Italy

August 19, 2020

Trauma plays tricks on our brains. The physiological response to trauma, physical or mental or emotional, tells our bodies to run, makes us believe we are unsafe. This can happen days after the trauma occurs, or can even manifest itself decades later.

Ten years ago, I survived an abusive relationship. The scars I carry in my soul remain, long after the imprint of his hand faded from my skin.

Soon after I chose to put myself first and start my life over, the signs of PTSD began to set in. I began having crippling anxiety attacks that would hit me in the most unlikely places…driving alone in the car, while walking through the aisles in the grocery store, on crowded streets. My mind would begin racing, my palms would sweat, and I would begin to hyperventilate. These intrusive thoughts made me feel incapable, even though I had proven to myself, just by prioritizing my own well being, that I could do hard things.

It was around this time that I picked up a camera for the first time. The act of looking through the lens, the process of composition and creation was cathartic for me. Photography became like therapy, and from it my career was born.

I saw other photographers traveling around the world for their wedding work and immediately put that idea on a pedestal (it can be so easy to do when destination weddings appear so luxurious!). It seemed so unattainable for me, not because I didn’t think my work was sufficient, but because I didn’t think I could survive the anxiety that came with travel. What if I had a major panic attack in a foreign city? Hyperventilating on the streets of Paris is a lot different than working through my breathing in my living room. I didn’t want to have to admit aloud to anyone that this was something I struggled with. I felt the weight of the stigma and it was embarrassing.

One day, an opportunity came to photograph a wedding across the country. I had never traveled to the west coast, and I WANTED to photograph this wedding in a dream location. I took the chance as a small step in working through bringing down my own mental barriers. I spoke with my doctor about an anxiety medicine (again, another stigma), began physically conditioning so that I could care well for myself ahead of the trip, and sought counseling. I was reminded that although I was made to feel incapable and unworthy, I was strong enough to put one foot in front of the other and choose a better life.

The trip was a pivotal point in my life and in my career. Because of smaller trips like this, I was able to face my anxiety head on and find ways to cope. Then, when the opportunity came to second shoot in Europe for a dear friend, I was able to confidently commit knowing I had the tools necessary to be able to enjoy this chance to experience the world without the shadow of anxiety looming over my head. I could be mentally present as we walked through historic cathedrals. I could take in the smells of the pasta being prepared outside the cafes in Varenna. I could truly live this experience rather than just surviving it.

My best life was always there waiting for me, on the other side of everything I feared. Travel was my healing. It was the opportunity to prove to myself that my own two feet could carry me. Across continents, across the world.

Nikkisanterre.com
@nikkisanterre

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