Each person turns toward different outlets to help self-soothe in times of distress.

From a young age, my main outlet has been my creativity. This is the story of how photography has helped me through some of my low points.

Coping Through Creativity

My creative side began developing in elementary school while I was experiencing bullying and exclusion. I found drawing to be soothing, and it helped pass the time when I was alone at school. Over time, I explored a variety of different visual art forms but the one that stuck with me into adulthood was photography.

I fully fell in love with it in my 20’s while I was in the midst of a long-running emotionally abusive relationship. Over the course of the relationship, my social anxiety disorder and major depression seemed to take over my life. These factors contributed to a very low sense of self-worth and social-isolation. I had minimal social interaction outside of my job and the occasional visit with family.  Photography was the splash of colour that I needed in my life, and receiving positive feedback on something I was creating was important to me.

I could write 1000 words about this photo, but to summarize, it’s a memory of strength in solitude. Photo by Carrie Freele.

Once the emotionally abusive relationship had ended in early 2019, my problems with isolation and self-worth were far from over. Without having more people around me to give me support and encouragement, the negative thoughts kept on coming.

Starting the Healing Process

It took about 7 months from the end of the relationship for me to question what was next in my life, and it was then that I began the idea to try and start a small photography business. I bought studio lights and a backdrop for my home office. Since I had never used studio lights before or done this type of photography, I knew I needed to practice. I didn’t have people that were easily accessible, so I decided to try self-portraits as a way to test everything out.

I remember feeling defeated and alone, but once I began shooting my mood started to lift. Editing the photos was relaxing, and viewing images of myself helped give a little boost to my confidence. Do I find taking photos of myself a little strange? Yes, but that does not take away from the fact that, in the moment, it helps lift my spirits. I continue to do self-portraits to this day.

One of my latest self-portraits. Photo by Carrie Freele.

By the end of 2019 something, within my mind had begun to shift and eventually my perception of myself shattered. I felt none of the things that I had done with my life had meaning and that I had been entirely focused on the wrong things. It was an existential crisis, and although it made me feel completely worthless, it was also a significant turning point for me. After being isolated for so long, I had lost sight of what the outside world could be.

Through a small glimpse into the London community, I realized the potential people have when they come together and work off of each other’s strengths. It was beautiful and inspiring when so much of my life before just seemed stagnant. After experiencing social isolation for over 8 years, I decided that in 2020, it was finally time for me to turn things around. I hit pause on my dreams of becoming a freelance photographer and set out to find my three Ps (People, Purpose and Passion).

The Pandemic Strikes

I began volunteering and had started to meet a few new faces when lockdown happened. I felt a deep need to move forward and make progress, but the lockdown trapped me, and I didn’t know how much more isolation I could take. Fortunately, I had met a wonderfully supportive boyfriend at the start of the year who helped me through the worst of it. Even though the relationship did not last, I will always be grateful for having him in my life at that time.

Along with the comfort that I received from him, I would also spend a lot of time in the forest by my home and would often bring my camera with me. I found being surrounded by nature and capturing images as the earth thawed and bits of green started popping up to be incredibly soothing.

Captured on one of my many lockdown walks at Westminster Ponds. Photo by Carrie Freele.

Once the lockdown relaxed, I began volunteering again with multiple organizations, including the amazing LondonFuse. For many of my volunteer opportunities, I had my camera in tow. It helped me find the courage to approach people and strike up small conversations. In doing so I have heard some heartwarming stories and have come to love London’s vibrant community.

My Introspection

Through all of these experiences I have discovered what I love about photography.

Comfort: When I am alone, just me and my camera, I am able to find the most comfort. Photography  has the ability to wash away some of my stress or ease the pain of loneliness. When I photograph landscapes or objects out in the world, the photos show my appreciation and what I find beautiful. They can help me capture some of my most precious memories, things to look back on when I need a reminder of feelings of peace and brightness. These photos are my window to happiness.

Connection: If I am taking photos of other people, I love that it helps me make connections or share inspiring stories.

Creativity: Photography helps fuel my creative side. When I sit down to do photo editing with music playing in the background, I quickly slip into my creative zone. I adjust and play with the images until they transform into something more visually striking. The possibilities with photo editing can be endless. Another avenue that I have recently discovered is food photography. From the actual cooking to the accessories, staging, lighting and angles, it is pure creativity from start to finish, and I am quickly developing so much love for it.

My food photography of Cranberry Orange muffins. Photo by Carrie Freele.

It is with these discoveries that I now find my original vision of being a freelance photographer to be somewhat lifeless. I want to photograph because I love it, the love coming from the joy and peace that it brings me. At this point, I don’t want the added pressure of worrying if I’ll be good enough to produce standard  portrait photography. Since photography is one of my passions, I want to use it as a way to connect and share my other passions with the outside world.

Making my way back into a community has not been easy. I still struggle with my insecurities every day and often feel like I have no idea what I am doing. But reflecting now, I am able to look back and see that I have made some progress and that is all that matters. One day, once I have found my footing and with the support of others, I hope to help people find that little bit of peace needed during dark times. My camera will be there with me to help capture, share and inspire.

If you or someone you know is experiencing issues with mental health or domestic abuse, check out these links below for more information and resources,

Mental Health

CMHA: https://cmhamiddlesex.ca/

mindyourmind: https://mindyourmind.ca/

Domestic Abuse

MLHU: https://www.healthunit.com/domestic-violence

Anova: http://www.anovafuture.org/

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