The Damn Truth about Depression & Anxiety while Trying to be a Badass

The damn truth is, I am a damn mess... 

By Ash Raddatz


I always have a good chuckle when people say they are impressed with how "together" I am... The damn truth is, I am a damn mess... 

Here is my truth:

Other than for client work, I have only picked up my camera a handful of times since December 2017.

Wheeeew it feels good to get that off of my chest.

Since December 2017... That's 7 months! 

Now, let me explain why.

For the longest time, photography was my escape. When I felt so broken, photography healed me in ways I cannot explain. Photography helped shape my perspective, helped me accept parts of my life I could not change, to see reality in a new light and made me slow down to take it all in. 

But this past year, I realized I had become too dependent on photography in my personal life, using it as a means to disengage. I was no longer appreciating it the way I once had, rather it was becoming a source of habit and a way to arm myself from reality. It became the complete opposite of what it once was, and it put me further into a tailspin with a serving of depression and a heap of anxiety to top it off. (Nothing like spending hours behind a camera and then crying as you load the photos onto your computer because you realize you weren't mentally present when shooting, the way you used to be... and realizing every image was crap anyhow because who knows where the f your mind was the whole time. Double whammy).

I put my camera down.

For 7 months, I have only picked up my camera for client work, or the occasional family birthday party or get together where photos were expected. Once in a while on a client shoot, I would spot someone in socks and sandals and snap one off (many of you know of my obsession and about my socks and sandals project... I mean, how could I not? But even those recent images are not my proudest socks and sandals photos, wah!). Other than that, I no longer had the desire because my result was the same each time... tears as I loaded the photos onto my computer. Realizing I am in deep with this depression and anxiety stuff. Fear. Overwhelm. 

socks and sandals
socks and sandals

The past 7 months have opened my eyes to a few things. I won't bore you with every detail but the gist of it is this:

I am in a constantly battle with myself. One that makes me feel I have no control of anything, one that tells me I am too tired, too overwhelmed, too fragile, not good enough. And on the other side I am telling me, you have to do this, you want this so bad, this makes you feel good, it helps others be seen, you are strong, push yourself, push... if not for you then for everyone else. (This is true for all parts... work, home, etc.)

Sometimes getting (and staying) out of bed is too much. Exhausted even though I have slept more than 12 hours. Other times staying in bed makes the ceiling feel low and the walls too narrow making me restless. Too many ideas to sleep. Perhaps feeling nauseous from too much sleep? (Is that a thing? I think so.)

Just like my anxiety and depression comes in spurts, so does my inspiration, energy and motivation. My motivation in life, home, work, all of it.

So when the spurts of energy do come, I devour the time and hope nothing comes along to distract me or pull me away from all of the shit I need to get done. I know the motivation is temporary and I NEED to use it now before another paralyzing wave comes. I work. I laugh and feel alive. I plan. I sit outside and enjoy the air. I can easily give anxious thoughts/feelings the middle finger. I impress my damn self with what a good mom I am while fully paying attention to my kids, hanging on to every giggle, every word of their drawn out stories (seriously, their stories go on for like 45 minutes!), every cuddle and kiss.

There are also the HAVE to dos. People have paid me. I have made a commitment, a promise to show up.

And the WANT to dos. The I will regret it if I don'ts.

And when I do it, I feel good, accomplished, satisfied and stronger. But it is a matter of pushing myself through the discomfort, allowing myself to get over the lump in my throat, to resist laying my head back down and to committing to trying to better myself.

It means I can allow myself to put my camera down for 7 months, to stop using it as a way to remain at a distance, to stop using it as a crutch in order to not have to fully absorb reality when the viewfinder is up to my eye. To get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To be honest with myself and the people I surround myself with. It means I give myself permission to feel without shame (most of the time... I mean, I do find myself apologizing a lot for my panic attacks when I should actually just be thanking people for helping me through it. I should be thanking my body for being on high alert, doing what it was programmed to do, rather than cussing at it and saying it has failed me. Practice makes perfect, I will get there).

The damn truth is, I am working on finding a balance. A balance of being me, mom, wife, business owner, photographer, mentor, creative, depression/anxiety disorder haver.  Oh, and a gardener (just planted my first garden this year and damn it feels good to see things grow). A balance between knowing when to pick up my camera and when it is okay to put it down for a few months when it comes to personal work. A balance of badass and vulnerable. A balance of I am scared but I am going to be fucking brave anyway. A balance of "get your ass out of bed, you have shit to do... oh and don't forget, you have an appointment with your therapist at 12:30".

So there you have it. My messy truth. 

Ps. We leave for the Baltic Sea in about a week. I will bring my camera along and decide how I feel about making photographs once we get there. No pressure, no strings attached. The only promise I am making is that if I do decide to shoot, I will MAKE photos and be in the moment, not just TAKE photos as an escape.

Pps. Our next "The Photographer Diaries" article is from the amazing Pippa Scott and she also discusses mental health and photography. It is so special to have an open dialogue about this, so be sure to check back next week!