Swimming Against the Tide

Photographs and words by Kirsty Logan

Artist Statement:

In March 2017 I sustained an injury training for the London marathon.  It was devastating. Running for me was not only an activity that gave me my running family and the chance to socialise, it was also the activity that ensured I was taking care of my mental health. When this outlet was taken away from me, I not only had to cope with the physical effects of the injury, but also a disease I did not know I was struggling with (Rheumatoid Arthritis), this resulted in a noticeable decline in the condition of my mental state.

This project is a representation of the journey I have taken in search of mental and physical recovery, and the difficulties I have faced along the way. This is presented through the images that I have taken but equally important are the diary entries that go hand in hand with each image to contextualise the feelings and emotions I was experiencing. Del Loewenthal in the book Phototherapy and therapeutic photography in a digital age, included the work of Mike Simmons, who explored “a creative photographic approach: interpretation and healing through creative practice” (Loewenthal, 2013) after reading this case study I can see how I use photography as a way to translate my personal experience to others, assisting me with another vocabulary to explain my background.

During my recovery I took walks in an attempt to cope during the process of diagnosis and treatment, which had a therapeutic value. Many of these walks took place at the coast and this became the focus of my imagery due to the many connotations water holds. There are peaks and troughs, highs and lows, rough and calm and this reflects the pattern of mental health problems. Mental Health issues are not always predictable – symptoms can appear and disappear, ebb and flow just like the tide so to me it felt natural that water is my metaphor. Depth of water was an area that I wanted to explore as not only can it be used to talk about the depths of emotion that an individual can feel, a common phrase when people are having a difficult time is to say that they feel out of their depth. Unless you enter water, you cannot judge by the surface of the water what is happening below the surface. I link this to Mental Health, as without speaking to someone you can never know what is happening inside their mind. This is why I decided the diary entries were so important to the final piece, as without them my audience would not be able to see within my thoughts to see the relevance of the imagery or why I had used water to explain these feelings.

This was where Roni Horn’s Another Water came to be significant in my research, as it also needs to be acknowledged that bodies of water are often places people go to end their lives when life just seems too overwhelming to carry on anymore. I didn’t want my audience to only be able to focus on the negative feelings as this project is about a process of recovery. It is important to acknowledge that there are good days and water was also integral to this. Many people including myself find the sound of water, whether that be waves lapping or streams trickling to be soothing. Water is also recommended by professionals for its therapeutic benefits, many can find water cleansing, to wash away their problems, and individuals like me who suffer with joint problems are encouraged to exercise in the water to take pressure away from our bodies, to provide relief and assist in recovery. This can also be linked to ceremonies involving water, individuals get blessed and baptised using water and also believe miracles occur, like those who make pilgrimages to Lourdes.

My project is titled Swimming Against the Tide. I chose this title as not only does it lead directly to my subject matter but I felt that it is an introduction to how I think the battle with mental health feels. Sometimes you are guided gently by the water, other days you feel defeated, like being hit by crashing waves. Other days life can just seem a struggle, you can’t move anywhere, like attempting to swim against the flow of the water constantly meeting barriers that stop you moving forward until the floodgates are released and you are free to once again move with the flow of the water.

It is this metaphorical approach that I feel is required to start a dialogue and let others know it is OK to talk about the struggles. Each of my images were captured in the North-East of England near my home where each shoot was designed to ensure that I had to leave the house and confront the difficulties. The North Sea was used for both the seascapes to explore the huge unlimited expanses of water and macro water pattern shots as a way to make sense of the emotions that I was experiencing.

The project outcome was presented as a pop-up exhibition and workshop in my workplace and an additional workshop showing the techniques I used. My project also had a social media presence.

4th April 2017.

So today I ended up in a moon boot, with the instruction of if I even attempted to carry on my training for the London Marathon I would be out of my mind! The Doctors are convinced the Achilles is intact but there could be a tear which explains the popping. To say that I am devastated does not even cover it. If only I could have lasted 3 more weeks.
What am I supposed to do about my charity??? I really hope no one asks for the funds back as I have no idea how I would be able to afford it!!!

23rd April 2017.

