How I'm Using Photography and Writing to Recover From PTSD

Photography is how I’ve chosen to express myself for most of my life. The beauty and the heartbreak of photography is that each person sees each picture differently. I remember as a teenager showing people a picture I thought represented the cycle of life — how death feeds new life — but what people saw was, “eww, bugs, gross!” So I’ve found that I need to either present my photos with no explanation and enjoy whatever interpretation others choose to share with me or struggle to find adequate words to convey what I’m trying to express. I prefer the first choice because it’s easier and more fun, but I am often left feeling unfulfilled because my message is not fully expressed or understood.

I realize it’s not my forte, but I’m forcing myself to use words to talk about my struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this world of positivity where we are encouraged to just “move on,” “be positive” or “don’t focus on the past,” why would I force myself to do something I’m not good at and don’t particularly enjoy? I’m compelled, every single day, to speak up and speak out to explain the unexplainable to those who have never expressed a desire to understand. Why? I don’t really know. I just know that this is my life. This is life with PTSD. I want to talk about my life, my everyday life. I want to find people who want to listen. Not because I’m dwelling on it, not because I can’t let go of the past, not because I want to be the center of attention or for people to feel sorry for me. In fact, I hate being the center of attention. I hate people feeling sorry for me and I wish more than anything that I could just let go of the past and focus on the present and future.

I don’t know about the future, but this is my present. I struggle every day with the repercussions of something terrible that happened to me years ago. I want people to look at me and see the strength it took to put myself back together and keep myself together every day, especially since most days I am doing it for their benefit. I go to work every day and I take care of myself. When I am not taking good care of myself, I hide it so no one feels like they have to step in to help. I refuse to do things like watch certain types of movies in the theater because I know if I am triggered it will ruin the movie for those around me.

I don’t want to worry or embarrass those who care about me. I feel like my friends and family are tired of hearing about it. I feel guilty for bothering them with it. I wish I could say I’m compelled to write about PTSD to help those who are struggling, to educate those who don’t understand or some other fantastically altruistic reason. Truthfully, I do hope my words benefit others in some way, but to be completely honest, I am writing about my struggles with PTSD because something inside me is telling me that I need to find a way to let it all out. All of the rationalizations I’ve used to convince myself to keep it inside aren’t working anymore. I’m putting words with my photos now because I feel like I have no other choice.

It feels like a horribly selfish choice, especially in a world I view as excessively positive. But the truth is that even 14 years past my diagnosis, having PTSD still affects my life negatively. Writing about the struggles and pain of PTSD is the next step in my healing journey because it is the only choice I have left.

image of blurred out cranes reflected in window

So instead of just adding a cute title like, “Constantly Under Construction,” I will say the photo above speaks volumes about my everyday world. Even on beautiful sunny days, it’s fragmented, incomplete and under construction. I reflect constantly on my life and the world around me, but it’s never a clear image. I try to put the pieces together, but they don’t always fit. It has to do with my PTSD brain. Parts are missing because trauma has blocked them out forever. Parts are just blurry and don’t make logical sense. Parts are so coated with intense emotion they are hard to see empirically. But I build every day from what I have. Not the repaving streets kind of construction, but the kind that requires heavy lifting construction cranes.

I see the beauty of it all, the strength that is takes, and I desperately want others to be able to look at me and see all of that too.

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