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  • Chelsea Mackey

How Being a Photographer Helps Me Deal With My Anxiety


This is me, in all my imperfect glory

Anxiety. I know, I know. It has become an all too common word. But it is real. I feel it almost every day in some way, shape, or form. I have struggled with my own anxiety for the majority of my life. Until adulthood, my coping skills were basically to avoid what gives me anxiety....which meant social outings, going to certain stores, talking to people, and even answering phone calls.


This made life near impossible to live, let alone enjoy. While I still screen calls like no other, I am getting better ,and I owe my growth to becoming a photographer.


Here is a little back story about me. I have zero social skills. If you could describe me in one word within the first three minutes of meeting me, it's awkward. I will give you some examples....When entering the military installation where I live, the gate guards often say, "drive safe" out of courtesy. My response is almost always, "you too" and then mumbling something incoherent trying to correct myself with an "or, I mean, yea, bye". Another scenario: I order coffee frequently- Starbucks is my jam, and every occurrence, the barista tells me to enjoy my coffee....I respond again with the "you too" and then some jumbled language trying to correct what I just said while I scurry away laughing awkwardly. You would think I would have adapted by now. But as with most people who live life with anxiety, it is very hard to think before speaking in stressful situations (yes ordering coffee is stressful!) and it is very hard to adapt to changes.


If you could describe me in an emoji, it would be the face palm.


My personality struggles, in addition to my drive to understand other individuals lead me to pursue a degree in Psychology. I figured, if I could understand other people, maybe I wouldn't be such a lost cause myself. Nope, it only made me more aware of my own quirks and mishaps. Not only am I aware, I also know exactly why I do them. And let me tell you, awareness isn't always a positive attribute. While pursuing my degree that was meant to make me a more socially functional individual, my husband bought me a fancy-shmancy camera because he had seen me using my little digital point and shoot finding an escape in the world behind a lens. The moment I turned it on and heard that first shutter sound, I was addicted! I took hundreds of pictures within the first 24 hours! My husband began to make comments about how I always had that camera on me. We would even turn around and go back if I happened to forget it during an outing. The kids began to groan every time they would hear, "Wait, let me grab my camera."


Photographer's kid syndrome hit my house hard. But, I loved it. I loved capturing memories. I loved freezing time. I loved making art. I loved feeling the weight of the camera in my hands, the strap around my neck and that button beneath my finger. To feel the dial turn as I change settings, hear the shuttering sounds with every click and capture. I itched for moments to sit down in front of my computer with new images to edit. I had found something that spoke to my soul. Almost as much as Nutella or Starbucks! Fast forward to many years later and I think to myself, what can I do that would help me avoid any uncomfortable setting, people, and responsibility that would typically give me anxiety while also doing something I loved? I know! I will start my own Photography business! And here is where you facepalm.


I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I quickly began researching what it meant to have a business and began investing in myself. This lead to absolute overwhelm and almost giving up on this dream right at the get go. But, I pushed forward. My first session was of a new friend I had just made through a military spouse get together in my neighborhood. She had posted on Facebook looking for someone to take her family pictures and then immediately deleted it because the thought of having pictures done gave her anxiety. My soulmate. I still think about how lucky I was to have opened my news feed at just the right time to see the post before it was lost to the web. She also had a huge part in my beginning. So, I reached out and we set up a time and date. At this point, I had been shooting as a hobbyist for a few years. But boy was I nervous. As soon as I had hit send on that message saying "hey, I can take your family pictures." I felt like I was going to throw up. Here it was. The beginning of a potential career. This was the first step to embracing my anxiety and not allowing it to limit my life. My first step as a professional photographer.

At some point, you have to just face things. Face life. And I knew it. It was time. Time to embrace my anxiety for something that I loved. Once I realized those feelings I was trying so hard to avoid were actually my natural instincts to the world just letting me know, "hey, this is different, so be careful", I was able to experience things differently. Now, I do still have those pit feelings in my stomach. You know, the ones which go hand in hand with the weird sensation that runs down your legs and into your feet making you feel as though you might fall under your own weight? No, just me? Okay, moving on. Even with these intense feelings, I acknowledge them, do some deep breathing and speak a few words of affirmation to confront them head on. I owe this to photography. If it hadn't been for this passion that spoke to my soul so deeply, I would never have developed the confidence to live my life to it's fullest. To step out of my shell, my bubble, and allow new experiences in. Being a photographer is full of new experiences. New clients, new locations, new lighting, new challenges. Everything changes with every session. And that is what makes it a truly remarkable form of art. All it took was that one step and I was on my way to a bigger and better lifestyle. Which lead me to where I am today. A more confident photographer, willing to step out of my comfort zones and constantly expand myself in this world.


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