Kathryn Chapman | Art Jobs

Kathryn Chapman

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After a suicide attempt in my early twenties, I began 25 years in and out of therapy. I’d often end feeling a bit better but it wouldn't last and before long, I was seeking out someone else to work with. Asking for help always felt the most difficult part - doing it time after time was exhausting.

I didn’t see the point in anything. I was lost, desperate and completely confused. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t like myself, my inner critic was rampant and I had no idea how to love myself. I heard that to love others you had to love yourself first - that never made sense to me. It still doesn’t. You can love others while not loving yourself, you just do it differently when you do.

About half way through these dark years, I became increasingly desperate. Five miscarriages, had left me overwhelmed with grief, blame and shame, on top of my depression and anxiety. Why wasn't therapy working? What was I doing wrong? I got into the habit of starting every initial session with, 'This is the last time I'm doing it. It’s my last chance. If it doesn't work, I’m not doing it again. I haven’t got the energy.’ I was increasingly ready to accept that I’d never emerge from my darkness.

In 2015 I hit a crisis point. I was knocked off my bike and it threw me into a very bad period of my depression. Apart from cracked ribs and a knackered bike, my two residing memories were - flying through the air thinking - when I land, I hope my legs don’t get caught in the wheels so I can't run again. And shouting - ‘I’m 42, I’m 42!’ like some Patsy Stone wannabe at the nice man who rang 999 and told them I was probably in my late 40’s.

A couple of weeks later I had a psych assessment. I was shown in no uncertain terms that I had clinical depression, severe anxiety and was 'off the scale' for PTSD. This particularly shocked me - I mean, it was only a bike accident…

The incident had clearly triggered me massively and the subsequent CBT was really helpful to understand this trauma. I found out later that it was a lot more complex - the collision was only the tip of the iceberg.

The assessment left me reeling for days, and it took a long time to take it all on board. But it was the point I decided to do things differently. I faced my drinking issues and found some amazing counsellors who helped me unearth a whole host of very difficult, buried trauma. They showed me it was ok to feel as confused and angry as I did. Yes people had it worse than me, but how I felt was my truth - comparing myself to others wasn't helpful.

Towards the end of my final bout of therapy in early 2018, I was very tired of talking but wanted to continue working on myself in a different way. I’d long been thinking about a self-portrait shoot where I would sit with my most difficult emotions and photograph what was there. That April, armed with barbed wire, theatrical blood and my bravest pants, I went ahead. I was ready to look myself in the eye and face myself fully. I wanted to bear witness to everything and allow myself freedom of expression.

I picked a day when my husband was away and my daughter was at school. I set up my portable studio and planned to get everything done before it was time to pick her up.

The shoot was tough. Apart from the energy it took to sit with my emotions, the barbed wire was pingy, the fake blood was sticky and our dog was more than inquisitive. For an hour and a half, I let it all out - I cried, screamed, pounded the floor and raged. I photographed all of me. Exhausted, I cleared up and put everything away.

A couple of weeks later I sat down to go through my gallery. I didn’t know what to expect or how I’d feel. I hadn’t thought about how I might react, what I’d think or what it might teach me.

What was there surprised me. Amongst the pain and hurt, I saw vulnerability, courage, resilience, fierceness and strength. Here I was, in all my beautiful mess. This was when I truly saw myself for the very first time. And I saw a woman desperate to be looked after, realising the only person who could do that for her, was me.

In this space, I was able to gift myself kindness, patience and gentleness. I couldn’t deny what was looking back at me and I experienced a deep, holistic compassion for myself that has remained ever since. I found me. And I’d been here all along. Just waiting.

This powerful creative process became the most pivotal and catalystic part of my healing. It was my recovery break-through. The images changed what I thought about myself, what I said to myself, what I saw in myself, what I did to myself. I began to put in place new habits of self-care and space to feed my creative soul. I realigned with my spiritual needs and drew my inner critic close, so I could get to know her and quieten her down.

I went into the shoot with the intention never to share any of the images. I would have put all my money and everything I owned on that. But six months later, feeling the best ever, I was compelled to post one. I was very nervous but I wanted other people to see me too. I was astounded by the response - nothing but love and support. It was epic.

Not long after the most significant and surprising thing happened - I found my life-purpose.

In 2019, I developed everything I’d discovered from my process into a programme I now offer to other women - holding up a mirror so they may see their own potential for lasting self-compassion and happiness. Helping them come home to all that they are. And I call it Face to Face.

Looking back, I now realise that however close I came, I never gave up hope of beating my depression and anxiety. I never gave up thinking there must be something or someone that’d be the difference I needed. In the end, the something that made the biggest difference was my self-portrait shoot. And I discovered that the someone who helped turn my most significant corner, was me. 

A shot from the beginning of the shoot - the first image I shared and the one that has come to symbolise the start of my recovery.