I should have been in London today.
I watched all of the coverage from start to finish, willing to see my team and more importantly my training partner, who I should have been with during the highs and the lows of the 26.2 miles. I feel cheated. I cried all day, Trying to feel positive is just not on the agenda today. I feel sorry for my loved ones having to be around me. I’m a mixture of miserable, over emotional and so angry that I let this happen.

28th April 2017

Today was my first physio session. To say it went badly would be an understatement. My leg is in such a bad state he could barely touch it. The pain is exhausting to the point where I just cried throughout the treatment. He is hopeful that it will get better with time, but he is not able to put a timeline on it. He said it would have been better if it had gone through a full dislocation instead of the partial bit it had done. I just wish I could do something. I feel useless. I can’t see my running friends as I pretty much can’t walk for longer than 10 minutes! I miss them, I miss running and being able to alleviate bad thoughts through running. Instead I feel stuck, and sad and useless.

3rd July 2017

Two months into treatment, my physio has got my leg moving again, not pain free but moving. He said I could try a run again, but only 2 lampposts in every 1k. I don’t know if it was sheer adrenaline, but I didn’t follow the rules to the letter. I over did it. I now can’t move my leg properly. Almost to the point at the very beginning. I have no one to blame but myself. Going back to the haze of the painkillers, I feel bad for not following the rules, I’ve undone the hard work we had achieved. I don’t know how I could have been so silly. then there is all the “I told you so’s”!!! They just make me feel even worse that I already did.

30th August 2017

I think I am coming to accept that my leg may not be the same again. This has been quite a good moment to have. Maybe it is just marathon training had taken up so much time that when running was taken away I hadn’t found the activity to fill the gap. So when I got accepted to study for my MA it was a shock to the system to actually still be able to do something well. I got my preliminary first batch on results from Uni today – I passed, this made me feel good. I met up with the girls from running group and went for a walk – I think I am beginning to just say it is OK with the pity looks and the “You’ll get there” comments

12th September 2017

One thing that I have learnt since I got injured, is that everyday is a battle – Its difficult to get moving in the mornings, it difficult to stay focused on what I am trying to achieve, and its difficult to see other people just getting on with their lives when in many ways I feel so limited. I have so many things that I should feel grateful for, it just seems to hard when there are so many obstacles in the way and waves of difficulty to overcome!
I attempted to run a race to try and make myself feel normal – The actual outcome was physical, mental and emotional pain. The Great North 5K is my favourite race and holds so many happy memories for me. Though my fear now is that, memories are all I am going to have now. Crossing the line I pretty much fell in to a flood of tears when meeting my marathon training partner.
I fly on holiday tomorrow, and due to the punishment that I put myself through attempting to run – I fear I may have ruined it before I even leave the ground! I can hear my physios words in my head – “I told you it was a bad idea!”

26th October 2017

Think I am going to christen 2017 the worst year ever. As if my bucket wasn’t already full of enough troubles, I have now been diagnosed with Anaemia! It just keeps getting better! I feel like I just need too lock myself up in a room and not come out, I think it might be safer that way. I now have a schedule of tests that I have to have to try and find out the reason for the anaemia – More hospital visits, my favourite. I have the urge to just disappear somewhere on my own in isolation and cry. I’ve had enough!
I feel like I am in a whirlpool, everything seems to be going wrong! My blood tests are all over the place, and they are getting worse!! My inflammatory markers are now high. No-one seems to be able to explain why this is all happening right now, though I am doing a tour of the hospitals visiting 3 different departments trying to find out what on Earth is wrong with me! This makes me panic, feel anxious I just have this lump in my throat the whole time. My heart hammers, and i’m just so tired. Days are tough and I feel like I am drowning. The only thing keeping me going is my family and Chris.

15th December 2018

I had my first Rheumatology appointment today. It is the first time a clinician has said its OK I can help you, I’m pretty sure I know what is going on. The Doctor asked all of my symptoms and said they are all connected. Turns out there might be an answer after all. He has set up a treatment plan for me. This felt like a turning point. Maybe I can do this maybe there is a way forward. I’m going to have injections into my ankle to help it heal. I can do this.

