The Key To Happiness or How Photography Saved Me… Twice!

I’ve used my blog mainly to share my work with the odd personal musing. Typically, I’ve kept my life fairly private but today, I wanted to share some personal stories, in the hopes that perhaps it can help someone, somewhere. If nothing else, it will help you understand why I do what I do.

On January 14, I had the pleasure of photographing women at the I Am Beautiful Photobooth set up at Billings Bridge Mall to promote the FAB Women Charity Gala on February 6th (that I will also have the privilege of photographing). The Gala will raise money for the Hopewell Eating Disorder Support Centre, dedicated to helping women with eating disorders.  I don’t know any woman who is truly happy with their body but it’s especially hard as a teenager when they lose that childhood innocence and self-love as it’s replaced with comparison and self-criticism and trying to figure out how to fit in. Add to regular peer pressure the influence of the media dictating what beauty is. I am a photographer so does this mean I am part of the problem? Personally, I hope to be part of the solution.

When I was 13, I suffered from depression. It was brought on by anxiety that began when I started high school. I was always very shy and a people pleaser so although I had good friends, the pressure of trying to fit into this new environment proved too great. In January of grade 9, my volleyball team lost its last game of the season. That bummed feeling never went away. It took weeks but eventually feeling blue turned into feeling badly about myself. This self-hatred drove thoughts of suicide into my head. I felt that I was just a burden and shouldn’t exist… period. I was THIRTEEN! I would perform tests to prove it really wouldn’t matter to anyone if I no longer was around. I’d hide out in the dark hallways of the school after hours during practices for the school play (I was the props girl for a play with 3 props), nobody missed me.  I would make a note how long it took a friend to call me to make plans (not initiating any calls myself) so inevitably they became fewer and far between, only proving to myself that no one liked me. Of course, it’s a catch 22. I was probably no fun to be around if I was glum all the time and didn’t really want to talk with anyone. I also started burning photographs of myself because I thought I was so ugly. I even burned negatives (somehow today’s equivalent of just pressing delete isn’t quite as dramatic). To punish myself further, I deprived myself of food. I wasn’t worthy of being nourished. Although I didn’t have an eating disorder, this aspect of my depression allows me to empathize with those who do. It all stems from a lack of self-love. I was already thin but somehow, I felt twisted pleasure in watching the numbers drop on the scale. It meant I was that much closer to disappearing. What kept me alive? The thought of what it would do to my parents and extended family. They still loved me even though I thought I was unlovable. I couldn’t bare to hurt them.  Oh and Prozac. After confessing my thoughts to some of my close friends, they put a call into Children’s Aid. That just opened a can of worms as they tried to get me to confess that my parents were to blame. However, it did wake my parents up to what was going on although there was some denial at first – perhaps being so young and still functioning at school and getting good grades simply confused them as to how it was possible. A trip to my family doctor then a psychiatrist got me the prescription I needed. I also saw a psychologist but that form of therapy really didn’t do much for me at the time. I was only on medication for 6 weeks but it did the trick.

So how does photography fit into this – other than burning pictures of myself? A couple of years later was when my passion was really sparked and I even became the president of the high school’s camera club. It became a way to hide – whether in the darkroom or behind the lens. I could be invisible but still have a voice through my images. The shy observer of the world. I could block out everything else and see the world in a new, more focused and creative way. I was in awe with nature, its beauty and power. My curiosity grew and I wanted to explore the world and tell stories so I applied to the Image Arts: Film Studies program at Ryerson University. There, my self-confidence grew but I still preferred being behind the camera.

I finally braved getting in front of the camera on a university trip to Italy. I had heard someone, somewhere say how much more interesting pictures were when people were in it. I thought back at all the shots I’d taken during my travels and how boring they must look to someone who’s never been and also, as an adult, how nice it would be to look back and see myself within those frames, living the experience instead of just recording it. So this was a turning point!

