Who Am I?

In life I wear so many labels. Friend. Disabled. Brother. Schizoaffective. Student. Mentor. Old. Male. Which one is really me?

This is a question that I often ponder. Where is me in all of this? Do I choose the label depending on the audience? Is the label pinned to me by others?

I think that the label is a way of others defining me. Do they see me as a friend or disabled or ill. The label is given but to some degree I wear it because it keeps life simpler and gives me a role that I must play in set contexts. If I am being extremely honest I think that the way that others see me is important. I oddly enough liked to be liked.

I want to give myself a brand new label. I know I probably have far too many labels to deal with now but this one is important to me. I am a photographer. I know you will probably think that is either a job description or something to do for a hobby. There is no arguing that but you see I am a photographer. This encompasses so much of life. To be a photographer and I mean a good photographer I have to be good at doing so many things including:
– Observing
– Math after all photography is based on mathematics.
– Visualisation of the end result
– Creativity
– Storytelling
– Skill

This is a label that I choose. I am a photographer. Why photography and why a photographer? I never feel so alive nor so complete as when I have a camera in my hands and I’m taking photos. I don’t mean the happy snap of someone standing by a statue when on holidays. I am talking of a much different animal though still related in the same way that humans and kangaroos are which means they share the same DNA but are not the same. Photography is a way of making art or communicating ideas or sharing knowledge. When creating I am in a spiritual place. I am a photographer. Photography is an extension of who I am.

I am a photographer but that doesn’t mean I can do all types of photography. I do not have the gentleness of spirit to be a landscape photographer. It just isn’t in me. I love the interplay between light and shadow. I am enjoying being in the studio and creating images. I have never thought of myself as a creative person but that has changed over the last year or so. I do credit this re-emergence as a photographer and the awakening of creativity with TAFE and in particular Nepean Arts & Design Centre (NADC) www.facebook.com/wsi.nadc They have been both kind and patient with me. The reason that I got back into photography was mentioned in the blog post called 2016. I can honestly say that having a camera in my hands makes me the happiest I have ever been. I guess it would be the same for a painter to have a brush or a sculptor their chosen materials in their hands. There is something incredibly freeing and liberating in photography for me. It is the same feeling I got many years ago when first taking up photography and happens for me once I get past the technical side of cameras. There is a learning curve with any art-form and with mastery of the tools comes a deeper love and desire to create.

What type of photographer am I? I am a developing as a Fine Arts Photographer. I have always loved looking at and shooting the isolated parts and details of an object. I already have one exhibition booked in for 2018 and hoping to have at least one other. Most of the images that I have taken so far deals in some way with my mental illness. No longer will I accept the label of mental illness or disabled but I make my own label. I am a photographer. I am not a happy snapper and a holiday only shooter because I am a photographer.

Time to live my dream and to move into a future where I do the thing I love and hopefully others will find enjoyment. Importantly, it isn’t for others that I do it because it is my art and creativity that drives me.

Live your dream. Follow your own path and be happy. I have never been happier or more certain about anything as I am about being a photographer. So I have a new label and one that I love: I am a photographer!

Light in a dark place

Recently I have been contemplating the good rather than the bad of my mental illness. This all started out from a question that my GP asked me: Can you see any positives in your disorder? No, not in my life but my disorder. If I had to answer the question: are there any good things in your life? I am prepared for that one but this took me completely by surprise. I mumbled some incoherent response but it started me thinking about the question. Most if not all the questions are about the negative and bad areas of my mental illness. As I have mentioned before my illness is multi-faceted and includes:

  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Generalise Anxiety Disorder
  • Paranoid Personality Disorder
  • Panic Disorder

I have also been seeing doctors, be they GPs or psychiatrists about my mental illnesses since I was 13 (not to mention a passing parade of counsellors, psychologists and others who put out a similar shingle). After all this time questions are nothing new and up until this resent meeting with my GP all the questions had been pretty much the same: how you doing; how has your week been; have you self-harmed (as in cut myself); have you had thoughts of suicide; do you have a suicide plan; blah, blah, blah. I am sure that you either get the picture or are used to having these questions asked. However, I had never been asked the question “can you see any positives in your disorder” before. I couldn’t dismiss it nor could I let it go. Once my mind locks on something, I can never let it go. The words kept echoing in my mind. If I slept, I woke up to this question. The voices in my head played havoc with me as I continued to ponder these eight (8) words though it morphed into CAN I SEE ANY POSITIVES IN MY MENTAL ILLNESS. Slowly but eventually the answer came as a yes. I must admit at first it was a faint “maybe” but the more I dwelt on the question the firmer that the yes became.

