I love photos.
I blame that on a set of grandparents with a deep-seated love of photography, whose visits to the photo department of the pharmacy/store to drop off and pick up rolls of film were frequent and fun.
It helped that they were pretty good with cameras.
I know that because I spent a lot of my spare time in college helping them scan their older photos for the family history.
If something crazy happened like me getting sent back in time, I would know people and places simply because of my involvement with the family history project.
But I digress - a little bit.
I digress a tiny bit.
For all my love of photos, there are some I struggle with looking at.
Those photos are few and far between - which won't be such a huge surprise when I tell you they were taken at various points during my spiral into depression and suicidal thoughts.
What also shouldn't be a surprise is how I managed to avoid being in so many photos by putting myself behind the camera.
The photo that has been hardest for me to think about (much less look at) is one taken by my grandmother on Christmas Day the year my niece was born.
It's a lovely picture of me sitting on the couch in my grandparents' living room holding a three week old baby girl in a brand new dress her momma made for her, smiling at her like she is one of the greatest things to ever happen to the world (and that is an opinion that is not likely to change... ever).
And when I say much less look at, what I mean is that looking at it has hurt like a knife wound or punch in the gut.
I'm reaching a place where I see what it symbolizes rather than the darkness pushing up against me, but it has taken a long time to get there.
A few people have seen that picture outside of family, but not many.
They've looked at it, looked at me, then back at it.
"Are you sure that's you?" they've asked.
"Yes," I'd answer.
When I tried to look at the picture through their eyes, I could understand why they asked.
The girl in the photos was much thinner, obviously swallowed by the blue fleece she wore that day.
Her jaw line was much more pronounced.
She didn't look much like the person they saw in front of them.
Before you start jumping to the conclusion that I starved myself or made myself throw things up back then...
Well, I didn't go there; mostly because the thought grossed me out.
At that point in time, I dealt with my spiral by walking.
My family will happily verify how I spent hours and hours and hours.
Summer (brutal Arizona summer), fall, winter, spring.
Rain and nightfall were the only things to stop me from hitting my trails and trying to walk my way through the worst of my pain and confusion.
I lost a lot of weight. People thought I looked great.
People thought I looked great.
They had no idea how much misery was building up inside my continually shrinking frame, or how hard I fought to make sure no one knew the extent of it.
No one heard the voice screaming at them from inside my head, begging them to take notice -
Pleading for someone to recognize my pain, to reach out with a helping hand.
I know now I was too good at locking everything down.
I also know I wasn't half so aware then that most people have their own struggles and their own voices to contend with, and won't hear another person's cry for help unless or until it is too loud for them to ignore.
I think what I'm trying to get at here is that pictures and appearances are never going to tell us the whole story, so we have to stop acting like we've heard it a million times.
Once we get past that, maybe the whole story will step out into the light of day.
And maybe that whole story becomes something better than we imagined, a beautiful sound we've never heard before because we closed our mouths and listened.
I thought about looking for that picture of me with my niece to share, but I decided to leave it alone for now.
That picture is part of a much longer story I'm learning how to tell.
Maybe this is your opening to ask it of me.