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How photography helped to cure my social anxiety

02/13/2013

The world can be a scary place when you have a Social Anxiety Disorder..

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD or SA) if you aren’t already clued up, is an almost paralysing fear of social interaction. It’s a phobia, that brings on extreme emotional and physical difficulties when the sufferer is placed in a social situation. It’s a serious medical condition that can damage and often completely kill the ability to enjoy normal interactions and moments where other people are involved.

Outsiders with little understanding may utter things such as “get over it” or “we all feel nervous or shy sometimes”, but SA is far more than the butterflies or the passing worry that you get when going to a job interview or starting a new school, it’s far more involved and debilitating than that. A Social Anxiety sufferer can easily feel tortured for days by the fear of simply having to leave the house, or walking into a supermarket. I know that for me it takes me several hours to gear up the courage to leave the house to go to the shops alone, and that’s a vast improvement to where I was a fair few years ago.

– excerpt from my facebook note last year about my social anxiety disorder.

 

How photography cured my social anxiety When I left school, I hid myself away in my bedroom with just my computer and online friends for company. My disorder became so normal to me that it took a tremendous amount of time to realise all the odd safety behaviours social anxiety would make me do, like:

– Waiting around on my own for any length of time  would cause me to fumble around
on my phone to try and look busy. ‘If I stand here and press a few buttons, people will think I’m all cool and popular’
– Avoiding eye contact at all times. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me!
– Saying very little, because people won’t think I’m weird if I stand there while they’re talking to me and stare at a corner.
– Always looking everywhere else, all of the time. Like a meerkat.
– Avoiding going anywhere, because staying at home and eating pie is better.
– Hiding under the window when someone knocks on the door.
– Running for a bus, and when it drives off without me, just keep running. ‘Nooo, I wasn’t running for that bus, I was just casually out for a jog… in my work trousers… and high heels’ (Actually that last bit was a lie, I never wear high heels)

All of that stuff sounds kind of silly right now, but when you’re in that moment and feeling that fear it’s the only thing that matters to you. So don’t judge me ‘kay?!

Photography became the only thing that I had in my life that was constant and that drove me enough to want to better my situation. It played an instrumental part in my social anxiety journey, there a few reasons for this:
A big DSLR camera makes a rather good mask; I could just shove it in front of face and pretend to be invisible.  It forced me to go and meet new people, albeit AWESOME people, and take charge of photoshoots and having something that I’m good at made me feel confident, hardly super duper confident but it was something.

Then, the last few months happened. I kickstarted my business and pushed myself harder than ever before because not only did I want to ‘cope’ with my disorder, but I wanted to get rid of it and enjoy a life that I was comfortable living.  I believe completely that I have done this already in just a few short months, to the point that I don’t worry or feel anxious even an hour before a job or a meeting.  A lot of my  success is down to the practise makes perfect method…

 

How photography cured my social anxiety

Just like photography, you have to practise, practise and practise some more when it comes to social anxiety. Learning or managing one small thing at a time, until each small thing becomes second nature. When you learn photography you may start with learning  just one part of exposure first like how to use apertures until you’re all like  ‘dude, I totally think this would look super amazing with an aperture of f/1.8’ . It’s the same with anxiety, you work on one thing that makes you slightly nervous and then work your way up until you are challenging all the crazy stuff that makes you sweat like you’re chasing a Bugatti Veyron.

It wasn’t just the practise method that made it happen for me however,  I had to change the way I treated people altogether. The key to overcoming my fears was so simple that I could not believe I had never thought of it before. Instead of worrying about what I looked like to other people or how I came across, I had to focus the attention on other people. Not in a bad way of course, in the greatest way possible.  Making people feel beautiful, important and heard. After all, that’s what this business is all about once you take the actual photographs out of the equation. Social Anxiety is often very self involved and so many times you will spend a social interaction concentrating only on your fear that you actually forget to listen to the other person and you forget to even ask them any questions about themselves. Ever been in that situation where you’ve met someone new and because you were so busy thinking bad thoughts about yourself that you didn’t even listen to their name? Yep, been there, done that..
Ask people more questions, concentrate on them instead, LISTEN, because when you do your fears will melt away.

Do you suffer from Social Anxiety, or know somebody that does?  I would love to hear your stories.

