Here is another installment of ‘The Warrior Project’, a series of portraits of women and children who suffer from mental or physical illness or disability. And oh man, this little man doesn’t let his disabilities stop him at all, what an amazing dude AJ is! I absolutely loved spending time with him and his (quite frankly stunning) Mum Emmy and Step-Dad Marcus. Hes a smiley, happy little soul who brightened up my dreary day immensely, and hes even more special because of the things he overcomes every single day. Here is more about darling AJ in his Mums words.Read More
Heres the 4th installment of ‘The Warrior Project’, a series of portraits from women and girls who suffer from mental or physical illness or disability. This is Martina. I’ve known Martina since she was 13 years old and have travelled with her and her family throughout her journey to a diagnosis and management of Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder. She is, without a doubt, one of the most loving, thoughtful and beautiful souls I have ever met and, although its been a long and desperately hard journey, I am so incredibly proud of the woman she has become.
But here is Martinas story, in her own words:
“Hi, my name is Martina Jane Moore. I am 26 years old & born in Burnley. I live with my dogs, Earl Grey and Myrtle Moore. My hobbies are - Bingo, car booting, playing Minecraft & walking Earl & Myrtle.
My journey began shortly before my 21st Birthday when I was living with my Grandma. I unfortunately damaged my back which led me to require crutches & wheelchair use for several months- which obviously meant my usual lifestyle, i.e. working & socialising, changed drastically. I began hiding medications as I could not come to terms with the change & everything became just too much, which eventually led to my very first overdose which, thankfully and against the odds, I survived.
A few days from overcoming my first overdose, I attempted again to commit suicide- this time around, I ended up in ICU due to the potion of medication I had in taken. This caused uncontrollable fitting. Once I was “medically fit” the mental health team came to talk to me about a place in a mental health ward, in Burnley.
I accepted and spent 8 days in here which resulted in celebrating my 21st Birthday in here.. they say you’ll never forget your 21st & they weren’t kidding!
Shortly after, I was discharged. When staff sent me home confused & upset at the fact I wasn’t sure how to deal or understand what was wrong with me, they insisted I handed over any excess medication before leaving. Of course, when I returned I asked them to wait down stairs whilst I retrieved the medication. I never got to hand it over as I decided to use it to, yet again, overdose whilst they waited downstairs.
The third overdose landed me a 6 week stretch on Burnley’s mental health ward. From this 6 weeks I were given my mental health care co-ordinator. After 6 weeks in here, I was discharged, homeless and sent to the local hostel until appropriate accommodation was found for me. 10 days here were enough for me before I took another overdose where my care staff found me on the floor & again, I was admitted - this time to the Blackburn unit for roughly 6 months due to my mental health deteriorating rapidly along with my health.
During this entire time, I had limited memory but can remember Donna along with my mum coming to keep me company on many occasions. During the end of my time at Blackburn, they decided they were unable to keep me safe which resulted in me being transferred to Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit numerous times, both in Chorley & Burnley.
I was eventually diagnosed with Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder (also known as Borderline Personality Disorder) or EUPD/BPD, which is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by unstable relationships with other people, unstable sense of self, and unstable emotions. It is a serious mental illness. It can not only cause a great deal of suffering, but it also carries a high risk of suicide. Anyone diagnosed with BPD needs specifically targeted treatment, I manage it with a combination of medication and therapy.
My mental health illness is an ongoing battle that I am challenging daily.
On a day to day basis I am battling demons which affect my moods, simples task & socialising.
On a good day I am the old bubbly, Martina, Who loves to be with friends & my sister, Brooklyn. I can complete tasks around the house & take care of my hygiene. Walking to Tescos is a breeze. On a bad day, I am VERY short tempered. My moods fluctuate within minutes where they can drop so low, I don’t want to be here anymore then in a split second, I am overly happy again. I know- super confusing.
My biggest struggle daily is merely getting out of bed. Getting up & showering is a toughie too. I feel physically and mentally tired all the time- this is both on a good day & a bad day.
