What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger : Turning Trauma Into DriveOctober 5, 2018
Today is the 5th of October and whilst it’s probably a day like any other to you, I can honestly say that this is the day my life changed.
Around the same time last year, things were looking up : I was moving into a new amazing flat, had started an exciting new job, had good prospects of traveling and things were pretty good with my friends and s.o.
Except the reality was, this new job I had high hopes for turned out to be miserable. It had its perks at times, but I quickly and bitterly realized that it wasn’t what it advertised at all and that my everyday routine was more or less that of a glorified call center employee with my bosses watching my every move, email and phone call.
I didn’t love it but, mind you, I’m not a quitter and thought of the far worse jobs I had had before that anyway. I half-arsedly convinced myself that it was just the beginning and I needed to settle in and, eventually, things would get better. I wasn’t even bad at the job either : my (harassing) calls often led to email exchanges which led to meetings with amazing people and companies.
The companies I was trying to meet were all part of the creative industries : film production, photographer agencies, special effects… Another perk of the job was that I got to spend hours everyday looking at their work and what they were doing. It was great and some of it was really impressive, but it also made me realize that a lot of the photography I was seeing wasn’t really any better than what I was doing, and I felt that given the chance I could probably produce similar results.
I’m not saying this in a condescending way, but rather with the realization that « actually, maybe my work isn’t that bad ». For the longest time (I was that creepy/annoying kid at school always lurking with a camera in hand to capture your worst moments), I knew I wanted to do photography, but I was always scared. Scared of not being good enough, of not having studied the subject (I studied Fashion Design then Styling), of not being able to make it… And so I held back and carried on with a ‘stable’ job and income.
Fast-forward to this fateful day of the 5th of October. Just like any day, I woke up, got dressed and ready (I was invited and looking forward to going to the opening of a store that night), hopped on the bus and made my way to work. After checking a few emails and the details of my day, I decided to walk to the first of the three or four meetings I had planned. The weather was beautiful and sunny but I didn’t pay much attention because I was mentally going over my meetings and what I would say.
Less than 5 minutes away from my destination, I looked right, left, and crossed the road. I never made it to the other side because after one step, I got hit by a truck.
I felt the biggest shockwave of my life going through my entire body, shielded my head with my arms with survival instinct, then things went black (well, white actually). When I came to, I first heard a lot of people around me. Slowly, I opened my eyes and noticed I was in the middle of the road. Further inspecting around, I saw blood falling down on the floor and after a few more seconds, figured it was coming from me. Everyone was talking at the same time, telling me an ambulance was coming, asking me who I was, if I knew the time and date and other indistinct chatter I couldn’t really make out from the shock.
Thanks to adrenalin, I wasn’t in pain, not yet anyway. Feverishly, I started inspecting my face with my hands, feeling lumps, wounds and cuts where there usually weren’t any. I couldn’t see myself – nor much at all as my glasses got smashed – but I could tell something was really wrong. Because someone suggested I shouldn’t move, I – of course- tried to prove everyone wrong and got up, walking away for a few meters before collapsing back to the ground.
Someone asked if I wanted anyone to be called and as I was on my way to a meeting, the first person on my mind was my boss. Not my boyfriend, parents or friends, but my boss (talk about professionalism right?). He was informed and, as I later found out, didn’t even bother telling anyone in the office.
Police came to the scene and told me I had been hit by a truck, as at this point I thought it was a cyclist. Medics arrived shortly after, asked me some more questions and helped me limp back into the ambulance parked a bit further down the road.
As the adrenalin’s effects started fading, one thing hurt far more than pain : rage. I felt stupid, guilty, and angry at myself. Somehow, the danger of the situation didn’t fully occur to me as I seemed to have a gut feeling that I would be OK. But hearing about the truck, I felt dumb : I could have been paralyzed, I could have died, and in such an avoidable manner.
I won’t talk about the hospital because that could be a whole post in itself, but long story short, after a few checks and too few painkillers, I was released and went back home.
We never realize how lucky we are to be healthy and capable until it’s taken from us. A year prior to the accident, I became really ill with pneumonia (doctors first thought I had tuberculosis as I was coughing blood) and had to spend weeks in bed, resting, preparing for my final hour. I was weak and looked like a ghost, but I could still move.