Positive No.1

Friends. I have never had such amazing friends. If someone puts up their hand and says I am a friend to someone with mental illness then they are an amazing person. The people that I call friend have seen me at my best and worst, at my highest and lowest points and love me anyway. They have sat with me in my depression and run beside me in my mania phases. They have listened while I have shouted and screamed at the voices that they tell me they cannot hear. They have driven me to the emergency ward of the hospital when they feared that I may off myself.

My friends have stood by my decision to look into getting a psychiatric service dog. One friend use to print out information about various breeds of dogs for me right when the idea was in the embryonic stages. When I could talk about nothing else but getting an assistance dog, they listened patiently and never once told me to shut up. While they may not have been able to see the benefits or impact that a mindDog (www.minddog.org.au) may have they encouraged me to keep going. Once my psychiatric assistance dog Buddy, became part of my life they accepted him. At no time did they ask me not to have him with me or tell me that they were embarrassed that he was with me.

My friends are awesome and if you are friends with someone with a mental illness then you are awesome too.

I think that this is summed up best by Stephen Fry, the great British actor and comedian who once said, “If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.

Positive No.2

The way that I think. Ok, this one may seem odd but I look at issues differently. I don’t see the glass as half empty nor do I see it as half full but I see it has something in it and more interested in what it is. If someone tells a joke I analysis it. I need to know why those two guys were in the bar or the logic of it. This part can frustrate some people that I talk to but my brain works differently and to me that is a positive. I used to try to blend my thinking to those I was in conversation with but over time, I have learnt to embrace my difference. I am able to see that there are not two sides to an argument but so many more.  Sometimes this makes answering someone’s question quite difficult because I see more to it or my answer comes from a different point of view to what was asked because of how my mind works. To be honest I do love that I think about things differently to other people. Often people say, I never thought of it that way. So yes, this is a positive.

Positive No.3

Creativity. I see the world differently and helps with my creativity. I have found others with mental illness to be super creative too like my friends: Dawn-Joy, Ell, Arielle and Sally. These are four of the most creative people I have ever met and propel me onto a greater depth of creativity.

I choose many creative outlets like spinning fibre into yarn, knitting, colouring in and photography. My greatest creative outlet is photography because it lets me express what I think or feel about the world around me. My creativity helps me see, feel, express myself and connects me both to the world around me and to others. It is something that I love.

Positive No.4

Introspection. As someone with mental illness, I am asked an incredible amount of questions. I always need to know how I felt in a given moment to answer the question “how did you feel about blah, blah?” Over time, I have become good at knowing what is happening with my thoughts and emotions. I have learnt to be introspective and self-regulating. While it is true that the illness sometimes takes away this ability, I am able to know that when I start to consume a large amount of sugar or crave sweet foods then a depression is looming. When in the depression my introspection may falter, I am able to know what is happening in the lead up and to take precautions if I can or at least warn others about what is happening.

I am so connected to my thoughts and feelings and I like that.

Positive No.5

It is me. I didn’t ask for mental illness but I have it. In fact I was first diagnosed when I was 13 by a very switched on GP who sent me to see a psychiatrist. I have lived with being ill for 41 years. I hate the illness but it is part of me. In at least some ways it makes up who I am today. So I guess since I don’t like the illness I have to admit it has shaped the adult that I am.

Recently, I have started to do talks to other groups like Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, V.I.E.W Clubs, and PROBUS Clubs about mindDog and mental illness. Without the illness, I wouldn’t have Buddy (my ace service dog) or be able to talk to groups about this stuff.

Epilogue

While there are many, many, many negatives and struggles with my mental illness, I am glad my doctor challenged me to think. Anyone struggling with mental illness will tell you that it isn’t fun or wanted so please don’t hear in any of this that it is ok because it isn’t. I just wanted to be able to look from a different point of view even if only for a moment.

I am me. I have mental illness. I am alive. I struggle. I am me. I ride unicorns.