Creativity and Depression

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Easier said than done, right?

I am going to be transparent here. I dumped Facebook for the purpose of giving myself more creative time. And while I do seem to have gained more time, I have found that dumping Facebook was not the cure for my utter lack of motivation to do creative things. It’s not that I am trying to force myself to do something I don’t want to do. I really do want to create things and share it with the world. It gives me purpose, and when I finally force myself to do it, I feel good about myself, which is a feeling that has been hard to come by lately.

The culprit of this creative slump is depression. Those that know me well know that I have struggled with bouts of depression since puberty, but since my heart transplant in August 2015, I have had depression that I had been in denial about until about 2 weeks ago. I finally realized how bad it was getting, so I talked to my therapist and then admitted the struggle to my husband. Being the person who loves me dearly and lives with me, he kinda sorta already knew. In fact, he fully understood what was going on before I did.

I can’t pinpoint what triggered the recent depression, but it started about a few weeks into my transplant recovery. My recovery was uneventful. The first 3 weeks post op I was blissed out on opiate pain meds and the excitement of the new life ahead of me. I had a perfect textbook recovery and was only in the hospital for 10 days. I never had to go back to the hospital. Many recipients end up back in the hospital at least once for episodes of organ rejection and other small health issues that often occur after transplant. I only had one teeny episode of rejection 2 weeks after transplant, but all I had to do was increase my Predisone dose. No hospital stays. I was so lucky.

Being a recipient of the gift of a life saving organ tends to make you keep quiet about personal struggles, mental or physical, but especially mental. Why? Because if I can’t understand why in the world I am not jumping for joy and living my life to the fullest, then certainly no one else would. How could I possibly be depressed? How dare I! I constantly feel ashamed of myself. I should be honoring my donor by really using my new gift, a healthy heart that could have gone to someone else. I feel riddled with guilt that all I have done since transplant, aside from a few vacations, is continuously gain weight, sleep, and feel completely useless. My sister, who received a heart 4 years ago, goes hiking all the time, eats a vegan diet, and is superbly healthy. I am acquainted with several recipients online who walk and run marathons, play sports, and go on adventures. The ones who aren’t doing athletic things are still keeping healthy with moderate exercise and enjoying their life.

So what’s wrong with me? No matter how much other recipients inspire me, I can’t seem to make myself get better. Even the prospect of possibly meeting my donor family hasn’t moved me. I am relieved that they haven’t reached out, because I am afraid they would be disappointed. My heart and the rest of my body, aside from the weight, is doing well, so there is no physical reason I can’t get in shape. But if I am not being active, why can’t I at least use all the time I have to go out and take pictures?  Or create art?  Or write? Or do anything, anything at all to deserve the 2nd chance I was given to occupy space on this earth? Why can’t I fight for my life like I did when I was in heart failure?

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It’s easy to dismiss or deny depression when you don’t feel motivated to eat right and exercise. Nobody really enjoys that. But I know my reasons have more to do that just lack of motivation, because I have dealt with food addiction since my mom’s death 20 years ago. I was put on steroids after transplant that caused a huge increase in appetite and rapid weight gain. I lost 40 lbs before the transplant, only to put on 70 lbs after transplant. I blamed it all on the steroids, of course. But I have been off steroids since April 2016, and my weight continues to go up. Still, I denied that it had anything to do with depression. I have always been a night owl, but my sleep cycle is a mess. My current schedule is to fall asleep around 4-5 am, and wake around 12-1. In addition to that, I often take a 1-2 hour nap during the day. Again, I denied the depression and blamed it on the fatigue the meds cause. After all, I never took naps before the transplant.

No matter what I blamed an issue on, I wouldn’t dare admit to anyone that I am living like this, because I don’t want to seem ungrateful for my life. But when I found that I was unable to make myself leave the house to do things I love, or to just sit down and do something relaxing or creative, I had to admit that depression has control of me. Depression is telling me I can’t create….can’t DO. I realized I need to do something before my life is wasted just merely existing.

Tomorrow, I have a heart checkup at Duke. I have them once every 3 months. They are going to weigh me, and I am going to be embarrassed that I have gained more weight since the last appointment. They will lecture me about diet and exercise and taking care of my new heart. But they will hopefully also tell me everything else looks great and on target like they have at every past appointment. And I will finally tell them that depression is keeping me from following their advice, the advice of the people who are tasked with keeping me alive after my heart was literally removed from my body and replaced with another one. And I will tell them that I am seeing my other doctor next week to talk about meds for my depression. I don’t want them to regret having given me a second chance to live. Not just to exist, but to live. And create.

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Some pictures I took a while back.

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A Peck of People Pictures

Would you believe it took me an hour to come up with that title? Impressive, yes? I just may have a future in writing for Time Magazine or some other prestigious publication! But for now, I will stick to this humble little space on the worldwide web. 😉

Those that know me know that I am an introvert. I have a pretty small circle of people that I feel completely at ease with. I am not what they call, “a people person”. That being said, I see an abundance of beauty in humanity, be they strangers or loved ones. And because I like to capture beauty, I like to photograph people.

I am shy about asking people if I can photograph them, sometimes even people I know, depending on the level of relationship. When photographing people, I slowly raise up my camera and wait to see how they respond. Usually, I can tell when they are fine with it. I don’t photograph strangers that often, but there are situations where I can’t pass it up, so I just go for it. It’s really a rush for me to jump outside my comfort zone and do that, and I am always glad I did. I’ve gotten some great pictures as a result. Sometimes, I just directly ask. I haven’t gotten a “no” yet.

