15 stories


 
I think it’s important not to reduce someone to their mental illness: no matter how much it effects their life, it is not their identity. It’s also important not to transform this movement of mental health into a trendy bandwagon for individuals to jump on without due consideration. There is a huge difference between bad days/unhealthy habits/situational sadness or negative feelings and a diagnosed, pervasive mental illness. 

although never talked about often enough, and especially in a positive and healthy way, 1 in 5 US adults experience mental illness every year (and 1 in 5 youth ages 13–18 experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life).

if these numbers do not mean a lot to you, let me put it into perspective:
typically in a given day, how many different people do you talk to or interact with? now, think about the fact that 1 in 5 of those people are juggling some kind of mental illness along with living their normal day to day life.
now think about how many people you see every day. 1 in 5 of those people are dealing with a mental illness and more than you think, right then and there while you see them.

how many people is that? probably more than you can count, and almost definitely more than you thought.
if there are this many people dealing with a mental illness, why is it talked about so rarely and so hush hushed?

 
Contrary to popular belief, mania isnt “happy” and depression isnt “sad”. To me, mania is out of control feelings and caught up on a wave of emotion. Depression is cold wet numb emptiness. (Also, disclaimer: because I have comorbid diagnoses, they all influence my perceptions and experiences of each other, of course. My experience with bipolar will be different from someone who doesn’t have anxiety or PTSD)

mental illness is not fun, true, but that doesn’t change the fact that people are still experiencing it and living with it and through it. the more we talk about it, especially in a healthy and positive way, the easier it becomes to live with, the easier it becomes for those struggling to talk about it and find the help that they need.


those dealing with mental illness often truly live normal and happy lives for the majority of their life, so when i was scouting for this project, i asked all of my models to use their experiences and come up with two concepts unique to them:
1) what it looks like on a good day (because we are normal people and lead normal, happy lives)
2) what it feels like on a bad day (because we have bad days and we cannot control how and when the mental illness strikes)

because of this, all of the ideas are quite different, though many of the illnesses are of the same titled diagnosis.

 
During the year of my most intense depressive symptoms and in the almost decade of treatment that followed, all of the medication and therapy in the world could not save me from my obsessive existential thoughts. What I ultimately discovered is that I was misinterpreting the purpose of those treatments and thus feeling like they didn’t provide any benefit for me. I had hoped that therapy and medication would provide me with the answers to my most difficult questions, ranging from the purpose of life to the golden method for solving all of my problems, but what they are really meant to do is provide you with the emotional stability, mental endurance, and clarity to seek those answers out for yourself. Life is not supposed to be perpetually happy or filled with success, and not even those who report being happy and satisfied with their lives experience a constant state of positivity. We are supposed to endure the journey, asking questions and sometimes stumbling along the way, until we find what makes us feel fulfilled. We can’t do that when one of our most important organs is not functioning correctly. Ultimately, I realized that depression doesn’t end when you discover the purpose of life; instead, it is conquered when you regain the capacity to realize that what you need to do is find purpose in everything.

while photographing, i did not hold back on anyone’s concepts. i never said no to a particular idea because it was “too much”; these are real humans, living this reality every day. you should know what that actually feels like, both on a good day, and a bad day, because we are not scary creatures, we do live happy lives. we feel good often, we love life often.

i tell you this for your discretion in viewing, as mental illness can be scary.

all of the quotes in this post are from the people you see in these photographs. they will remain uncredited, both because they do not need to be credited, as all the words are true and valid, no matter the illness being discussed, and the person discussing them, and also for privacy. the quotes are in no particular order, and may or may not relate to the images they are next to.

one more note, something that truly doesn't matter all that much, but i wanted to mention:
the ‘stories’ relate to the images, and not the quotes. there are 30 images, 2 per person, 15 people; 15 stories. (there are actually only 14 quotes)

