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My Mental Health Diaries

How I Use Photography to Cope with Mental Illness

By Letitia LouPublished 7 years ago 5 min read
Top Story - December 2017
"That's how depression hits. You wake up one morning, afraid that you're going to live." - Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

I've been drawn to creativity my entire life. My whole family is creative in their own way. So I guess you could say I was raised not to fit myself into a little box, to not limit myself. Which is ironic considering how strong my intrusive thoughts from anxiety and depression are. They like to tell me I'm a failure, that I'm not good enough.

When I was little, my dad used to draw these amazing drawings. I remember flipping through the pages of his sketch books and just devouring every little detail. I was so blown away that my dad had this amazing skill. I used to try to copy his drawings, in the way a kid does, trying to copy their parent.

Then there's my mom...she loves to sing and cook. Her art is bringing people together through a mutual love of something. Be it music, or food, she has the right idea. Family and friends are so important to her, in that way. And she was always so resilient in learning how to do things, herself.

Both my parents were. They took pride in figuring out what they wanted, learning how to do it the right way the first time and taking action. When I was little, I thought my parents knew everything. Now that I'm an adult with my own children, I am even more blown away by all those little things they did. Sometimes, it still makes me feel like I'm fucking everything up because I still don't know what I'm doing!

Then there's my extended family.

My aunt, who makes these amazing photo albums and cross-stitched christmas ornaments for all the new babies and partners in our family. My Grandma, who used to sew and knit these amazing Barbie clothes for us. My Uncles carve canoes, ride horses, fix cars...My aunts make bannock, harvest wild berries, herbs and medicines, they fish, they paint, they make music...the list goes on.

They all played such a huge part in teaching me to believe that I could do anything, and not to settle for anything less than my best. It can be very confusing when you were taught to be a strong, in dependent person, yet your mind insists on telling you the exact opposite. You find yourself wondering if you're just the black sheep of the family.

Because of them, all I wanted to do when I was little was to grow up to be an artist. It's all I dreamed about (besides, maybe, being a Spice Girl or marrying Leonardo DiCaprio, but that's besides the point).

Searching for answers.

So when depression and anxiety hit, and they hit hard, I'm glad that I had that one little thing to cling to when I had given up on everything else.

Between teenage hormones, drama, school, fights with your parents, drugs, parties, and all those other things that made up my life at that time, it was a recipe for disaster. A recipe that I'm still not sure how I even lived to tell the tale.

Now that I've grown older, and I'm on the other side of my teenage years (thank goodness), I'm thankful for all the mistakes I made, and the hardships I endured. When you're that age, you think you've got it all figured out. What you don't admit to yourself is how truly terrifying that tiny piece of autonomy is. But it's the resilience from experiencing those hard times that has made me who I am, and I wouldn't change a thing about it.


It wasn't until I graduated high school that I even started practicing photography. I signed up for a photography course at UFV. If I'm being honest, I never did finish it. I got depressed and missed the last class. At the time, I didn't even know I had depression. I just thought I was a sad person. I thought it was normal to be so sad that you can't function. Nobody ever really talked about it in depth. Nobody seemed concerned, so I never sought help for it. I thought I was just inherently bad. I kept trying, and failing, to change things about myself and my life that I thought "once I do this...then I'll be happy." But the happiness never came, and I'd feel more like a failure than before.

But my art and creativity is what got me through those rough times. It was all the ideas I had that I wanted to share with others. That's what kept me desperately clinging to life. Even though I wanted to die, I couldn't bring myself to kill myself because I had too many ideas. And when I was creating, I wasn't thinking about how depressed and anxious I was. I would get this idea for a poem, a photo, a drawing, a song or whatever, and I would have to get it out, right then and there, which would take hours.

It was my coping mechanism. It was the only way I could distract myself long enough, until I got tired enough to pass out from exhaustion. It was my way to numb myself, until I finally learned that it was not healthy to be sad the way I was sad. It was not normal to think about killing or hurting yourself on a daily basis. So, in a way, art had been my medicine until I was finally able to ask for help, so I could stop trying to ignore my pain, and actively retrain my mind to be more positive, and set goals for myself. Of course, there's no easy answer. It's been a lot of work. Between therapy, medication, doctor's appointments, etc...I had to decide to face it all head on, and work through my issues. And, if I'm being honest, it got a lot worse before it got better.

Photography and art saved my life. When I was going through the hardest time of my adult life after a separation from my emotionally abusive partner, and father of two of my children, I felt like all I had was photography. I had no friends left. We were in and out of court for two years. My parents had recently gotten divorced. My children were very young (three and eight months). I hadn't worked in four years. I had no savings. We were living with my mom and brother, and I was now on income assistance.


A year later, both my mom and brother had moved out, and I was now living on my own with my two children. A year after that, I met my current partner, who happens to be a mental health and suicide prevention advocate. He inspired me to start this project. So, with a million ideas in my head, I dove head first into using photography to convey and portray exactly what my mental illness is like. I didn't know how to put it into words, and for some reason putting it into pictures just made sense to me and came so easily. Thus, my mental health diary was born.


I suppose, deep down, photography helps me satisfy my craving to reach out to others, and by doing so, offers some comfort that if you suffer from mental illness, you are not alone. I hope that this project can help reduce some of the stigma of having mental illness. I think it's so important to break down our own walls, and let ourselves be vulnerable and raw. We are only human after all.

If you are having a hard time, please don't hesitate to reach out. People care about you. You are important, I promise.

Diagnose me.


About the Creator

Letitia Lou

Real stories. Real experiences. Real life.

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