Dig Baton Rouge

My Anxious Heart

By Kim Lyle

Living with anxiety is living with fear and worry that’s uncontrollable,” explained photographer Katie Joy Crawford. “It’s like feeling homesick when you’re already at home.”

The recent LSU graduate has harbored the unwanted houseguest, commonly known as general anxiety disorder, for years. The turning point came when she made the decision to expose her internal struggle through a series of 12 deeply personal images in her senior thesis exhibition, My Anxious Heart.

It gave me an opportunity to really face my demons and face my disorder head on,” said Crawford. “The intention was just to put a visual to a mental image. I never expected to find healing through the process.”

Shortness of breath, dizziness, becoming light-headed, and a racing heart are all very physical symptoms of the illness—yet none are outwardly visible. In a world where mental health issues are often sidelined for more tangible problems, many have found it refreshing to see an artist addressing the subject through their own story.

I was able to make myself vulnerable to more and more people with the intention to help, empathize, and love,” shared Crawford. “The hardest part about dealing with anything is being alone. I never had to be, thanks to the family I had, and I don’t think anyone should have to be. If my story can help even a handful of people, it seems selfish for me to keep it to myself.”

Aided by camera and metaphor, Crawford was able to remove the disorder’s cloak of invisibility through self-portraits depicting feelings evoked by a perpetual state of anxiety.

I had to induce panic and really evaluate what my triggers for anxiety were so that I was able to try and articulate the symptoms visually,” said Crawford. “It was definitely a challenge but completely worth it. “

Along with overcoming emotional hurdles, many of the photographs required a high level of technical skill both during shoots and throughout the editing process.

I had very limited space and equipment so I relied heavily on trial and error,” explained Crawford. “I couldn’t see when I was in focus so I had to photograph myself at several different focal lengths while trying not to move. It was an anxiety inducing process, ironically.”

While Crawford’s work has recently grabbed the attention of major media outlets such as USA Today and Women’s Health Magazine, she’s been quick to thank both family and LSU faculty for helping her achieve such success.

There is absolutely no way I could have accomplished anything without a few major people,” said Crawford. “My mother is the reason I was able to even address this issue. My whole life she’s encouraged me to talk about my pain and mental illnesses in a way that I never felt shame. Also, my sister is a champion assistant and helped me with the more complicated shots.”

Tom Neff, my professor, and his wife, Sharon, were essential to this body of work. Tom suffered from a stroke two years ago but came back to teach. He led by example that regardless of your physical and mental limitations, ‘you have to make work.’”

Looking forward, Crawford will publish a book of her work hoping to reach a larger audience and bring greater understanding to the illness.

I hope this opens our community’s eyes to the need for public mental health counseling,” said Crawford. “It takes so much to handle this burden, and dealing with it only gets heavier first.”

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