the goal of getting these stories ready to publish all throughout the month of May.
We put contact info out on social media to see if anyone wanted to come in and share their story with us. We were blown away by the response that we had. We got over 100 people wanting in on this project. We were so excited!! We started booking dates for the interviews, and wow, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We sat for four different days, almost all day, talking with people who struggle with mental illness. We laughed, we cried, and we felt. We felt the struggle and pain more than we ever imagined we would. To be completely honest, this project through me so far for a loop that I was not prepared for, and I am still trying to pick myself back up from it. After these few days, we decided that we could not take on anymore stories at the time. Thankfully, we got quite a few, but here we are, May 24th, and I am just releasing the first one. This is just one example of how my anxiety affects my life. I have quite literally avoided this project because of how hard it was. Typing up the stories and editing the photographs just brings back all of the emotions I felt during the interviews, and the tears flow. My heart hurts, and my stomach churns.
To those who are going to follow this journey with me in these next few weeks, thank you. This project is so close to my heart, and I hope that it helps you.
To those who came in and shared your hearts with us, thank you. Your words are going to help someone, and I hope this project helped you. I sure love you.
To those reading these and struggling, please reach out. You are not the only one. It is so much easier to do this with someone by your side.
I will start off and end with two conceptual shoots that Arielle and I did to help show you what we feel on the inside, but it's not visible to the outside world.
First up, drowning.
This is Jessi.
When Arielle and I were in the middle of our interviews, we went to lunch together, and this idea came to us. Jessi had just come and been interviewed, and she was the perfect candidate for this project. We reached out to her, and she had already had a similar thought. We picked a day, and we went for it.