We all have stories that define us: they carry us through storms or pull us down to the depths. I am going to start with a good story, the one that defines me now. It’s the story of how photography gave me the gift of seeing the world with a new perspective.
In October 2014, on my brand new iPhone6, I took my first photo that didn’t involve my children, friends or food. Immediately, I felt an energy shift inside of me. That photo of a dandelion fluff in the sunrise filled me with clarity and focus. It made me feel creative and most of all, it made me feel good. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt this sense of pride and accomplishment. So, of course, I kept on shooting. Overnight, my Instagram feed transformed from simple snapshots into artful photographs of what I see in the world around me. My perspective shifted, and I have come to realize how different the world looks to me now than it did just a few years ago.
My life hasn’t always felt so inspired. In 2008, I experienced a life-defining moment at the age of 34. Complications during the birth of my second child meant I was bed-ridden for a week; I suffered physically, mentally and emotionally. Since my mood has always fluctuated, my close friends and family were blind as to how deep my pain was—and so they brushed it off. My mind kept up a constant monologue of how terrible I am and I experienced frequent panic episodes that would leave me paralyzed with fear. A constant sense of dread made me feel certain that something horrible was going to happen at any moment and, even worse, that I might be the one to cause it to happen. And so I stopped doing things that were once enjoyable to me - and when I did go outside my comfort zone, I would panic. It was difficult for me to take care of my children and myself, and I obsessively felt that I was an incompetent mother, friend, daughter and wife. I was too often irritable and angry, with no compassion for myself or those around me. In fact, I was annoyed at everyone for “making” me feel this way; everything felt like a personal attack. On top of it all, I hated that I felt this way—my feelings had feelings! I was a mess and wasn’t coping well. I had no clarity, focus or energy and spent many moments/days/weeks in panic mode or in tears. I felt like a burden to everyone close to me and alienated from the world around me. There were many days where I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to continue this way. The pain was uncontrollable and so real, and there was nothing I could do to make it go away.
I now wonder if my friends and family and I had been more educated about mental health, would we have noticed the symptoms? I remember watching a commercial for an antidepressant and glancing over at my husband: “How strange,” I told him. “I have all of those symptoms yet I am not depressed!” I never once considered that mental illness could be the source of my pain, mostly because of the social stigma attached to it and my ignorance about the symptoms. Thankfully, my husband is an extremely kind, accepting and patient man; he has put up with all of me and continues to be my rock and unconditional partner throughout this journey.
After five years of suffering, a very kind and intuitive friend (who happens to be a well regarded clinical neuropsychologist) literally peeled me off the floor of the school gym while I was picking up my son and referred me to the postpartum clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital. I am forever grateful to her. I was quickly diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here’s the clinical definition: “MDD is a mood disorder characterized by a pervasive and persistent low mood that is accompanied by low self-esteem and by a loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. PTSD can make people feel very nervous or ‘on edge’ all the time. Many feel startled very easily, have a hard time concentrating, feel irritable, or have problems sleeping well. They may often feel like something terrible is about to happen, even when they are safe.” PTSD is also likely to recur if it isn’t successfully managed. In my case, an untreated emotional trauma at age 17 most likely led to this recurrence when my son was born nearly two decades later.
The diagnosis provided a major “aha” moment. Though I couldn’t identify it by name, I reflected that I had been living with depression not only since I was 17, but on and off since childhood. Beginning in elementary school, I had always been intimately familiar with the ubiquitous feeling that something was terribly wrong. My pain ran deep, especially in my early 20s and into my 30s, when my brain felt like it was wrapped in plastic and covered in wool; I constantly felt foggy and tired, my back and shoulders were in chronic pain and I experienced lengthy moments of intense sadness and confusion. I desperately tried to eliminate the physical manifestations of my emotional pain through various means: changing my diet, adding supplements, naturopathy, frequent acupuncture, gestalt/talk therapy, EFT, CBT, even soul coaching. Nothing alleviated my symptoms and I felt ripped off. I hated myself for being broken. Self-hate is the worst kind of hatred—it rots away at everything.
It wasn’t until I went on the right medication that I began to experience what it feels like to be me— for the first time ever, I started to love myself. It is very difficult to put into words, but the transformation was remarkable. It felt as if I were seeing in colour for the first time. Finally, I began to see the good in myself and in those around me, and I stopped the self-hatred. I’m constantly working on rewiring my old thought and behaviour patterns that are so deeply ingrained in me. Of course I still struggle with many low moments, but they aren’t nearly as uncomfortable or lengthy as before. I am always surprising myself with how “well” I feel. I am aware that mental illness is a lifelong battle, just like any disease. And I have learned a few tricks that work for me: sleeping well, avoiding sensory overstimulation and putting aside time for solitude.
The last three years have been an incredible journey for me and photography has played a major role. I never considered myself to be a creative person until I began to heal. It has been a very welcome and exciting passion. I love the process of turning my perspectives into beautiful works of art.
In July 2015 I turned 40, and I am so excited about what these next decades will bring to my life. I am including a photograph that I took of the railroad near Pottery Road in Toronto, which I am dedicating to my late friend Morgan. At the age of 17, I survived a flash flood in Costa Rica while on a school trip that claimed his life, as well as two other students. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about him and the life he never got to live.
If you are interested in seeing my photos, you can find them on Instagram @lindsibeth and at Facebook.com/lindsibeth
Thanks for taking the time to read my story.