Being a photographer with social anxiety hasn’t always been easy. It sometimes still isn’t.
When I was a kid (about 8 years old) I looked up from my new point and shoot film camera and told my family that I wanted to be a photographer. Well, actually my exact words were “I want to be a photographer when I grow up, it would be so easy because I can just click a button and take pictures of stuff”. Obviously 8 year old me knew shit all about the real world, or what it took to become a photographer, but that’s what my heart wanted and I’ve always followed my heart.
I’m nearly 30 now, I run a wedding photography business and I’ve been published in magazines, booked to do jobs abroad and asked to present my work in front of members of a huge photographic society. If you had told me when I was growing up that I’d be doing all those things I would have laughed you away, possibly had a massive panic attack and then run and hid in a cupboard.
The thing is guys, you don’t go from being an 8 year old and wanting to do something to instantly being accomplished at it. There are steps in between, usually difficult, frustrating and agonising steps with highs and even bigger lows. You have to fail a bunch of times before you know what really works. It’s the same with Social Anxiety. You don’t go from having severe Social Anxiety straight to public speaking. So you have to get it out of your head now that it’s going to be a quick and easy process.
Here’s what happened to me before I got to all the good stuff, and trust me this is the short dumbed down version;
- Went to school, failed school, left school early at 14 with hardly any qualifications and NO prospects.
- Spend 6 months in my house, not being able to open the curtains or even go in the garden.
- Started therapy for my anxiety. Giggled through the breathing and relaxation techniques and just generally kept telling the therapist I was fine.
- Took an online course for photography which ended up being a fake course. Didn’t even get a fake certificate to make myself feel better.
- Started my first ever job as a retail assistant at a clothes store, part time.
- Treated myself to a secondhand SLR for £10 that I taught myself the basics of photograph on. Learnt most things from books (also secondhand) and tutorials online.
- Upgraded my camera after working hard to a £300 DSLR
- Leave my first ever job after a year due to a mental breakdown caused by my social anxiety.
- More therapy – CBT this time. It goes much better as I’m actually ready and willing to participate.
- Start leaving the house more on my own – even get a tattoo on my own.
- Finish therapy and celebrate – with a tongue piercing of course.
- Take a brave step and organise a shoot with a model who has just started out and get on my very first train alone to attend the shoot.
- Organise a bunch more shoots doing portraits of local models.
- Try and attend free business classes at a local library. Get on the bus, don’t know where I’m going, freak out and get off the bus in the middle of nowhere. Head back home and miss all the business classes.
- Leave it 5 or 6 months then try re-attending the business classes. I make it this time and it goes fabulously and I even speak out a few times. Also met my first ever wedding client who books her wedding with me.
- I land a few more clients before her wedding and a job as an assistant for a much more successful photographer than me.
- One morning have a huge emotional breakdown after letting down the photographer I was assisting for – tell myself I’ll never be a photographer and that I’m absolutely no use to anybody – and put myself in hospital.
- Put myself back into therapy and actually kick myself up the arse and tell myself I’m gonna give it my everything this time!
- Get through my first few weddings after a fuck-ton of nerves and hyperventilation.
- “Graduate” from my final therapy trip but continue to do the work on my own so I can keep the progress going.
- Get better and better and better and better until my social anxiety is very mild and only presents itself in a normal way. BOOM.
Every once in a while I have a down day, or a mini crisis and on very very rare occasions a panic attack or two. I’m not going to pretend I’m all perfect now but heck, I do things that some of my more “normal” friends would consider nerve inducing. 10 years ago I couldn’t leave my house, at all. I couldn’t talk to people I knew all that well, nevermind strangers. Now, I can direct a group of 100+ people at a wedding. I can stand in front of the ceremony with my camera knowing some people will be looking at me, especially whenever my camera shutter fires. I can go and meet prospective clients in coffee shops and wedding venues having never met them before with complete confidence and ease. It’s rare that I even get butterflies in my stomach before meeting new people now – It’s become second nature.
That’s the whole purpose of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It helps you work with social situations in a managed, step-by-step kinda way so that it becomes normal for you. It doesn’t throw you in the deep end, it helps you get there gradually.
So if therapy scares you because you’re afraid it will push your limits, or you’ve tried before and given up.. maybe consider giving it a go. Ask your doctor to refer to you a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist or read up on Exposure Therapy and try some at home before you make up your mind.
And if you’re a wedding photographer with social anxiety like me, then you have a lot of balls! Be proud of yourself.
What do you do for a living? and how has it impacted your Social Anxiety?