Many of us have experienced the crippling symptoms of anxiety and have struggled to find the right words to describe them. Katie Joy Crawford's illustrative images in her photo series about what anxiety feels like capture these distressing feelings perfectly. The project, titled My Anxious Heart, started as Crawford’s senior thesis but has quickly gained a wider audience. The series is comprised of 12 brave self-portraits alongside descriptive captions, each focusing on a symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. These surreal photos take you on an intense journey, charting the emotional and physical struggle with depression and anxiety from a very personal perspective.
Crawford, a 23-year-old photography student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, drew inspiration for the project from the exploration her own experiences. “I've been battling depression and anxiety for over 10 years. I had started a project similar to this in another class and realized how much I needed to, quite literally, face my fear,” Crawford told Bustle. “The more I allowed my anxiety to happen and was able to articulate it, the more I could put it into a photograph.”
My Anxious Heart not only allowed Crawford to better process these symptoms, but also helped alleviate them. “It quickly became a cathartic experience for me that has led to such healing and self-discovery,” Crawford told BuzzFeed. “I want those that suffer to feel like they have a voice and a hand to hold. I never want anyone to feel alone, as anxiety and depression can be isolating on its own.” Crawford chose to depict these feelings through self-portraiture since the battle was taking place inside her own mind. Making her experience public through art has had positive ramifications for others dealing with similar mental health issues. "I'm so very blessed that others are beginning to understand that they aren't alone in their battle," Crawford told Bustle.
As Crawford mentions on her website, in the photos she plays both "instigator and victim" guiding the viewer through "the internal and external struggle of a person living with this disorder." Each image took approximately three hours to create, and Crawford used a camera remote to allow her freedom of movement. This wonderful series gives voice to feelings that have long been disregarded or swept under the rug. Here are a few examples of her spot on depiction of these hard to describe emotions:
“You were created for me and by me. You were created for my seclusion. You were created by venomous defense. You are made of fear and lies. Fear of unrequited promises and losing trust so seldom given. You’ve been forming my entire life. Stronger and stronger.”
“They keep telling me to breathe. I can feel my chest moving up and down. Up and down. Up and down. But why does it feel like I’m suffocating? I hold my hand under my nose, making sure there is air. I still can’t breathe.”
“A captive of my own mind. The instigator of my own thoughts. The more I think, the worse it gets. The less I think, the worse it gets. Breathe. Just breathe. Drift. It’ll ease soon.”
“It’s strange — in the pit of your stomach. It’s like when you’re swimming and you want to put your feet down but the water is deeper than you thought. You can’t touch the bottom and your heart skips a beat.”
“I’m afraid to live and I’m afraid to die. What a way to exist.”
“Depression is when you can’t feel at all. Anxiety is when you feel too much. Having both is a constant war within your own mind. Having both means never winning.”
"Numb feeling. How oxymoronic. How fitting. Can you actually feel numb? Or is it the inability to feel? Am I so used to being numb that I have actually equated it to a feeling?"
To view the entire gallery of images and read more about Katie Joy Crawford's personal experience check out her website. Crawford is currently putting a book of these images together to help those with General Anxiety Disorder and depression, so stay tuned!
Images: Courtesy of katiejoycrawford.com