My Journey & How Photography Helped Me

This is something I have often thought about writing down for others to read but have never quite gotten round to it.  I was always busy with life & work.  I still am but I thought Mental Health Awareness Week was the perfect time to do this. 

People see me as someone who is confident & happy (most of the time) & a successful business woman but I haven't always been that way. 

I have suffered from mental health issues 5 times in my 43 years on this planet.  

The first time was while studying for my A-levels back in 1991/92.  I felt so overwhelmed with the expectation that I would do well as I had always been very academic.  I was studying subjects I didn't really enjoy.  I just wanted to jack it all in.  I felt very low & alone at that time as I didn't want to let anyone down.

My second time was while over in Aberdeen at university in 1992/3.   We had a sudden family bereavement the week before my A-levels started, someone who I was extremely close to.  I was and always will be a last minute crammer when it comes to revision, so needless to say my A-Level results were rubbish & instead of going through the embarrassment of re-doing my final year and resitting exams I "ran away" to university over in Scotland.  I was so far away from home, trying to cope with homesickness & my loss.  On top of all that I hated my degree course in Food Science.  I ended up jacking it all in & coming back home the month before my 1st year was over.  

My 3rd & possibly worst episode of mental health issues was after having my eldest daughter back in 2000.  I had a horrendous labour & aftercare in the hospital.  I was physically very unwell afterwards for at least a year.  My daughter suffered from what seemed like never-ending bouts of colic which meant she was cried all day long.  I felt so overwhelmed as my uselessness in helping her with the pain she was having in her wee tummy.  On top of that I had a lot of issues arising from my early childhood that had arisen after becoming a mummy myself.  At the age of 2  I was adopted by the loveliest couple - my mum & dad but I always had wanted to trace my natural parents as I knew very little about wee things like "what time was i born at?" "what weight was I?" "who did i look like?" "what kind of baby was I?" "what was my first word?" "when did i take my first steps?".. all those things that might seem trivial to some but to me they meant everything.   During my pregnancy I did manage to track down my natural mother & looking back, our relationship developed very quickly..too quickly.  But 3 months later, the moment I looked at my gorgeous little girl for the first time, I couldn't comprehend what had happened to me during the first couple of years of my life & wrote a very difficult letter to my natural mother saying I couldn't cope with having a relationship with her.  I knew I was more that likely going to break her heart but I just couldn't get my head around things.  I had tried feeding my daughter myself but felt a complete failure as a mother after trying for 10 days.  Everything just came caving in around me at the same time & I couldn't cope. I was barely existing.  Thankfully my health visitor and my then husband spotted that there was something amiss & got me help from my GP & counselling to try & deal with all the life events that were cropping up. My GP described my post natal depression as "battle fatigue" as I was trying to deal with so much.  I attempted to go back to work a few times after maternity leave but it took a good 18 months before I started to feel like me again.

In 2005 I fell pregnant with my second beautiful daughter.  But all the fears and anxieties about what happened to me first time around, reared their ugly heads.  I developed perinatal depression during my pregnancy.  Again my GP was brilliant once I plucked up the courage to go and speak to her but it took until after she was born for me to feel "normal" again. 

My last episode of mental health issues occurred after my marriage breakdown in 2011.  I kept my head down and just motored on for a year, pretending that everything was ok.  In June/July 2012 I became very run down and was picking up all the viruses that were going around, constant outbreaks of cold sores, & absolutely shattered all the time.  I remember my parents seeing me one day I had met them after work and they couldn't believe the state I was in.  I was extremely stressed at work on top of everything that was going on in my private life.  They felt it would be better for me to leave work and take 6 months to get myself built back up again.  But I had never not worked since I was 16.  I couldn't just leave work.  So I motored on.  My relationships in work got more and more strained & I ended up taking a week off on leave in Sept 2012.  I had hit rock bottom.

This was when my relationship with photography started.  Someone lent me one of their cameras for that week I was off & I travelled to places like Mountstewart, the beach etc.  The minute I put that camera up to my eye I felt so alive.  So by the end of that week I bought myself my first dslr... a Nikon D5000.  I loved it. I loved the feeling I got when taking photographs & when seeing what I had captured on the computer.  I loved the comments I got from people when  put my images up on my facebook page.  This was my therapy & got me through some of my darkest times.   I ended up taking sick leave after that weeks annual leave, and signed myself up for some counselling to help me deal with all the things that life had thrown at me.  I went everywhere with my camera, teaching myself how to take half decent photographs.  But reality kicked in with the prospect of having to return to my management job.  I returned to work in December 2012.  I felt even more alone & realised that I was in the wrong place; that I didnt belong there anymore.   A few days after starting back at work I handed in my resignation.  I took a weeks unpaid leave so that I could leave on 31st December 2012.  

The next big decision was what was I going to do with my life.  How would I provide for my kids & keep a roof over my head?  The only thing that made me feel good about myself then was my photography so I decided that I would set up my own photography business, which officially opened on 2nd January 2013.  I set up my office on the kitchen table. I still remember every evening having to move my computer aside to eat dinner.   Slowly but surely I built my customer base & people starting noticing my work.   

This time last year I opened up my own studio in my town, probably working more hours now than I ever did.  But the sense of pride that I have in myself is immeasurable. I am about to open a new part of the studio using the premises next door to mine.   I look back on my journey and still pinch myself at how things have turned out.  Never did I think back on 2nd January 2013, that I would be celebrating my 5th year in business with my own beautiful studio. 

Of course I am stressed - that is all part and parcel of owning your own business, but I love it & wouldn't change it for the world.  I love the fact that I had brilliant support over the years to help me through some difficult times.  I am so lucky that I found something that I enjoyed doing & that I was able to turn into a successful business. 

If you are struggling with life, i strongly advise that you go and speak to someone.  Either a close friend or family member, your GP or someone who is trained to help.  Sometimes its hard to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel but believe me, things can get better.  

If you think one of your friends is feeling low, chat with them, see how you can help.  You might just be the one who makes a difference in their life

I earn less money now, work more hours, don't have sick pay or a pension but I would do this a million times over rather than stay in the life I had back then.  Life is what you make it  - so make it great! 

Caroline xx


Life is worth living