When it comes “simple tasks” my anxiety rockets. Walking around Tescos, easy right? I think not. The sound of busy bodies, chattering & background noise can become over bearing and honestly, I wish I could just curl up on the spot & hide.
I keep my self going by taking it day by day as things can get overwhelming if I plan too much. I look after my two dogs Myrtle and Earl. I feed them, walk them and play with them. I also I play on my Xbox on Minecraft-that’s the thing I like to do the most. It keeps me occupied when I am struggling with thoughts of self-harm or just having a shitty day. The people I have met online are ace people from all around the world, it’s amazing learning and finding out about everybody. When playing Minecraft I can forget about the struggles I face for a little bit and be someone with a little more confidence. Sometimes I read and watch YouTube too. But when things get bad, I use the tools that have been given to me like calling my family & friends, or using my care cordinator if I need to talk about what I am feeling. At the beginning I thought everyone was against me and I pushed loads of people away because I thought they did not understand, but I have to let people in to help myself or I am not going to feel better.
If you are facing a diagnosis of EUPD/BPD, try not to worry. Having EUPD dose not define who you are as a person . All the intense emotions that you feel day to day will pass no matter how bad you feel . There can be a lot of stigma around the diagnosis that people will tell you that we are attention-seeking, manipulative, It’s not a proper mental health problem, You don’t need help, etc etc. You know what we don’t attention-seek, the emotions are so strong and hard for us to deal with we do impuslsive things to try and help with them. Don’t be afraid ask for help, regardless of what you might think other people might say. I will tell you we are strong people-stronger than most, even when we feel weak! There will be bad days but they will eventually be more good-treasure those good days. On the bad days ask for help! Don’t be afraid! Yes said "ask for help" a lot in here but remember; you can never ask too much.
The photoshoot with Donna made me feel happy-from that day on I felt like I could do anything. I love my portraits it’s given me loads of confidence. I did not think I look good or beautiful because of my size being a bigger lady. But these pics say different- I am a big, beautiful, confident strong person. Thats what I see in the pictures. I just love seeing Donna she makes me feel at home, she gave me confidence in myself during the shoot even when giving me instructions. I love how she works, she make you feel right as ease. I love Donna with all my heart thank you for letting me be a part of something special.
I would like to say thank you to all my friends and family for helping me through the tough times, whether you are here or the other side of the world I know you will all keep on helping me, thank you.
Thank you so much Martina for sharing your story <3
The 3rd in my series, 'The Warrior Project', this time we meet the gorgeous Poppy, 13 years old with a recent diagnosis of Autism, Poppy wanted to share her story with the world in the hopes it would help and inspire other young teens faced with a similar diagnosis. We did two sets, one beautiful set of studio portraits and one with an Anime twist as she is a huge fan! Shes an amazing young lady and I am so honoured and humbled to play a part, however small, in her story. Shes also one of my favourite humans too <3
In her own words, Poppy's story:
"My name is Poppy. I am 13 years old and I am Autistic. I live in Colne, Lancashire with my Mum, Dad, big brother Joe, Nana, my dog Alfie and my cats Margaret and Friday. I am also very close to my Grandma and Grandad. I love to draw and have done since being really young.
I have always felt a little different from other children and when I was at primary school it started to make me feel confused, sad and worried as I did not understand why I did not fit in. I talked to my mum about it and we both decided to try and find some answers to my questions. After a while my mum said that she thought that I might be autistic. We decided to go to see the doctor to see if she could help. We asked to see a specialist doctor that knew all about autism but my appointment to see her was not for another year and a half. During that time things became more and more confusing and I had no idea why I was finding things like friendships and social situations really difficult and why being around people caused me to feel so uncomfortable. I really tried to be as ’normal” as I could around people, especially at school but this just made me very tired and worried. When I came home I was able to just be “Poppy” which felt a lot more relaxing and I didn’t feel as worried when I was alone or just with my family. When it was time to see the specialist doctor I was feeling very nervous as I did not know what was going to happen. I had to go through a lot of tests and see all different kinds of people. It was about another 6 months before we finally got an appointment to find out what all these things meant. When the doctor told me that I was Autistic I felt like a lot of things made sense now. It gave me an explanation of why life felt so confusing and scary.
