I have always struggled with self hatred. Part of me feels like everyone does to a certain degree, but being a perfectionist certainly doesn’t help. I still struggle to like anything about myself, let alone learn to love it! I wanted to do this shoot was to push myself. I certainly didn’t find it easy, and I still find it hard not to feel I look pretty repulsive in the photos, but I’m glad I did it.
People tend to have a very distinct picture of what OCD looks like in their heads, most of which is down to what we are shown through the media. But as with all mental health disorders, OCD is different for everyone. For me, most of my OCD centres around intrusive thoughts, and for a long time one of my main obsessions was the thought that I was disgusting. One of the consequences of this was a severe fear of being photographed, and cameras in general. There are only a handful of photos that exist of me between the ages of 10 and 17, and almost none of those were taken with my consent and caused me an immense deal of distress. Just being in the same space as a camera could send me into a panic attack, and more than once I physically attacked cameras pointing in my direction. My relatives and friends were bewildered as to why I would bolt from the vicinity every time someone got their camera or phone out to ‘capture the moment’. From looking at the pictures, it’s a little as though I didn’t exist at all through that period, and I definitely hated myself enough that I wanted it that way.
When I started to get help at around 14, my phobia of being photographed was one of the first things we worked on. I went through many different councillors who tried several different techniques, but exposure therapy was what really helped me. It is utterly terrifying, by gradually exposing yourself to your fear you can disprove the intrusive thoughts that are causing you to experience such panic. We started off by having a camera, switched off and inside a box, sitting in the room during my sessions. My therapist would check in with me to see where my panic levels were every 10 minutes or so. Then we moved on to having the camera just sat in the room, still turned off and facing away from me. Next to having the camera being switched on, but still facing away from me, getting comfortable with each situation before moving on. It might seem like ridiculously small steps, but each was a massive mile stone. It is so empowering to be able to look back on the progress you’ve made and see how far you’ve come. It has taken five years of me gradually exposing myself to my fear to get to the point where I would even contemplate being photographed by another person.
As a transgender individual, dysphoria is another hurdle I found myself crashing into. I’m not sure I can really describe what dysphoria feels like, other than a crushing and disorientating feeling of detachment and loathing for anything you feel ‘genders’ you. This typically applies to things such as your voice and your body, and for me a lot of my dysphoria is around my chest. I bind almost every day of the year, the only times I won’t are days where I force myself not to, and I will stay in my house with curtains drawn. While these days are tough on my mental health, they are very important for my body - there is still very little research into the long term affects of binding, and even though there are safer ways to do it, most people will end up damaging their ribs due to the near constant compression.
Overall the progress I have made towards loving myself is immense. I will never find it natural, and it’s something I will always have to work on, but I am strong enough to do that. I am very grateful that I get to be myself, despite everything.