In my early twenties, after suffering years of severe depression and anxiety, I attempted suicide and ended up in hospital. Life was completely unbearable, ending my life felt like the only option. I existed in an excruciating, disassociated, confusing, numbed-out-tuned-in agony. Sometimes I’d feel incandescent rage and injustice, other times overwhelming sadness and often infinite emptiness.
I didn’t know who I was, I hated myself and my inner critic was rampant. I had no idea how to love myself or even what that meant. I embarked on 25 years in and out of talking therapy but achieved nothing and I was left drained, hopeless and utterly tired of talking.
In 2015 my mental health hit a massive low, I was knocked off my bike and the fragility of life hit me like a tonne of bricks. But it didn’t make me more positive, it made me more whats the point?
A subsequent psych assessment revealed clinical depression, severe anxiety and ‘off the scale’ PTSD. What was reflected back was a massive shock and once I’d got my head round it, promised I’d do things differently. My way. One thing at a time.
I started with my drinking and buried trauma began to surface. It was in this space I finally started to get a handle on what was going on – it helped enormously but didn’t stop the cycle of depression and ferocity of my inner critic. But the mirror held up during the psych assessment had planted a seed.
A couple of years later, I had an idea for a self-portrait shoot. It persisted in my head for months before I realised it wouldn’t go away until I’d created it. It was a test – I wanted to see if everything was as bad as it felt, to hold up a mirror to myself, to look myself in the eye and face myself fully. So I sat with my most difficult emotions and photographed what was there.
I hadn’t thought about how I might react to the images, what I’d think, how I’d feel or what they might teach me. But there, looking back was a woman in agony, desperate for care and love, and the only person who could do that for her was me. It was a moving and very powerful moment.
Amongst the pain and hurt, I saw vulnerability, courage, resilience and strength – here I was, in all my beautiful mess. This was the first time that I saw and fully accepted myself, the first time I gifted myself kindness, patience and gentleness. I couldn’t deny what was staring back at me and I experienced a deep compassion for myself that has remained ever since.
It was the catalyst I needed to prioritise self-care and to feed my soul. I realigned with my spiritual needs and discovered a way to quieten my inner critic. I looked after myself holistically and it came easily, because not doing it wasn’t an option. The images had changed what I thought about myself, what I said to myself, what I saw in myself. It was transformative.
Six months later (after intending never, ever to share any of the images) I posted this picture. I got so much love and support, it was amazing.
Not long after another surprising thing happened – I found my life purpose. I developed everything I’d discovered into a therapeutic programme and named it Face to Face®. I hold up a mirror so clients may see their own potential for lasting self-compassion and happiness, helping them come home to all that they are, to see they’re enough, they’re not to blame, that they matter.
To see themselves better.
Looking back, I realise that however close I came, I never gave up hope. I never gave up thinking there must be something or someone that would make the difference I needed. The something that made the most difference was my shoot and the someone that helped turn my most significant corner was me. I was my own light.
Our answers are within us, sometimes we just need someone to walk next to us for a while, to join us on our journey and reflect back our strength while we navigate the storms.
Keep searching, be your own priority. Trust who you are and what you need. And most of all have hope, because without hope we have nothing.
Kathryn is a portrait photographer, creator of Face to Face®, Freedom Shoots and the Inner Critic Tool. She is fascinated at how we perceive ourselves and uses therapeutic photography to challenge self-belief, offering a different perspective. She helps to understand what it means to be human – vulnerable, complex, creative, beautifully flawed, perfectly imperfect and astonishingly brave.