Friendships are extremely difficult for me. I find it hard to make a deep conection with anyone as I’m constantly worrying that I’ll say the wrong thing or they will do or say something that I don’t understand so they will think bad of me. The only social situation that I feel comfortable at is a youth club that is especially for young people on the spectrum and I call it Awkward Club. All of us there are socially very awkward and this makes me relax as I know they won’t expect anything from me. I can just be me.
Autistics do something called masking. It’s different for everyone but my way of masking is to play different characters in my head. This gives me confidence to go into school, go to the theatre, go swimming and meet other people. In my mind it kind of puts a cloak over Poppy which protects me.
Me and my mum have a theory called ‘my spoons’ if I’m feeling really good and full of energy and I feel I can go out of the house and do stuff then I tell her I’ve got 10 spoons. But there are times, a lot of times, when the amount of spoons I have are around 3 or sometimes none. A day can begin with 10 but by the end of the day, usually when school is over my spoons have decreased dramatically and I can hardly function or talk to anyone. I just want to be in my own space and maybe draw or listen to music. This helps me to recharge my energy and hopefully I can then begin to interact with people again.
In my future I want to gain more confidence so I can do more things. I really want to go to college and university to study art but at the moment this makes me scared. I hope that as I grow up I get to develop coping mechanisms to help me make sense of life and the world a little better. At the moment I am not attending school as it’s just too much for me to cope with emotionally. At the moment my mental health is very poor. I have developed some coping strategies that are not good for me so my parents decided to take me out of school altogether. There is no school in our area that caters for a High Functioning Autistic girl like me. This makes me feel sad and vulnerable. There is no where that I seem to fit and it just makes me feel even more weird and once again confirms that I’m an outcast.
To other Autistic girls in my situation or who are going through being diagnosed, I want to say that it’s ok to be you. Us weirdos have to stick together. I know that I will find my tribe who will love me for who I am and not expect anything from me that I cannot give them. I cannot wait for that day. Maybe we will be destined to be in each other’s tribe. If you can, keep talking to your Mum and Dad or someone that you think gets you.
It was really difficult for me to let anyone take photos of me as i really find being in the spot light uncomfortable. Donna is one of my favourite humans though and she makes me feel ok to be me. She made me feel comfortable and accepted which is something I don’t feel very often.
I can't express enough how happy Poppy enjoyed her experience with me at my studio, and to know I am one of this amazing young lady's favourite humans brought a lump to my throat. Thank you so much Poppy for trusting me enough to take your photographs, I hope to capture you again and again in the future, you are beautiful, brave and inspiring. Thank you.
Here it is, the first in my photographic series, 'Extraordinary People', and what a wonderful person I have to go first! Meet Paul, regular chap by day, Disney Princess by night (or weekend!)
Here's a bit more about Paul in his own words.
" I've always considered myself very ordinary. I don't believe any one person is more extraordinary than anybody else. We all have different skills and things we like to enjoy and that's what makes us human.
I enjoy cosplay because its's an escape. It's a chance to have and forget about real life for a few hours. It's a chance to meet my friends and other like minded people who are into similar subjects. Its a chance to learn new skills and improve my confidence also."
One of the most interesting individuals I have photographed in some time, Paul works with trains in his day job and does Disney Princess cosplay as a hobby. It takes a hell of a lot of bravery to dress up as a traditionally female character, especially as a straight man, but Paul does it with gusto and charm, I very much enjoyed photographing him!
"Having a shoot like this was an amazing experience and I felt privileged to be doing it. Its a super experience being able to have photos in a place that isn't a convention hall and being able to experiment a little more.
My images make me feel really proud of myself. Admittedly much is down to the super talented MUA (the fantastic Rhianna Lydia Makeup) and photographer but it does make you feel good. There was a time I was scared to get out the car in cosplay but it shows how much confidence you can gain when you see yourself.
If you are considering a portrait shoot with Donna, I say Go for it! You'll not regret it!
