Note: This article originally ran on the Toy Photographers blog.
Depression is a big nasty powerful beast, and it had me firmly in its claws, dragging me down. Toy photography helped me escape its grasp. This is how.
One of the most common diseases in the world that is not talked about much is mental illness. It is hard to talk about because a lot of the symptoms are emotional and behavioural, and not easily understood shared-experience things like pain or stiffness. It doesn’t manifest itself in ways that I figured it would. I know, because I didn’t really understand mental illness until I was diagnosed with it.
Specifically I was diagnosed with moderate severe depression back in February 2018.
This post isn’t about what depression is, or the entire story of how I was diagnosed (if you are interested, detailed posts about my story can be found here)
This post is about how toy photography helped reveal to me that I needed help, and how it helps me cope today.
The Downward Spiral
So I have always had artistic tendencies that I explored briefly at various points in my life. However I really didn’t start exploring my artistic side in a purposeful way until 5 years ago. Once I did start exploring it I took off and never really slowed down. I didn’t always have the skills to pull of my vision, or even knew what that meant, but I had plenty of ideas, and started creating a lot of work.
So that was all good until the fall of 2016. Looking back that is when I started to enjoy my life less and less. The beast was stirring in the shadows. My energy levels dropped steadily, and I found I couldn’t cope with social issues as well as I used to (not that I was super strong at coping with social issues to begin with).
About 6 months before I was diagnosed I really started disliking my job. Now this isn’t unusual - not every likes their job. I had been working at the same company for 13 years by then, and doing basically the same tasks, but I just didn’t get enjoyment out of it. I just couldn’t get up the energy to give a crap some days. That’s not abnormal tho, so I just wrote it off as needing a change.
Recognizing Rock Bottom
At the same time I stopped having the motivation to create the things I wanted to create. It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas, or a desire to create. I had more ideas than I ever had in my life. I just couldn’t get up the energy to get off my couch, walk the 30ft to my studio, and pick up my camera to realize my ideas. The spirit was willing, but the flesh… well, the flesh failed me. It failed me miserably.
I never understood what mental pain was until I experienced my body refusing to do what my mind willed it to do. It was like a schism in my brain That sucked. It sucked a lot, and there was no way I could excuse it away.
All of this came to a miserable head in early February when I finally hit my wall and broke down. The beast had beaten me.
I called my doctor, and sought out help.
The Upward Struggle
So, long story short, I got some help, and am now on meds. Medical science is a little fuzzy when it comes to brains, but based on how my treatment has gone, I seem to have an imbalance in my brain with the chemical that controls mood. Between the medication, and a lot of soul searching, I am doing much better.
There are good days, great days, and bad days still. However more days are good than bad. I can create again, I can write again, and I can shoot photos again. It feels great.
Now toy photography serves a dual purpose in my life. First it is the same creative outlet it has always been. Second, it is an early indicator of my mental health. It does this the same way it helped me to seek help the first time, by being a gauge by which I can measure my motivation to work on my ideas.
Keeping The Beast At Bay
Of course everyone has good days, and bad days. Every artist has moments when they simply don’t want to be creative. No amount of medication and self reflection is going to change that. I, of course, am no exception. However I now pay close attention to the dynamic between my motivation and my energy levels.
If I notice that I have ideas that I don’t seem to get around to shooting, it raises some red flags in my head. I’ll give myself a few days grace, especially if work is being overly hectic, or I am feeling under the weather, but in general of my lethargy persists, I know it’s time for some soul searching and make changes so the beast doesn’t drag me under again.
I refuse to let the beast win, and toy photography is helping me kick its ass.
It is not like we needed another reason why toy photography is awesome, but being mental health therapy is a nice addition to the list, don't you think?