A Story of Drugs, Depression, and Deliverance
I had this routine… Waiting until my roommates went to bed, I’d open the box and peel out the little red pills one by one, popping them onto the counter while the oven preheated to 450. The DXM tended to curb my appetite, so I would usually try to eat something before they kicked in.
My room was small — my bed, my bookcase, and my TV. It was dark, except for the glow from whatever film I’d chosen to watch while tripping that night. The TV was muted and music came through my headphones. My body was on my bed. My mind was somewhere else, entirely.
Dextromethorphan can be a dangerously emotional drug, so reaching out to people I loved was not uncommon in this state of mind. I craved meaningful human connection. I crave enough of that sober.
I unlocked my phone and tried to focus my eyes on the screen well enough to compose a text. My fingers struggled to land on the right letters as I pushed aside the voice in my head telling me to stop.
I hit send and laid my phone back on my chest, continued listening to my Spotify playlist, and stared at the light bouncing off the ceiling. I wasn’t trying to be dramatic, although I’m sure that’s how I came off. I genuinely believed what I’d said. The odd thing was that I was okay with it. It felt right. I wasn’t suicidal, in that I wasn’t actively trying to end my own life, but I had reached the point where I wasn’t trying to prolong it either. Drugs will do that to you, and I had just taken a handful of them.
This was April, 2013. It was the bottom of a three month spiral that largely consisted of similar versions of the same night on repeat: laying motionless on my bed under the influence of various psychedelics & dissociatives while consuming visual and audible stimuli to enhance the trip. The sheer emotion of it all had become as much of an addiction as anything else, as if I got off on indulging myself in these magnified feelings of loneliness while simultaneously fostering a general apathy to do anything about it.
Listen. Here’s the thing. I’m fully aware of the fact that even being able to lie in a bed and stare at a ceiling under the influence of anything for one night, let alone three months, places me in a certain demographic. I’m a middle class white male with an entitled milennial’s mindset that, rest assured, annoys me as much as it does anyone else. It’s bullshit. I get that. But this is who I was, and where I was.
I had checked out.
I was done.
I had just completed a two year stint of living out of a duffel bag and a truck, traveling the country while selling scrap metal. I’d managed to save a decent amount of money while doing so, but three months of self pity and self destruction had left me nearly broke again. But I didn’t care that I was about to hit bottom financially, because I already had in every other sense. I didn’t see a way out, because I didn’t care to look for one. Essentially, I’d accepted the fact that this was the way my life was going to end.
I’m fairly sure that any person I was remotely close to, and probably several I barely even knew, quickly grew weary of reading the clusterfuck of ill-advised status updates, photo captions and text messages that all certainly seemed like good ideas at the time. They weren’t, of course. Nor did they make much sense.
But this particular April night, as I laid on my bed doing backstrokes through nether dimensions, my mind latched onto this morbid idea that I wouldn’t make it till morning. Whether that end would come from the drugs, or simply my heart’s unwillingness to keep beating, I didn’t know. I just closed my eyes and waited.
… And waited.
What actually happened wasn’t what I’d expected, although it rarely is when at the mercy of a trip over which you have little, if any, control. And while I hate the term vision as much as I hate the term epiphany, I’m not sure how else to describe what I experienced that night. Let’s just say that I saw something.
What I saw isn’t important. It’s as much beside the point as it is disturbingly embarrassing to recount. What’s important is that afterward, I was entirely consumed by a desperate need to visually recreate what I’d seen. Since I hadn’t wanted much of anything in several months, this sudden urge to do anything that required actual effort was a new sensation. For whatever reason, the wall that I’d built up between myself and the rest of the world had crumbled. I’d experienced something that needed to be communicated. And for once, I fell asleep knowing what I had to do.
I wanted to be an artist.
I needed to shoot. I needed to create. Not only what I’d just seen, but everything. I had started to play around with mobile photography while I’d been traveling around the country, snapping shots of windmills and oil rigs (riveting stuff), but I had honestly never considered taking it any further than posting the occasional iPhone shot on Instagram. But now, my mind flooded with images, and I needed to get them out. Yes, getting started meant depleting the rest of my savings, and I didn’t know exactly how I was going to eat after I’d done that, but none of that mattered to me at the time. What mattered, at least in retrospect, was that I was no longer apathetic about whether I existed or not.
I had checked back in.
I found it on Craigslist. A local photographer was selling his 5D Mark II. Should I have started with something cheaper? Probably. Should I have waited until I’d been straight for a few days before making any major life decisions? Definitely. But let’s recall that my logic and reasoning skills at this point in time were far from firing on all cylinders.
What quickly became clear was that I had no idea what I was doing with said camera. I lacked any real knowledge regarding how to translate what I saw in my head into a photograph, but I thought very little about that. I just shot. My camera became my best friend. It didn’t concern me that I didn’t know how to use it. I just started using it. To some extent, that’s still all I do.
There are still hard nights. I don’t mean to imply that since buying a camera, my life is overflowing with clarity and bliss, and this isn’t my way of advising anyone to crawl into a hole and get high until they figure their shit out. But since I get asked fairly frequently how I got into photography, I thought writing it down made sense. This is how it happened… for better or worse.
Being a human is weird. It’s difficult, no matter your circumstances. I had experienced something profoundly human, and in the aftermath I felt compelled to reach out — to recreate and share what I’d been through with others. It shouldn’t be surprising that once I started doing so, I saw plainly that I wasn’t alone, that others identified with the things I was feeling. We all deal with that struggle of coming to terms with existence in our own way. And I think that’s why I keep shooting… Because when I’m able to document the human experience of others, it brings a little more meaning to my own.
I’m a photographer. I have been for just over two years now. Some months have been more profitable than others. Some weeks I’ve survived on ramen noodles and the kindness of friends more than anything else. I’m still learning how to use my camera, and I’m still trying to figure out what to photograph. But I’m still here… I’m alive. I don’t know if I will be tomorrow, or next year, but I am right now. What I do know is that without my camera, I’d already be dead.