Though I got incredibly lucky after being hit by the truck as I only broke a tooth, I was disfigured at first and every inch and limb of my body was aching, feeling impossible to move. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize my face under the cuts, bruises and lumps and the most trivial things like eating, getting up or taking a shower were all excruciatingly painful.
Needless to say, this wasn’t the best time of my life. For the first 10 days, I didn’t really leave bed and spent most of my time sleeping or feeling sorry for myself. I needed something to pass the time and so I started looking at all the pictures I had taken in the past, then one day slowly started slipping out of bed to put my camera on a tripod and document my state.
We all know that life is short and could be stopped at anytime, but knowing and experiencing it are two very different things. It makes you question what’s important in life and what isn’t. Suddenly I had this sense of emergency that everything could end the next day and I wouldn’t even see it coming.
Something other than my camera’s shutter clicked on these cathartic sessions : no longer would I keep wasting my time and energy on people who didn’t deserve it, and if I died tomorrow, I might as well be doing something I loved.
I decided I was going to quit my job and start doing photography, full time. I knew I still had a bit more money coming to rely on for a month or two, and thought it was now or never. To people around me, it sounded crazy and like I probably hit my head a bit harder than the doctors anticipated.
Bare in mind, I had already been taking pictures for years and years on the side and as part of previous jobs, had a decent portfolio and some contacts I was hoping to call upon but it still wasn’t that much to go on.
Thankfully, I knew deep down that I was doing the right thing and that it was better to try and fail than to never try at all. I also made my decision and gave my resignation before anyone could convince me otherwise, and so here I was.
At first, I needed to rest and so I took some time to stay at home, mostly worked on updating my website and online presence, contacting people and planning my Instagram feed with content I would shoot in my room (of objects or myself, photoshopping the scabs away) or old pictures I already had. Looking back, they weren’t great but it was the only thing I still enjoyed doing at that time. Slowly, I started shooting for my friends Lauren Black and Hayley Menzies, who I was already sporadically working with prior to the accident, for the brand’s social media and occasionally photos. Finally I was available and able to do work I would always miss before, because at the time I could only shoot on weekends, outside of my day job.
In the first few months, jobs were scarce, winter was depressing and I often questioned whether I’d made the right decision. Recovering from the accident was already daunting in itself, but coupled with the constant worry and uncertainty of having no money and no work, it all made for a somewhat toxic situation. I will admit, I spent many hours crying and lamenting the state of my bank account and schedule.
One of my old jobs – one I actually liked – contacted me to help out a few hours for a few weeks and offered me to stay. It was tempting : it would have been for a better role than the one I had before, a better pay, no need to worry about being able to eat at the end of the month and let alone pay rent… But I knew that it took me this long to decide to do my photography, and I wasn’t gonna give up so easily, and so I politely declined.
Despite all the worrying, I could tell I must have been doing something right : more and more people were contacting me each month and I was starting to get bigger jobs with brands. But with more work came a problem I hadn’t thought of before : bad clients.
When you’re already struggling on a daily basis, it’s very demoralizing to have existing and prospective clients constantly trying to haggle on your prices, not pay you, not credit, or just generally being rude. Next time you ask a photographer their price and think it’s too expensive, think of all the work and effort that actually goes into every final picture before you try to drive down the prices and ask yourself this : would you go to a hair dresser, get the haircut and then ask to only pay half price ? No. You would do some more research, and then
a) find out this hairdresser is actually pretty good, has costs to run their business, spends the extra mile to take care of you which is reflected in their prices or
b) go to someone else who fits more your budget (but probably won’t be doing as good of a job).
As the time has progressed, things are now looking much better and although they’re not perfect, I can feel that each month is better than the previous and that, for me, is the greatest reward possible. I feel like any of my shoots is never as good as the next one and there is always something to learn (even sometimes from your mistakes)
Every week I’m amazed by the beautiful places I get to see, the wonderful people I get to meet, the exciting projects and ideas sent my way, and I feel so happy and proud that I made this decision.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I still struggle with difficult clients and/or people trying to bring me down but I get better at handling it, because I know my worth and trust in my work. And if you ever feel the same, just know this: as long as you believe in yourself. if even a truck couldn’t stop me, then nobody can.
Snippets of photography taken during my convalescence, I only took pictures of my hands as I couldn’t bear looking at myself, which I now regret.