My Story……Living with a Mental Illness

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I have struggle with whether or not I should share my struggles with anxiety/depression. I have decided to be brave and share my story. My goal with talking about mental illnesses is to help break the stigma that there is towards mental illnesses. My hope with me sharing this is that it helps someone and if I manage to help one person then it will be all worth it.

I first notice some depression when I was a teenage but I didn’t really think much of it. I kinda of brushed it off as me just going through normal teenage things. I really started to notice in my early twenties how bad my depression really was. At the time I was going to school, working full-time and planning a wedding. It all got really overwhelming for me and I ended up slipping into a deep depression. I would spend most of my days on the couch unable to motivate myself to do anything. Having a shower was a chore. my fiancé at the time(now my ex) encouraged me to see the doctor. My doctor ended up putting me on anti-depressant pills, which didn’t help one bit. At one point my doctor had tried me on a wide range of different antipsychotic. I tried taking these meds for one day only. Why? I ended up being so drowsy that I spent the entire day sleeping only being able to wake up enough to eat a small amount of food. My doctors prescribe these to me thinking that I was bipolar – which wasn’t the case. She ended up recommending me to the mood disorders clinic. The wait list is incredibly long and could take up to 2 years to sit with one of the their doctors for half and hour. While I was on the wait list my symptoms got worse. It was to the point were I would lose touch with reality and try to hurt myself. I didn’t do this because I was suicidal I did it because all I wanted was to feel something anything was better than nothing. That’s the thing with depression sometimes is that you lose all feeling. You don’t feel pain, happiness or even sadness. It feels more like an emptiness that you are a shell of a person. Once I saw the doctor at the mood disorder clinic she ended up diagnosing me with borderline personality disorder. Which is what is now known as bipolar. I understood the borderline part because I do tend to keep people at a distance. It takes me a while to let people in. I ended up getting better slowly. The medication eventually started working and I was able to go back to work. Later on I would be told that I was miss diagnosed and that I had a generalized anxiety disorder.

I have found that as I have gotten older my depression has gone away and all that is left is anxiety which is a completely different beast. For those that don’t suffer from anxiety its like a never-ending movie that keeps replaying over and over in your mind. You over analyze everything to the point that you end up second guessing yourself. My anxiety began to creep back shortly after my ex asked for a divorce. It has been present ever since. There are days and times when I am able to control it. I tell myself that everything is going to be ok and it’s not as bad as I am making it out to be.

I recently took a 1 month leave of absence from work. Looking back on it my anxiety had been an issue for the last year and a half. I had symptoms that I ignored thinking that I had a handle on things when I didn’t. I would shake like a leaf at the slightest of confrontations. I had a lot going on with taking a college course, learning a new job, and trying to do my photography. The worst part of it was that I started to not sleep properly. The thing I have noticed is stress triggers my anxiety which then triggers fatigue because you don’t sleep. I ended up spending periods of the night lying awake worrying about things that I said or things that I couldn’t change and had no control over. Why do we do this to ourselves? In my case it’s because I have a mental illness and I am not afraid to own it anymore. I was so afraid to take a leave of absence as I was afraid I would be seen as weak. The moment I realized that I had to take a leave of absence was when I was at the cottage I looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I looked exhausted like I was fighting an internal battle with myself which I was. I had a lot of different symptoms the worst of which was the trouble concentrating and remembering things. I would talk with someone and instantly forget parts of the conversations. Once I finally went on my leave I had time to decompress. This allowed me to sleep and did I ever sleep. I had never felt so tired before. It took 2 weeks before I felt somewhat normal. While I was decompressing I hated leaving the house. I wanted to stay in my “safe” zone and not go out into the cruel world. I forced myself to leave the house even if it was just to get groceries.

My doctors recommend that I try taking medication again. Initially I fought going on the medication – my doctor told me that I couldn’t take a break from life which made me realize that I needed some help. The first medication started to help me until I had an allergic reaction to it.

Luckily I was able to find another medication that worked. I will say that the initial side effects of the medication can be difficult to live though but once you get though the side effects it is worth it. For the first week I was extremely agitated to the point that it felt like my skin was crawling.

