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


Why We Must Learn To Love Ourselves-Original

September 28, 2017

*This is the original version of the post Why We Must Learn To Love Ourselves that includes a reference to the current politics at the time of posting. While I still completely stand by this post and what I shared, and the conversation in the comments, I re-wrote it to exclude this reference. My original intent in sharing this was that women (and men) can be reminded of their true value in this world and that we learn to see the value in ALL people no matter their belief system. In including the political reference I can see how this message can turn into a debate that wasn’t intended when I wrote it. I stand by my beliefs and observations here, but also believe a lot of the hate I stand against in this world can change when we learn to love ourselves and others fully. I also encourage you to read the comments here, I believe they are an example of how good conversation from polarizing views can begin.*


I created this self-portrait several months ago and have been hesitant to share it for many reasons. I had been contemplating the idea of Imago Dei, or The Image of God for weeks. Imago Dei is a theological term that states that we are all made in the image of God. The implications of knowing this and genuinely believing it can be staggering and life-changing. To look into the eyes of someone who is different than you in every way possible, from beliefs and morals to appearance and class, and know that they reflect the image of God can turn how you see someone upside down.

As I reflected on this notion, I began to realize that for so long there was one person who I struggled with seeing God in the most. That person was me. From years of being raised and participating in a spiritual environment that considered sharing the love of God akin to convincing someone they were shameful, how I viewed myself was from an incredibly distorted lens. Rather than acknowledging, accepting, or moving forward from mistakes, or imperfections in my life, deep down I believed I was a mistake. My makeup was a mistake, my personality, my character, who I was made to be was a mistake. I was full of shame to my core.

I have spent the past 15 years slowly working my way out of this pit, through counseling, small groups, relearning what I believed about God, and a lot of self-reflection. I used to think that loving yourself was equal to self-centeredness, and often Christians bemoan the ideas of self-care or self-love and call it sinful. However, I now see these things as essential to begin to love anyone else. How can you see the worth and dignity of someone so different than you if you can’t even see it in yourself? How can you love a God and his creation if you see it as entirely flawed?

Throughout the years during my relearning, I had so many questions and doubts. I became fed up and hurt by others in a subset of Christian culture that became oppressive to me, but still held on to my faith. What ultimately kept me hanging on was seeing an open and unconditional love in the person of Jesus that I have not seen anywhere else. I also found a beautiful way to live, when taught from this base of unconditional love, through what is at the core of His teachings. What is at the core of his teachings? To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. It rolls off the tongue so easily, but to put into practice is so hard. Loving your neighbor, loving those who are different, loving your family, loving those that have done great harm. It can be incredibly hard. But we hardly talk about that last part, for many the most difficult part, the part where you love yourself. And to love others fully, and properly, you have to be able to do that. If you can’t see that you are worthy, that you are deserving, that you are made in the image of God and loved by Him, how can you find value and worth in others, especially others you don’t understand.

So I made this image. It is me, standing strong, and facing out into the world. This is me knowing that I am full of imperfections, that I’ve made mistakes, but I am loved, lovable, and worthy. This is the same person whose culture told her that she is disobeying God by having anxiety and worry. That she is not pretty. Not smart. Incapable. That she was the last person they had expected would do anything with her life. That she is too quiet and shy. That she is too opinionated and loud. That she is not good enough, and never will be. This is the same woman that had to fight to be heard in her career as a photographer. That was shown she could never teach men about God because of her gender. That when she started to use her voice, her shakey timid voice, she received screams, letters, accusations, and worse, rejection from those she loved. Most of all, this is a woman who is learning to love herself.

For some people, loving themselves comes easy. So easy in fact that they only love themselves and no one else. However, for many of us, it takes work and patience and courage to learn to love ourselves. I see this particularly in women, this struggle to know and respect our value. Over and over again, women are told, through words, actions, and media that their bodies and voices are not respected in this world. Their bodies are too much, their words too much, their anger, their sadness, their hurt, TOO MUCH.

I looked at this photo today to remind me of who I am, and that who I am has value in the world. After Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing yesterday, I felt a sense of despair in how Dr. Christine Ford was treated. How once again, a victim was guilty until proven innocent and a woman was shown that her story and voice didn’t matter. She was treated with disdain and dismissal without the world seeing the Imago Dei in her.

I’m not here to argue or debate what happened in the Senate yesterday, only to share my sadness in what I witnessed. However, with that sadness, built in me a desire to remind the women reading this that each of you have immense value and worth. If you are afraid of being who you were created to be or feel shame for who you are, know that you are loved fully and completely. That if you are afraid of being too much, remember that you are enough. That whether you are quiet, or loud, whether you are married or single, or passionate or even-keeled, you are made to be you. You don’t have to hide who you are. Your voice is essential, your body is important, you being here and a part of this crazy life is imperative.

I still struggle to see myself through a lens of love and probably always will. But I will continue to remind myself and others of the truth of our value no matter what the world says. Women, let us remember today our worth, no matter what others may say. No matter what our government says, or our abusers say, or unfortunately for many, what our churches say. If your worth and value and dignity are questioned, please know that you are listening to a lie.

I challenge you today to take an image of yourself, just for you. Don’t be afraid to stand firm and bold and be proud while you take it. Forget the naysayers and how awkward it can feel taking a self-portrait. Don’t think about the quality, this is just for you and you are in control. Look at your photo and try to see past what you consider your flaws. Look past the parts of you that you hate, that you want to change. Look beyond memories and shame that haunt you and see that there’s love and beauty there. Look at your image and say “I am made in the Image of God.” Those curves, that hair, that skin, that nose that you may hate. It is the image of God that resides in there. You are loved fully and completely. You are valuable. You are worthy. You are not a mistake.

*Let me know if you took an image of yourself today and how it made you feel, being in control. Leave a comment here or send me a message, I would love to hear from you.


Whitney Leigh Carlson

Follow me on Facebook!

Join My Email Newsletter

Prints for Purchase

Fine Art Portfolio