Just a year ago, I would have never been able to openly blog about my struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Surely any prospective clients would see this as a big concern and worry about rather such a person could deliver a great experience and dependable service. Even now, I feel the pull of hesitation and doubt as my fingers move over the keyboard to begin this chapter. During a recent consult with a client I accidentally let it slip that I struggle with anxiety. I was fully prepared for some awkward, hesitant response. Possibly even concern regarding rather I could actually perform the job she hired me to do. But instead I was met with a breath of relief and an uplifting story from a bride who also suffers from this hidden monster but continues to get better every day. To hear the words “I feel so much better now” as a response to my accidental admission was unexpected, to say the least. To expand further, I would say, it filled my heart with comfort to know that someone could still want to work with me in spite of this unfortunate detail. But I immediately understood that she now needs not worry about me judging her if she needs to walk away for a moment, or that I might get frustrated if she is having a hard time relaxing for her photos. She now knows that I get it. And that it is one less person to wear the mask for.
I know this because I carry my theoretical mask with me everywhere I go. And it is exhausting. If there is anything worse than anxiety, it is trying to pretend you are not having anxiety. Anxiety feels like something is wrong and your physical response is to send distress signals throughout your body and mind. Pretending like everything is cool while this is going is just horribly frustrating and draining. I put my mask on to become Rachael – the confident, professional, experienced photographer who is always feeling comfortable in all situations. When really I feel panic for just about every single shoot or job I embark on. You might be wondering why try to hide it? wouldn’t it just make me feel better to talk about it, be real about it? Sounds very reasonable and logical. However when it comes to anxiety, the entire premise is centered around how we perceive ourselves and how we think others perceive us. What do I fear? Failure, judgement, being misunderstood, looking stupid, not measuring up to the expectations of everyone around me. And that includes the perceived expectation of being confident and comfortable. So the thought of people knowing I have anxiety, itself, creates anxiety. This is especially true in my business as a photographer. Unlike regular jobs for a company or corporation, I AM the corporation. I do not have a team of support around me to assist with my work. I can’t call in sick and have my shift covered. I can’t run ideas by the boss. I am the boss. Therefore, all the decisions, education, experience, finances, workload management, marketing, tech support, customer service, creativity, paperwork…its all on me. And therefore, if something ever goes wrong, it can only ever fall back on me. That is a very stressful place to be in for the average person. Add anxiety in the mix and it becomes a very lonely prison of your own self doubts. The worst part is, knowing you create the walls of your prison with your anxious thoughts and not being able to stop them.
Will I rock this shoot today or blow it?
What if my alarm doesn’t go off? better set 2 to be sure.
Did I triple check all my gear? did I forget anything?
What if I have a panic attack at a pivotal moment at a wedding?
Yes it’s sad but true that I often have anxiety simply at the thought of possibly having anxiety. Oddly enough none of these things have ever happened, I just constantly worry they will with no tangible reason to do so. I wish I could say that list is the only aspects I worry about but it’s only a fraction. I wish I could say I only have anxiety about work or things that anyone would consider “pressure.” But over time it has consumed my thoughts to the point that I now dread days of fun. Road trips, vacations, buses, planes and all types of situations have become a discomfort for me. I have seen this as a weakness for so long that it has infected the way I think about anything and everything. The healing process begins with me recognizing that my anxiety does not come from a place of vanity. It comes from being a creative soul. I want to create art that my clients adore. I want to exceed expectations and capture memories that FEEL like they did in that moment. I want to deliver a product that I am proud of and that I would want if I were the client. I don’t want to be better than anyone else. I simply want to be better than I was yesterday. Most importantly. if this anxiety never goes away, I want to harness it for the motivation to always be moving forward and a hunger to continue growing in my craft. I can not do that from behind the mask. So this is me….My name is Rachael. I am a professional photographer. I struggle with anxiety and that is part of who I am right now. And that anxiety is what fuels my dedication to providing you with the very best service and my aspiration to create the very best images for you to cherish. And yet the anxiety does not define me. I hope you see me for me and allow me to do what I do best, which is to see you for you and capture your style, your stories and your memories at the heart of every image.