The majority of my pictures are those of people I know, but I am so freaking happy to have the ones that I taken of other people. They are in my albums alongside pictures of my loved ones. Here’s hoping I can step outside of my comfort zone and set aside my fears more often so that I can capture more beauty to share. My hope is that my photos humanize people and show how lucky we are to live on this planet with each other.

The pictures below are of people I know and love and complete strangers. Some are posed, some are candid, and some are photos of people in performance. One thing that ties it all together….they are all people who are part of our beautiful human family.

The Magic of Film Photography

I love all types of photography.

I enjoy viewing the work of other photographers on blogs, Instagram, Facebook, books, and magazines. I will scroll through hundreds of friends snapshots on social media. But there is something different about holding an actual, printed photograph in your hand. It is tangible, which feels more personal. As someone who craves nostalgia, it makes me happy.

One of my favorite pastimes is looking at old photos. And I don’t mean just my own family photos. I am that person in the antique shop looking through stacks of old black and white photos of people I will never know. I have a dear friend in her 70’s who loves to show me her old photos of family and friends every time I am at her house, photos dating back many years. I love it.

When I first started getting serious about photography, I did what anyone would do in 2014…I logged onto Amazon and looked for deals on a good DSLR. I bought a Nikon D3200, and once it arrived, I got busy shooting. I really enjoyed the ease of shooting with a digital camera. Digital cameras do most of the work for you, especially if you aren’t comfortable going full manual yet (I am getting there).

My photos with my DSLR usually turn out great, even though I consider myself an amateur. I enjoy using it to take pictures of my nieces and nephews, and my cats…all who move to much for me to use any camera where I can’t adjust shutter speed. I’ve printed many of my digital photos. They look wonderful framed. But they lack that sentimental, warm fuzzy feel that old film pictures have. Editing them with a trendy filter doesn’t cut it for me. I love my DSLR, but I wanted to try something new. I wanted to try a film camera.

When I mentioned to my husband my interest in trying film photography, he dug his 1979 Vivitar XV-2 SLR out of a closet. img_20161024_234155It hadn’t been used since the 90’s. I was skeptical about it working, but I really wanted it to. We found the necessary lithium battery for the camera and got AA’S for the flash. We found roll film at Wal-Mart. I loaded it up and crossed my fingers. Voila! Worked like a charm. I was so excited to start shooting!

After dropping off my first 3 rolls to be developed at Walgreens, I waited for what felt like forever (1 week, GASP!) for my pictures to come back. You get used to instant gratification in this digital world, so waiting is difficult (but patience is a virtue :). What you also forget when you’ve done digital for so long is that developing and printing film photos costs money. Today, it costs 15$ a roll to develop and print. OUCH! And the quality is…MEH. I have since found an old local shop that develops and prints in house, for a bit cheaper, and the quality is that of a pure, film photograph directly from the camera. No computers involved.

Knowing about my new passion for photography with vintage cameras, my sweet friend in her 70’s, Karen, and her husband, Toney, generously gave me a 1966 Minolta SRT101 SLR to add to my growing collection of vintage cameras. We got it working, and it works beautifully!  It takes wonderful pictures with that nostalgic classic grain and slightly muted color that you see in old photos from the 60’s to the 80’s. No Instagram filter needed!img_20161213_225656

One thing I have learned with using these vintage cameras is that your technique matters much more, because unlike a digital camera, it does not automatically do things for you. It doesn’t color correct. You can’t adjust shutter speed for fast moving subjects, and you can’t change the ISO settings for a darker environment. The type of film matters. If you have 200 speed film and try to take pictures of hyper nephews at night inside with no natural light, you will have blurry subjects and a bright yellowish tint to all of the photos (not that I know ANYTHING about this ;). And if you don’t have a steady hand, you definitely need a tripod. I am still learning, but I have managed to get some decent pictures despite my inexperience using these old cameras.

Within the next year, I will have a darkroom in my basement. It is then that I will get to witness the real magic of film photography. There is something about watching a photo slowly appear on paper that is meditative and soothing. And it gives you a sense that you have really created something, because you were more involved in the process. Interesting how a technique that is more than a century old can fascinate me more that anything that a computer can do.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Here are some shots with the Vivitar and Minolta cameras. Keep in mind that these are my first pictures with these kind of cameras, so my work will improve as I learn better techniques.

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’79 Vivitar   I used a telephoto lens. The result was……interesting.
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’66 Minolta   Note the yellow tint. This is what happens when you shoot indoors in a kitchen with yellow walls at night.
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’66 Minolta   Alas, would be a wonderful shot w/o the blur.
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Kids and Candid Photography

Kids are my favorite people to photograph. They are awesome subjects for candid photography.

In general, kids hate posing and being still for a picture. They hate it more when they have to dress up, stay neat and clean, and then pose and fake smile for dozens to hundreds of photos. Well behaved kids will cooperate, but they usually don’t enjoy it. There is your occasional little ham who loves to be in front of a camera, but most kids would rather escape to go play and probably roll in the grass and get dirty. This is my favorite way to photograph them!

I like to photograph real life. A kid with grass stains, disheveled hair, and a sticky face is real life. It tells an accurate story about a child. A photo of a child who likes to be clean and primped and ham it up for the camera tells that child’s story, but personally, I don’t know many children like that, and I am an aunt of 16 kids and have numerous young cousins.

I prefer candid photography. It is far less stressful and my pictures turn out much better. Even when I direct my subjects, I usually ask them play and interact with each other. The resulting photos have an authenticity and energy that differs from posed photos. I have an appreciation for the beauty of posed family pictures and I know people who do some amazing work. It is art that inspires me, but it isn’t my personal style.

I am fortunate to have some adorable nephews close by who don’t mind me following them around with my camera. As confirmed by my sister, my photos of them definitely tell their story!

Pictures are of my nephews. March 2016 and November 2016.

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