I feel like my old self again. I have energy and my anxiety levels are almost nothing which is great! The medication helps with my anxiety but I have realized that I do need help with dealing with stress.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Whether that is asking a friend for help or asking your doctor. I have found that a lot of my friends are amazing and have offer to talk with me should I ever need it. I am lucky to have an amazing support system.

Behind the Lens – Lady of the Lake

I tend to come up with a lot of my shot ideas before I head out shooting. For this sunrise I had a different idea in mind. While I ended up liking that shot idea, in my opinion, the unplanned shot is the better image of the 2.

One of Lake Winnipeg’s nicknames is Big Windy. Most of the time the lake has waves on it but this morning there was just a gentle breeze. Which is great for reflections and having some clouds in the sky adds an additional element.

After shooting the sunrise we decided to head back to the cottage, as I didn’t see anything that grabbed my attention to shoot. As we were leaving the beach I took a look back at the lake. I make a habit of looking back at the lake before I leave incase something catches my eye. The scene on the other side of the break rocks was beautiful. I headed over to take a couple of shots and when I looked at the back of the camera I knew that I had to head back to the cottage to grab my dress as I didn’t like the self portrait I had taken with the outfit I was wearing.

After I changed into my dress and was heading back to the beach the sun decided to come out from behind the clouds and provide a beautiful golden light. I decided to place myself on the rock facing towards the sun. This way it would illuminate the front of me so that there would be detail in my face. The light was coming from the left hand side of the image which is what is know as side light.

So what exactly is side lighting? Well it is just as it sounds the light hits your scene or subject from the side. Side light can be dramatic and beautiful which is created by having part of the subject/scene in the “shadows”. In the below image the front of the rock and the front of myself is lit by the light coming in from the side while the rock behind me is in the shadows.

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0Y1A5525The final image:

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Behind the Lens – Frozen Lake Winnipeg

I haven’t been out to shoot on Lake Winnipeg this year. I usually like to go multiple times in the winter as the lake changes quite a bit.

Before I head out shooting I usually like to have a couple of ideas in my head about what I want to shoot. This can sometimes be difficult when I don’t know what type of conditions I will encounter. I knew I wanted to do some self portraits wearing a dress. (sometimes not the best idea in winter but I still wear my winter boots and arctic base layers)

To me the best time to head out shooting is either before/after sunrise and before/after sunset. Since I like to head to the Matlock area I usually do a sunrise.

Access to the lake in the winter time can be tricky. I know of an area that allows easy access to the lake. That was the place that I headed to first and I ended up getting lucky with having a ice ridge close to shore. I wanted to stand on the ice ridge for the self portrait shot. (Ice ridges can have soft ice that can give away. The only reason I stood on the ridge is because there was no soft ice around the ridge and it was less then 2 feet from shore in what I knew was low water)

Upon arriving at the lake I walked up and down the ridge looking for something that drew my eye. I manage to find some texture in the snow that created a leading line towards the ridge.(the texture in the snow is created my high winds blow over the snow)  My thought process was to include that leading line in the image. I decided to place myself at the end of that leading line so that the views eye would follow that line. The other thing that I really wanted to include in the image was the crescent moon that was in the south-eastern part of the sky. I thought that the crescent moon added a little something different to the image. It gave the image a little bit of a day to night feeling to it. For the pose I had a completely different idea in mind but it just wasn’t working out and one of the poses that I really liked ended up being a happy accident.  The shutter clicked at the right time.

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The other pose was a pose that I have done often. In post processing I decided to crop the image so that there wasn’t as much empty space at the bottom of the image. To me both images work well.

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Behind The Lens – Sunrise on a Rock Self Portrait

I have had this shot idea in my head for a while. A couple of things had to come together in order for this shot to work. The first is low water levels that allow me to see and use the rock. The 2nd is a dramatic/colourful sky.

When shooting a sunrise/sunset sometimes the exposure can be a bit tricky. This is why it is best to shoot in manual mode. For the longest time I had been shooting in aperture priority mode. I found it difficult to get an exposure that I liked. With manual exposure mode I am able to get a more precise exposure. This allows me to be able to not overexpose the sky, while still maintaining a little bit of detail in the foreground.

 Trying Different Composition’s and why certain composition’s work better

When shooting the sunrise sometimes the colour last’s for a long time which makes it easier to try out multiple different composition’s. Other times the colour in the sunrise doesn’t last as long, so you need to hustle to get different composition’s in.

