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June 23rd, 2022

Self Awareness, Discovery and Loss

When I decided to add a blog to my page, I had ambitions of regular updates and using this space as both a place for new photos, and to continue my journey of mental self-diagnosis. Since that attempt life has been turned upside down multiple times and finding the time to relax, let alone sit down and have time to write has been next to impossible. In the 4 months since then, there have been tears of sadness and a few mixed with joy. There has been growth, love, loss, devastation and a crushing sense of defeat.

I started therapy in February. I stopped therapy in March. I love the idea of virtual sessions because human contact, but once a month isn’t frequent enough for me to get the answers that I’m looking for; to give whatever is wrong with me a name(s) so I can further learn how to cope and maybe not hate myself as much as I do. My therapist was great and easy to talk to, but if that’s a path that I choose to stay on (and I hope I do), I need more frequency and the answers would probably come quicker with more consistent, in-person visits.

My 38th birthday was toward the middle of March, so Brittney and I took our annual drive to whatever city or town I found to explore and photograph. This year I chose Manchester and Tullahoma. We’ve been through multiple times and hiked Old Stone Fort Archeological State Park at least twice, but this drive was to find an old gas station sign that I photographed in 2019 and then just drive around and make photos. I haven’t had a birthday that great in a long time. I was able to revisit some old photos and recreate them in better conditions and with better focus & direction and I was able to do it with my best friend.

The next morning, we were awakened by the news that Brittney’s mom, Mary had unexpectedly passed. Brittney was obviously devastated and seeing how bad she hurt when she told me is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I don’t ever want to see her hurt like that again. We’re two months post and my eyes still well up everything I think about it. I’ve always prided myself on my relationship with my in-laws and not being the stereotypical partner who hates them. They loved me as their own and I look forward to every visit to Ohio. I not so secretly could see us relocating there one day. I love the area, and I love the concept of an actual working family who mostly live in close proximity who get along and want to hang out with each other.  I hate that her mom will be missing from our visits going forward. I hate that Brittney can’t call her. I hate that her family has to go on without her. With unanswered questions and unresolved emotions.

I won an award the other night in a community photography show and my first thought was to let her know. She championed my artwork and loved showing it off. During the time I was painting she acquired to different pieces that still hang on the wall. She always shared my photos and the one I received an award for was actually her last Facebook post. She loved her family and she loved bragging on them.

We left for Ohio three days later. The ride wasn’t as somber as I thought it would be but we were both tense due to lack of sleep and stress over the entire situation. Frankenstein can’t be left at home for extended periods of time so he was along for the trip, sitting in Brittney’s lap for 10 hours. Once arriving it became extremely clear to me that processing was going to be harder than I thought. I thought seeing her family in a way I’ve never experienced would make it feel real. It didn’t. I kept waiting for Mary to make an appearance and it never happened. I disappeared multiple times to quietly break down by myself, so my emotions didn’t make it harder on anyone else. I spent two afternoons by myself, driving around and taking photos. I’m happy I was able to take the opportunity to clear my head during all the chaos but still felt bad for leaving to go do it.

The next day there was a small gathering for family to say their goodbyes. Quiet and fighting back tears. Standing against the wall knowing I’m worthless in the situation because there isn’t one thing I can do to rectify it but at least hoping that would be what I needed to convince myself it was real. It wasn’t.

Mary was laying on a table, covered with a blanket and wearing a Purple Rain shirt. She looked at ease, like she was napping. As different family members came into the room and started to gather, a lot of sad tears turned into happy stories and memories being shared. People shared their goodbyes as they left and Brittney absolutely broke my heart saying “Love You, Mom” as she walked out of the room. In our 13 years together we haven’t experienced the loss of a family member, especially one as unexpected and sudden as this.

The last batch of photos I edited were from the day after we returned from Ohio. Brittney encouraged me to make stops along the way, and I did, and then had a full meltdown after accidentally deleting 20 or so raw photos from our last stop in Lexington, KY before making it home. On top of our MacBook not being able to handle the workload of my photos anymore, both USBC ports are worn out making keeping external storage connected is a scary task. We have a new computer on order that was supposed to arrive in May. We were notified that due to supply chain issues our system was on backorder and now expected at the end of June. I have a 70gig backlog of editing right now and it’s not even June 1st. It’s been hard not being able to edit while creating new work.

Fast forward to mid-June because I can’t focus on one thing long enough to complete it and my iMac showed up and as of today, I am completely caught up on my workload. It feels weird but ultimately makes we want to get back in the car and keep driving.

