Photography & Written by Kathryn Chapman ©
Kathryn is a portrait photographer and photographic healer; creator of Face to Face®, Freedom Shoots and the Inner Critic Tool. She is fascinated by how we perceive ourselves and uses photography to challenge self-belief and offer a different perspective. Through self-portraiture, she healed herself from life-long depression and anxiety and now transforms others’ mental health through her powerful work, helping clients understand what it means to be human - vulnerable, complex, creative, beautifully flawed, perfectly imperfect and astonishingly brave.
A Selfie Changed My Life
In my early twenties, after suffering years of severe depression and anxiety, I attempted suicide. Life was completely unbearable and I felt that ending my life was the only option.
I’ve tried to articulate what it was like and what lead to that point, but nothing feels right. I existed in an inexplicable, excruciating, disassociated, confusing, numbed-out-tuned-in agony. Sometimes I’d feel incandescent rage and injustice, other times infinite nothingness and emptiness, devoid of any emotion at all.
I didn’t see the point in anything. I was lost and desperate. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t like myself, my inner critic was rampant and I had no idea how to love myself. I heard that to love others you had to love yourself first - that never made sense to me. It still doesn’t. You can love others while not loving yourself, you just do it differently when you do.
Not being able to sufficiently describe how I felt, meant the subsequent 25 years in and out of talking therapy never worked long-term. Asking for help always felt the most difficult part of counselling, doing it time after time had utterly drained me. I lost count of the number of therapists I saw.
About half way through these dark years, I got worse - five miscarriages had left me overwhelmed with grief, blame and shame, on top of my depression and anxiety. Why wasn't therapy working? What was I doing wrong? Plus, other people had it worse than me. I didn’t feel I could justify feeling so persistently down and maybe I should just shut up and get on with it.
In 2015 I hit a crisis point. I was knocked off my bike and it threw me into a very bad period. Apart from cracked ribs and a knackered bike, my two residing memories were flying through the air thinking ‘when I land, I hope my legs don’t get caught in the wheels so I can't run again.’ And shouting, ‘I’m 42, I’m 42!’ like some Patsy Stone wannabe, at the nice man who rang 999 and told them I was probably in my late 40’s…
A couple of weeks later I had a psych assessment. I was shown in no uncertain terms that I had clinical depression, severe anxiety and was 'off the scale' for PTSD. What was reflected back at me came as a shock and once it had sunk in, I vowed to take the reins and do things differently - once and for all I’d sort myself out or give up completely. And I’d do it my way. I had some CBT, tackled my drinking and buried trauma began to surface.
Getting a handle on this trauma (my ‘why’), helped enormously, but it didn’t stop my cycle of depression and the ferocity of my inner critic. Still, the mirror held up during the psych assessment had planted a seed.
A few years later in 2018, I did a self-portrait shoot with an idea that had been on my mind for months. I wanted to test myself to see if everything was as bad as it felt, to hold up a mirror to myself - to look myself in the eye and face myself fully. So, with camera ready and my brave pants on, I sat with my most difficult emotions and photographed was what there.
I didn’t know what to expect from the images, I hadn’t thought about how I might react, what I’d think or what they might teach me. Looking back was a woman in agony, desperate for care and love, and the only person who could do that for her was me. The images were incredibly moving and very powerful.
Amongst the pain and hurt, I saw vulnerability, courage, resilience and strength - here I was, in all my beautiful mess. This was the first time that I truly saw and accepted myself. In this space, I was able to gift myself kindness, patience and gentleness. I couldn’t deny what was staring back at me and I experienced a deep compassion for myself that has remained ever since.
I began to put in place new habits of self-care and space to feed my creative soul. I realigned with my spiritual needs and drew my inner critic close, so I could get to know her and quieten her down. I looked after myself holistically and it came easy because not doing it wasn’t an option.
The images had changed what I thought about myself, what I said to myself, what I saw in myself, what I did to myself. It was transformative.
I went into the shoot with the intention never to share any of the images and I would‘ve put all my money and everything I owned on that. But six months later, feeling the best ever, I posted one. I was very nervous but I wanted other people to see me too. This was the image and I was astounded by the response - nothing but love and support.
Not long after another surprising thing happened - I found my life-purpose.
In 2019 I developed everything I’d discovered into a programme I now offer to other women - holding up a mirror so they may see their own potential for lasting self-compassion and happiness. Helping them come home to all that they are. The creative process had become the most pivotal part of my healing and I wanted to help others see themselves as deserving of their own compassion and love. That they are enough, they are not to blame and they matter. I call it Face to Face®.
Looking back, I realise that however close I came, I never gave up hope. I never gave up thinking there must be something or someone that would make the difference I needed.
The something that made the most difference to my mental health was my self-portrait shoot and the someone that helped me turn my most significant corner was me.
We have all our answers within us, sometimes we just need someone to walk next to us for a while, to join us on our journey, and reflect back our truths while we navigate the storms.
Keep searching, be your own priority.
Trust who you are and what you need.
Most of all have hope, because without hope we have nothing.