I am often asked how I could struggle with things like depression and self-harm due to the fact that I seem like I “have it all together”. I have also been asked that because I was attractive, what did I have to be sad about? What does that mean anyway? I think it’s crazy how much value we as a society place on superficial things such as looks. People are treated or judged a specific way based on something they have little to no control over. Mental illness does not discriminate. Sometimes it’s the girl that holds everyone else together while she herself feels like she’s falling apart. The girl that has an amazing career doing what she loves and getting to travel the world.

I’ve built my life around learning to not only live with depression but to turn it into something positive. I think a lot of people spend their lives searching for a “cure” but I gave up on that years ago. I believe that once you are at peace with the fact that you will never truly beat depression or mental illness you are able to focus more on what you can do with it and how you can use it to your advantage. I am a global photographer and I specialize in raising awareness for mental illness through controversial imagery.

I am also a recovering cutter. It surprises a lot of people due to the fact that I am 29 years old. I too thought this was just a phase and something I would grow out of but the feeling and/or need to cut simply never left. I would cut to feel physical pain over emotional pain. Sometimes I just felt too much. Or sometimes I would get so sick of feeling nothing I would cut to remind myself that I can still feel. It’s so very hard to describe what cutting feels like for me or why I do it in the first place. The closest thing I can compare it to is a drug. A drug that relieves your pain and takes you on a journey away from reality even if it’s just for a few minutes. It always seemed worth it.

I haven’t cut in 6 years now however, I did relapse a few months ago. I remember sitting on my bed feeling like the world was ending and the urge to cut soon followed. I cut too deep. I immediately knew then and there that I had to drive myself to the hospital because I didn’t want to die, that was never the intent. The problem was every time I cut, I would take it further. Deeper. When I arrived to the hospital and they cleaned my cut I saw a dark spot on the right side of my cut and asked the doctor what it was. The doctor told me it was my artery. I watched it pulsate as they stitched me up. I got 12 stitches in my lower arm, right through my tattoo. Before I left the doctor told me I was one of the lucky ones and that I had another chance. Not everyone does. Please learn from this. Choose life.

I also would say, in a way I live a suicidal lifestyle. I tried explaining the difference between being suicidal and actually wanting to kill yourself to my doctor once. I ended up in rehab after my explanation was misconstrued for me wanting to kill myself. Sometimes being suicidal has nothing to do with wanting to die and
everything to do with not putting an effort into living. The difference is this; I have never made a plan to kill myself. I don’t want to die. Instead, I lead a very spontaneous and some would say, reckless lifestyle because, at times, I simply do not care what happens to me. Being suicidal sometimes means you don’t look both ways before crossing the street because you don’t fear getting hit by a car, then at least it wouldn’t be your fault. Sometimes it’s not washing your hands because you don’t care if you catch a disease or smoking cigarettes because cancer doesn’t scare you.

What helps me most is by helping other people. If I am helping someone else I am removing my focus from myself for that amount of time. Growing up I tried different things until I stumbled upon photography. I have found this to be the best way for me to help people by documenting what mental illness feels like. More often than not, things like self-harm and depression are almost impossible to explain to someone that doesn’t struggle with mental illness. I found it much easier to document my struggles through imagery. People are visual and sometimes they understand more using no words at all. Since I fell in love with photography and the impact my work has made on others, I haven’t stopped shooting. Yes, some of my photos are hard to digest but in a way, they force people to look at things that society doesn’t really talk about.  I also know when and where to draw the line. I certainly don’t want my images to trigger others that struggle.

Someone asked me once to explain as best I could what depression felt like to me. I responded instead with an image of a faceless character wearing an all black suit, covered from head to toe. The suit appears like a shadow or in this case a “dark passenger”. Depression never just goes away. It comes and goes in waves and it’s always with you so with that being said, I incorporate this character often in my shoots.

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone it would be this: Instead of trying to beat whatever it is you struggle with, learn to not only live with it but to use it to your advantage.

Brittney Colantonio is a Local Detroit photographer and artist. Brittney has been doing freelance photography for over 10 years while working as a Business Analyst in the Executive Office at Quicken Loans.

Brittney worked alongside Dan Gilbert for most of her career with Quicken Loans and this led her to further opportunity as he sponsored art galleries for her locally and in Los Angeles. He also assisted with opening her own gallery located in Ferndale, MI for 2 years.

Last year Brittney made the decision to leave Quicken Loans to pursue her passion full time with photography as she was selected out of over 80k applicants to partake one a once in a lifetime experience with Remote Year. Brittney lived and worked as a photographer in 12 countries within 12 months. This was when she truly found her passion for creating awareness and impact through her photography. Brittney has raised thousands for different causes in different countries as well as within the united states.

Brittney worked on a film (The lost river) as a photographer alongside Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Christina Hendrix for four months and had the ability to step outside of her comfort zone and learn more not only about photography but about video during this time.

Brittney can be found on her website and Facebook.