Haunting self-portraits reveal what anxiety really feels like

Photography student Katie Joy Crawford knows what it feels like to be anxious. We’re not talking about just hand-wringing anxious — you know, the kind of anxious you feel when you’re waiting to hear back from a job you want, or a person you like. We’re talking about full body, anxious. Anxious for no identifiable reason, anxious. Anxious about everything. Anxious all the time.

And it started young. “I had my first panic attack when I was 11,” she told Hello Giggles in an interview. “I wasn’t supposed to know fear that strong yet. I was supposed to play house and have sleepovers.” But her parents had recently divorced and her brother was battling cancer, and the stress took a physical and mental toll on Crawford.

“Before I knew it, I was hyperventilating, crying, shaking, begging my mom to make it go away, praying God would let me sleep,” she says. After the panic attack finally resolved, Crawford was a changed person.

“I remember nothing looked the same anymore. It’s like everything was muted . . . or even just different hues than before. My world was gone. And I’ve never found it again.”

But after struggling with anxiety and panic attacks for several years, the LSU student decided not only to confront her demons, but turn them into some seriously powerful visual art.

And so, “My Anxious Heart” was born. It’s a gorgeous but haunting collection of photographs where Crawford acts as “instigator and victim” in 12 different self-portraits.

The pictures — which show Crawford in a tub of water surrounded by black tulle or with a white cloud over her head — show the different ways anxiety and depression can hamper and hem one’s daily life.

“Through this body of work, I am visually interpreting my own emotional and physical journey so that others may be able to understand this weight that so many bear in our society,” she writes on her site. “Anxiety bars the sufferer from the risk of discovery, the desire to explore new ideas, and the possibility of exiting a comfort zone. It 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.”

Crawford says it’s important to speak up and not keep the fear and anxiety bottled up inside.
“I want people to know that they need to talk,” she says. “They need to share their fears or their own brain is going to continue to let them live in fear. Nothing is too stupid to share.”

Crawford says that the entire experience of making these self-portraits was cathartic.

“I can’t wait for others to see that their battle with mental health is not one they have to fight alone.”

All images courtesy of Katie Joy Crawford.

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