"Behind every beautiful thing, there's been some kind of pain."
- Bob Dylan
Walking along a New England harbor, smelling the ocean and its many, hidden creatures, feeling a cold blast of sea air tangle my hair and sting my eyes. My feet sink into the coarse and cool sand, gritty between my soft toes. I let thoughts both deep and superficial come over my mind in waves, as I hold my camera to my face to frame some view that strikes me. This is when I am most happy; and I feel the same when I am looking through the lens at a small New England village, or at a bustling Boston scene, or in a mossy and worn graveyard, or deep in an autumnal forest. I am rooted to this place of New England in some deep, mystical, unbreakable way. When I look through the lens of my camera, I am forced to acknowledge the beautiful, to pay attention, to seek it out, and to remember what brings me peace.
And when I am in the midst of battling my demons of anxiety and depression, I can take the tiny image that meets my eye through the glass and zoom in on it, forcing myself to focus on something interesting or stunning, to frame it, to perfect it. I click the button, and looking down at the tiny screen at the back of my camera, I inspect it to see if the image is clear, if the lighting is right, and when it aligns with what I envision my heart warms and all is right in my world. I created my own form of instant art, my own instant gratification. There is something about creation and beauty. We humans were made for it.
For me, depression is not a stranger. It is not a frequent visitor either, but it is recognizable, and I know the sound of its heavy footsteps as it approaches my door. When it does come, it does not gently knock, patiently waiting for me to answer; but rather it blows the door off the hinges, instantly enveloping me without warning, as my whole being is filled with overpowering apathy and hopelessness. It does not manifest in me in any way that is obvious to the outside world. I continue to care for my kids, I continue to engage with others, I continue to eat, to get up every morning, to clean and to feed my family. I survive. I exist. And that's it.
Depression and anxiety are so insidious. They can spring up, like a poisonous weed, quick and unexpected. My genes combined with childhood experiences conspired against me, and there was little doubt I'd be wrestling with these issues for a lifetime. I know few survivors of childhood sexual abuse who do not carry the dark stain of worthlessness on their souls for years. It is something I have continually battled to overcome. Add to that the expectation of perfection and purity inherent in my Mormon upbringing, and the battle for my sense of worth and hope would be perpetually waged. As a child, I was taught in Sunday School that we should die rather than to allow ourselves to be raped or to have our virtue stolen. Virtue was something that could be taken, without being given, and once it was gone it was gone. The message was clear to me, I was already ruined, already broken. I had also in some way sinned, though I was a child, because I didn't defend my virtue with my life. I was a guilty accomplice in my own destruction because I was still alive. Shame became a constant companion, and a sense of impurity and irreparable brokenness grafted into my bones and soul.
These sorts of demons should not be allowed to roam, unchecked, in our minds for long. They tend to grow in power and darkness if we let them. For me counseling has always been helpful, medications not so helpful. I know medications are a lifesaver to many, so I do not downplay or discourage them, but for me they do little. And I'm ok with that since my depressions do not last long, nor are they frequent.
Melancholy is something I battle more often than full-blown depression. But it can be the precursor to true depression, and I find the most effective way for me to counteract the misery is to go find beauty, to create beauty; to express myself in writing and in images caught from a moment in my viewfinder and kept forever. My own little creations. My own form of validation that I'm here and I matter and my pain can be turned into beauty.
February and March were difficult for me. I made a big change in my life several months ago. It's a good change, a healthy choice, though difficult, and the transition made me sink into that dark, despairing, familiar place. I did battle with my old specters of shame and guilt. Old wounds were reopened. I had moments of weakness. I had moments of strength. And when my husband gave me a new camera lens that I had been coveting, it gave me fresh reason to go out and search for beauty, even in an abnormally cold and bitter March. I searched for beauty. And it was healing.
I have found that there are gifts in being a person who, due to trauma and genetics, has known deep despair and hopelessness. Simple pleasures and beautiful moments are heightened and made magical. You can't fully appreciate hope and joy until they have been absent. The desire to create and to express myself in writing and in photography takes on an importance that would be unknown had I been a person of steady contentment, a person who lived an eternal spring in my soul. For when you endure a bitter winter, the spring is all the more magnificent.