How photographing my daughter (8) helped me through a severe burnout
This story is about my daughter Lora. Or perhaps more about how she, unwittingly, accompanied me through a dark and wonderful episode of anxiety and depression. Where she sometimes simultaneously was the cause and the cure.
I’m a photographer from Amsterdam, Netherlands. I have been published in Harper’s Magazine, Interview, Boooooom, Vice, ZEITmagazine, Het Parool, DUMMY magazine, NRC, GUP Magazine and a few more. But this is about something much more personal…
“Papa, does everyone die?”
“Yes, sweetheart. Everyone.”
In the fall of 2013 I suddenly panicked. Just like that. And then it multiplied. Into thousands of fears, thousands of horrible events that could possibly happen. And most of those scenarios involved Lora, my then 4 year old daughter. I, or more specifically: my brain, would vividly project detailed shorter or longer horror movies of things that could happen to her. From traffic accidents to random terrorism to her simply falling fatally on her head at the playground.
Now I knew this was something most parents have. But not all day long, and not with such vivid imagery and the extreme emotions that came with that. I felt like I was living those horrors without them ever happening. Without being able to convince myself: hang on, relax, that won’t happen, you’re overreacting. Logic had no effect.
So I became that father who kept calling “Be careful!” after his daughter with every thing she was doing. Which I understood was ridiculous. Even more so because Lora was, and is, a cautious and mindful child by nature — also, she’s strong, smart and not clumsy or careless at all. She’s never fallen out of trees although she climbed many. She’s never fallen of her bike, ran foolishly into traffic or set the house on fire. Conclusion: it was me, not her. And I needed help.
Meanwhile, I was working, or trying to, as a photographer and a freelance visual designer. But I also was with Lora a lot of the time. Which to me was great… but exhausting. I suffered from immense headaches, dizziness and tiredness. I avoided friends and family and crowds, while at the same time feeling isolated, lonely and depressed. I was not the fun and friendly and active dad I wanted to be. Which gave me more stress. I felt sorry for Lora, for my wife, for my family, and for my friends who I didn’t call anymore.
At the same time, I did spent a lot of time with my wonderful, happy, funny, smart and lovely daughter. We did go places. We had fun. We went on holidays. At the same I felt horrible and not even half the person I used to be. But, still being a photographer, I brought my camera with me most of the time. And I photographed Lora. In a way that wasn’t about her. It was, of course, about me. About what I imagined being her could be like. About how I was afraid she would remember her childhood. About how lonely and dystopian being her would feel.
So photographing her was therapeutic. Necessary. But beautiful too! Slowly, and not without setbacks, I got better. I learned — an obvious lesson, as are most life lessons — that you become what you repeat. That being afraid for me had become second nature. And that confronting those fears, and repeatedly experiencing that they didn’t come true, helped. So in a way I was, perhaps, confronting my own fears by photographing Lora. By simply spending time with her. Having fun, or at least trying to have fun, and sometimes pretending to have fun. But it helped. I actually started believing the numerous people who told me, again and again, who had always told me, that I was doing fine. That Lora was doing fine. And always has been.
In 2018, the Even Firemen series was published as a photobook.
For more info and how to order your exclusive numbered & signed copy, visit my website here: www.casparclaasen.com/books.html
Thanks for reading my story.