By Connor McCracken

These past few months I have individually met and discussed Project Pilgrim with over 120 people. I’ve told each person my personal experiences with mental health and explained how much it has affected me. In return, they have let me take their photo and told me their own experiences. I’ve heard of the deep depressions, the crippling anxieties, and the most heartbreaking situations. Now, finally on the day of the launch of Project Pilgrim, I’ve taken some time to reflect on what all of these stories mean collectively and what kind commonalities all of these stories share. 

Firstly, nature nurtures. Dozens of the people I spoke to explained how being outside on a mountain or in a forest is where they feel happiest. I don’t know what scientific evidence there is to back this up, but I know that I find the most joy being outside whether that be kayaking off of Deep Cove, hiking up Garibaldi, or exploring the beautiful Rockies. Many of the people I spoke to talked about how nature is the perfect “escape” for them and how they wouldn’t rather be anywhere else but outside when they’re feeling down. I feel that. 

Next, everyone has exposure to mental health. Whether that be personal experience, a family member, or a good friend, not one of the people I spoke to hadn’t heard of mental health and didn’t know someone who had struggled with something. The commonly talked about fact is that 1 in 5 Canadians will have a diagnosable mental health issue at some point in their lives. That means that unfortunately each of us knows many, many people who will struggle with it at some point. However, mental health doesn’t just apply to those people who require help or need to take some time off; mental health is something that everyone has. We all have felt down before and as my good friend, Holly Clayton said, “mental health is feeling the really good, the really bad and everything in between. It's a spectrum and the variation in everyone's spectrums are different.”` This is so true. Mental health is best described as a spectrum that is unique to one person. For someone, losing a job may seem like a slight inconvenience, when for another it may seem like the their world is falling apart and they may be on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. That doesn’t mean that one person is “weaker” than the other or that this person has something wrong than them, all it means is that different situations affect people differently. The person who didn’t react much to losing their job, might be affected by something different much more than the other person. Going through all of these responses definitely confirms this too. There are many examples where first year of university was the worst time of someone’s life, when for others that is where they thrived the most. I am no lesser of a person because I had to withdraw from school in my second year. Yes, it was unfortunate, but I am thankful it happened. I learned how to be much happier than I was before and now nothing seems impossible because I know I’ve gone through hell and back; I can handle anything.

Another commonality I found in these responses was a sense of hope. No matter how awful or disastrous a situation seemed, everyone was able to hold tightly on to something, anything that helped them preserver. Whether that be their job, school, a person, or simply because they were stubborn, even in the most hopeless of situations, people were able to hold onto something to keep them going. I think that’s a beautiful thing. Now whenever I am feeling down, which is still more often than I’d prefer, I’m reminded that I know 120 other people who were able to push through this - I know I can too. Hope is a funny thing, I believe it is human nature to never give up on hope and to keep going. It doesn’t matter if the world around you is falling apart as you know it, I believe there is always something valuable to live for. Throughout my share of mental health struggles I admit I have been suicidal. However, I found there was always something to hold on to no matter how hopeless a situation may seem. There is always a reason to keep on living. 

Lastly, another common theme I found among people’s responses was the importance of community in healthy mental health. I know it is cliche, but we never realize how much power we have over people around us. I’ve heard of people falling apart from being called a single crude word, and I’ve heard of other people’s lives being saved because someone randomly texted them saying “Hey, you’re important to me.” We never realize how much a single message can do. Community in mental health is vital; however, it isn’t always easy. From my own experience, I know that the very nature of depression is isolating and lonely. It’s hard for someone to reach out when they are going down or at their lowest. That is why I think it is essential to always keep in contact and check in on people. Asking how someone is really doing may seem like a redundant thing to do; however, I know it can completely change my mood if someone takes 30 seconds out of their day to check in on me. You don’t even have to be an expert on mental health to do this either. Simply listening to that person in your life for a few minutes can help them more than you’ll ever know. To the people who have done that for me, if you’re reading this, thank you. You know who you are.

I am so excited for you all to see the responses people have given me for this project. It made me ecstatic that some people decided to use Project Pilgrim as a platform to come out to their friends about their mental health struggles. And to those people I met with who chose not to share much, your stories make me excited too. I hope that whoever sees this project will see it as a big picture; that mental health is something that affects us all in very different, but also very similiar ways.

Below are some of the test portraits I have taken for Project Pilgrim so far. Click here for the Facebook Page and here for the Instagram where I will be posting these portraits daily.