Welcome to the Open Shutters Project.
My name is Lisa Marie Gee and I am the one in four.
I am one of the 25% of people who suffer from mental health issues. I have shared my life with my friends Depression and Anxiety for 27 years now. Don’t get me wrong, they can be hell on earth to live with and I would never want to make light of that, but there is a flip side, and it is one that rarely gets talked about, especially in the media.
Some of the strongest, kindest, most caring and most creative people I know have mental health conditions. Why should there be a stigma to it? I firmly believe that overcoming, or at least learning to live with depression and anxiety makes you a better person. It certainly has in my case.
In my darker days I curse the affliction I will probably live with for the rest of my life. But in my stronger times I try to wear it as a badge of honour. I honestly believe that if a breakdown hadn’t brought me to a halt 14 years ago I would still be career-driven and working 60 hour weeks in the pursuance of somebody else’s dreams.
Instead, I am a wife and the mother of two children I adore. I didn’t even realise I wanted a family until my life ground to a halt. Life hasn’t been perfect since becoming a mother, far from it. I suffered from postnatal depression after my son was born. But in the depths of that I reignited a long-forgotten interest in photography. Encouraged by my family, I bought my first very old DSLR for £30 from a charity shop and I have never looked back. I now co-run my own photography studio, Studio G Photography, in Oldham, with my friend and business partner, Robert.
I know that suffering from depression has helped the creative process, to the point that for several years I fought against going back on medication, choosing instead to try diet and exercise. But recently I decided, in agreement with my husband, that I needed to go back onto medication, knowing that I will be taking it long term. Antidepressants take all the edges off, good ones and bad ones, and I was worried initially that it would damage my creativity. But as a mother I have to do what is best for my children, and I am surrounded by so many supportive and creative people that I know I will be just fine.
For a long time I have had it in my head that I wanted to do a photographic project to illustrate that there is life after (and with) depression. I was finally persuaded recently that the time is right to give it a go. My plan is to photograph people I admire, the strong and powerful survivors. The people who, like me, have something positive to say about living with a mental health diagnosis. I’m tired of only reading the negative stuff. I want to show new sufferers that they can get better and they will be stronger people for it.
I chose the title, the Open Shutters Project, not only because of the photographic reference, but because I think it is time the shutters were opened on the dark and secretive world of mental illness.
Obviously I had to be the first person to stand up and be counted. The self portrait I chose is an image of me holding my camera, in front of my favourite photograph of my children, who, after all, are the reason I got into photography. What I need now, and I am hoping against hope for, is that my message of positivity will strike a chord out there and other people will come forward to be photographed and to tell their own stories and show that lives can eventually be improved, not blighted, by a diagnosis of mental illness.
As Dolly Parton once said: “If you want the rainbow you have to put up with the rain.”
Find the project on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/theopenshuttersproject and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LYNE1lLw6U&list=PLHvDBndbzACfa-SIIl1pSHqxjDXr9fUV6