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We asked Jacqui to share her personal experience with agoraphobia and severe anxiety, she wrote the following:
For most of my life I have lived with severe anxiety. I experienced my first panic attack in my early 20’s and it was a really scary time. Nobody was talking about anxiety and panic attacks back then, so I didn’t know what was happening to me. At times I thought I was dying. For many years I was confused and unsure about what was happening to me. It was only eight years ago that I was diagnosed with agoraphobia. Commonly described as a fear of closed rooms or enclosed public spaces, agoraphobia can be extremely debilitating. On a tough day, it’s hard for me to journey far from home and simple tasks like walking the dog or heading to the local supermarket can be extremely difficult. These are activities that most people take for granted.
Almost two years ago, after closing down a business I had run for over a decade, I lost confidence in myself, and my agoraphobia worsened. I wasn’t ready to face the world but I knew I needed a creative outlet to help keep the negative thoughts away.
My desire to travel the world and intense fear of actually doing so, led me to start exploring online. I found a surprising and unique refuge in the creative possibilities of Google Street View. I began clicking through Google Maps to navigate to faraway countries like Mongolia, Senegal, and Chile. I found remote towns and dusty landscapes, vibrant architectural gems, and anonymous people, all frozen in time. I was intrigued by the strange and expansive parallel universe of Street View, and took screen shots to capture and preserve its hidden, magical realms.
I realized that Google’s billions of existing photographs, captured for functional purposes, were ripe for creativity. When framed and angled with care, they could be as beautiful and emotional as traditional photography. Over a span of a year and a half I have taken over 27,000 screen grabs, yet just over 200 have made the cut.
I started to upload my images to Instagram and it is here where I found a supportive community of both creatives and other people that share similar struggles with mental health and anxiety disorders. I receive messages daily from people that want to share their own stories with me.
Even though I have been exploring the world from home, it’s actually making me more willing to push through my fears. It’s been an unexpected journey, all of a sudden people from all around the world are contacting me discussing their personal fears and stories.
Eager to travel outside of my comfort zone, I was offered the opportunity to have a solo exhibition in SoHo, New York. The Agoraphobic Traveller exhibition showcases a series of my favourite images as part of a conceptual installation as well as a series of 360 experiences that help explain my process. On my opening night, hundreds of people turned up to show their support and many were from my Instagram community. It was a night I’ll never forget.
I’m really hoping my journey will help encourage others to not only open up and talk about their mental health struggles but to also look for ways to help get through the tough moments, even though it may seem impossible at times. If you had told me two years ago, while I was at home struggling to get through every day, that I would be having a solo exhibition in New York City, I would never have believed you.
If you want to say hi or have a chat, follow me at Instagram @streetview.portraits
Image Google Street View © 2017
Jacqui is a champion for Time to Change, a growing movement of people changing how we all think and act about mental health problems.
Teen Mental Health Organization offers excellent resources for learning about, living with, or caring for mental illness.
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