We Are The Authors Of Our Own Stories
BY HANNAH WOLFSON
Over the past month, I have had the privilege of photographing and speaking with 12 individuals regarding their experiences with mental health. My goal for this project was to allow people to come forward and share their personal stories, continuing to normalize the conversation around mental health. These strong and motivated individuals show that how by sharing our stories, we together, can end the stigma.
When we consider common health diagnoses, our first thought is often prevention. If we begin to see persistent, nagging symptoms, we immediately call our doctor and want them to go away. Why don't we treat mental health in the same way?
Mental Health affects so many more people than you may expect. In the United States, 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 children have a mental health diagnosis, with the most common being Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia.
People often keep quiet about their diagnoses, fearful of how people will react. We must make it easier for those who are struggling to ask for help. We must get better at sharing our experiences. We must build a safe and strong platform to support one another. We must know that it is ok to not always be OK.
"I was raised within a culture where mental health was simply dismissed. I was often advised 'to not stress myself out' or 'to get more sleep.' I went through a public school system that was unequipped to handle reports of distress and self-harm. When I got to college, it was just as easy to follow suit and push mental health to the bottom of my priorities. It required me hitting rockbottom before I managed to get the help that I needed.
Changing the conversation and perception around mental health is important to me because I know my experiences are not unique. I know now that mental illness must be validated and treated just like any other medical condition or aspect of our wellbeing --and it is not until the practice of prioritizing mental health and accessing help is normalized within our homes, academic institutions, workplaces, and beyond that we can imagine a society where no one suffers in silence."
"The summer before my diagnosis was extremely difficult, both for myself and those around me. Once they gave my situation a name (and a treatment plan to go with it), I was able to mentally move towards accepting the reality of my condition and take steps to manage it. I wish society was better about giving people who struggle throughout their lives a nudge in the right direction when it comes to mental illness."
Bipolar Disorder, Personality Disorder
"Me, myself, and why?"
Depression, Anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, Body Dysmorphia
"I internalize a lot. I always have. However, it never truly affected me until my Depression, Anxiety, and my Borderline Personality Disorder came about in my late teenage years. Before I had mental health issues, I never had to worry about how I presented myself. I was naturally a social butterfly. While I am still social, I fight every day to not have my symptoms show in public. The fear of judgement can take over every aspect of my life.
However, I have many other qualities that define me as well; such as I am smart, funny, and creative. I may still be a work in progress, however, I am not my mental illness."
"There’s been times where anxiety has almost stopped me from living my life, but then I would have missed out on some of the best moments. I constantly remind myself to take it one day at a time. I’m thankful to have amazing family and friends, especially my best friend Emily. She always makes me feel understood and that what I’m feeling is temporary. There are places that make me feel more grounded when I need it, such as the beach and my church. Even taking a few minutes at night to look at the moon and stars can remind me that life can, in a good way, take your breath away and everything will be okay."
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
"Therapy has changed my life."
Severe Depression, Severe Anxiety, PTSD
"Just because I'm a strong woman doesn't mean I am always OK. I was a person that stigmatized mental health myself, when I became diagnosed. I live with Severe Depression, Severe Anxiety, and PTSD. I really had to bring myself to reality that I am living with mental illness. I think mental health is something that needs to be understood better. People look at us like we're 'crazy people' and we are not. The Discovery Program helped change my life."
"My diagnosis is a part of me, but is not my identity."
Bipolar Disorder, Depression
"I've always been in therapy for Depression. I was diagnosed when I was hospitalized in June of last year with Bipolar and Depression. Once I got that diagnosis, everything kind of fell into place. I've been trying to work on my anger issues. The Discovery Program has helped me a lot- grow as a person. I am not where I want to be, but Discovery has definitely helped me get there. It felt good for people to finally tell me 'You're not alone.' It was a big relief having people be supportive. It has been a good 8 months going through life knowing that I am Bipolar."
"The ocean heals all wounds."
"I am a 60 year old woman. I've been in and out of psych hospitals since I was 15 years old. I was diagnosed when I was 49 years old. I'm learning how to love myself with all of my flaws. I'm a mother and grandmother. My bipolar doesn't hold me back anymore. I have almost learned how to trust. I was abused mentally and physically as I grew up, but now I feel like I am somebody, via my mental illness."
Severe Anxiety, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD
"I am of an oppressed people. Intergenerational trauma has culminated in this: me. The ravages of poverty and oppression create perfect storms of dysfunctional. Abuse has come down through the years. A systemic lack of access to mental health care have made depression, anxiety, PTSD, and indeed every mental illness- not an occasional oddity, but a consistent state of being. I am of people who were kidnapped, whose families were ripped apart, for whom all infractions lead to a beating. After five centuries, it seems normal. It gets ignored. It is even expected. Trauma is an ordinary fixture in the lives of Black people. I will hold it. I will uplift it. I will expose its effects and causes, and embrace all who endure it. Abuse and trauma are a vicious cycle, and that cycle ends with me."
I am a dedicated In-Home Therapy Support Worker and Therapeutic Mentor. I am passionate about mental health awareness and photography, and I hope to encourage those struggling with mental illness to come forward, and those who are unfamiliar with its impact, to become more aware.
A friendly reminder that you never know what someone may be going through. Ask a stranger how they are doing. Listen to one another. Be kind.