I’ve learned more from my therapist in the last five years than I ever could have imagined. Like many decisions in my life, I stumbled upon the use of a therapist by accident—but in retrospect, I realize how much I needed one. The money and time I’ve invested has certainly paid off beyond my expectations.
Once, during a particularly stressful period of my life, I ran out the door in the middle supper and sprinted through three feet of powdery snow and spent time with my therapist. We watched the sunset together, and despite the freezing cold, I felt rejuvenated after our session.
Ok, that sounds bad. I’ll confess. I call my camera my ‘therapist.’ I probably should have started seeing a therapist years ago, back when I first experienced stress from cancer caregiving—but I didn’t. I worked through a lot of those issues through journaling, Bible study and prayer (not to mention many heart-to-heart talks with my husband).
In lieu of seeing a professional (I worked two jobs and didn’t have time for office visits), I rediscovered an old love. The summer I turned 16 I purchased my first ‘pro’ camera with tip money I earned working at a restaurant in Cooper’s Landing, Alaska. It came with a telephoto zoom lens and a smaller lens, and I spent hours photographing nature. I even took a photography class in college to hone my skills.
But somewhere, between diplomas, marriage, diapers and daily life, I’d quit taking photos. During my hiatus, the world of photography changed from Kodak to digital. Five years ago, I enrolled in a digital photography class as part of my credential renewal requirements—and my love affair with photography took a new turn.
Now, instead of waiting impatiently to see if the photos I had taken turned out, I can download them on my computer and effortlessly erase all of the bad shots. Instead of purchasing rolls and rolls of film, I only have to purchase some memory cards.
For the last five years, I’ve worked on my craft—and discovered the therapeutic value of photography. I classify photography as therapy for the following reasons:
1. Therapy involves going outside one’s comfort zone. I normally eschew all temperatures above 72 and below 69—but for a good photo I’ll stand outside in 95% humidity at 99˚ just to photograph a bird (I’ll even hike miles and miles to get to the place where I can see the bird). I’ll dash outdoors in sub-zero weather to snag the perfect shot of a sunset or sunrise.
2. Therapy involves learning new coping skills. I discovered that instead of turning to carbohydrates when life stresses me out, I can turn to Canon. Walking around the neighborhood in search of ordinary beautiful melts the stress out of my mind.
3. Therapy involves some odd accommodations by one’s family members (trips to the office, repeated references to, ‘My therapist says….’). My family has graciously accommodated my mid-dinner sprints outside to photograph the sunset, the sudden slamming of the car breaks so I can hop out of the car and photograph a hawk (I usually remember to put the car in park before I get out…usually), and they willingly join me on early morning treks in search of rare birds (Pedro does this because his goal in life involves snapping a photo of me gazing open-mouthed up into the skies in search of a bird a la “The Big Year”).
4. Therapy involves putting one’s new skills into practice and sharing the knowledge with someone else. I spend hours sorting and cataloging the photos I take, and then I love sharing them on Facebook for my friends to see (earning me the moniker of crazy bird lady by some family members and friends).
5. Therapy strengthens family relationships. I have grown closer to my husband, parents and children as we spend time outdoors exploring nature and photographing it. Sarah and I have a new (inside joke) motto (one I DON’T advise that you incorporate into your life)—“Photo first, safety second!”
6. A fringe benefit of cameratherapy has also turned into an anti-Alzheimer’s agenda for me. I’ve discovered the beauty of birds and I’m learning new information (one of the ways researcher’s say one can avoid Alzheimer’s in old age) about bird species and bird habits and how to best photograph birds. The next step will probably involve learning Latin so I can refer to the birds by their ‘formal’ names (Pedro good-naturedly birds with me, but claims the right to name birds whatever he wants to. His list of 34 birds includes such rarities as the rump-chested warbler).
There you have it. I don’t advocate skipping formal therapy. When faced with a crisis, every person will handle it differently. My own journey back to health probably took longer than it needed to because I didn’t avail myself of a real therapist. But I know for certain that my camera helped speed up the process (not to mention giving me a healthy dose of the vitamin Es—exercise, enjoyment and excitement.