1st Composition

This is was the first composition that I tried the morning of the sunrise. While I like this composition I thought that I was a little too centre in the frame and that the sky needed to be a little more interesting.

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2nd Composition

So I decided to re-compose the shot with the rock in the left hand portion of the frame. After taking a couple of shots I looked on the back of the camera and noticed that I was lost in the image. Meaning the silhouette shape wasn’t as nice as it had been in the first image. I tried this composition with me standing on the rock and it worked much better that way.

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3rd Composition

The next recomposition ended up being the shot I liked the best. I ended up putting myself close to the middle of the frame. I think this composition works the best. It enables me to get the right shape in the silhouette. I notice the ripples in the water and the semi-circle that the ripples were creating. I ended up moving the camera over slightly to include the ripples in the water. I like the way the ripples in the water mimic the curve in the clouds. The curve of the clouds also adds another element to the image. It allows your eye to follow the curve through the frame.

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4th Composition

I love the colour that was happening in the clouds. I recomposed to move the rock into the right hand side of the frame. To me this image missed the mark slightly in the fact that I am facing the wrong way. I think the image would be a stronger image if I was facing with my feet pointing towards the left side of the frame instead of the towards the right. I ended up liking the landscape version of this shot more then I did the self portrait one.

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Keep in mind these are my options on what I think works best and another photographer might have a different option.

*Always make sure you are safe when out shooting. I ended spraining the tendons in my wrist getting this shot. While I don’t regret it, I do wish I had taken the time to get myself off of the rock in a safer manner.

Behind the Lens Series – Northern Lights Self Portrait

One of my favourite things to photograph is the northern lights. I was lucky enough to photograph them the weekend of Sept 29th, while I was at the cottage.

I knew there was a chance for the northern lights to be active, so I kept my phone on. I get email notifications from NOAA (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/content/subscription-services) that tell me when the lights are going to be active. I had gotten up to use the washroom and had trouble falling back asleep. I heard my phone buzz so I decided to check it. I saw that the lights were active, so I decided to check out the patio doors. I saw the lights so I decided to grab my gear and head down to the beach. I also woke my Aunt up as she had wanted to join me.

There was a south wind again which was pushing the water off shore to reveal some amazing textures in the sand and sandbars. The sandbars protected the water close to the shore from the wind. Which allows for beautiful reflections to be captured.

I had an idea of a self portrait. The idea was me on a sandbar with the reflections of the northern lights in the water. Since the pier had been taken down the only way to get to the sandbar was to walk in the water. Since it is fall time in Manitoba I would need to get my rubber boots. I went back and forth about whether or not I should go to my car to get my rubber boots. Luckily I ended up deciding to go and get my rubber boots.

In order for this shot to happen a couple of things needed to come together. Due to the fact that I had to walk out to the sandbar, an intervalometer is a must. This allows me to get take multiple shots without have to go back to the camera. The next thing that I needed was a flashlight to be able to see where I am walking. The last thing I wanted to do was for me to trip while walking in the lake. I had to make sure that I placed myself in the correct spot on the sandbar to get the nice reflection in the water. I knew I had to place myself on the thinnest part of the sandbar, this placement helps give the illusion that I am sort of walking on water.

Before I headed out to the sandbar I needed to make sure that my focus and exposure were correct. Focusing in the dark is always tricky. You want to have your focus set to infinity. This will make the stars in the shot nice and sharp. I have used my lens a lot for night shooting, so I know where the infinity focus is. Once I have set the focus I always zoom in on a star to make sure it looks like a pinpoint. If you haven’t done a lot of night shooting the best to focus in the dark is to use your live view and zoom in on a star and focus. For night photography you also have to use manual exposure. I did a couple of test shots before I headed out to the sandbar. My final exposure that I used for this shot was aperture – F/2.8 shutter speed – 10 seconds and ISO 2000. I made sure to set my intervalometer to shoot 10 shots. I would have to make sure that I stood still for at least 10 seconds. What I always do is count to myself. I ended up counting up to 20 to make sure that I had a least one shot that was nice and sharp.

