Red River Paper Blog
By Kath Chapman
I used to loathe who I was. I hated my body, my mind, my face, my hair, my voice, my laugh. I had no self-compassion and absolutely no idea how to love myself or even what that meant. I did everything I could not to feel my feelings and I was raging against something that was making all the bad thoughts true. I existed in a dissociated, confused, numbed-out-tuned-in agony. Sometimes I’d feel incandescent rage and injustice, other times infinite emptiness.
When I reached rock bottom in my early 20s, I tried to end my life. I didn’t believe I had any other option and remember very clearly how it felt. As a result, I dropped out of my post-grad course and began 25 years in-and-out of talking therapy. In all that time, I didn’t improve and my poor mental health left me feeling drained, utterly useless and very, very tired of talking.
In 2015 my mental health hit another massive low after I had a bike accident and fell into deep depression. A subsequent psych assessment revealed clinical depression, severe anxiety and “off the scale” PTSD. It was time to do things differently. My way. One thing at a time. Once and for all.
I started with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and tackled the self-medicinal anesthetizing I had been doing with alcohol. As I got help with my drinking, buried traumas surfaced and it was here that I finally started to get a handle on my why. It helped enormously to experience, understand and forgive the huge anger I felt, but it didn’t stop the cycle of depression and ferocity of my inner critic.
The assessment had, however, planted a seed. Three years later I did a self-portrait shoot. I’d had an image in my head for months and I knew it wouldn’t go away until I’d created it. It was an image that would show me if everything was as bad as it felt. An image where I could look myself in the eye and face myself fully. So I got into the studio, sat with my most difficult emotions and photographed what was there. I called the shoot, Face to Face®.
I hadn’t thought about how I’d react to the images - what I’d think or feel, what they might teach me. But amongst the pain and hurt, I saw vulnerability, courage, resilience and strength. Here I was in all my beautiful mess and I didn’t hate or judge what I was looking at.
For the first time ever I was able to wholly accept myself. It was the first time I gifted myself kindness, patience and gentleness. And in that moment I truly saw myself. Looking back was a woman in agony, desperate for love and care, and the only person who could give her that was me. I couldn’t deny what was in the images and I experienced a deep self-compassion that has remained ever since.
The images changed what I thought of myself, what I said to myself, what I saw in myself, what I did to myself. I woke up every day feeling better and better. Slowly I realized I wasn’t depressed anymore! It was hugely therapeutic. I was transformed. It was the catalyst I so desperately needed for self-care and to feed my soul. I realigned with my spiritual needs and discovered a way to quieten my inner critic via a second self-portrait shoot a few months later. I even celebrated my sense of emotional freedom and joy via a third, my Freedom Shoot.
In Part 2, Kath Chapman reveals how the power of selfies can give photographers, artists and others a big creative boost.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kath Chapman is a portrait and self-portrait professional photographer, speaker and mentor, based near London. She creates safe spaces for people to notice themselves more deeply through art, specializing in transformation through photography, the felt sense and embodied awareness. All images © Kath Chapman.
Find out more about Kath’s work and her various projects.
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