Traveling Solo with an Anxiety Disorder

There are two important things about me, the first being something many people already know: I love to travel.

My life is spent planning for the next big adventure, tolerating the moments between when I return from a trip and head off on the next one. I love going to new places, learning about different cultures, trying out new languages and meeting kindred spirits around the globe.

The second important thing about me if I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve lived with PTSD for years, and even with it in remission I still have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. It makes going out of my “comfort zone” extremely daunting.

Currently, I am traveling solo in SE Asia. I’ve spent the past week in Thailand by myself, but (thankfully) my cousin is meeting up with me tonight. I admittedly need the reprieve from my solo-ness.

The thing about traveling solo is it is extremely empowering. There are moments where I am so overwhelmed with my perceived bad-assery that a smile breaks across my face and I laugh. It’s amazing that I am able to do this, that I was able to get on a plane and go across the globe to a country where I can’t speak the language to live alone and be a tourist all by myself. It’s awesome!

To prepare, I read a lot of testimonies about traveling alone. It’s about reaching out to others, not being afraid to meet new people and just kinda sorta “going for it.” I felt like I could do it. I still believe I can do it.

But traveling solo with anxiety makes it really, really hard to be that person who can go out and be unafraid. Every morning I wake up I have to spend about 2-3 hours psyching myself up to go outside. There is a cycle of guilt: I am in a foreign country, something many people don’t have the luxury to even dream about, and I’m sitting in my apartment talking myself out of doing anything that may make me look like an idiot in a new place.

Sometimes I’m able to trample down the anxiety and leave. Other times I can’t, and I spend the day inside.

This is OKAY.

It is okay for me to spend hours memorizing the train route, learning how to pronounce the names of places I want to go and practicing what to tell a cab driver. It is okay for me to accept that today just isn’t the day to go out and be adventurous, that my brain is wired a little differently and sometimes I need time to get used to a new place. It is okay to tell the guilt to leave me alone, that I know myself and I know my body.

It is okay to travel solo with anxiety. You do not need to push yourself. This is not a blog post about being like “JUST STOMP DOWN YOUR INHIBITIONS AND GO!” Anxiety disorders are not mere inhibitions, but a condition where, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you just can’t. And this is okay.

So, if you have anxiety and you want to travel solo, go for it. I believe in you. But if you do and you feel overwhelmed, try not to feel guilty. That energy is better spent loving yourself and reminding yourself that hey, you’re a bad-ass for doing it in the first place. You will go out and explore the world in your own time.

Constructions of Childhood Trauma

Last time I checked in with my work, I shared my book, which is a work in progress. I haven’t given up on that– never fear– but I have spent the last month and or so photographing my life away. As you do.

I’ve been dragging around my handy-dandy 4×5 camera and constructing scenes for it.

My work explores the complexities of childhood sexual trauma, identity, and memory through constructed photographs, the personal archive, and metaphor. Childhood sexual abuse is a topic that many shy away from, but I wish to create a safe space to talk about these issues, especially since they are so prevalent. This kind of abuse is hiding in plain sight. By working in the studio, in the real world, and in a world of make-believe, I intend to create tableaus that draw a viewer in and make them contemplate and uncover the trauma hidden in the images.

By using a large format camera, a saturated color palette, and childhood symbols, I create tableaus that subvert the connotations of an idyllic childhood. The use of a large format camera allows the images to be huge and immersive. My color palette references bubble gum, cartoons, and children’s bedrooms. The toys are the toys of the every-child; recognizable and therefore a vessel to project the personal onto.

The act of constructing these scenes harkens back to playtime as a child, where we created our own worlds. I am now creating plays for the camera, drawing from my own experience as a survivor of sexual abuse, to create a visual language that can be universally understood. There is a delicate balance I work from, teetering on the fine line between chaos and order, awful and sweet, and presence and absence. Materiality assists me in exploring these binaries, as I use dollhouses, bed sheets, and obsessive collections. The anxiety found in the images reflects the anxieties of not only my experiences, but the experiences of others who have suffered and survived by any means necessary.

This current work is a long term project that I am looking forward to continuing. Childhood sexual abuse is a topic that is ingrained in our cultural psyche, but is hardly ever spoken about. By using my personal experiences, my hope is to open up a space where others can share their stories. To reconfigure the cultural matrix to include this topic is my ultimate goal.

I have a lot of ideas left in me and some metaphors to explore. 4×5 is making me really slow down and pay attention to my process– and can you blame me when it is about $5 a shot? Yeesh. Despite that, I’m really excited about this new work and I feel like everything is starting to come together. I worked last year on installations and now I’m basically making installations to photograph. Things DO make sense! Wow!

Happy Shooting!