 
I want to talk about ending stigmas. There is so much misunderstanding behind mental illness and a general discomfort discussing it. We, humanity as a whole, need to be better about talking about mental illness, sharing our struggles and making it known that you are not alone. There is also a huge stigma against medication which is needed for so many people to overcome their illnesses. This all needs to be made more open to discussion and normalized. 
15 stories
15 stories
 
I think a big part of my journey in suffering with PTSD was getting diagnosed and accepting it. I grew up in a military family, and surrounded by soldiers that were coming back from combat wounded and hurt. I did not allow myself to accept my diagnosis or even want to try to accept it because I didn’t believe I should be privileged to accept the help and treatment that comes with it. I continually compared my suffering and pain to those that I believed suffered far greater than myself, and in turn I did myself and others suffering from PTSD harm. Once I was able to acknowledge the gravity of my pain, I was able to, in turn, forgive myself for blaming myself and accept the help that I deserved. 
15 stories
15 stories
 
Even though mental illness is getting more attention nowadays, and even though it is becoming more socially acceptable to talk about where you might be struggling, mental health still remains stigmatized throughout our country. Many times, when I hear other people talking about mental illness, they speak as though people who struggle in this way just can’t get their crap together, or just can’t relax, or just can’t take it easy every once in a while. You would never say that to someone with Lyme’s disease, and you would never ask someone with a physical disability why they can’t just get up out of their wheelchair, so why ask someone with depression why they can’t just get out of bed? I am in no way trying to belittle physical illness (as someone with a chronic illness myself, I would never do that) but I am trying to help people understand that mental health struggles are just as real. 
15 stories
 
My journey with orthorexia grew out of my recovery from anorexia— as I began eating normal amounts (and gaining healthy weight), I had the energy and motivation to begin running again. However, since running is a sport completely centered around numbers (miles, minutes, etc), I soon became fixated on constantly improving. On the rare occasion when I would allow myself a rest day, I would experience anxiety about everything I ate. I felt pressure to continue adding miles or improving my pace: instead of building in a natural balance of easy and hard days, I would run longer and harder every day. I was constantly exhausted and sore, dreading my alarm (that had to be set earlier and earlier) because I knew it meant I had to lace up my shoes. On multiple occasions, I was late to work or class because of a long workout, and I would cancel plans with friends so I could fit in workouts (or because I just lacked the energy to go out). I remember one day specifically that I was running, (exhausted), and I wanted to stop and walk but I would not let myself rest because I had the number “ten” stuck in my head— I had to run ten miles. (I had already ran 10 miles two days in a row). Eventually, I couldn’t run one more step. I stumbled to a stop, and immediately began crying, panicking that I would lose my fitness or that I wouldn’t have the discipline to start running again. On some level, I knew my mindset was completely imbalanced and out of control. I just didn’t have any way to break out of the cycle I was locking myself into. 
15 stories
 
I only get this one body. I’m going to be waking up everyday day to the same one. I can either choose to let my head continuously make me feel like a trespasser in my own home, or I can learn and work at loving the design. Body dysmorphia has played a role in my life for so long that to think of it not being there is like losing a part of me. But it’s a part of me that was making life harder than it needed to be. This ideal body shape and size is harming young girls and boys to think that because they don’t look a certain way, they aren’t beautiful. You’re beautiful, I’m beautiful, they are beautiful. It’s time to start embracing the differences.
15 stories
15 stories
 
Many of these illnesses have biological and physical manifestations like any other condition. Patients with depressive symptoms often have complications with the amount of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine being produced in their brain. Physical symptoms even manifest for many people with mental conditions, like increased heart rate, tremors, insomnia, etc. These are not delusions. These are the real effects of imbalances in our biochemistry that can (and need to) be treated like any other imbalance in our bodies, especially when such serious side effects as suicidal thoughts are present.
15 stories
15 stories
 
Simply talking about it is the step in the right direction. By making it known to others what you are going through, it can give word that nobody is alone in this process. There are people going through exactly what you are. There are resources and individuals on this earth to help give tools to make everyday functional. Though everybody’s journey is different, by speaking of our experiences, we may pave a person’s path in the right direction to make their lives better. 
15 stories
 
