Photography has therapeutic benefits that can provide catharsis for those who need it. Brighton based artist, Yvonne J Foster has used photography as an important emotional release. As someone living with depression, her self-portraits enable self-love and care. In support of International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, Yvonne shares her story with us.
You could say that running out of printer ink saved me from a suicide attempt, but I’m not one to ponder on what might have been.
Over the past few years I have learnt that I am a storyteller, one who uses images rather than words, because words alone are not sufficient to explain the variety and range of my emotions.
For example, there isn’t a word to explain what it feels like to be suicidal; and there certainly aren’t words to describe the bizarre and somewhat comical moment when you run out of ink while attempting to print your suicide note.
During the period of my self-destruction I became unstoppably creative and began to make what I (now) affectionately call my ‘Misery Work’, spilling out my emotions by altering and scribbling all over photographs.
Verbal language had become defunct: everything was dark and visceral and there was no way to express what I was feeling and experiencing. I was left with a screaming need to expel the emotional poison inside me, so that others could begin to comprehend.
This is where art surpasses language, my self-destruction had become desperate self-expression and the urge to create had overwhelmed the need to destroy.
There was no way of knowing then that this would be the gateway to my salvation, from a cry for understanding to the path of a new future.
My suicide note wasn’t words, it was pictures, a series of harrowing images that I have now put into a book.
When one arrives at a place where brain and body are screaming at you to end your life, and you don’t, the screaming does not abate. Instead, the harsh reality is that you have to keep on feeling like this and get help.
It’s not important to know in my story what all the causes were, (there were many), but it is important to know that this can happen to anybody and we’re not equipped to deal with it.
It was just luck that, time and again, something deep inside intervened to save me; an innate human fight for life that battled the yearning for eternal sleep.
I don’t know why I started photographing myself at the moments of the most extreme emotional pain. It wasn’t something I was taught, or a clever strategy offered in counselling.
Using photography changed the distance and perspective of my suffering, from something I experienced directly to something happening to a different ‘me’. I could see this person was suffering and needed to be looked after and loved. Out of this grew empathy, nurture and self-care.
I could capture moments of pure emotion. The face of grief, a look of anger, rage and sorrow. Images that said so much more than I could have conveyed in words. No longer needing to find just the right words made it easier to connect with others. The images did my talking and from these sprang conversations.
It was the beginning of my storytelling, a way of depicting the landscape of my existence that I could share.
The story of my life continues with each piece of work I create. I can now face my darkest moments, create work around them and slowly begin to transform, reinvent and emerge into a better place.
Creating keeps at bay the want to self-destruct.
Are you dealing with the effects of suicide, concerned about somebody else or feel suicidal yourself? You are not alone. There is help available. The Grassroots Suicide Prevention resource provides information and links to online and in person help.
Featured image: © Yvonne J Foster, the ‘Inside’ publication