Monthly Archives

February 2018


Using Photography to Combat Stress, Anxiety and Isolation

February 27, 2018

It has been a hard couple of months for our family. We’ve survived the flu, my husband Peter has been out of town and working a lot, plus we’ve had several professional and personal issues to confront. During this time we also marked the one year anniversary of our move to Minneapolis from Nashville, Tennessee. My great Northern migration! I was so stressed and flustered over the date of our moving anniversary all I could think about was if we were still where we should be. My heart reassured me we were, but I was feeling lonely, tired and discouraged, so the doubts kept creeping through my mind. In this last year it seems like so much has changed, but so much has stayed the same. I still don’t have a stable career path, I’m still working through the difficulties of making new friendships, and I’m still figuring out where I fit in this new city.

When stressors like these come up, one of my first lines of defense is to isolate myself. I make excuses to keep from seeing people and being in situations that may, possibly, cause me more stress. My insecurities rise to the surface, and after a while, I’m convinced that others are just as content with me being inside as I am. I am safe when I am alone. No one can hurt me there. That’s the lie I continue to tell myself. Though I may feel safe at the moment, I forget that I’m the one that hurts myself the most. Very counterproductive, right?

Snow covered stream and woods

Even though I can identify this negative pattern, getting out of it is incredibly difficult. If you recognize this in yourself, which is very common with anxiety and depression, you know that you can’t just snap out of it. There have been times in my life where nothing but therapy or medication has helped me overcome it, and it is OKAY if you need this help. However, since I’m already on medication, and my stressors haven’t been as heartwrenching as others I’ve gone through, I’ve been able to work on coming out of this funk. There are several tools that I use that help me. Today I want to share with you my favorite, one that I have used my entire life. The act of creating.

Over the last year, one of the most significant changes in my life has been how I use photography. For twelve years I took photographs for other people, and since I moved, I now mostly just take photographs for myself. It has been such a joy and has helped me love photography again. I photograph what I see and find beautiful, I experiment, try new techniques, and I don’t do it to please anyone else except myself. The amazing thing about shooting this way is I have found that people still like what I do! By making images that I love, others can continue to relate to my artwork, and we can discover a commonality that we may not have had before. It is beautiful!

This past weekend I knew that it was time for me to start exploring with my camera again. Even though it is one of the best things for me to do when I am in a funk, I tend to put off creating. It had been months since I created for myself so on Friday morning I packed up my gear and decided to start driving until I found a place I wanted to photograph.

While I drove down Minnehaha Parkway, I remembered that Lynnhurst Park had a beautiful trail I enjoyed walking in the summer. It leads to Lake Harriet and is full of large trees and a small stream that feeds into Minnehaha Falls. I pulled into the empty parking lot and stomped through the snow to the trail. It was stunning with the trees covered in snow. I noticed that the stream was flowing even though most of the water here in Minnesota is still frozen. Then I saw a few mallards playing in the water and began to photograph them. As I strolled down the trail, the sound of the ducks became louder and louder. I looked up and in front of me was a fantastic sight! The whole stream was full of mallards! They were flying and bathing, sleeping and fighting. It was so incredibly picturesque and peaceful.

Lynnhurst Park, Minnehaha Parkway

I continued to walk down the trail and noticed that people had made beautiful ice lanterns that ran along the path. Some holding flowers, some with different colors, and some built into stunning sculptures. I walked until I reached the Lake, and again, a remarkable site of fresh snow and quiet on the frozen water. It was a time of prayer of thankfulness for me, a time of creativity, and refreshment for my soul. On my walk back I spoke with a gentleman for a while who had helped make the lanterns along with his wife and others. He shared that they would be lit that night and said I should come back to experience it.

Peter, Monroe and I returned with our pup Wesley and seeing the lanterns lit was stunning. It was an entire neighborhood event, and many people were there along the trails with their families. There was a fire and hot chocolate and cookies. Afterwards, we went home and spent the evening together, and my heart was full.

I keep thinking about what I would have missed if I hadn’t decided to go out if I had continued in my isolation and not taken the step outdoors to create. For me, having a purpose for journeying outside my comfort zone is a big motivator. Sometimes it is the only thing that will get me outside and active when I just want to be alone. It is often the time my mind is quiet enough to feel God’s presence, and sense my resilience after being in a dark place. It is healing for me.

If you don’t have something like this in your life, I encourage you to find what it is. Whether it is photography or some other creative endeavor, find something that you love that can motivate you to journey outside of where you may be floundering. Don’t worry about if others will like what you do. You don’t even have to share it with others! Make something you love, bake, write, paint, whatever reminds you of your worth and value. If you don’t have something yet, try going for a photo walk as I did! You don’t need a fancy camera; just your phone will do. Walk around your neighborhood, drive to a park, and look carefully at what is around you. Beauty can be found everywhere. Especially in you!