I’m not super shy about the fact that I was sexually abused when I was a child. It does upset me and I am always hesitant to share because I never know who might have gone through the same trauma and I don’t want to risk triggering someone else in bad memories. This incident led to so many issues throughout my childhood and even my adult life. After the trauma, the courtroom, trying to fit back into my classes and attend court mandated therapy I started to develop OCD tendencies. I wasn’t able to touch any surface without feeling panicked and dirty. I washed my hands every five minutes. My hands became chapped, cracked and I had an extreme sense of anxiety trying to overcome the compulsion. Eventually with the help of a therapist I was able to overcome my OCD, but I still struggle with anxiety and depression as an adult. One of the worst part of my anxiety is that I have blocked out the sexual abuse. The memories do not exist. In an attempt to protect myself my brain has blocked the horrible memories. For this I am grateful but I am constantly told that the memories might return. Just the thought of someday having those horrible memories come back to me scares me so much. For now I am safe.
15 stories
 
I am a huge advocate for normalizing the topic of mental health. I am very open with people about it. I don’t hide that I sometimes struggle with my anxiety or depression. I figure if I’m open about it, people can start to understand. That’s what I hope, at least. Instead, I have experienced people throwing it in my face, dismissing my point of view because they know my background. That sucks. I thought and hoped being open would shed some light and understanding and maybe some patience. Unfortunately, it brought the opposite. We need to change that. It is not ok. I am no longer ashamed of my diagnosis. It used to be my darkest secret. Depression doesn’t define me. Anxiety doesn’t define me. I work through it. I learn to cope. All I want is to live my life without stigma. Why is that so hard?
15 stories
 
My darkest days are behind me. Though I have the feelings creep up now and again, I was able to see myself at my lowest to notice how wonderful life truly is. It wasn’t until going to school to become an actor that I learned to live in the present and that no feeling felt is bad. Just be present in that moment and know that it is but a flicker of time. It too shall pass. If depression slithers in, I immediately go somewhere alone and start to notice small things around me, like a bird flying in the sky, or the sound of water trickling back into the lake after it crashes on shore, or just my breathing. Small wonders make up this world and show me how spectacular this life is. I become grateful that I am a part of it. I am no longer a slave to my depression like I was in my teenage years and have found my own ways to acknowledge it and move forward. 
15 stories
 
I struggle with anxiety, much of which stems from my chronic physical illness. Whenever someone around me gets the flu or feels nauseous, I have panic attacks that I am also going to get sick. All of this comes from the fact that I literally always feel sick to my stomach because of my Crohn’s disease, so I can never tell if I have the flu, or if the way I am feeling is just my new normal. One day, one of my students and a teacher I work with both threw up during the school day. I had been having a few good weeks without too many panicky thoughts, but the night after all of this happened, I was struggling with my anxiety quite a bit. I was talking to someone about it and she told me “you just need to think about something else. Stop always believing that you are going to be sick and just relax.” It was incredibly frustrating even though it was just one quick sentence. This response to my attempt to be vulnerable with that person immediately shut down any chance that I would take of being vulnerable with her again about my anxiety because I knew right away that she didn’t understand, and even more, that she was not listening. She didn’t hear in my voice that I would love NOTHING more than to “think about something else”, that all I want is to “just relax”, that I would give so much to be able to go to sleep at night without the nagging fear that I would wake up sick. Yes, it’s in my head. Yes, it’s also in my body. Yes, this is legitimate and real pain, and you can’t brush it away. If you know someone who struggles with anxiety, please do not tell them to just relax. I wish I could. 
15 stories

my goal in sharing this and working on this project in the first place, is to help break the stigma.
please share as you feel led, but this is my part, now it is your turn.

if you need help or are seeking assistance, don’t wait. please visit this link for resources today.