I often wonder how difficult it must be for somebody to live with a person like me, that suffers with depression and anxiety... I often can't even explain to myself the logic of how one minor thing that any normal person would bat off as everyday life can consume your every waking minute. As someone who has developed websites and web applications for a good 15 years professionally, I pride myself on having a logical brain, a brain that can come up with the simplest solutions to the most complex of problems, but then I'm reminded, often at the strangest times, that my brain isn't overly logical in how it processes thought. There are moments where I remind myself just how damn stupid it is which allows the fog to lift for a brief period of time.
I haven't always suffered with anxiety, in fact once upon a time I was pretty care free and lived life how it should be lived. Not caring what anybody thinks, doing exactly what you want to do and being who you want to be... What a life. That isn't to say I get no enjoyment out of life because that would be patently untrue, there are countless moments and periods where I truly love this little ball of rock we whizz through space on. Holidays and time with family, days out, care-free moments that remind you why you were put here.
Anxiety is hard to explain to those that have never had the misfortune of living with it. It's that little voice in your head that questions everything you do, and casts doubt on everything you plan to do. That doubt is often enough to keep you up at night, it can make you feel as though you physically can't continue in that moment, sometimes it can make you feel as though you're about to return that chicken sandwich you ate for lunch and other times it can be so frustrating you end up angry at yourself and angry at the world.
So how do you treat it? Well, you don't. You manage. You cope. You find distraction. There is of course the chemical route, a route I have taken in the past but primarily for helping with my depression struggles. For some, it's a game-changer, for me it was another thing I had to remember to do. They say creative people are often messy and unstructured, when it comes to taking medication, man am I unstructured. It also lead to some pretty, let's say frustrating, side effects. I'll spare the details here, but a quick Google search will shed light on some of those. Generally speaking, I manage. Winter months are always a struggle, and if I have to deal with medical appointments and medical settings my anxiety hits an uncontrollable scale. I also find distraction works quite well for me, but this isn't possible 100% of the time. I've had a passion for gaming since I was little, and with modern day gaming allowing you the chance to jump in a party chat with a bunch of friends at the click of a button, distraction is never far away. Those moments where you're bouncing around a virtual world and killing yourself with laughter are priceless, and I often forget I live in a real world with real worries.
Then there's photography... It might be hard to explain to somebody that doesn't dabble in the world of expensive electronics, just how soothing and relaxing photography is. No I'm not talking about the high-stakes, fast-paced event photography such as weddings. Don't get me wrong, I love shooting weddings and working with couples and capturing stunning shots of them on one of their most significant days. It's fun, it's energetic and it sure as hell gets the adrenaline pumping, but soothing or relaxing? Absolutely not. I'm referring to landscape photography. Landscape photography is what got me interested in the game in the first place. I'm a sucker for an early morning drive in to the middle of nowhere, or exploring the little chocolate box villages you find dotted around Yorkshire and beyond, or even taking in the sights, smells and taste of the coast. There's something quite magical about the coast, I think it brings out the inner child in me, remembering fond times throwing 2 pence pieces in to machines, eating Fish & Chips and just generally enjoying a care-free existence. Photography is another distraction, and returning home with a number of photos that can go in to the 'keepers' folder provides me with an almost immeasurable high. Sharing those photos on to social media and getting a few likes from friends and family also really gives me a buzz. It also allows me to forget my anxiety exists for a while.
One thing I've always found difficult is venturing out on my own. I watch photographers on YouTube almost religiously, and watching them walking around towns and villages pointing a camera at themselves whilst talking to an audience that won't even see the footage for a couple of weeks is something that my anxiety-ridden mind cannot comprehend. What do people think? How do you look? Are you going to attract unwanted attention? I'm fortunate I have a good friend who is available a lot of the times I come up with a crazy trip idea, and also gets enjoyment out of the same kinds of surroundings I do. This does mean you can't just head out on a whim. As photographers, we often see clues that tell us the next morning could provide us with a spectacular opportunity for photos, and I often have sat and thought "I would love to head out there tomorrow" which then leads to a battle with your internal monologue playing out your anxious thoughts.
With surgery coming up and worries over my general health, both physically and mentally, I told myself 2023 would be different. Over Christmas my little boy sat so patiently whilst I chatted away to the footwear adviser at Go Outdoors so I could pick some high quality walking boots and spend yet more money. Why? Because having those expensive boots sat staring at me is a constant reminder I said I would change my life. I've even got so far as to pick up some hiking trousers and some exercise t-shirts to really kick myself up the arse. If you see an overweight, tattoo laden, bearded bloke out in the Dales somewhere, or by the coast, wearing clothes that don't look appropriate - come and say hi. It might just be me forging out my new path. They often say baby steps are the best way to long-lasting change, but baby steps won't cut it with my anxious mind. Often I have to prove to myself that I can do something, and that that something isn't going to be stressful or embarrassing or painful. On Saturday I made a fairly significant leap and headed out early morning on my own. Initially it was just going to be a trip to the Parish Church to capture the sunrise, followed by a scoot around Pudsey, but 4 hours later I returned home with nearly 15 photos I was proud to share. That small trip out turned in to a drive down to Arthington Viaduct, followed by a quick trip in to Otley to capture a few more photos and pop to the butchers to pick up some tea and finally a stop at Mountain Warehouse to try on some more outdoor clothing. For the first time in a long time, I enjoyed my own company, I enjoyed the solitude and I enjoyed not worrying what others think as I plod around a town centre with a backpack and tripod strapped to my back.
The wall I can't see past is surgery, but I'm taking comfort knowing that I do have the tools and the inner strength at my disposal to get through it. I also have a supportive family who remind me daily that it's just a blip, it's a few hours of my life with a few days recovery and the people carrying it out are doing it in my best interests and are the best in the field. It's a blip in the road that is life. I just need to find my own inner strength as I did on Saturday morning. Onwards and upwards...