A trip I have repeatedly planned on put off finally happened. I went to Cave City, KY. A place I haven’t been for close to 20 years, maybe more, but long before I appreciated the scenery that I do now. I’m working on a blog post outlining that trip but it’s nowhere near being complete. What matters is that I held myself accountable and completing the trip that sparked my joy in wanting to travel and photograph these old places.

I’ve been thinking about attempting therapy again. I feel that each day I become more self-aware of my actions and mannerisms. The way I come across to people and the way I present myself. How sometimes I feel like two different people in how I act, almost like I completely mold my movements and speech to whoever is around me. I just need to give it a name. Anyone who has spent any amount of time around me can tell you that I suffer from severe anxiety and depression. Anxiety to the point that I hurt. Most human interaction sets me completely on edge. Exceptions are anything involving my art or job, excluding public speaking. A series of events that led to a series of events led to my current state of depression. These are the obvious. I need someone to sit and diagnose me and further give these things names. I have questions about borderline personality disorder. I have even more questions about adult ADHD and Autism. I have these puzzle pieces that I am desperately attempting to put together and when I do, I feel like it will finally answer a lot of questions.

I’d also like to know how absolutely nothing feels real. Absolutely nothing. Maybe a simulation theory but more of just a there is no fucking way any of this is real. I am not a living being surviving on a rock that happens to be in a certain special radius from its star to facilitate life and I’m sure as shit not stuck on that rock with religious nut jobs and MAGA lemmings who blatantly choose to ignore things like science and their flagrant racism that hides behind the guise of whatever *think* Christianity is or is supposed to be. 

I’ve also been thinking about death a lot and I’m not sure if I can explain how. I have no concept of time elapsed. I do not believe that I am 38 years old. It’s just not possible. I’m not 38 and my dog didn’t just turn 13. I’m sure things discussed earlier in this post help with the surge of thoughts but dying scares the absolute shit out of me. Fucking wild that little ol’ depressed me who spent more time that they’d like to admit thinking about the big “S” would be so terrified of death. Partially because those I choose to keep close to me are few and far between and there is no life without them. Partially because the thought of dying myself because even as an Atheist, I can’t help but wonder if when it happens if it’s lights out for good or do I wake up in an alien land watching alternate universe me absolutely suck at playing video games? As an artist I’m allowed to feel this fucking crazy, right? This means I’ll be super famous after I die. 

January 13th, 2022

Wanderlust & The Great Depression

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I would consider a substantial factor in my depression is the need to create, on my terms, and the inability to manifest this for myself despite years of working toward the same goal. Photography has always been my “go to” for creation, expression, therapy and more. I have worked in other mediums; painting, sculpting, video, illustration… but photography, being able to capture something because it meant something to me in a fleeting moment and share it with an audience and hope that maybe, just one person will see it exactly the way that I did and feel the same way. THAT’s my fucking passion.

I had, what I would call, a rapidly growing career as a music photographer back when I was living in Southern California. I often wonder how many of those opportunities came because of my position as a music buyer for a large retail chain at the time and how many of them were based on my actual talent (much like I can’t accept the fact that someone just genuinely likes what I do and wants to support me because of my talent, not because they feel bad for me or feel obligated to support me).

I was working with dozens of different record labels and clothing lines, I had full access to more or less every show/concert/event that I could dream of and worked with artists I considered my idols not years before. I had work published in magazines almost every month, had features on Buzzfeed, which was very different back then, and even had one of my photos on a giant screen in Times Square. How can I say that I was kind of a big deal in that time and place in my life without sounding like an asshole?

Toward the end of my time in California I started working with models, mostly nude or risqué in the vein of now defunct FRONT Magazine from the UK. I was adding as much diversity to my portfolio as I could and had absolutely no trouble finding models willing to roll with my weird ideas, so I continued to grow and add to my body of work.

In moving back to Tennessee, I had huge aspirations of bringing my portfolio and style of work to a new area and continuing to build myself until I could just take photos for a living. What I got instead was a severe lack of models to work with coupled with zero interest from musical artists who would rather have their brother’s sister’s girlfriend take some photos instead of paying for quality work and no responses from all record label, artist management, etc. inquiries. I had essentially left the most beautiful state in the country, fucked myself on any available and willing work and just quit. I fucking quit and walked away from taking photos and started drinking more and just got more depressed. This was back in 2013 and apart from just a handful of photos, mostly taken on film that got severely damaged, I barely photographed anything again until 2016.

