Depression & the positive impact of Photography on my life

Photography is my passion, my life, my business and ultimately it turned my life around and without it (and the love of my family and friends) would I be here today ?

Before I go any further, I would like to thank a young friend of mine and a true inspiration, Emma.

My story :

I have only recently been very open about Depression, my ‘invisible illness’ and the need to talk, it wasn’t always that way :

I think I knew something wasn’t quite right quite a few years ago, but like most, I just put it down to life, getting older and normal day to day stress. I didn’t talk to anybody about how I felt “everybody has their own problems, I won’t burden them”.

Anyway, I must be ok, everybody thinks i’m confident so I don’t really have any problems, do I ?.  Like most who suffer with a mental illness, I am a damn good actor and can put on a front when required.

In the early 2000’s, I started suffering from an unknown stomach ailment, which resulted in spending countless hours in waiting rooms, having barium meals and colonoscopies to determine the problem. This diagnosis (Diverticulitis) took nearly 10 years. At that time Asthma and Diabetes were also diagnosed.

Surely this must be the reason why so many horrible thoughts were entering my head and why I felt hopeless, helpless, useless ?.


Nothing had changed, what was wrong with me, why do I feel like I do ?.

The sensible thing was to talk to somebody, my GP, anybody.  Like most who suffer, I decided to do nothing and carry on feeling miserable. I didn’t want to bother anybody.

Things came to a head with my then employers, first direct, who were putting undue pressure on me (though to be fair, some of it was deserved) and I believed were trying to force me out. Like a lot of companies, I don’t feel they were very well trained to deal with mental illness.

At this time, I was forced into a corner, a place where I didn’t want to be, where I had no choice but to visit my GP. I didn’t look her in the eye (I didn’t look anybody in the eye at that time). A dam burst and everything came pouring out, I eventually looked up, she didn’t judge me, she listened, she talked to me over a long period of time, she referred me to specialists. From that point I saw my GP regular to talk (every 2 weeks), she cared, she wasn’t just doing her job.

Once that initial conversation is done, it’s out there, you are not on your own, you can talk about it without fear. My head no longer felt it was about to burst.

It’s an illness like any other, though it’s one that that you can’t put a plaster on.

I liken my depression to being stuck in a well where I just couldn’t climb out. On good days I would make good progress up the inside of the well, on the bad days, I would slip down again. Now I’m at the point where I have one leg over the side of the well on dry ground !

If you got to this point, thanks for staying with me

At last, the photography bit.

At the beginning of consultations with my doctor, she told me to get outside, don’t stare at four walls. “get fresh air, take a camera, just get outside”.

A lightbulb went off in my head.

I picked up a camera and went outside, the back garden to start with, then the local park and then the local area. Hours flew by as I immersed myself in photography and read and learnt as much as I could about the weather, light, composition and everything that went with it.

One day, I spent six hours laying down in the mud waiting for a shot (I didn’t get the shot by the way), I spoke to my wife and said I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

I have been doing this for 3 – 4 years now and been self-employed for 2 years. After many long and sleepless nights, I made the decision with my wife, that I couldn’t return to my previous employers.

I couldn’t put my family (or myself) under the pressure they had to endure for a long period of time. Life is too short to put yourself in a position which has ultimately led to you been ill. It makes no sense to do that to your self and those around you.

So, I resigned (the most liberating feeling I have had in my working life) and felt a huge weight lift. I had already set up a website and wanted to see if it was something I could do and make a living of. Regardless of what a few people thought, I did not officially go into business until I had served my one month notice.

I won’t lie, starting up on your own is not easy, it takes an immense amount of work (very little of it actually involving taking photographs) to start to make a living from it. It can be a very lonely profession, but I have my health and life back and I do like my own company.

Photography isn’t a job in the real sense of the word, its my way of life.

Even though initially I classed myself as a landscape photographer, I realised that I had to take the next step and force myself to meet new people. This really moved my life forward and I have since gained the confidence to have exhibitions, stand in front of a group of people and talk and to start taking photography workshops.

I love what I do and feel very lucky that I have a small modicum of talent with which has enabled to be happy and relaxed.

The one thing which gives me enormous pleasure, is for somebody to purchase my work (be it a print, a card, a calendar or trust me enough to photograph their event or their family) .

No amount of money can give you that feeling of excitement (like a child at Christmas) when somebody appreciates your work. I go back 2/3 years and think I was suffering badly at that time, but in a relatively short period of time, the confidence has come back and I truly believe that if I can beat this illness anyone can.

While I still have occasional bouts of depression, they don’t normally last long and are now no longer debilitating.

Don’t get me wrong, you are not “cured”, you just learn to deal with things on a different level, in a different way. I still get the occasional bad day – thats life, move on and move forward.

It all started to turn around for me when I opened up and talked to my GP. So please, talk to someone, anyone who will listen to you. It’s not as bad as you think and is so much better for you and your family.

A BBC television documentary which recently aired mind over marathon, was very moving and humbling and I urge you to watch it if you get a chance.

Why, If so many of us are suffering, why don’t we talk, why do we hold things in and suffer in silence ?

You are NOT alone (I thought I was, but I really wasn’t)

There is no shame in talking about this illness, the only shame is that we don’t talk about it.

Apologies for this very long first blog, but if it helps just one person open up and talk, then it will all have been worthwhile.


sane – mental health

darren sanderson photography