I’m not really sure what made me do it. I guess I was looking for something to shock me out of a cycle of depressive and anxious thoughts. The night before had been rough, with more anxiety than I’d had in months, and I knew it was about my identity as an artist.
I gave myself the month of October. Wrapped it up in a red ribbon and told myself to do whatever I truly wanted. It had been seven months since I started my own full-time photography business, and things were going well. I loved my new job, but I still wasn’t satisfied. Exhausted from client work night after night, there was no time or mental energy for my artwork. “Prove to yourself that you can do this,” I said, as I repeatedly pushed client work into November.
But in this new freedom, I felt stuck. The pressure I put on myself to create and find inspiration worked against me. It had been two weeks, and I had almost nothing to show for it. I spent days sitting around the house, trying to think of an idea. Many came, but they weren’t “the one” so I let their subtle inspiration pass me by.
When I woke up last Sunday, I was already tired. I had gotten too much sleep the night before, a daily pattern I developed to sink into vivid dreams and avoid reality. I felt immediately defeated upon waking and I was upset that I was upset. I wish I could remember what train of thought I was on when I decided that I needed to drive an hour away to jump in a 50-degree lake. (It might have had something to do with my favorite photographer, Brooke Shaden. She does this quite often in her shoots.)
If you know me, you know that I love nature. Unless it involves murky bodies of water. I’m not a fan of swimming in lakes or rivers or the ocean. They don’t make me feel safe or clean or in control. But under the fog of my depression, the idea of feeling fear excited me. It was something different from sad. Suddenly, I had an attainable goal, and it was “Jump in a muddy lake on a cold October day and oh, do it in a translucent white nightgown in front of strangers.” Why not.
I texted my friend Erin who is usually up for a weird artistic road trip, and we set off. My first stop was the bathroom, and it was pleasantly horrifying. Without planning on it, we actually stayed in there for about thirty minutes, dressing up in various costumes and shooting our first images of the day. Thankfully nobody walked in or they definitely would have been a bit surprised...
When we felt like we’d done all we could in the bathroom, we walked down the hill to the lake. The water was dark and still, perfectly reflecting the autumn scenery in its murky waters. We continued to walk the shore until we saw a semi-secluded spot surrounded by reeds. The water was muddy, cold, filled with seaweed. I didn’t want to get in, but at the same time...a part of me really did.
When the coast was clear, I disrobed and jumped in, not taking the time to second guess myself. The temperature of the water took my breath away. My feet sunk into the sludgy lake bed and I shook all over from the cold.
In that moment, I thought of none of my fears or insecurities. I had no anxiety. I only felt my body and the thrill of the moment. We even did a little extra shoot of me soaking wet at the end of the dock. As I walked back to the restroom, I laughed. There I was, soaking wet in a white nightgown emerging from a lake. The people that saw us didn’t look away, and I remembered how much I enjoy being just weird.
While some of the photos didn’t turn out, and I didn’t put a ton of thought into the work ahead of time, it was nice to let go of my own expectations and just make something unique. No, these photos probably won’t be in any magazines or go viral, but sometimes you have to use art as expression and purely that.
If you ever feel stuck, depressed, or overly anxious, try doing the exact thing you’re afraid of doing (within reason). If you’re at a concert and you’re afraid of letting go, stretch your hands up as high as you can. If you’re in a social situation and don’t want to appear awkward, do something weird with everyone watching. If you’re sad because you lack inspiration, I guess go jump in a lake.