PTSD and Art Therapy

by Ronni Knepp

Military and PTSD , 2014 by Ronni Knepp

Military and PTSD, 2014 by Ronni Knepp

This week has been a rough one for me.  Without going into a ton of personal details, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2010 while I was in the military.  At the same time, I was also diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression (yes there are differences).  Most of the time, thanks to therapy, family, close friends, and even – dare I say – school, I come across and act like any other “normal” person.  Even on a bad day, most of the time it goes nearly unnoticed except to those that are close to me and are able to tell by my behavior that it’s not a good day.  But I trudge along and the next morning I try it all over again, hoping for a slightly better outcome.  Unfortunately this week has not been one of those times where I was able to wake up and be “ok,” for lack of a better term.  For someone who thrives on learning new things in Photography and continuously pushing myself to do better and encourage/inspire more people to do the same, I have wanted to quit.  And it’s a scary thing.  My therapist was even shocked yesterday because I didn’t quit after my husband died my second semester into my AA and I didn’t quit after my sister died the week of finals, halfway through my BFA.  But this week, something has just been different.  Of course, thanks to my support network, I’m not allowed to quit so here I am, writing this blog post for a class assignment like it’s any other day.  But instead of writing on something like the male-gaze as I did last week, I’m writing on something that I know and deal with every single day – PTSD.

The majority of my photography concepts center around PTSD, the symptoms of it, some of the things I’ve gone through that created the PTSD, etc.  And even if it is not directly correlated into the concept, the affects of my PTSD still shows in my photographic style.  I try to use the medium as a way to work through my issues, like art therapy.  But more often then not, I end up just stuck in an endless circle in my brain of how crappy it is to live with this every single day, 24/7, 365 days a year for 7+ years now… but who’s counting?  So for the sake of this post, I decided to do a search for other photographers that have worked with the concept of PTSD.  I know they are out there, I know I’m not the ONLY one (shoot I know of a few classmates as well) but the ever too present idea of being “alone” even branches into my work and I needed to see who else is out there trying to make a difference.  And that’s when I stumbled across this gentleman, Devin Mitchell, who’s creating work that shows the duality of military/veteran life along with the civilian (or personal) lives of various Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors. 

25 , by Devin Mitchell

25, by Devin Mitchell

In the Veteran Vision Project, Mitchell shows the Veterans (and I say that as all-encompassing of active, retired, and veteran personnel) in their military uniforms as well as in their civilian clothes representing who they are and also who they are.  Some of the images are fairly tame, including things like hobbies and families.  Others show amputees, women being silenced, and alternative lifestyles that would likely be ridiculed in the military.  With nearly 350 images and going, Mitchell is now starting a second book showing the work and also puts the images with the stories of the Veterans on Facebook and Instagram.  The photographs give these men and women a voice that they are more than just a military member.  According to an interview with Buzzfeed, Mitchell states:

"There are two sides to this series," Mitchell said. "It spreads awareness about the veteran community, the challenges they face during reintegration into society. But it also works as a therapy for the subjects. ... It makes visible what they feel."

"From the beginning of the project, it was my mission to let veterans say whatever they want through my photographs," Mitchell told BuzzFeed News. "Many people who do projects on veterans only want to take a particular angle. I want to explore all of the issues, all of the darkness."

136 , by Devin Mitchell

136, by Devin Mitchell

287 , by Devin Mitchell

287, by Devin Mitchell

Now, for me, I can relate both to the Veterans in the photographs as well as to Mitchell whose aim is to show all the different sides of being military.  But I also know that there are people outside of the military who also suffer from PTSD.  This project is equally as applicable to them, because when it comes down to it, PTSD does not discriminate whom it targets and we are all equal.  We all suffer those bad days and feel like we’re wearing a mask to hide the pain from the general public.  We all live with this duality in our lives, regardless of our traumas that got us to this point.  The project is not only therapeutic for the Veterans modeling in the photos, but also for those of us viewing the images.  It shows us that we are not alone, regardless of how we may feel, and gives a bit of encouragement that we can still keep going.  As one of the Veteran’s stated in the Buzzfeed article, I also don’t want to be another statistic of military suicide.

139 , by Devin Mitchell

139, by Devin Mitchell

So with that in mind, I’ll keep trudging along and creating my work to help speak out on PTSD and hopefully help inspire others to continue to be survivors.