Client: Self Portrait: (2012)
Project: Simple self portrait
It is interesting to revisit this self portrait project right now. Serendipitous in some way, or maybe mirroring back a reflection of this moment for me to see. Taken while living in Colorado back in 2012, this image represents a ‘me’ battling one of the worst depressive episodes of my life, and it would become one of the longest.
Dark, closed off posture, sweater, hat, rough stubble. Subconsciously it has a lot to say about that moment and many of the ones leading up to it. Being raised in home where there were no emotions shared, and surely never openly discussed or experienced meant that I would learn to hide them, mostly from myself. These crucial skills and conversations would be missing from my life for decades and would create the blank canvas this dark shadow of an image would come to occupy.
But its not the whole picture, no matter how many words an image might be worth - and trust me this one is worth plenty. This image like any only shows the subject as the camera sees it. Captured frozen in a rich and fully examined moment, but in this case its the bits that are left out I am most drawn to.
Looking back at this picture ten years later, I don’t see the crushing isolation of being alone in any group of people. family, old friends or new, I was alone and cut off. The color taken out of every day like the bland colors of winter in a grey Colorado. I don’t see the loss of my sense of self as I scrambled into survival mode, piecing together what it took every day to be invisible, un burdensome, and utterly un made. All the growth and progress I had made wiped out in record time. And I don’t look at this image and see the laughter that surely existed around me, I don’t see the milestones of those closest to me, I‘m unable to see life being lived around me [much of the time right in front of me]. I can’t see those things in this picture. I couldn’t see it in those moments it all existed - I know of no one dropped into the storm of depression who can. It takes everything we have as we fall and slide down the muddy embankment of a cliff drenched in rain to just remember to breathe. We either feel every branch as it whips us in our face and heart or we feel none of them. And no matter what, looking back up at the top of the mountain after we finally slow down or come to a rest - the idea of what exists as ‘possible‘ back at the top, where we first took a bad few steps isn’t even real anymore.
Today looking at the image - I see the light hitting my face, the brighest part of the capture and even though the corners of my mouth are turned down; I see the chance of a smirk.
I can of course still remember what a moment like this feels like, but its less and less these days. A sign of the light being drawn back into my beliefs and perspectives. A signal of the work and support I worked to put in place finally paying dividends. My gratitude to each of the people who saw the ‘old’ Brett under the darkened mood and negative internal dialogue. I won‘t return to any previous version of myself as that is a shell of the present moment and any opportunity it might hold.
But whatever new picture is starting to form, whatever new or simply current version of myself that is coming into focus is only possible because of others holding space, being deeply patient and most of all showing up. Do not, do not, do not underestimate the power of showing up [and doing nothing] and then showing up again. Do not underestimate the support brought to bear when you let someone know they are ’seen’ [even when they don’t want to be] un-judged, un-criticized, and heard [especially when they don’t know what they are saying].
I guess what I am trying to begin is this - a new conversation. I have almost been taken out three times in my life by the disconnect, isolation and damage caused by my depression. And throughout my entire life it has cost me opportunities, and relationships that I miss even today and I know it - that I - have caused hurt, confusion and frustration when I didn’t have the awareness, skill set or vocabulary to be able to talk about it. To share it.
I am not going to keep any of it to myself anymore it is time for more of us [especially men - women already do a much better job of all this] to support one another in cultivating our mental health and the conversations, support, treatment, reality - that can keep it from being so overwhelming to take on all at once.
You as a man/male/person do not need to be willing to die on your white horse to be strong or true. But if you hide from your emotions and the impact they have on your life and person over time - you might just fall off of it anyway into an isolated darkness. All because you were taught or came to believe that poor or underdeveloped mental health somehow equates to weakness. It does not.
Grow up - its time to acknowledge that in ‘todays’ world the entirely of mental health can and needs to be treated like physical health - and we are all very willing to go to extremes to look good, look strong, or be athletic. Why not do just a little bit of that to be willing to actually exist as the ’whole‘ you.
It’s time to take another ‘self portrait’.