These Eerie Photos Will Hit Close to Home If You've Ever Had Anxiety

March 28th 2016

Lucy Tiven

Depression and anxiety can be difficult to visualize for those who haven't experienced mental illness. Photographer Katie Joy Crawford, 23, translated her decade-long struggle with an anxiety disorder into a series of stark self-portrait photographs titled "My Anxious Heart."

Crawford's images explore anxiety as manifest in individual sensations. She described each image in greater detail on her website for the project. Below a self-portrait of the artist cloaked in saran wrap (above), Crawford wrote:

"they keep telling me to breathe. i can feel my chest moving up and down. up and down. up and down. but why does it feel like i’m suffocating? i hold my hand under my nose, making sure there is air. i still can’t breathe."

She also tackled the paradoxical, numb sensation caused by her anxiety.

Crawford chose the self-portrait format because it allowed her to explore suffering from anxiety while feeling responsible for it. "As I have carried anxiety for the majority of my life, I’ve chosen to photographically depict this battle and its constant presence. Since it is within my own mind where anxiety is born, I have decided to interpret my roles as both instigator and victim through self portraiture," she wrote. Crawford conveyed this trapped sensation in a stark image of a cloud emerging from and surrounding her brain.

Alongside an image of herself under water, she described, "my head is filling with helium. focus is fading. such a small decision to make. such an easy question to answer. my mind isn’t letting me. it’s like a thousands circuits are all crossing at once."

The artist also personified her experience as deep physical cuts. She wrote:

"cuts so deep it’s like they’re never going to heal. pain so real, it’s almost unbearable. i’ve become this… this cut, this wound. all i know is this same pain; sharp breath, empty eyes, shaky hands. if it’s so painful, why let it continue? unless… maybe it’s all that you know."

Crawford returned to the idea of herself as both the source of her anxiety and its victim throughout the project. Alongside an image of herself caged within her brain, she stated,

"you were created for me and by me. you were created for my seclusion. you were created by venomous defense. you are made of fear and lies. fear of unrequited promises and losing trust so seldom given. you've been forming my entire life. stronger and stronger."

The stigma of mental illness

As ATTN: has previously reported, more than 40 million adults in America struggle with anxiety disorders, which are the most common mental illnesses in the country. But the mental health stigma often dissuades individuals from seeking treatment for anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.

Recently, public figures have spoken out about the stigma and championed the value of speaking openly about mental health. In February, First Lady Michelle Obama wrote a piece on the Huffington Post explaining that those who live with mental illness shouldn't have to suffer in silence.

Michelle Obama speaks at Tuskegee University

"Whether an illness affects your heart, your arm or your brain, it's still an illness, and there shouldn't be any distinction," she wrote.

Obama added, "[G]etting help isn't a sign of weakness - it's a sign of strength - and we should ensure that people can get the treatment they need."

Prince Harry also spoke about the importance of overcoming the mental health taboo during a March appearance on Good Morning America.


"Psychological illnesses can be fixed if sorted out early enough," he said. "We’ve got to keep the issue at the forefront of people’s minds. The simplest of things. Just talking about it makes all the difference."

Other artists are exposing the reality of living with anxiety in their work.

As ATTN: has previously reported, illustrator Gemma Correll used a series of humorous illustrations to explain how anxiety impacts day-to-day life in "The Worrier's Guide To Life."


In 2015, poet Melissa Broder came out as the voice behind the anonymous viral Twitter account @sosadtoday to Rolling Stone, and has penned a Vice column and forthcoming book of essays poignantly detailing her struggle with anxiety and depression. Broder uses humor to tackle the everyday experience of anxiety disorders and reach out to others who suffer from them.

"The bottom line for me is: "Is anyone else a little freaked out about the fact that we're alive?"" the author and Twitter celebrity told New York Magazine.

She explained:

"And when my anxiety's at its worst, the place it goes is like, "How are people not freaking out?" It's not a dejected sort of "Why bother?" but more of a terrified "Why bother?" What is all of this? I'm like, "How are all of you not obsessed about this, and you're just going about your lives?""

Crawford also hopes her work will inspire and resonate with others living with anxiety. "I hope it can be a source of healing for others as it has been for me," she wrote.

You can view all of "My Anxious Heart" and the artist's statement on her website.

[h/t Buzzfeed]