With 2016 came two large changes. I got to marry Brittney, my best friend, and after years of going without, I got my license back (another long drawn-out story for another time). With both of my “pro” cameras being either broken or obsolete at this point, I purchased what I could afford, a Canon Powershot, which with over time, I was able to manipulate the settings on to replicate manual settings on a DSLR, letting me take full advantage of what I had. While I still wasn’t in possession of a car, relying on rentals and borrowing family vehicles gave an opportunity to be mobile, at least occasionally and I began the framework of my current style.

Between late 2016 and early 2018 we racked up more credit card debt than I’d like to admit by travelling all around the area. We had been immobilized for so long that we had an entire new world to go explore so we would go out of town for a night or two what seemed like every month. While these trips weren’t necessarily centered around me taking photos, I always got my fair share. Every trip and every photo helped to continue developing my “look”.

In February of 2018 we were able to purchase a car, and this changed everything. A rare treat of being able to go out shooting became weekly drives along backroads looking for anything that caught my eye enough to pull over. I became a pro at weaving in and out of traffic, both in a vehicle and on foot, to get a shot. I became drawn to old signs, architecture, unique landscapes, and a lot of things that most people would normally pass over, if they stop to look at all.

I began to show my art in public for the first time since CA and I partnered with the Murfreesboro Art Crawl’s bimonthly events. I loved showing my art in public because the simplicity, colors or oftentimes nostalgic value attracts viewers and conversation, but my style of work is also an acquired taste and not something that many of these viewers didn’t want to take home and display on their walls, leaving me with hundreds of dollars spent on prints and framing that are now sitting in a storage unit not being seen by anyone. Nevertheless, I continued to show my art and attract viewers. I started doing more events at different venues and making a name for myself within the community. My unique style even found a permanent home at a local St. Thomas Hospital center where I was severely underpaid for 3 of my images to be displayed, but paid, nonetheless.

With some print sales and money saved and hustled, I was finally able to upgrade back to an DSLR which removed any limitations I was previously facing. When I was shooting music, my dream camera was monetarily out of reach, but 15 years later, extremely affordable on eBay. Coupled with a 2ndhand lens that’s just as old, I was able to take full control over the photos I was creating. I’ve always said that the camera doesn’t make the photographer, and with technological advances in smartphones and other devices with image capture it stands truer than ever, but I always had that jealousy in the pit of my stomach for these new photographers on the scene whose parents just bought them the latest model body and lenses on the market, yet they have no fucking clue what they are doing. Looking back now I should have been proud of the feats I accomplished with my out-of-date equipment at the time. Now I am just happy to have a working camera and the ability to photograph what’s around me. That being said, I have the constant stress of something happening to my camera or lens because I have no backup and would not be able to replace them for some time if something were to happen. Even worse is the bottom of the line, cheapest we could get MacBook is beginning to struggle with processing my work load on top of other, outside processes it normally handles.

I took this time and opportunity to continue developing my style and finding new ways to see things. I wasted more money on prints and framing but pushed myself and was doing events every couple of weeks. My work was starting to get recognized and I finally thought I was heading where I wanted to be and then things started getting weird and my events began getting cancelled and then we all know the story of 2020. I did a lot of things in 2020 that I wish I never would have, but I also did a lot of things in 2020 that I’m extremely proud of. 2020 brought a lot of stress, heightened anxiety, and worsened depression alongside a burst of creativity that I haven’t been able to escape since, at least mentally.

Ever since my photography turned from music and nudes to roadside attractions, signs, and architecture, I began planning extensive photo trips, down to the places I’d sleep, total costs, mileage, etc. For a brief moment in my head, it makes sense and sounds achievable. Like something I can sell prints and crowdsource. I plan. I fail.

I make up these insane, dream like scenarios and become gutted when they never come to fruition. If I close my eyes hard enough sometimes, I can really pretend that I’m there. That things are different.

I’ve planned trips for Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, the California coastline, National Parks and everywhere in between with the ultimate dream of driving Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica. All these meticulous plans I’ve invested time in have just been thrown away because the reality always sets in that it’s just not going to happen. I will lie in bed in the mornings and bawl my eyes out over this and I feel pathetic because I never should have gotten excited about it in the first place. It’s a stupid dream that I need to quit chasing. Not like I’m going to stop taking photos or anything, I just need to come to terms with the fact that I’m probably never going to see and photograph the places I want to see before I die. Most recently, I just wanted to go spend two days photographing Cave City, KY. Mainly Mammoth Cave National Park and all the amazing, kitschy, tourist trap attractions surrounding it and I can’t even pull that off. Another trashed plan, always out of reach.