What creative endeavors do you have that bring you peace? Do you find it hard to create when you are deep in depression or anxiety? Does creating something help you process what you are going through? If you are a photographer, do you take time to create just for yourself?

Much Love,

Whitney Leigh Carlson

Fine Art Portfolio

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Mental Health

The False Narrative on Mental Illness and Gun Violence

February 17, 2018


school shooting


I began this blog just a few days ago on February 14, 2018, to start sharing my story of a lifetime struggle with mental illness. That same day, just a few hours after I posted, reports began to pour in of another horrific mass murder that took place in a Florida school where 17 people were shot to death with an assault rifle. Like most people who heard of the tragedy, I began to grieve the lives lost and questioned what kind of world we live in. These were beautiful lives, taken and destroyed by a cowardly act of another. They were coaches, and teachers, and children. My God, CHILDREN, murdered in school!!!! I think about the parents who sent their teenagers off that morning never knowing the tragedy that would take them away. The parents who still remember what it was like to hold them as babies, and smell their sweet skin, and talk about dinosaurs, and fairies. They experienced their joy, heartache, and dreams of the future as they grew. Now their future is taken away. My heart breaks for them, and like so many others I want to do something so that this never happens again! Then that night, along with all the other parents in the US who would say goodbye to their kids as they left for school the following day, I fearfully wondered if my son could be next.

As the debates online began to arise about what could, if anything, be done, a familiar term kept popping up right beside calls for stricter gun laws, better parenting, and people saying there was nothing to be done. From news articles to government officials who don’t want to discuss gun control to people who do want change to gun laws, the term “mental illness” or “mentally disturbed” kept coming up. Calls for mental health reform and an overhaul of our mental health system are pouring all over the internet, from across party lines. The truth is, we need changes to our mental health system. We need more access to health care and more support for those who suffer. Many with mental health conditions are still struggling to get adequate coverage, and the stigma that surrounds mental health keeps so many from reaching out and getting help. There are also gun restrictions that should be put in place to restrict certain individuals with severe mental illness from buying guns. However, while these restrictions can be a small part of a solution, it fails because it only affects the very small percentage (less than 5%!) of gun violence. Likewise, it can have devasting effects on those whose psychological health is suffering. Calling for mental health reform only when a mass shooting happens increases the stigma surrounding mental illness and does not address the much more significant risk factors of someone becoming violent.

On that horrible Wednesday when people began to blame mental illness as the reason for the deaths, in the back of my mind personal fears and shame started to pop up. I was one them. I was in that category of people with mental illness that we should be afraid of shooting up schools. I had just put it out into the world that I struggled with mental health, and now many of our leaders were blaming what happened on a sickness that I had. For me, it was a fleeting thought, only because I have worked through the shame and fear I used to have with admitting my struggles. I know that sometimes it can be a cause of violence, but also know that it is very rare. But I can promise you that there are many more people out there, nonviolent people, who are now even more determined to hide who they are out of fear of what others will think of them. There are people out there who are now more unlikely to get help because they believe, there is nothing wrong with me! I’m not like that guy who just murdered 17 people!!!! There are also people who are not going to get help because they don’t want their guns taken away from them if they are diagnosed with mental illness.

Here are some facts about mental illness and violence that need to be widely known here in the United States. They need to be understood so that we can work on solutions that are effective in preventing our children from being murdered. These facts need to be known to fight the stigma surrounded mental illness so that more people will get help when they need and so that we can have a healthy society all around. They need to be known so that when we send our kids to school in the morning, we don’t have to fear for their safety.

Did you know that overall those with mental illness only account for 1% homicides by guns? 

Did you know that those with serious mental illness are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than the overall U.S. population?

Did you know that People with mental illness are far more likely to harm THEMSELVES through gun violence (suicide) than harm others?

Did you know that the most prominent predictors of a mass shooting are domestic violence, substance abuse, and being male, not mental illness?

So what can we learn from all this? That most people with serious mental illness are never violent. There “are small subgroups of persons with serious mental illness are at increased risk of violence during certain high-risk periods, such as during a first-episode of psychosis and the period surrounding inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.” However, these instances are rare. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US experience mental illness in a given year. That is roughly 43.8 million people! These people, myself included, need better health care, more understanding, and to live in a society where they are unashamed to ask for help and speak up when they need it.

We also need to switch the narrative when discussing preventing gun violence to solutions that are effective and will be able to save our children. We need to focus on facts and look at other nations that have done better in this fight. We need to listen to the parents of the children who have died, and the victims that have survived. I do not have a simple answer, but I do know that we have to do something. So let’s make sure what we are doing will keep our children from being murdered in school! There are three organizations that I follow that are doing the hard and necessary work to prevent gun violence in school, and I encourage to support them. Sandy Hook Promise is a national non-profit started by families who lost loved ones in the horrendous school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Everytown is formed by Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities, and at the heart of it is Moms Demand Action. Americans For Responsible Solutions was created by Gabby Giffords after she was critically injured while meeting with constituents in her hometown of Tucson. Read their stories, support their campaigns, and donate so that we will not have to live in fear.

