Nine months ago I decided I wanted to get people talking about mental health. I remember sitting in my apartment late one night during final exams wrestling with why it was so hard for me to tell people around me that I was really struggling with my mental health, even though I seemed perfectly fine on the outside. People knew me as the “mental health advocate” or “the guy who dropped out of school and got help for his depression and anxiety”, but the majority of people around me assumed that my own mental health was doing okay. They thought that once I had gotten help, I was going to be better forever, that it was going to be behind me. Even though to this day I wish that was true, unfortunately my mental health is still something that negatively impacts my life every day.
With my initial idea for Project Pilgrim, I simply wanted to give people a platform to talk about mental health, negatively or positively. My idea was that the more people I got talking, the more mental health would be normalized and therefore it would be easier for people like me, who are struggling, to talk about with the people around them. I also had a far-fetched idea to walk across Spain and get the people I met talking about mental health, but on that night back during my final exams it seemed like an impossible task.
So here we are, nine months later, with over 5,000 people having followed Project Pilgrim in various places, 50,000 people having liked or commented on any one of my posts, and over 550,000 people from across the world having seen any one of my many posts over the last seven months. That is incredible. From what started as an impossible idea in my head when I was feeling low one night, Project Pilgrim has exceeded my expectations in every way imaginable.
A brief timeline of how it all happened:
From February to April, I published over 200 people’s stories, thoughts, opinions, and ideas towards mental health. In that time I also published 28 in-depth blogs about the same topic from various writers from around the country.
In March, I hosted a Kickstarter which surpassed the initial goal of $4,000 in only 48 hours. It continued on to surpass $11,000, or 200 pre-orders for the Project Pilgrim Book.
From May to June, I hiked the 850km Camino de Santiago across Spain and spoke to dozens of pilgrims about mental health and meticulously recorded, captured, and produced their stories and ideas into the Project Pilgrim Book which was published in early August.
In August, I hosted the Project Pilgrim Book Party & Gallery Night which saw over 200 people (friends and strangers) come to see the result of all my hard work in Spain.
In September … now what?
This is something I’ve been wrestling with for the last few weeks as I want to continue Project Pilgrim, but want to have a goal to work towards. And the problem is, I don’t know what I want to do next. I’m about to enter into an intense 12-month program and want to continue this project, but won’t have the time (or resources) to continue Project Pilgrim on the scale it’s been going on so far. Meeting with and photographing people takes a lot of time and without having a final goal in mind, I need to keep my priorities in check.
That is why, I’ve decided to reboot Project Pilgrim, but on a smaller scale. Instead of posting four or five photos a day, why not one or two a week? Instead of posting a new blog every two days, how about just once every week or two?
Project Pilgrim will continue, but on a much smaller scale because I strongly believe that my work in this project is not done yet. Until the day that everyone I meet is comfortable talking about their mental health with me, their family, and their friends, the goal I set for Project Pilgrim is not complete.
“A picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture with an emotional connection to it is worth many times more. My goal is that by taking people’s photos and asking them about mental health, I can start a conversation that can work towards breaking down the stigma around mental health. Talking about mental health normalizes mental health and my hope is that Project Pilgrim can be one of the many stepping stones needed in order to make mental health an everyday conversation.”
What is Project Pilgrim: projectpilgrim.org/#theproject
The Kickstarter: kickstarter.com/project-pilgrim
The Facebook Page: facebook.com/projectpilgrim
The Instagram: instagram.com/projectpilgrim
How to get the Project Pilgrim Book: blurb.ca/project-pilgrim
P.s Do you like my photos? A small project I have started recently (which has nothing to do with mental health) is creating a photo set subscription where you can get my photos mailed to your house every month.
If you're interested, check it out here: squareup.com/store/connor-mccracken