If You Only KNew
What follows is an abbreviated version of the exhibit and book.
What's this PHOTO ESSAY about? creating connection
The goal of "If You Only Knew”, is to create a connection with the viewer through photography and storytelling, decrease stigma and increase awareness of mental illness; and, ultimately, to humanize it.
The first phase of the project involved an art exhibit. Due to the wonderful response to that, in the works is a book that will include the interviews conducted for the original project/exhibit, plus more interviews and photographs that are currently in progress. The goal is to have a book put together and released in late 2019.
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I am interviewing people living with mental illness and asking them what their mental illness feels like to them (plus some other questions, too). I then interpret their response through creating a visual analogy photograph. Each person’s story is included. I've also created portraits for some of the people interviewed.
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EXCERPTS FROM THE PHOTO ESSAY
Below are snippets from some of the interviews. Portraits are included for many, but it wasn't anything I required to be a part of this. In fact one person used a different name to help preserve their anonymity. There are also visual analogy photographs that I created for each person, reflecting my creative interpretation to the answer to “what does your mental illness feel like?”
Bella, age 12
Bella is an articulate, deep-thinking, and mesmerizing teenager who “wanted to be part of this photo essay so that others could better understand mental illness. . . . We are all different. Different maladies. Different things that go right and wrong. But you always have to try to understand others, because maybe one day it might happen to you.”
How does Bella’s mental illness feel? “Kind of like static or moving pixels. A sense of strangeness or something wrong. Like fuzzy and confusing. Nothing seems real. I go to my own mind and sometimes get trapped there.”
Gary, age 66
On a bad day, especially in the past, Gary would describe his mental illness as “feeling like a constant storm over me, with impending death and disaster, always looking for the worst.”
His advice to others living with mental illness is to “look ahead, go forward not backwards. There is life ahead. Do your medication. Don’t stop because you think you’re cured. Find someone to talk to so you can get your ya-yas out.”
To those unfamiliar with mental illness, Gary says, “There’s a difference between mental illness and retardation. There’s a difference. The more you pick on a person with a mental illness, the more they put themselves down. We’re human too.”
Karen, age 44
For Karen, living with mental illness is a constant struggle. She’s been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, anxiety, a depressive disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder with hoarding. She describes her mental illness as feeling like “a constant problem. I can’t help the way I feel, and that’s confusing.”
Richard, age 65
“Treat me as a person, not as an illness or diagnosis. Someone who loves and has loved, not a sick person. See beyond the illness.”
Richard was thirty years old, married, and fresh out of graduate school when his life took an unexpected path. He had what was then called a psychotic break. He began mishearing and misinterpreting sounds. For instance, he thought the sound of the refrigerator running meant something. Other times, he wouldn’t hear the actual words someone had spoken to him. Instead, he’d hear other words entirely. Sometimes Richard’s misinterpretations were positive; on a bad day, negative.
He was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder with bipolar disorder. Day treatment was very helpful early on, in addition to medication, which he still takes regularly.
Today, at times, he still struggles. The delusions are frustrating. They are real to him. His mental illness feels like “the color red. Red for love. And red for anger.” The reality is, life with mental illness isn’t easy.
Tammy, age 38
“I don’t let anyone behind the wall, even those closest to me,” Tammy says. She is a very private person who sometimes doesn’t leave her home. In the interview, however, she reveals a glimpse of her life. Serious topics are discussed, but the conversation is also interspersed with wittiness and laughter.
Tammy lives with depression, anxiety, dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), and schizoaffective disorder, as well as a traumatic brain injury likely caused by banging her head out of frustration. “I may look fine on the outside,” she says, “but inside I feel like I melted and died.”
Tammy feels she didn’t make any real progress in life until she began her relationship with her partner. Her emotional support helps keep Tammy on the straight and narrow. Tammy also takes her meds regularly, has social support, and sees a counselor. In addition, she expresses herself beautifully through poetry.
“Don’t give up,” she says to those living with mental illness. “Things may be rough at times—they will get better.
Questions about the photo essay? Definitely reach out and email me.
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