Bargaining as Overachieving

When something bad happens to someone, they go through the Five Stages of Grief. The stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, and we all experience these stages, and not necessarily in the above order. But I want to talk about just one, and that stage is Bargaining.

I experienced trauma when I was little, and I went through the stages. I didn’t know it at the time. But I’ve been working on this body of work about childhood trauma, and I’ve been exploring it on a personal level and looking at it with my own history. It’s been really freaking hard.

I’ve been photographing objects as signifiers for a traumatic event. I was challenged by a professor to talk more about myself as a person instead of someone who was traumatized. I interpreted this as photographing objects that said something about me, so when I was visiting home for the Thanksgiving holiday, I photographed some things. Actually, I photographed a lot of things. About 100 things. Things that had everything to do with my achievements growing up. Trophies, medals, pins, cords, tassels… Basically any form of accolade imaginable, I had earned in high school or college.

As I was photographing these things, I grew sad. Which may seem weird, because these objects are celebrations of my accomplishments. But they were covered in dust. The feeling I had towards them wasn’t pride, but shame, because I finally understood why I had all of these things and why they felt so empty to me.

They were my way of bargaining. The better I did at school, the more sports I played, the harder I worked, the more I could ignore what had happened to me. By working myself so hard, I could ignore– no, I could deny– what had happened to  me. The logic was how could someone who had something so terrible happen to them be capable of all of these wonderful things?

*You can click on the image to see it larger.

Some of my classmates asked me how I did all of this. The answer is, I honestly don’t know. What I do know what that I was hurting myself.

Trauma is a complicated thing. Healing is even more complicated.

I’m still working through this project, and there will be more updates to come. I have a lot of ideas to execute over winter break, and I’m spending three weeks in Ireland for a studio intensive course. Then there’s the whole thing about having three semesters left of graduate school… So this work is going to change. I’m looking forward to what is next.

Happy Shooting!

On Childhood Trauma

Time to talk about something scary: childhood sexual trauma. Psychology Today says that up to 40% of females and 30% of males will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Nearly half of you reading this, statistically speaking, have endured this special sort of terror. And if you haven’t, you most likely know someone that has.

And I’m sorry for that.

I’ve been creating a series of self portraits, exploring my own experience. I want to photograph others who have experienced sexual trauma in their childhoods, since there doesn’t seem to be any photography projects that explore this topic conceptually.

Synapses Firing

Depersonalization

Hypervigilance

These portraits are just interpretations of my experience from living with trauma. I’m interested in photographing others and make their stories into conceptual portraiture as well. If you’re interested or know someone who may be, feel free to contact me. I am willing to travel.

Trauma is a really crappy thing, but maybe we can talk about it more through photography.

Happy Shooting!

 

Graduate School Update

I am halfway through my first semester in graduate school, and wow. Just… Wow. Here are a few facts:

1.) I’m tired and my brain feels like a strange mixture of oatmeal, jello, and sadness.

2.) My brain is so filled with knowledge on photography things, there isn’t much room left for important things, like pressing the “down” button on an elevator when you are trying to leave the 12th floor.

3.) Naps are the most important thing. I thought they were important when I was in undergrad, but man. This is a whole new level of commitment.

4.) I was hesitant about jumping into a graduate program straight from undergrad, but I am fully confident I made the right choice.

5.) My work is getting heavy and I’m okay with that.

I miss blogging multiple times a week, but grad school is literally my life. It’s sad, but true. When I’m not reading for classes, I’m shooting, and when I’m not shooting, I’m editing or brainstorming, and when I’m not doing that, I’m having an existential crisis, and when that isn’t going down I’m sleeping or eating potato chips while watching DWTS. Is this adulthood?

No, it’s grad school.

For the next two years, I get the joy and pleasure of focusing on a thesis body of work. I made my initial decision about 6 weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. I’ve already created a series that is a work in progress, and it touches on what I’m focusing on: Childhood Trauma and PTSD. It’s different than my usual work, which involves sets, characters, tableau… I just photographed objects with a single light source. I think the juxtaposition hits on what I’m trying to talk about.

I have a lot more work to do with these, including re-photographing them with different light. There are a lot of ways I can explore my thesis, and I’m super happy I’m surrounded by peers who have a passion for photography and can talk about it in an informed way. Undergrad was okay, but grad school is much more my speed. I love a good challenge especially one that takes years off your life and reduces you to a poptart eating sorry excuse of a human.

Overall, I may be frustrated, tired, hungry, and crabby, but I am inspired, excited, and in love with where I am. It’s definitely hard, but everyday I feel myself becoming more informed about the field I love so damn much.

So, yeah. Here is a little update for anyone who stills follows me. Happy Shooting!