Think all people with mental illness are dysfunctional, unproductive members of society? Think again.
After his own experience with obsessive compulsive disorder, photographer Dan Fenstermacher set out to show the world the problem with inaccurate perceptions of mental illness. The result is an eye-opening photo series that captures the isolating nature of stigma.
"It shows that we are real people with real feelings and emotions and are not crazy, nor are we dangerous," Fenstermacher told The Huffington Post.
"I want to show people out there suffering that they are not alone and there are others who are going through the same thing and getting better," he continued. "Many people work, go to school with or pass by someone with a mental illness and they would never know it unless that person told them so."
The series features portraits of people, who, like Fenstermacher, have also dealt with the complicated nuances of mental health conditions. Erica Atreya, one of the project's participants, explained in the series how being diagnosed with OCD influenced her own self-compassion. Approximately 2.2 million American adults are affected by OCD, which is characterized by obsessive or intrusive thoughts, patterns and behaviors.
"Acceptance is key," her caption reads. "However, do not accept anything less than the love, human respect and happiness you deserve in life."
Ultimately, Fenstermacher hopes his work makes people rethink any negative notions they may have had about mental health conditions. Most importantly, he hopes his photography inspires people with illness to seek treatment and find acceptance.
"I want everyone to know that mental illness is no different than having cancer or diabetes or simply a broken arm. It is no one's fault, nor is it fake or imaginary," he said. "There is no reason to treat someone with a mental illness as lesser, weird, or different. I want everyone who is struggling to know that there is help and they can get better no matter how bad their circumstance is. Do not be ashamed by stigma or jokes."
Check out the rest of Fenstermacher's profiles and their stories below:
"As a kid, my OCD started out pretty traditional: physical rituals like tapping counting, checking. As I got older, however, it morphed to fear of illness. A headache was a brain tumor, a fever meningitis. At my worst, I was literally afraid I would bash my own head in with my hands. I guess that falls under the category of 'self-harm,' but among many other OCD thoughts, I was afraid of my own hands and often laid in bed for many hours, literally laying on top of them to protect myself." -- Ethan Smith
"I suffer with OCD in perfectionism, depression and anxiety disorder. I struggle with completing projects because I’m afraid of making mistakes and I fear my work will be seen as being poorly done. My intense fear of making the wrong decision has made me an indecisive person. Everything I do needs to be 'done right' or 'perfect' to my standards, and I always set the bar too high for myself. When I get anxious, I pick on my skin and scabs. I also become fatigued and depressed. You are not alone! For the longest time, I thought I was a crazy, neurotic, lazy, unworthy and useless person until I found out it’s a disorder and it’s possible to get help. I feel like I have wasted so much time going through life without knowing I have OCD and procrastinated on getting the help I need so I hope others can learn from my mistakes and take action to get on the path to healing as soon as possible." -- Nancy Wu
"I have struggled with OCD since I was a young child. I was embarrassed by my compulsions and did not understand what OCD was until I was 23. For many years I hid my OCD from the outside world and those around me, living without getting help. Through reaching out to Jeff Bell, an OCD activist, author, and founder of the non-profit A2A, I was able to find relief and realized that through helping others with their OCD struggle, I could help myself. I read Jeff’s books and was inspired, and when I moved to the Bay Area for graduate school at San Jose State University, I contacted Jeff and met him near his office in San Francisco. Since then I have volunteered for A2A and began making many contacts in the OCD community here in the Bay Area. When I started to feel better I wanted to give back to others who struggle with OCD, adopting Jeff’s 'Greater Good Motivation' for helping others and finding purpose in life." -- Dan Fenstermacher
"Sometime between 2008 and 2009 I faced some health challenges that put me on disability. In the beginning it was challenging to cope with life stresses and spent a majority of my time isolated in my bedroom. One day I decided to pickup some paints and pastels and started making art. Within a couple of months, I approached City Art Gallery, a local cooperative in San Francisco and they accepted me into their group. I soon channeled all my energy into creating new work and finding new outlet for my obsessive behavior. Immersing myself into my art is how manage my stress. My behavior disorder is my muse." -- Anthony Solis
"I used to create art to escape reality. I now create to share my reality. I use my art to be a voice for those who suffer from Fibromyalgia and other 'invisible' illnesses. But, I also use art to keep myself sane. My hope is to use my art to educate, enlighten and share the human experience; to reflect the suffering of those afflicted with disease, disability and mental pain. When asked how do I cope with my symptoms, unfortunately it's not a easy answer. To be honest, it's a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute struggle. I was 13 when my symptoms of OCD and anxiety truly reared their ugly heads, I spent my life since then trying to figure out how to be like others, how to be 'normal.'Wondering what it is like to just 'be,' not be 'happy,' nor 'sad,' not 'angry' or 'depressed.' No racing thoughts, no feeling of impending doom. Just be. Depression came later in life, most likely due to my ill health and still trying to be 'normal.' I hit my lowest point about five years ago and since have been reinventing myself, or maybe just finally, being myself. I don't think I'm so bad after all, but, it took me almost 40 years of life to figure that out. So my advice to others with mental illness, don't wait. Accept yourself, accept your limitations. Accept the fact you may need to be on medication or in therapy the rest of your life. That makes you no different than the diabetic that needs to take insulin. You have a sickness but you are not 'The Sickness.' Acceptance is key. However, do not accept anything less than the love, human respect and happiness you deserve in life." -- Erica Atreya
"My cat’s name is Mish-Mish. One of my ever-present OCD fears is that something will happen to him. I don’t have children. I suppose he is like my child and looms large. OCD is a disease of uncertainty and doubt. And you can’t be sure of much when it comes to a cat. They are quite independent. Most of my OCD is image-based. I imagine something bad happening to him; so much is out of my control. Although I worry about him, most of the time he comforts me and calms me down. I’m better able to cope with the fears and worries about my cat if I use my ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) tools. It’s an ongoing process." -- Mary Samson
"I am a stay at home mother of three with a passion for cooking and everything domestic. I’ve been dealing with OCD issues most of my life, some symptoms beginning as an adolescent and others appearing later into my adult life. I work hard to manage them and am learning to just ride the wave. One of the biggest symptoms of my OCD is a rare one called misophonia: bothered by certain sounds or noises. This started very young and I’ve struggled with it all my life. The other types I have are intrusive thoughts, symmetry, and orderliness. I am currently on a combo of meds that is working for me. My symptoms are manageable. I am also exercising a lot which really helps. My advice to others is to reach out and talk about your issues with OCD. Sometimes you can get locked into a train of thought and feel trapped. Reaching out and listening to others experience can be uplifting, and can also open up opportunities to treatments that you might not have considered before." -- Laura Lavadour
Also on HuffPost:
11 Quotes That Perfectly Sum Up The Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness