Photographer captures the oppressive reality of anxiety

Katie Crawford’s self-portraiture series captures the raw essence of anxiety.

A racing heart, dizziness, shortness of breath and light-headedness are the typical physical manifestations of an anxiety disorder. But there is another layer the public isn’t privy to – the internal battle waged between the sufferer and his or her anxiety. It frequently goes unnoticed or misunderstood by the rest of the world despite the pervasive impact it has on the life of the sufferer. Describing her personal journey, photographer Katie Crawford likens anxiety to an entity within herself and created by her that bars her from the risk of discovery, the desire to explore new ideas, and the possibility of exiting a comfort zone.

Using her own stories and experiences, the 2015 Louisiana State University Fine Arts graduate captured the internal and external struggles of her disorder in a series of 12 self-portraits called “My Anxious Heart”. Her interpretation of her disorder through her images and accompanying texts explains the ways anxiety has the ability to weigh down and drain the sufferer.

“Through this personal journey, I have grown and found that depicting my fears has become therapeutic, as well as a gateway for others to express their oppression and begin their own healing process,” she writes.

Portraying herself as both the victim and the instigator of the anxiety born in her mind, Crawford guides the viewer through her journey. This representation is achieved with the use of black objects, materials, and the manipulation of the images in a way that evokes a sense of overprotection and a lingering presence.

“[Anxiety] makes sure that it will never be alone. It finds you when you’re in the midst of joy, or alone in your own mind. It is quiet and steady, reminding you of your past failures, and fabricating your future outcomes,” she explains. 

"a glass of water isn’t heavy. it’s almost mindless when you have to pick one up. but what if you couldn’t empty it or set it down? what if you had to support its weight for days... months... years? the weight doesn’t change, but the burden does. at a certain point, you can’t remember how light it used to seem. sometimes it takes everything in you to pretend it isn’t there. and sometimes, you just have to let it fall."
"my head is filling with helium. focus is fading. such a small decision to make. such an easy question to answer. my mind isn’t letting me. it’s like a thousands circuits are all crossing at once."
"i was scared of sleeping. i felt the most raw panic in complete darkness. actually, complete darkness wasn't scary. it was that little bit of light that would cast a shadow -- a terrifying shadow."
"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."
"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've equated it to an actual feeling?"
"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."
"cuts so deep it's like they're never going to heal. pain so real, it's almost unbearable. i've become this... this cut, this wound. all i know is this same pain; sharp breath, empty eyes, shaky hands. if it's so painful, why let it continue? unless... maybe it's all that you know."
"i'm afraid to live and i'm afraid to die. what a way to exist."
"no matter how much i resist, it'll always be right here desperate to hold me, cover me, break down with me. each day i fight it, "you're not good for me and you never will be". but there it is waiting for me when i wake up and eager to hold me as i sleep. it takes my breath away. it leaves me speechless."
"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."
"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."