In 2017, I came across some photo negatives I had made in college. While college wasn’t incredibly long ago for me, I was struck by how different, yet how similarly I felt to how I was nearly five years ago. These photographs were made on the precipice of a depressive episode, and were found as I really regained my bearings after a more recent depressive episode, serving as almost bookends for the two experiences.
These photos are deeply personal for me and bring up many emotions: a lot of sadness, not just for the deep pain I went through during my depressive episodes but mourning of so much time lost, spent trying to feel better. Nostalgia, because I hadn’t yet experienced the trauma that led to my more recent episode of depression. Comfort from the knowledge that I survived these two episodes. Anxiety for the future, because even though I haven’t experienced my depressive symptoms as much lately, I worry that they’ll come back and surprise me. That they have done so in the past and can do so again.
I can’t know how many more times I’ll experience depressive episodes in my lifetime. However, I have found that I feel the most hopeful when I remember my lifelines for survival: the lessons I’ve learned from therapy, my meds, my creative practice, my loved ones. Even though these images remind me of so much pain from my past, they remind me of so many of the ways in which I’m fortunate in my struggle with my mental health. They inspire me to aid the fight to end stigma and to remove barriers to people receiving care for their mental health, be they financial, experiencing marginalization based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, or any combination of factors, or anything else that prevents them from accessing the help they need. I want to help create a world that is conducive to the healing of everybody.