Photographer Explores Her Own Anxiety Disorder Through Haunting Self-Portraits

When it was time for photography student Katie Joy Crawford to pick a concept for her senior thesis exhibition, she chose to portray her inner struggles through a series of powerful self-portraits. My Anxious Heart is an important project that explores general anxiety disorder, which Crawford has struggled with for over a decade. “I had my first panic attack when I was 11,” she told HelloGiggles. “I wasn't supposed to know fear that strong yet. I was supposed to play house and have sleepovers.”

People with GAD experience chronic and disruptive worry every day, even when there is no reason for concern. The photo series “explores and identifies how emotionally and physically depleting general anxiety disorder can be from a personal perspective,” Crawford wrote on her website. “As I have carried anxiety for the majority of my life, I've chosen to photographically depict this battle and its constant presence.” While the gifted photographer does use surreal images to depict a mental illness that affects 6.8 million American adults, she also creates a world where outsiders can empathize with the overwhelming symptoms that many face on a daily basis.

Using black objects, heavy fabric, broken clocks, foggy imagery, and confined spaces, Crawford symbolically bridges the gap between the inner mind and the outer world where mental illness symptoms can go unnoticed. “Using my own stories and experiences, I am capturing the raw essence of anxiety,” explains Crawford. “Through this personal journey, I have grown and found that depicting my fears has become therapeutic, as well as a gateway for others to express their oppression and begin their own healing process.”

Above: “They keep telling me to breathe. I can feel my chest moving up and down. Up and down. Up and down. But why does it feel like I'm suffocating? I hold my hand under my nose, making sure there is air. I still can't breathe.”

“A glass of water isn't heavy. It's almost mindless when you have to pick one up. But what if you couldn't empty it or set it down? What if you had to support its weight for days… months… years? The weight doesn't change, but the burden does. At a certain point, you can't remember how light it used to seem. Sometimes it takes everything in you to pretend it isn't there. And sometimes, you just have to let it fall.”

“I'm afraid to live and I'm afraid to die. What a way to exist.”

“You were created for me and by me. You were created for my seclusion. You were created by venomous defense. You are made of fear and lies. Fear of unrequited promises and losing trust so seldom given. You've been forming my entire life. Stronger and stronger.”

“A captive of my own mind. The instigator of my own thoughts. The more I think, the worse it gets. The less I think, the worse it gets. Breathe. Just breathe. Drift. It'll ease soon.”

“Depression is when you can't feel at all. Anxiety is when you feel too much. Having both is a constant war within your own mind. Having both means never winning.”

“Cuts so deep it's like they're never going to heal. Pain so real, it's almost unbearable. I've become this… this cut, this wound. All I know is this same pain; sharp breath, empty eyes, shaky hands. If it's so painful, why let it continue? Unless… Maybe it's all that you know.”

“I was scared of sleeping. I felt the most raw panic in complete darkness. Actually, complete darkness wasn't scary. It was that little bit of light that would cast a shadow – a terrifying shadow.”

“No matter how much I resist, it'll always be right here desperate to hold me, cover me, break down with me. Each day I fight it, ‘you're not good for me and you never will be.' But there it is waiting for me when I wake up and eager to hold me as I sleep. It takes my breath away. It leaves me speechless.”

“My head is filling with helium. Focus is fading. Such a small decision to make. Such an easy question to answer. My mind isn't letting me. It's like a thousands circuits are all crossing at once.”

“It's in your stomach. It's like when you're swimming and you go to put your feet on the bottom… but it's not there. You can't touch and your heart skips a beat.”

“Numb feeling. How oxymoronic. how fitting. Can you actually feel numb? Or is it the inability to feel? Am I so used to being numb that I've equated it to an actual feeling?”

Katie Joy Crawford's Website
Katie Joy Crawford's Facebook
via [HelloGiggles, PetaPixel, Anxiety and Depression Association of America]

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