Johnny's Story

Johnny taking a picture

In a short space of time the pillars that held my life together started to fragment. My father had health complications and a seemly never ending segment of my life faltered. But that is the natural order of things, no parent wishes to outlast their children. That was the first pillar. The second pillar shook me, I was barely out my thirties, I felt immortal and took for granted the shared experiences & memories of my friends and peers going forward through life together. That was until my close friend and confidant Lynnie received a terminal diagnosis of a particular nasty form of cancer called Gardner's Syndrome.

Photography has always been a passion for me first and foremost even when it evolved into how I made my living. I had the good fortune to spend a significant portion of my younger years in a beautiful area of the Scottish Highlands called Assynt. I quickly realised the rather expensive twee postcards on offer were doing no justice in sharing just how ruggedly beautiful the area was with my friends back home in Scotland's central belt, me and my brother quickly progressed into capturing the scenery with cheap cameras, cameras rapidly upgraded, before you knew it we had became hooked and we were budding landscape photographers chasing sunrises and sunsets all over Scotland.

Photography had become an important part of my life and more importantly an escape.

As the weight of life's problems took its toll on me and the pillars in my life tottered I sensed changes in me, I fatigued more easy, sleep became a problem, my focus and concentration became non-existent, my confidence vanished. I was never a extrovert in life but over a period of time any semblance of being outgoing had completely left the building. This unsurprisingly affected my work. I thought I could plow through this. I was wrong. Next I noticed physical symptoms, I was getting headaches, my chest would sometimes in tense situations became tight and sore.

I needed help.

After seeing my local GP and being diagnosed with anxiety and going through several options I settled on seeking help myself from a local charity called RAMH, Recovery Across Mental Health. This arrived in the form of counselling. The anxiety for now was managed. I highly recommend RAMH to anyone in Scotland.

One of my dreams and indeed a very cliche one for many of us who view life through the lens was to travel and photograph more of the world and capture more of the things I loved like the night sky and the northern lights. I had spent hours talking about this with my friend Lynnie and she had always been one of the people who encouraged me the most with my photography, with foresight of her diagnosis she made me promise to follow my dreams, get out my comfort zone and head for distant shores with my camera in tow.

Anxiety turned to grief then depression. 

The inevitable happened, the pillars fell and in the space of a few years my father passed away and my best friend Lynnie finally succumbed to cancer tragically at age 29 and what had once been managed anxiety turned to grief then depression. Nothing seemed to help. I was aimless and at the lowest ebb of my life and I was afraid to talk about it.

I remembered my promise, I strove to keep it. I set out long nights into the Scottish wilderness to shoot the stars and northern lights. I arranged a holiday to Iceland, long a dream location with its rugged landscape and isolation it reminded me of Assynt. Iceland was a salve to my soul. Other opportunities arose and soon a old highschool friend had me fundraising and taking on a charity 100 mile trek through the Namib Desert in Africa for the Michelle Henderson Cervical Cancer Trust. As a rather large Scottish man more used to the abundant Scottish rain and wind this was just a tad out of the comfort zone. Luckily for me the charity was very keen on me taking camera equipment with me. This led onto me gaining another opportunity to return to Namibia a few months later as an expedition photographer documenting two Scottish ultra runners Donnie Campbell & Dr Andrew Murray in their successful efforts to run 550 km+ while the sun was blazing 40C+ from Luderitz to Walvis Bay over some of the highest dunes in the world in the Namib Desert. Less than a year later I was in Mongolia covering another expedition that included a Burns Supper in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar and a Marathon on a frozen river in the Terelj National Park as temperatures hit as low as -40C. Add to the mix mini-adventures with my partner, friends and family to places in Scotland I had failed to either travel or do justice to including Oban & Edinburgh. I also picked up a loyal four legged friend in Murdo the Westie who in the last 4 years has kept me company on many of my local adventures.

I kept my promise, it in turn helped me confront and battle my depression by opening up.

Photography heals, it gives focus and aim, it gave me a creative output instead of silence. It provided a therapeutic personal journey that gave me chances to learn more about myself. It gave me a tremendous inspiration to go outside of my comfort zone and to join in different communities and make friends. Ultimately it gave me a voice and helped me rebuild the most important pillar I had, myself. Whether or not photography is a passion you should give it consideration as an output to help you manage and potentially beat stress, anxiety or depression.

The Milky Way above our basecamp, Namib Desert, Namibia

Dunes, Namib Desert, Namibia (Johnny Graham)


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