To the victims of the shooting in Florida, I am so sorry I didn’t do more before now. To the grieving teachers, coaches, children and all of their loved ones. I grieve with you. I am so incredibly sorry that your beloveds were taken away. We will not forget them.

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
Scott Beigel, 35
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14
Nicholas Dworet, 17
Aaron Feis, 37
Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Chris Hixon, 49
Luke Hoyer, 15
Cara Loughran, 14
Gina Montalto, 14
Joaquin Oliver, 17
Alaina Petty, 14
Meadow Pollack, 18
Helena Ramsay, 17
Alex Schachter, 14
Carmen Schentrup, 16
Peter Wang, 15

With love,

Whitney Leigh Carlson


Anxiety, Insecurities, and Finding Hope Through Community

February 14, 2018

“Even the battered and bruised have a light inside them that can help others find their way home.” -Whitney Leigh Carlson


Have you had a day like this before? Your anxiety spikes and all of your insecurities come to the surface. Your mind ruminates on the past, the decisions you’ve made, and the ones that still need to be made. You berate yourself for your mistakes, and a voice creeps in that tells you that you are unworthy, and even sometimes unlovable. Maybe you can’t get out of bed because your anxiety or depression feels so intense and real that you can’t face the world. Perhaps everything is going well in your life right now, and you are confused with why you can’t seem to shake this. And maybe you know exactly why you feel like this, and you wish things could change.

This was me the other day. It was beautiful out even though the temperatures are still in the teens here in Minnesota. The sun was shining, and I was able to spend the day with my family. I knew I should be thankful and happy, but still, my chest was tight, and I wanted to lock myself in my room and cry. It was exhausting to get through the day with a smile on my face, but I did it, and thankfully slept soundly that night with a brighter morning.

I have had days, weeks, months, and even years like this through my entire life. As a child, I suffered from a severe anxiety disorder that landed me in a mental hospital when I was 9. At the time no one talked about mental illness, and along with my anxiety, I developed an intense sense of shame. After years of hard work, the anxiety is not the defining aspect of my life anymore, but it is still there and most likely always will be. I had gone through periods in my life when it was just a distant memory, and times when it overcame me again. Sometimes it has come out of the blue, and at others, it has been related to life events, such as marriage, having a child, and the change of a career.

Since being on this journey for so long, I have come to realize that so many women can relate to what I have gone through and continue to. For some, it is through the anxieties and fears that come with being a mother, a spouse, a friend, or even the expectations placed on us as women. It has come from a culture that often wants us to be perfect and happy in all we do, and media that consistently feeds us images to compare our lives to. For some, it is a mental illness, like mine, and we are ashamed to admit to it. We’ve been told we are broken, or odd, or that we should just get over it somehow. And for some, it has stemmed out of being hurt and abused by others, in a place we should feel safe such as home or the church.

In this blog I will be sharing more of my journey with you from the time when I was a child living in a mental hospital, to now as a mom, wife, artist and Christ follower with often more questions than answers. I will be sharing openly and honestly about my struggles with anxiety and depression, the stresses of being a mom, and my many failures that have often come before some of the happiest times in my life. I’ll share what I continue to learn about accepting myself as a strong woman after believing my calling in life was to be meek and mild, and my continuing journey of faith that “religion” often got in the way of.

Along with this, I will be sharing some of the many ways that I have found healing and hope over the years. As you can tell from above, I do not have everything together, and I know I never will (it has taken me years to accept this!). I have learned so many beautiful lessons that continue to teach me how to love who I am and see the joy that is around me now. One of the most incredible gifts that I have learned to use to heal is the gift of art and creating. I often use photography for expression, and I will be sharing not only some of the work that I produce but how you too can find a voice through the creative process.

If you have read something here that sounds familiar to you, I invite you to join me here. I want to hear your experiences and create a community where we can stumble forward together. I know some of you may not be in a place to share yet and my hope for you is that even just listening can help you feel not as alone.

I have been going through a beautiful book and class called Journey to Freedom by Scott Reall. Today’s section reminded me of why I have had the pull on my heart to share my journey with anxiety and depression, and why I am drawn to those who share their painful stories as well. “It’s so freeing to hear that other people struggle, too. We realize that we aren’t alone- and that’s universality. We begin to open up and feel hope. We feel a sense of companionship and community with others. We’re in this together.”

With much love and welcome,

Whitney Leigh Carlson