– Kelly J x

 

 

How photography helped cure my social anxiety

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Great post!

Kelly, I stumbled upon your blog post via pinterest and just want to thank you for sharing your story. This is so me, as a fellow photog too. I have suffered for years with social anxiety and have been going through some really tough times right now that makes my anxiety/depression even worse. Your words are touching and inspiring. It is so comforting to know I am not alone. <3

Hi Jenny,
First of all I had a quick browse through your website and your work is beautiful. It’s also clear to me that your clients feel comfortable and at ease around you. I mean, look at all those lovely smiles!! Anxiety/Depression can be such a consuming and lonely thing to experience but I’m positive that you will come out of it stronger. If you ever want to chat about it in depth, feel free to email me anytime :) Thank you for taking the time to read my post and to say hi :) xxx

I also found this on Pinterest and was really happy to read it. Most of my clients think I’m super outgoing, but before each session I’m popping Klonopin to keep myself from freaking out.

Thank you for reading Jackie! It’s not a nice thing to experience but hopefully over time that outgoing appearance you have in front of your clients will start to feel real. I wish you the best of luck and all the confidence in the world. Your work is gorgeous by the way :)

I’ve struggled through social anxiety for a while … Right now I’m sitting in the parking lot at church because I don’t want to try to talk to people. It gets so overwhelming. I love what you said about focusing on other people and not on my own feelings. I’m going to try it.

Wow, thank you for this article. I was so excited to read it. I’ve been a victim of SAD since I was 12 (going on 21 now) and photography has been the one thing in my life that makes me forget about it and just takes me away. It’s helped me in so many aspects. Looking back, I realized that I’d always bring my camera with me where ever I went. It was a comfort to me. It still is. Thanks for your story!

I have extreme social anxiety and I search for articles that will help me change my perspective and heal. My biggest challenge is the blushing. I wish I could stop so badly. I’m embarrassed so easily. I’m humiliated daily. Just was again at work by someone who has noticed my blushing and tries to get me to blush all the time now. I just want to be normal so badly. To talk to people and not be embarrassed. I could do so much, be so much more, be a better mother to my 6 year old son. I can’t even take him to bday parties without extreme fear. He deserves so much more.

It’s refreshing to hear that I’m not the only that deals with Social Anxiety. It’s even harder because I struggle to have any close friends. For some reason, I get so nervous and never know what to say back to people that I am in conversation with. Thanks for your article! It was helpful for me, especially since I have a love for photography as well. :)

I personally have just a general anxiety disorder, I started working in a portrait studio two years ago, and just recently started up a freelance business about a year ago. When I first started working in the portrait studio, I was really terrified of starting these sessions and working with people for 10-40 minutes and having them rush in and out, varying in ages of children, number of people, different types of sessions… It’s quick! Lots of crazy stuff happens. Some days, my anxiety gets pretty bad and I can’t take big group photos. When working at the studio, and you’re being depended on to take a group session of 8+ people, it’s pretty scary!!! Because you have to get all eyes on you and when there are busy children, that’s even harder. However, I’ve learned to deal with my anxiety so much better! I have learned to take a chance and just go with the flow. However, there are occasionally those customers from hell, but I have my coworkers there to talk me through a rough day. I’m so thankful that they understand and realize when I’m just having a really rough day. As for my freelancing, thankfully, I haven’t had a customer who was too angry with me, that I know of! So there are two incredibly different worlds.

Wow, I needed to hear this right now! Thank you for sharing.

I love photography. It’s my passion. But whenever it comes to dealing with people I get so nervous k start overthinking things. Of all things I never thought I’d be doing event photography. It wasn’t by choice. I just know enough people to come up to me and ask me if I can shoot something like a birthday, baby shower, bridal shower, and even weddings. It was scary when I first started. But I still get those nervous feelings whenever I get asked to photograph something. I guess in my mind I get scared that they won’t like the photos or I’ll disappoint them or something. For this reason is why I kind of charge less because I feel like I’m not a good enough photographer to be charging what most photographers charge. To top things off I suck at talking to people. When I get nervous of talking to someone I don’t know very well, I stutter or mess up my words. That part frustrates me the most. I like doing photography events where I don’t have to converse with anyone. I just shoot pictures.

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