A lot of these trips have a common theme of the desert, something I should have spent a lot more time in while living in CA. I ventured out to Menifee and Temecula, but never as far as I wanted. I’ve driven through New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas. I’ve travelled all around the country but at a time in my life where I didn’t appreciate the things I stop to photograph now. I get angry with myself for being so wrapped up in being a music photographer that I failed to see everything else around me. I know that I would capture it completely different then, and in a way that I would absolutely despise now. The desert though, I don’t know why I’m drawn to it so much. It’s a magical fucking place and it lures me like a siren. So many trips planned. So many plans thrown away.

I didn’t shoot much last year. 2021 was a year of growth for Bats Breath, the small business my wife runs. We work great as a team, but we pushed ourselves to the absolute limit last year so as we grew the business, I didn’t have much time for taking photos and neither of us took any time for us. I didn’t realize it at the time but taking that time away from shooting affected me more than I initially thought and going into 2022, we’re not only making it a point to slow down but ensuring that I have time to go find new places and things to photograph locally. I’ve already taken more photos this year than I took all last year, so I feel that I’m off to a good start, but the need to go and photograph all of these places that I dream about and inability to do so absolutely crushes me inside. I want to share my art with the world. I want everyone to see it like I see it but it’s something I’ll only ever see through someone else’s eyes.

January 3rd, 2022

Introduction

Image of a long concrete pier stretching out into Lake Erie. In the middle of the pier are lights to illuminate the concrete flooring at night. People are scattered throughout the length of the pier taking in the view of the lake.ALT

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I’ve sat down and tried to write this countless times and countless times I’ve been left with nothing more than a jumbled mess of random words littered on the page. I feel that if I’m able to keep up with it then it could have some value to me; something to help me better understand. I keep telling myself that this time will be different, but the very answers I strive for are the ones I purposely and subconsciously find anything else to occupy my time with. I would consider this to be the collective 6th worst year for me and at this point, all I feel I know anymore is defeat.

Each time that I’ve sat down and attempted to get these words out, I ended up walking away because telling these stories in chronological order was the only way that made sense and I couldn’t make my brain stop jumping to different time periods in my life. As each attempt before this one, I’m sure this will end up a jumbled mess. I’m sorry if you have a hard time following along if you choose to.

Instead of working chronologically, I’ve decided to write whatever I feel like. This story is one that will tell itself over time.

Seeing as though my art has always been an escape for me and even more so, an incredible therapeutic outlet, I find it appropriate to combine these words alongside my photographs. Photography has been a passion of mine for most of my life and even though I’ve walked away from it a few times, have always found my way back. When I get inspired, I start seeing the world in intersecting lines and different hues and I know that doesn’t make sense to you, but I can at least show you what I’m seeing, the way I’m seeing it.

So..I guess we’ll start here. I’m Mike. I’m 37 years old. I suffer from severe depression and anxiety amongst other problems that I am working toward identifying. At this point, I’m searching for a diagnosis more than a cure. In 2015 I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease (you can learn more HERE) which causes a ton of inner ear problems for me, including unbearable bouts of vertigo. The kind of dizziness that I feel most don’t comprehend, and due to this disease, most medication with a side effect of dizziness will fuck me up. Unfortunately, a lot of medications prescribed for mental illnesses come with this side effect and will send me on a vertigo ride that I would rather die than experience again.

For now, I utilize the outlets that I currently have available which are staying both as busy, and as high as I possibly can. Weed’s been the one medication that has helped me and of course, living in a red state makes it incredibly difficult to come by at times. My states leadership is too busy working to take rights away from women while conspiring with their KKK friends and family to ever make a positive change here that benefits anyone other than wealthy white men, even though legalizing even medicinal marijuana here would have countless monetary benefits for the state.

The current political environment has a lot to do with my current mental state, but I don’t think we’re there quite yet. For me, this is more of in intro to see what route is going to work best for me and what direction will be most fluid in getting my thoughts outside of my head. Again, as much as I would love to make this chronological and easy to follow, it more than likely won’t be. What it is though is something I’ve been needing to do for a long time. Me, as open and unabridged as I can allow myself to be. These are the things that shaped me into who I am today and how I see the world.