16th January 2016
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of photographing 31 year old Steph on a sunny winter's day. I had initially met Steph and her partner Kevin a few months earlier as I captured some Couples shots for them in a beautiful woodland. In between snaps we chatted, laughed and shared life stories, and it soon became apparent that both of these lovely people had experienced a significant amount of difficulty throughout their lives. Driven by the negativity and "taboo" that still surrounds mental illness today, Steph has chosen to tell her inspirational story of domestic abuse and depression through one of my Now & Forever Sessions.
For those of you who are new to this page, Now & Forever Sessions were specifically designed for individuals facing unique circumstances to help them establish memories that will last a lifetime. These clients may be terminal, living with a disorder or may have / have overcome a serious illness. No matter the situation, these sessions aim to capture the happiness and beauty that can sometimes seem hidden during darker times. They are intended to be fun and to allow everyone involved to focus on the positives, however this is also a chance for these inspirational individuals to tell their stories if they so choose. Steph is one of these brave people...
Steph's story begins in 2010, at which time she met and fell in love with a man who could automatically be described as "no good." Upon meeting her friends and family, they could instantly tell that he would be a bad influence. Despite the warnings of her loved ones, Steph moved out and the couple got engaged. Love is blind and it was not long before her fiance began to show signs of emotional and physical abuse. The pain was frequent, as he would grab her, push her and hit her. On one occasion Steph was even pushed off of the bed onto the sharp side table, but in fear of losing the man she loved, she hid the bruises. He was controlling, manipulative and greedy, wanting her all for himself. Steph could no longer go anywhere without his permission and for this reason she slowly lost contact with all those who cared about her.
It was around this time that one of Steph's best friends, who she had been inseparable from since secondary school, relapsed. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years before and had since gone into remission, but now her illness was back and was spreading rapidly. Unbeknownst to Steph, she had gone into Hospice Care. While texting one evening, Steph and her best friend arranged to meet, but the visit was put on hold so that she could be accompanied by her domineering fiance. About a week later, the news came that Steph's best friend had passed away. This devastating announcement was the first wake up call, prompting questions such as "Why on Earth should I have had to wait for you to see my best friend?" It was at this moment that Steph started to blame herself for missing her best friend's death and the main crux of her depression arose.
Following her friend's passing, while still engaged, Steph began attending regular counselling sessions. Through the open communication with her counsellor Steph realised that she was important too - she mattered. That very night, she confronted her fiance and bravely stated her feelings. Unsurprisingly, he did not like this new found confidence and left. The destructive relationship was over, but Steph continued to blame herself. Feeling worthless and scared, she returned to her parents home. Although she was free from the abuse and surrounded by love, it was not long until Steph noticed that something still wasn't right. Unable to force a smile or put on a front, the formal diagnosis of 'Clinical depression and severe anxiety' was made. Although she began taking prescribed medication, all that Steph wanted to do was hide away. Constantly tired and miserable, she appeared lazy and pathetic to the world, when in reality every day was an exhausting battle with inner demons.
But it was in 2012 that Steph hit her lowest point, as one summer's day she simply "switched off." Every single aspect of Steph's life appeared negative through her eyes and there was no way out. Due to her abusive relationship she had lost all of her friends, however this loneliness was constantly worsened by the fact that she needed people. Steph felt that she was a burden, and therefore the world would be better if she wasn't in it. It was on this day that she slit her wrists with a kitchen knife. Upon hearing her emotional screams, Steph's mother raced into the room and smacked the knife out of her hand. It was at this precise moment, seeing her mother's frightened face, that Steph could acknowledge how severe her condition had become for the first time. Things had to change.
Since these horrible days, Steph has made a constant progression out of the darkness by utilising methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy and by speaking to her GP and The Samaritans. She is seeing big changes every day - she stands her ground and is now able to say "no." Having forged a new-found connection with animals, Steph now works at the RSPCA and has re-discovered her confidence by participating in numerous theatre productions, including being cast in lead roles. When talking to Steph about her experiences she is truly inspirational. Although our conversation undoubtedly brought back terrible memories, she does not dwell on her pain, but instead harnesses her experiences in the hope that they might encourage others.
In the couple of hours that we spoke, I learnt a tremendous amount. Most importantly, Steph has reinforced the fact that we should all be considerate to one another as we do not know what somebody is having to face on a day to day basis...
To those suffering from similar mental conditions - you are not alone. There is no shame in putting yourself first and you will get through this.
To those who know somebody in a similar situation - just be there. The best thing that you can do is listen.
Steph, keep moving up. You are an inspiration.
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