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Art & Mental Health

Hi, my name is Allyssa. I have anxiety and depression. I am also an artist. I have had serious mental health issues since my early childhood. I take medications to help keep me level, however, medications only help so much.

If you have spent any time around me at all, you have probably never seen me without a smile on my face. I am a huge believer of faking it till you make it, despite knowing that it doesn't always work. I do not like allowing others to see my pain or weaknesses, I also don't ever want to burden others with my struggles. I am the first person to put on that happy face, make jokes, give out hugs and tell others they are not alone while ultimately isolating myself with that same brave face. Every single day is a struggle for me. I don't want to get out of bed, but I do. I don't want to eat, but I need to cook for my kids so I eat. I don't want to do much of anything most days. People don't see that side of me often, except for my kids which is horribly painful to me. My life has been this way for as long as I can remember. One of the reasons that photography speaks so much to me is that I can show others what I see while hiding behind a lens instead of a mask. I can share secrets I have found without feeling vulnerable and I can tell people one of my ultimate truths, the only people who are ugly are those with an ugly heart. I can capture a detail that you might have never noticed, I can show you something that seems mundane in a whole new light without feeling like I'm kicking a dead horse.

I have been interested in photography as far back as I can remember. Often for birthdays I would ask for rolls of film or the disposable cameras, and my first digital camera when I was 14 went with me EVERYWHERE. I might have been the only kid in my school who brought a camera to school that wasn't on Yearbook. Pictures became an integral part of who I was long before I could ever use a camera and it's one of the reasons that I have pictures from middle school and high school when no one else did. Back home in New Mexico, I would take my camera for a walkabout. A simple enough exercise in capturing what you see and making something beautiful from the everyday. I can't do it as much anymore as the mom of two very active boys, but every time I have a session on location now, I take a few minutes to just soak in the beauty all around me!

October is Mental Health Awareness month. This has been the first year that I've been truly aiming to be more open about my personal struggles and the affects that mental illness has in our household. Art is proven to help relieve stress, aid in communication and help slows down cognitive decline. (Both the CDC and Harvard have done studies on this.) I dabble in many forms of art but photography is by far my preferred outlet and is something I can share with others. If I haven't shot in a while I will occasionally take our dog, Holger, and go on a photography safari, as my husband calls them. These safaris I aim to photograph things I've never captured before, learn something new about my camera or change my typical perspective. These evenings alone are so incredibly healing for me. I often do them after a stressful week or in recent history following the loss of family and friends.

I am adding more to this because I realized that so far I have barely touched the surface of my mental health issues to date. So here it goes, please be warned that this addition includes topics such as sucidial thoughts and ideation, abuse and self-harm. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. 1-800-273-8255 .

 

I have battled suicidal thoughts from the tender age of seven. At least that's as far back as I can remember. I don't remember a single incident or abuse that caused these thoughts to happen, but I do remember the general atmosphere of my childhood being ugly, accusative and stressful. I was physically, medically and emotionally battered and abused and have physical scars from all of it. I was an only child, growing up in a trailer park in the part of town referred to simply as "The War Zone", and attended a very expensive private school. I was ostracized by the children in my neighborhood as well as by the kids at my school.

My parents divorced when I was 14, which I should have seen coming but didn't. I lost all of my friends within the first month of school for being depressed and attempted suicide three times that year. I begged my parents to see a therapist and was blatantly told no. My needs were completely ignored and by the time I was getting my first paychecks, I was paying to keep on the electricity at home.

As an adult, I battled my parents very intense desires to be in charge of my every decision and was "punished" any time I didn't obey. This included my moving out, who I dated, the jobs I had etc., Nothing was ever good enough and that allowed for my addiction to self-harm, alcohol and promiscuity to flourish. I even took care of my dad through cancer, to the point of moving him into my home but felt so belittled that every single night I could be found at the bar across the alley from my work and usually some stranger's home. My husband and I became serious in late 2012 and he moved from Indiana to Albuquerque in February 2013. To summarize all of the bullshit that occurred, my mother threatened to shoot him because of an argument they had gotten into about gun control on Facebook. My mother did not meet my husband until my wedding day, AFTER the ceremony and even then it was brief. My entire family had had their thoughts obscured by her opinion of him (having never met him or had an actual conversation with him, but they didn't care). Most of my family stopped talking to me, some tried to "intervene" sincerely believing that my future husband was going to murder me, or abuse the shit out of me or leave me with nothing if I fell pregnant. More than one conversation I had prior to our wedding ended with me being called a cunt and wishing me dead rather than happy. This was the beginning of a major shift for me, I was losing the battle for my family but my husband was by my side, holding me as I cried and never judging me for still loving these people who in their own words would "rather see me dead." Sadly this manipulation, gaslighting and abuse has not stopped. My own father stopped talking to me as soon as we announced I was pregnant with my now four year old. An aunt who was one of my few companions through childhood and even my early adult years died from liver failure believing the lies my mother told her six years ago. Obscure relatives I have never met have taken to messaging me via my businesses to guilt me into having relationships with people who refuse to believe they've done anything worth apologizing for. My pain does not stop. My heart gets broken time and time again. My children do not have the extended family that many grow up with because there are few worth being around anymore.

 

I'm sharing all these things, which I have never shared in full before, because someone needs to hear it. Someone needs to know that they are not alone. Someone needs to be told that it's ok to not be ok. If that someone is you and you read to this point, thank you.

I need to scream to the world, I am not ok. I will never be ok. I will always be a shadow of my true self. I will always struggle to see that I have any value in this world. I am currently struggling with major depression symptoms and forcing my feelings down into a deep hole hoping that no one can see all the pain. I struggle to take my medications, because even though they do help, my anxiety says they aren't. My depression tells me it doesn't matter. Today, I lost that battle. I am feeling raw and vulnerable lately in the wake of pain no one else could comprehend. I don't want to be around others, I don't want to be strong, I don't even want to get out of bed. But I did. I even showered today. You don't need a reason to be depressed. You don't need to be hospitalized if you sometimes imagine what the world would be like without you. You DO need to find a reason to get out of bed every day. You DO need to take a deep breath sometimes and feel those emotions you spend most of your time avoiding. You DO deserve to be happy no matter who tells you otherwise. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. 1-800-273-8255 .

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