Health & Photography

Claude Cat came from a rescue centre for felines. Within moments of his arrival at the centre it became apparent that his constant aggressive stance would make him a difficult case for re-homing. Being made of latex, and therefore non-recyclable, the poor little fella was facing certain euthanasia at a local rubbish dump....

Okay, so that's a bit of a lie. In reality, Claude is my alter-ego. I hear you ask, why not just post your photographs as yourself? The answer is very simple. Having an alter-ego enables me to take, and share, photographs without being crippled by self-criticism. An alter-ego is one of the many ways I've discovered to negotiate with my mental health difficulties. 

My mental health has been an issue almost much all my life. I don't remember a time when I didn't feel anxious to some degree. There were years of self-injury and violent mood swings. As long as I avoid stress, now that I'm on a medication that works, my mood is far more stable. Nonetheless, anxiety and panic remains a massive obstacle in my life. Years of therapy, nor medication, has cured me of that problem. Unfortunately, years of anxiety, eventually took their toll on me physically. One dollop of tonsillitis, quickly followed by a nasty bout of the worst flu I've ever known, and the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) began. That was twelve years ago. Essentially, my life perpetually involves a considerable amount of managing and avoiding states of anxiety and exhaustion. This could be terrible. But I do believe that every cloud has a silver lining.

Unsurprisingly, with so many complex limitations to contend with, my sense of self-worth took a tumble downwards. There seemed to be little real purpose to my days, or life in general. But then, about three years ago, after some gentle encouragement from my brilliant partner, I discovered photography. I might not able to travel far at all, but we do have a garden. Better still, it's a reasonably sized garden for Greater London. As each year passes, alongside the new plants and shrubs that we can't resist adding, the perennial stalwarts continue to mature. I find the garden to be a very calming space. I love to just sit and watch the dramas that regularly unfold amongst the branches or deep in the undergrowth. I don't think you have to do a study to know that time spent with nature is beneficial to health, both physical and mental. In the modern world, where we are constantly bombarded with noise and information, as we become increasingly technology dependent, time spent in nature seems even more important to our collective well-being....If you want to find out how getting out in nature can be of benefit to your mental health, check out Mind's Ecominds project.

     I can only sit and watch for so long before my anxiety begins to build. Photography allows me to focus my energies and still be able to enjoy being outside in the garden. I often feel somewhat detached from the world, as if a pane of glass lies between me and everything else. The more anxious I become, the more detached I feel. Looking through a camera's view finder normalises this feeling, and subsequently calms me.
    I find that 90% of nature photography involves just sitting and waiting... and waiting. Beyond being bed bound, that's about as physically untaxing as it gets. It also means that I get plenty of time to drink (decaff) coffee. I'm constantly scanning the area for tiny movements, and this is always exhausting. Because my brain can't function the type of movement you see through a lens, I can only use a lens that has an Image Stabilser. I essentially get motion sickness so I have to take an anti-sickness medication to enable me to use my camera. Nonetheless, I love photography so much that I find it incredibly difficult to pack away my kit before I'm on the verge of collapse. Luckily, macro photography is pretty weather dependent, particularly in regards to the breeze. As the British weather is so predictable, play is often suspended due to bad weather. This means I'm forced to rest. Whatever I do, be it the washing up, the vacuuming, or photography, it's tiring. I can't escape that fact. I only have so many spoons to use in any one day or week. Photography rewards me greatly in many ways, so I'm willing to use a few spoons on that when I have some to spare or to borrow. (It's usually 'borrow' and I usually pay for that loan with a couple of days unable to do much at all.)

   95% of all the pictures I take, I take out in the garden. As the dimensions of my world are so small (compared to a 'normal' life), I guess it was inevitable that I would accidentally fall into macro photography. My world is small but, if you know where and how to look, there's so much beauty and activity to be seen. Unfortunately we don't get many birds in the garden, and there are only so many times I can photograph a marigold, so my main subjects tend to be insects. Insects may not be everyone's favourite thing in the garden, but it's my aim to show just how beautiful these, wildly varied, creatures can be. As my health improves, which it will, eventually, I hope to photograph as much of London's wildlife as I can. Not only is it an encouragement for me to keep trying to overcome my issues with traveling away from home, but I also want to demonstrate how much wildlife there is to be seen around us, even in one of the busiest cities in the world.

    Overall, my hope is that people will a) be encouraged to watch their own green spaces a little closer than they did before, and b) see that health issues don't have to eradicate your self-worth and purpose in life.


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