Depression, Demons and Digital!
I have suffered from Mental Health issues from childhood, which for a long time were not diagnosed or treated. This inevitably meant that I spent a lot of time alone, feeling lonely and lost. I became interested in photography and eventually built a darkroom within my bedroom and spent most of my “spare” time in there, I even had a kettle at the ready to brew some chicken Bovril to keep me going, some nights I even slept in there. It was my “safe” place were nobody could harm or upset me. Life moves on and I soon replaced my darkroom with cast iron dumbbells, barbell and bench which eventually enabled me to become a qualified sports coach and brought involvement in junior, amatuer and professional sport.
I still did a little photography but now with a Canon Sureshot other than a SLR (single lens reflex). Some of my pictures were of my garden, but mainly landscapes and drystone walls with lichen in the North Yorkshire moors as I had a caravan permanently based there. I enjoyed walking the country lanes snapping here and there and one thing that developed was my fascination of feeling the texture of the rough stones, leaves and the bark of both living and dead trees. I started calling myself “The Tactile Walker”!
By the end of 2014 and my Mental Health was at rock-bottom, I had been to five funerals in six weeks and learned that someone very special only had a few months to live. I was on maximum doses of anti-depressants and was still lower than a snakes belly, I didn’t expect to be skipping around the house and down the street but I expected better results from the medication. Having had terrible experiences as a child/teenager with child psychologists and counsellors I didn’t relish the thought of putting my adult self at the mercy of a counsellor. However I grasped the nettle and booked a course of sessions. I was sceptical and untrusting but decided I HAD to do something as I had recently been five minutes from taking my own life. The first two fifty minute sessions consisted of me crying my eyes out while I told her my life story, I came out thinking “I’m paying £38 a session for this………..shouldn’t she be paying me to hear my life story!”
One of the early sessions included her asking me about my hobbies, I told her about my tactile walking and she told me I was practising mindfulness without realising it. The sessions ended seven years ago and yes I still have the demons of depression visiting me on occasions but in that time I have studied and gained diplomas and numerous qualifications in mindfulness and stress management as well as Kaizen to the point where I now have my own business (www.headingonwards.com) to allow me to help people who are suffering in the way I used to. These include hosting workshops combining mindfulness, photography and nature to help relieve stress and anxiety.
In the last two years I have also re-ignited my passion for photography and invested in a Nikon Digital SLR and I’m delighted with the camera but also how it has improved my mental health as I have been able to integrate photography, mindfulness and walking in one sweeping move. The thing I really love is the connection of mindfulness and photography is that, when the shutter clicks that precise moment is captured and will never return, whether it’s a leaf being swayed as the wind blows it, the cloud formation above or the first steps of a toddler.
Whatever the type of camera you choose to use, it’s the composition of the image that’s important, an eye for detail or an unusual or quirky slant, can bring two completely different images of the same scene. My personal view is that photography should be personal and enjoyed, should you wish to go on courses to improve your knowledge and broaden your photographic horizons then go for it, but never lose the basic passion that brought you in to the world of photography.
I now have my own “Art” website/blog titled www.theartfulrambler.com where I post some of my images and articles, and I now intend to visit more Art galleries, exhibitions and craft fairs to review and share my experiences. I’m also really interested in if/how artists use mindfulness at they create their art, do they “feel” the brush strokes, the texture of the paints or materials they are using at the time? Does mindfulness help them to escape within their art and increase a feeling of wellbeing during and after their art session?
It’s been a long journey but now I feel and enjoy the passion and the calm only art can bring you, while also giving me the opportunity to be the official photographer for Amanda Owen (The Yorkshire Shepherdess) at the Leeds Town Hall, having an article and images published in the Dalesman Magazine and my photographs being featured in many periodicals and websites including the “Picture of the week” in the Yorkshire Evening Post. I sell many of my images at Art and Craft Fairs and also via www.alamy.com/portfolio/theartfulrambler I hope this article may encourage other people to take up photography or any other form of the “Arts” to provide an escape from the stresses and strains of 21st century life, even if it’s only for the time of a shutter clicking on a camera.