What finally got me to see really my own beauty, strength and uniqueness was first my wedding and then having my son. My wedding was such a happy day filled with love and connection, not just with my now husband but all the friends and family that came to our celebration. Our photographer captured that emotion and in happiness, there is beauty. Feeling like a princess in a gorgeous dress meant I felt beautiful and that made me realize that it’s not how you look but how you feel that will make you look gorgeous in pictures. Next came my son. The pictures of me with him throughout his first year are some of the best I’d ever taken. My happiness so apparent. It’s authentic and genuine. Because he loves me so completely, I was forced to love myself too. I’m still so proud and amazed that my husband and I created such an awesome little person.

So although I still have days when I am hard on myself, they are few and far between and I don’t shy away from putting myself in front of the camera and being confident that I look good because I love who I have become, especially when I think of how close I got to missing out on the fabulous life I’ve lived so far.

As I’ve gotten older and wiser and realizing how precious life is, that’s what motivates me to capture everyone’s unique beauty and amazing life stories. Starting my business has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. It was scary and it can still be a roller coaster ride at times but it’s given me purpose and I know that my work touches people and makes a difference in their lives and not in a superficial way. Photographs of people we love are treasures that keep them alive, always. I lost a cousin to suicide a few years ago who had two young children under the age of 3 at the time. It seems like such a waste when there is help and there is hope even if you don’t see it. You just need to reach out. I’ve also lost family and friends to cancer far too soon. Life is unpredictable. It has ups and downs but we only have one life and one body so be kind to it, love yourself for the simple fact there is only one of you. When you have a hard time doing that, try to see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you, a parent, a friend, a partner, a child. You are important to more people than you can imagine. Don’t hide when a camera comes out. Show how you feel in those pictures so that those who love you now and when you are gone can see just how amazing and special you are. Rather than put a photo of your cute baby or puppy as your profile pic on Facebook, put a great one of YOU – that’s who your ‘friends’ want to see. Be happy with who you are, other people think you are great so you should too. If you are not there yet, think of your older self and what you think they’d tell you right now. I would tell my thirteen-year-old self that I love her and to hang in there cause her life is going to be amazing. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed with sadness and self-hatred, please get help. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed. With the right help, you will get better.

Love yourself, it’s the key to happiness and it’s the greatest gift you can ever give yourself. Trust me.

If you want to help a great cause and have a FABulous night, join me next Monday, February 6th at the FAB Women Charity Gala at the Westin Hotel. Tickets are $75 with the proceeds going to the Hopewell Centre, a great organization dedicated to helping people overcome eating disorders. Need a bit more convincing? Here’s a taste of what will be happening during the evening:

– Super food stations
– Delectable Dessert Bar
– FAB Signature Cocktail
– Fashion Show presented by Three Wild Women and Queen Mother Maternity
– Stroll down the Fab Lane
– Dance the night away with Hot 89.9
– Get your photo taken on the red carpet
– Silent Auction, Live Auction, Raffles and Door Prizes (Note: I’ll be giving away a session package to one lucky bidder!)
– Greetings by Honorary Chair, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau
– Live entertainment  by Amanda Rheaume and Kimberley Dunn

If you’ve made it this far, thank you! It’s not easy to go back and talk about a dark period in my life on something as public as a blog but if it can help one person somewhere, I’m happy to share my experience.


2 thoughts on “The Key To Happiness or How Photography Saved Me… Twice!”

  1. Unfortunately so many teenagers suffer from the social and peer pressures where they (or better described their egos) are simply looking for a safe, protected and comfortable refuge. However, traveling this path has only short-term benefits, if any at all. Oddly enough it is in your inner strength, which you were fortunate to discover, where your passion, curiosity, creativity and yourself exists beyond your ego. This is where your strength is to be your real self, even beyond yourself; as somebody with that passion, drive and unwavering commitment of purpose to help the world evolve. Somebody that is not so vulnerable. That doesn’t mean that life is all rosy, as you know, as it is still a struggle, but it is worth it – it is even exciting because of that passion.
    I am moved by your self-discovery. You must look back with wonder, but also with a sense of accomplishment. I can feel your strength and focus, with purpose and joy. That is awesome! James and Benjamin are fortunate to share their lives with you. Love Philip

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