As regular followers of this blog will know I don’t usually share the really personal stuff. It is not that kind of blog! However I think as a photographer our personal experiences, our lives, bleed into our work and for me my work is part of who I am. I don’t live to work – rather work is part of my life. Images matter because they tell stories and as a photographer my story plays out through the images I take too. So once a year I look back and review and reflect. I create one blog that looks at the images that sum up my year and one blog (this one!) that sums up my learning as a human being. So 2015 gave me these lessons.

1.Black clouds lift and you learn lessons while out in the rain.

I do not read back over my blog posts during the year. Only at this stage do I take time to glance back. I re-read Word for 2015: Be and Five things I learnt in 2014 and found myself with tears in my eyes. When I set my goals for 2015 the depression I was under, in and part of, seeps through my writing. I can see it in my words, I can even see it in some of my images. At the time I did not say ‘I am depressed’. I did not really identify with having depression, I had never struggled with mental illness before and to be honest avoided putting a label on those feelings. I did not do so because I was ashamed, rather I just did not recognise how dislocated from myself I had become. When I look back at 2014 and the early part of 2015 I was clearly not my usual self. It went beyond having gone through some rough months, though perhaps they contributed to my state of mind. In early 2015 I was left reeling and was trying to piece myself together. I began to look for ways I could invest in things that were healthy, things outside myself and my own situation. I found those things and even when I felt numb I began to reach out, beyond my black clouds. I am not thankful for my depression. I would not want to feel that lost or unreal again. What I can conclude is that I started some projects as a result of my depression that have been life-changing and life-affirming and for that I am grateful. I mention some of those projects in this blog.

2.Just ‘being’ is not as easy as it sounds. 

marathoncam (6 of 6)1

My word for the year was ‘be’. I do not find resting in God easy. I do not find it easy to sit alone with my own thoughts. I found my head space in running. I do not like running, I am not good at it (slow, clumsy and easily defeated). I found that what I did enjoy was the quiet and the peace attained while working hard. I started training for a marathon in 2014 and in 2015, in May, I defeated 26.2 miles and ran 95% of that distance. Sometimes I loathed the training but somewhere in the peaceful rhythm of feet hitting pavement I found my space to talk to God and to let God get a word in with me. I shut up. I am now not running anywhere near as much as I should be but I still crave the space the run gives me and I suspect that this hobby is one that might stick, even if marathons are not always my aim.

3. I am (wo)man – and so are you!

iamwomanIn 2015 I got to be a part of a very special little team of ‘Champions for women’s economic empowerment’ with UN Women’s Empower Women. The five of us, two based in the UK, one in Australia, one in Jamaica and one in the US worked alongside some lovely people at Empower Women (big shout out to Diana and Anna) and I am (wo)man was born. A digital storytelling project designed to raise the voices of men and women around the world for women’s economic empowerment. Ten month later into our year we have seen stories come in from all over the world – stories of transformation, stories that make us laugh and stories that make us cry. Each story has been so humbling and at the same time life-affirming. It has been such a pleasure to be a part of this. Aside from this project being professionally fulfilling the team I have had the pleasure of working with have become true friends. I have only met two of these people in person and yet they have all been my mentors, my teachers, my inspiration and a source of strength in 2015. An amazing team to have been part of.

4. Sometimes it is good to go back

Thanks Purple Flame Media for the image: Me working in India with All We Can

Thanks Purple Flame Media for the image: Me working in India with All We Can

I have returned to things and places a lot this year. I had always thought that going back to work for an organisation I had previously left would be both weird and unlikely! When you shut a door and all that… Anyway, that is a load of rubbish. This year, firstly as a freelancer and then as a full-timer, I returned to a charity I used to work for. It had changed a lot, new brand, new name, new focus, new staff and yet it felt like coming home. Working for All We Can is special. I believe in the work we do and I love my job role. More than that I know that God has put me back in that organisation with a purpose for my life. Meeting partners in India, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and the Philippines in 2015 was very special. Being where I am meant to be even better.

Getting to share in someone else's story is a privilege. Getting to live a bit of that story with them is an honour. Travelling with crab fishermen in Guiuan, The Philippines for All We Can.

Travelling with crab fishermen in Guiuan, The Philippines for All We Can.

I have also returned to places and those returns were healing and helpful. I had a wonderful week back in Sierra Leone in April and got to see some of my best Salone friends and my two ‘families’. I also got to meet the brave doctors and nurses who were working in the midst of the Ebola crisis as well as Ebola survivors. The trip was both affirming (I am still very committed to helping the Dorothy Springer Trust when I can) and inspiring. I did not feel the huge sense of grief like I did when I returned twice in 2014 but instead felt free and enjoyed the whole experience. I will be back again I am sure but I know that I travel now as a visitor and hold the place a little more loosely in my hand. Sweet Salone you keep a part of my heart and I carry a piece of you too.

I also feel a real affection for my hometown of Southend right now. Coming back was hard at first but God has opened my eyes to the things that are great about living here. Running by the sea every week reminds me of beauty we have right here in our stereotypical little Essex conclave! I have found a new home in the Church small group (shout out to ‘Naughty Group’!) as has my husband. We are a bunch of flawed, vulnerable people who all happen to love Jesus and being with this group has helped me learn a lot about grace.

5. Its all about the people we can love

I said last year that I couldn’t help being the kind of person who loves too much, too intensely. This gets me into trouble sometimes. This year though, more than ever I am reminded how important it is to love and be loved. Whether that is in the close relationships with family and friends or whether it is in the opportunities to share words of love or actions of love with strangers. With everything that is awful in the world (in 2015 lowlights would be the refugee crisis, the Nepal earthquakes, ISIS…) there is a lot that can be changed with a little love. It is sappy, soppy, cheesy and trite but love is everything!

Thank yous…

Thank you to every one of my 10,000+ blog followers. It means a lot that you look at my work, comment on my images and share such kind words with me.

Thank you to my husband for your wisdom, patience and love. Thank you to my family for being there. Thank you to my best friends for growing with me and walking with me. Thank you to All We Can, The Dorothy Springer Trust, Empower Women and other organisations that have let me be a small part of their vision.