Lifting up a camera to capture our own likeness has become the raison d'être of this generation. Selfie sticks aside, the idea of taking self-portrait photographs has been happening since the camera was invented. My own first selfies were done as a child, in the mirror or with the self-timer function of my camera.
Lost in the midst of the noise of the selfie debate is the idea that selfies have an educational purpose for those healing from grief or depression. When depression first whisked me into its grips in 2008, I began a self portrait project that has been made popular on Flickr called 365. Simply put, it was taking a self-portrait a day for a year. I made it to a little over two months before deciding I just didn't want to mug for my camera anymore.
However, years later, when I would talk about the effects of depression on my world and how I incrementally healed, I would pull out one photo in particular that I had dubbed, "Me on my worst day."
Taken with my left arm raised slightly above my head, I was looking out my window that faced the Hudson River, contemplating how a plane had just hours before landed in those frigid waters. I could have died that day. I saw it on my face. I would have been fine with that ending, should it have been the one fate chose for me. Alas, it wasn't my turn.
A few weeks later, I had started antidepressants and intense therapy. I had continued my daily selfie project that was inadvertently cataloging my healing. A twinge of light, the smallest amount of calm in my jawline. There was life creeping into these remembrances and joy was permeating my blood/brain barrier.
Fast forward several years and I have struggled through other very difficult depression-related rattles. Without ever noticing why, as if on autopilot, I have documented my progress though selfies. This time it was my iPhone that showed me my sadness, tears flowing down my face, furrowed brows, tense clenched jaws. Slowly, days later, I would take another photo and it would have that same slight glimmer of joy again.
Lay all of these photos out against each other and it tells a story of the ebbs and flows of depression. I didn't once take a selfie thinking it would be the reminder of how bad it can get. I'm a photographer and just have the innate need to document, even if it's my own angst or joy. The serendipitous magic of these photos is when I can count how many more happy days there are than sad ones; when I see that I have experienced happiness in the throes of dejection; when a selfie reminds me that I am alive still, when others are not.
A therapist asked me once if there was anything I was doing in the here and now. It took me a moment to ponder. "Taking pictures requires you to pay attention to the viewfinder for a second," I replied.
"Then take more pictures," she said.
Take more selfies. Document your own story. Remind yourself you are alive right now, in this moment, at 1/125 of a second.
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