Photography project captures journey through mental illness

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November 08, 2010

By Johanna Weidner, Record staff

KITCHENER — Marcey Gray started by writing words on her arm in black marker, terrible words she once believed true of herself — worthless, ugly, stupid, incompetent.

Then she crossed out those words before adding another in red on a bandage wrapped around her wrist — loved.

Finally, she took a picture.

Gray’s photograph is among a collection taken by people who have experienced mental illness and addictions.

“This is my whole struggle with mental illness,” Gray said of her self-portrait. “It was a wound and now I’m healed.”

The photography project was run by Spark of Brilliance, a local community-based mental-health initiative that promotes healing through the arts.

Along with collecting the images in a book, the new mental-health facility at the Freeport site of Grand River Hospital is displaying the photos.

The first patients began arriving earlier this month at the 50-bed unit providing longer-term mental health care.

Gray believes the photographs are a good addition for Freeport’s patients.

“I think it will help people in there because they’ll realize other people are there with them,” the Guelph woman said.

Although, she added, everyone struggles at some point in their life, not just those with mental illness.

“We can find our own stories in other people’s pictures as well,” said Gray, who’s 32.

Some of the photos portray hope and recovery, she said, while others reflect pain. All show “the courage and the strength and the resilience that people with mental illness have,” Gray said.

Cameras were given to more than 20 people, who were urged to thoughtfully take photographs portraying their personal journey.

“You’re asked to look within yourself,” Gray said.

She has long been interested in photography, but found it challenging to capture her experiences with mental illness on film.

“I actually sat down and thought a lot about it. I thought about my life and what I’ve been through and how I would express that in the picture.”

The photograph of her arm marked with words traces more than 20 years of struggling with mental illness, including agoraphobia and social anxiety, and her recovery that began in the past few years.

“It’s all the things I used to think about myself,” Gray said.

The bandage bearing the word “loved” represents the healing that began when she realized how her family and friends cared for her.

“I started to think a little bit better of myself and realize I wasn’t all those things,” she said.

Garland Reid started taking photos in his Kitchener apartment, and then when he headed out for his walks on city streets and trails.

Regular walking, including joining a healthy-lifestyle program for people with mental-health issues, is part of his recovery from both mental and physical illness.

When Reid got the disposable camera, the 60-year-old started noticing things he hadn’t before, fleeting moments like a sunset or how a trail looked on different days.

“Gardens had changed and flowers weren’t blooming anymore,” Reid said.

One summer day, Reid found himself walking in a wooded area and the photos he took on that excursion are the few he picked to submit. One captured a path curving through the woods, which also inspired him to write a poem added to the end of the book with his photographs.

His poem talked about travelling along a long path, ending on a note of hope: “I more than survived. At last I found peace.”

It was a proud moment for Reid having his photographs displayed at the official opening of the Kitchener mental-health unit, along with seeing the amazing work of his fellow novice photographers.

“Each person had their own way of expressing their journey, who they are and where they’re at.”


2 thoughts on “Photography project captures journey through mental illness

  1. Pingback: Photography Project in Ontario by Spark of Brilliance group capturing Journey Through Mental Illness « circlemusings

  2. I am glad that she knows that she is loved. Love can help answer a lot of problems in the world.

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