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Behind the Image – Sunrise Matlock Beach

I thought I would share with everyone my thought process when I am out shooting.

Scouting

A big component of photography is scouting the location that you are planning to shoot. I have done a lot of shooting at Matlock Beach and I know that beach like the back of my hand. I find it challenging to come up with new compositions and new images. Make sure you walk around and look at every angle possible. Some angles will work better then others.

Conditions

Being able to adapt to changing condition when out shooting is a must. Being patient is another must when shooting landscapes. I had waited all summer to have a south wind. When there is a strong south wind it pushes the water away from the shore. It ends up revealing beautiful patterns in the sand, as well as sand bars. Having light winds in the morning is also helpful but not guaranteed. The beautiful part about a light wind is that you are able to get nice reflections in the water.

How the shot comes together

Sometimes I envision the shot before I go out shooting and other times I come up with the idea when I am in the field shooting. I had hoped that some of the sandbars would still be visible. I knew that the wind direction had changed overnight but it was a light wind. Sure enough when I got to the beach that morning the sandbars where still visible. I knew the area that I had wanted to shoot in so I headed there and waited for the right conditions. There was some clouds over the lake and I wanted to wait and see if any colour would develop. I always do a test shot first. This allows me to make sure that I have the correct exposure and composition. When I took my test shot it felt like something was missing.

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It needed a human element, so I decided to do a self portrait. In order for me to take the self portrait I needed to use my intervalometer. I set up the meter to take 10 images 2 seconds apart. This allows me to take multiple shots without having to go back to the camera. I am also able to do multiple different poses. Making sure that I placed myself in the correct location is a challenge. I knew I had to be close to the waters edge in order to get my reflection in the water. So I made sure to walk along the edge of the sandbar. I also knew that I had wanted to place myself at the very edge of the sand bar. I did try and see if placing myself in the middle of the sandbar would work but to me the image wasn’t as strong as the one below.

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Journey to the Arctic Circle – Photographing the Northern Lights

My journey started in Winnipeg, from there I flew to Montreal. Being a photographer I love having a window seat in case any great photo opportunities arrive.  The sun was just setting as we landing in Montreal and I couldn’t help but snap a shot with my iphone.

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The next flight was from Montreal to Paris an overnight flight that was about 6 hours long. I didn’t sleep much on this flight maybe I shouldn’t have started to watch the new James Bond Movie! Once I landed in Paris I had to take a shuttle to get to the next Terminal. It was a very small terminal with not a lot of things to do or see. I had a 5 hour layover there and ended up falling asleep for about an hour. I ended up using my camera bag as my pillow and I wrapped my laptop bag around my wrist so it wouldn’t get stolen. My next flight was a short 2 hour flight to Stockholm. I slept most of that flight as I had another long wait before the next part of my journey.

I took the train from Stockholm airport to Stockholm central. This was the first time I had been on a train in Europe and I loved it. It took about 20 minutes to get to Stockholm Central station. I had a 6 hour wait for my night train. I couldn’t wait to have a bed to sleep in. I ended getting myself some dinner at McDonald’s and had a nice chat with a Swedish lady. She was nice enough to let me sit at her table.

Stockholm Central is a very interested place on a Saturday night. It was a cooler night in Stockholm; it was 2 degrees so for me it was nice!  It was a very interesting place to people watch but the station also has some beautiful architecture features. I didn’t take out my big camera because I was carrying too much stuff at the time but I managed to capture a couple of images with my iphone.

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My train ended up being delayed by a half hour.  Once the train arrived I had the fun task of getting my luggage on the train. As a photographer I don’t travel light I had a suitcase with all my winter gear including -150 rated boots, laptop, and camera bag. Getting it onto the train was the first hurtle, the next was getting it down the tiny aisle that led to the private sleeping cabins. I managed to get everything into my cabin and settled in for a long journey but at least I had a bed to sleep in! Below is an iphone pano shot of what a private sleeping cabin looks like. It’s not very big but at least you have your own bed and bathroom.

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I woke up to snow! I had a half hour layover in Boden and then it was a 5 hour train ride to Abisko! As the train was making its way to Abisko we passed a sign that said now entering the Arctic Circle I had wanted so badly to get off the train to take a picture but that wasn’t possible.

Next blog post – Night 1 in Abisko!