29th January 2018

I feel so confused. They injections were meant to help, they were meant to make me feel better. The actual procedure other than nearly passing out one injection to the ankle joint was bearable the injection into the plantar fascia, was like standing onto a plug and it breaking through. I’m not allowed to walk on it, but it already feels like the worst ever plantar fascitis. It burns and I feel so emotional about it.

11th May 2018

I started doing the couch to 5k last week, and the sessions are going well. I can’t explain how good it feels to run again. My mood has improved . I’m not going to say that it is easy, because it isn’t I am really unfit – but it is freeing to lace up your trainers – I do have to be careful because I get carried away, and it is still painful so I really have to listen to what my body is telling me and back off the pace when I get the signals…. when I say pace I think a turtle could overtake me, BUT this is a massive step.

1st June 2018

I didn’t think I could get so much joy from a days work. A colleague of Chris’s said I could help out taking photos at a wedding, for some experience – I was really nervous and I could feel the anxiety in my throat but it was so good. I felt like a normal person, doing an extraordinary job, its such a privileged to be allowed into someones special day. it also made me hugely appreciative of being able to have my family and Chris around me. One of the brides had lost a lot of family, so when I went home after hearing the stories I gave everyone an extra big hug, I am so much better off than some people and I should be grateful to have most of my important people still here with me. My Grandma would have been so proud of me today.

6th June 2018

Today I received a diagnosis and knowledge that what I have been through in the last year and a half was not in my head – it is an actual condition, and all of the things that I sustained was a disease I couldn’t have done anything about – I have Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis which is the Inflammatory Arthritis Family. It explains things even before my injury – how I struggled to recover after long runs for example. It has made me less angry – as if I hadn’t got injured I could have been struggling without knowing – the anaemia can be caused by the arthritis along with the anxiety and depression. I am going to be receiving medication and support to help me. I can see hope again!

15th June 2018

Today was a bad day. We had some very sad news that my cousin had left us. I hope he found peace at last. I think when things are not expected they hit you harder. It has really put me in a spin, I also felt guilt, should I have done more/ could I have done more? I cried a lot today, it made me anxious and I could feel the bubbles in my throat. I need to stay strong and talk about my feelings. I can’t bottle it up as I want to get through the grief. I’ve been reading about mental health a lot recently, I have recognised in myself that I need to take action to improve my own state of mind. I just need to find what works for me.

1st January 2019

Yesterday was a really emotional day. I returned to my running group to support my run group leader complete a truly amazing challenge of running a half marathon a week for a whole year. I saw a lot of my running friends many of whom I haven’t seen for a very long time and I cried A LOT. Of what I missed, of who I missed and my longing to get back to them and have my running family back around me. They give me a boost – but my recent flare ups have made this difficult for me. I was so proud of the strength of them, and from my reception, when I am ready I know I still have a place with them. This made me feel vert happy and calming in reflection. Chris and I went into Newcastle and I took some photographs and this made me happy. I have found that the photography process is my calming place, no matter how much pain I am in it is something I can do and it helps.

12th January 2019

Today I went for a walk in the local woods with my Mam. I felt like a normal human. My pain was on the minimal side, and I applied the practice of mindful/contemplative photography techniques and it was a joy. I felt fully alive not just the shell I have sometimes experienced over the last couple of years. I also achieved some images I was really happy with. I can feel it getting better like when light hits water and you can see it working its way through. After a review with my consultant we can see a 25% improvement in my condition, whilst there is still a way to go and I know not everyday is going to be like this – it felt good. I am on my way back.

2nd March 2019.

I am going to be OK.
Over the last couple of months I can sense I am going to be OK, I can see the light in the sky, the sunlight on the waves the glimmering of a hopeful future. It’s been touch and go – there are things that are still going to make me overemotional – The Blue Light Choir singing “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman in Eldon Square raising money for the charity Mind was my latest example of this. I nearly cried right in the middle of the crowd – I thought of my cousin – and then I thought. I am OK, yes I am in pain, but it only proves that I am still here I am still strong and I can use my voice to help others.

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me”
This is me – The Greatest Showman – Songwriters Justin Paul/Benj Pasek

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