Nature’s power to replenish our mental health.
Through the Lens: Disconnect to Reconnect, by James W. FortuneImages © @jameswfortune
As 2020 draws to a close, mental health is still something that we do not discuss enough. The impacts of it are so widespread, that the majority of people walking the earth either suffer from some form of mental health issue or know somebody that does.
I am proud to be one of those people that suffer/have suffered from mental health conditions for many years. I do not see it as a weakness anymore, nor a hindrance. I perceive the depression and anxiety as a crucial part of some of the most formative years of my life and am very aware that they have made me who I am today. Hopefully, that is a better person than when I first started to feel their impact.
I will not go into the details of what impacted me, except to note that a few events in my life contributed to/created issues. These, in turn, have caused a series of issues, which shockingly enough, snowballed into more issues. That is how the cycle went for me. It was easy to lose all track of space, time and self.
At my best, you would never know that there was anything wrong at all. At my worst, I was suicidal, a horrible person to be around (and still probably am at times) and could barely leave the house, never mind walk around the block.
The thought of such a debilitating limitation alone is crippling, never mind the actuality of such a situation. I am so sad to say that I am not the only one that has suffered in this manner, often worse, although I wish I were.
Clawing your way out is no picnic, once the mind is that overloaded, but it seems to have been just about doable for me so far. I have come to realise that the most crucial element for me and my recovery was the concept of connection and connectivity.
Mental illnesses are inherently isolating and can leave the sufferer feeling utterly disconnected and disenfranchised from the world around them.
To feel a connection with something beyond the concept of self is a hard-fought battle. As a society, we are intrinsically and perhaps now borderline innately disconnected from the physical world around us.
This disconnect is a scary concept. People can easily walk miles without looking away from the screens of their smart devices, which have become an all-encompassing piece of the human puzzle. That is not to say that the technology that initially sought to enrich our lives has now totally poisoned the chalice, so to speak; but I am not, not going to say it either. To me, there is no doubt that the age of digital connectivity, ultimately, has had a negative impact on the brains of humanity.
Once we strip our lives of the most disruptive elements of technology, the answer is life itself! There is a whole abundance of places, people, things for us to physically and mentally interact with, that are nowhere near as draining as ten minutes of scrolling through your favourite social media site.
If we go back to our roots, before humans created the concept of settlements, we were a part of nature: truly at one with the land, the sea and the air. Ultimately, the connections we had were with each other and with the Earth.
Humanity has changed a lot since then, as has the world around us. We are more distracted: our lives disrupted by vibrations from notifications, the illumination of our screens and that endorphin hit from a like.
So where could you start? For me, it began by properly trying to take note of the world around me once again and also turning off notifications on my devices so that I was not getting buzzed while I was trying to focus. Once you create the opportunity to be able to stop and see what is around you, you can start connecting to your environment once more.
We overlook the every day, not necessarily by choice, but because our mind selectively focuses on new elements in our surroundings and greys out what it already knows to exist. This function is to attempt to prevent us from getting eaten by lions or dinosaurs. Well, maybe not so much these days in the wilds of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but you get my drift. It is a safety mechanism designed to protect us, just like anxiety.
Photography, as well as other forms of artistic expression, allows us to overcome this innate mechanism by providing an active means for the mind to search for a fresh interpretation of our surroundings: something that we can connect with on a mental level. It is an ideal method of doing so because modern technology has allowed so many of us to have increasingly powerful cameras at our fingertips, via our smartphones and tablets. You see, it is not all bad!
I have practised photography for probably around 16 years now. I studied the subjects at college and university from 2008 to 2012, taking the plunge into full-time self-employment as a photographer in a period that I now know was in the deep end of my own mental health crisis. It might seem a ridiculous time to start my own business. I believe that there may have been better times in my life to have undertaken self-employment, but at the same time I know that there could have been worse times too. What if I have started my career as a photographer and then gone through my crisis? It may not have recovered. What if I had waited until I was better? The day might have never come, or it may have been too late for me.
What ended up happening was a slow grind from the worst point in my life to being roughly on track to making ends meet as a self-employed creative, by one means or another.
My business now sees me shooting everything from headshots and PR, to commercial interiors and shooting events, while producing landscape photography that I print and sell as limited editions, while working on TV ads and film sets. I even created my own magazine and occasionally take on other creative projects for businesses. It is crazy to think about how varied my life is now!
As a photographer, my attempts to recover and disconnect from the damaging elements of technology took me back outdoors. I have enjoyed creating the odd landscape photograph while I was away on a trip, for as long as I have owned a camera. I now utilise landscape photography as my perfect excuse to get outside and escape the shackles of modern living.
For many photographers and artists, it’s not about capturing the very best that a particular scene can offer, but I can only speak for myself. You are not only recording a moment in time, or photographing the apparent unwavering resilience of the natural world, but perhaps a combination of the two; and then some. For me, it is more about interpreting what is laid before me, creating a tangible emotional connection that others can perceive and perhaps benefit from through their senses.
I think this is perhaps where the magic of photography lies. Photography is a vessel to observe the world in a way that life, and maybe even our genetic structure, may prohibit us from doing so. If you combine photography with the outdoors, it is difficult not to find yourself exploring the world around you in more intricate detail; reconnecting to the world around you. Spending time outdoors, in nature, is not only benefit people that have experienced or are experiencing mental health issues. Humanity was, and still should be an outdoor species. The concept of staying indoors is almost entirely a human creation. We are not supposed to be stuck inside.
With our lives busier than they ever have been, if you do not take the time to reconnect with the outdoors, you will not get the chance.
Only you can make it happen. Why not schedule some time to go for a walk in nature, switch your phone to aeroplane mode and see what you can notice in the world around you.
The time to reconnect is now!
James W. Fortune first gained an interest in photography thanks to his first mobile phone that had a built in camera. What started as something that was simply fun, quickly developed into a more keen interest when his Grandfather gave him his old film camera. James went on to study photography through college and university, completing a BA Hons in 2012.
www.jameswfortune.co.uk | Facebook.com/jameswfortune | Instagram @jameswfortune | Twitter @jameswfortune
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