Thank you so much Donna. You were super and I love you! :)"
Awwwwww how lovely is that? Thank you so much Paul for trusting me to capture your Disney self, it was a real honour!
I love photographing Chelsea. She looks like a real life Disney princess, and is a ton of fun to hang out with, so when I found out she had a chronic illness I thought it would be great to have her as part of The Warrior Project. Here is her story in her own words.
"I’m Chelsea, a 23 year old Psychology graduate from Manchester. (Don’t ask me what I’m doing with my degree because I have no idea yet). I love all things cute, cosplaying and my favourite place in the whole world is Disneyland! I have a passion for makeup and I suffer from Ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic condition caused by an inflamed colon and resulting in fun symptoms such as blood or mucus in stool, diarrhoea or constipation and tummy pains. It’s a very similar condition to Crohns disease, the two just take place in different parts of the bowel. Ulcerative colitis is just the ugly sister that nobody seems to know about. There are also many secondary symptoms including chronic fatigue, achy joints and a high temperature. So basically, as I put it colloquially “my butt don’t work!”
My condition is most commonly diagnosed around the late teens to mid-20’s and I fall quite nicely into this bracket. I first developed symptoms when I was 17 years old and I started college. Stress aggravates the condition and causes flare ups. It commonly shows itself during times of great stress and for me this happened to be around the time of my A-levels. This continues to be a reoccurring theme throughout my life and any amount of stress tends to see me running for the nearest toilet. I also suffer from an anxiety disorder which makes this an interesting mix. The condition impacted me greatly, there would be many days I couldn’t leave the house for fear of being too far away from a toilet. I was exhausted and embarrassed, I was too ashamed to tell anybody and tried to manage as best as I could on my own. Unfortunately the condition also caused ‘an accident’ which I still remember clearly, I was mortified and I remember being in floods of tears in a public toilets. (Not my finest hour). This caused me to reach out firstly to my family and then to a doctor. I missed out on so much of my first year of university through fear of leaving my room and struggled to socialise because of it. A fully fledged flare up is not a pretty sight, there are tears, sweat and a lot of stomach spasms. Think hard-core period cramps mixed with the flu.
I was so lucky to see a particular doctor whilst I was studying at University in Sheffield as she didn’t brush me off with the diagnosis of “ibs” as other doctors had said previously. I thoroughly believe in pushing for further investigation if you feel your condition hasn’t properly been looked into. The doctor I saw referred me very quickly to Hallamshire hospital’s gastroenterology department. I had a lot of different scans and eventually a colonoscopy and endoscopy which lead to my current diagnosis.
One positive of having ulcerative colitis however, is that I am never embarrassed by any toilet talk. It’s near impossible to make me cringe talking about “number 2’s” it’s like my super power. It’s always important to keep a sense of humour. It can sometimes be debilitating to hear people making jokes about bowel illnesses, because poop is funny. But without treatment people can die. I try to keep a positive outlook and take charge of how people see me and my illness by being open in conversation and as candid as possible.
Currently I spend most of my time bloated, looking slightly pregnant. This has resulted in people moving from bus seats for me on multiple occasions. I am still unsure as to whether it is better to take the seat or not. I am a little bit sensitive about showing my stomach because of this. My condition has periods of remission where all symptoms are easily managed by my medication. If my condition worsens as I get older there is a chance that I will need to have part of my bowel removed and a colostomy bag fitted. Currently this is a massive fear of mine but I am trying to remain as positive and hopeful for the future as I can. A lot of foods set off my bowel problems and cause me to either bloat or cause stomach spasms, I’m still working on figuring out which foods cause what. (Fingers crossed it’s not cake because I don’t want to give up cake).
My experience shooting with Donna was amazing. You are made to feel right at home the moment you arrive for your photoshoot, I felt completely at ease and comfortable. Having a photoshoot in somebody’s home is much less intimidating than in an all-white studio. Even though the photoshoot takes place in a family home Donna is a complete professional and knows just how to direct you in order to get the best possible poses. The conversation is always flowing and there is no shortage of laughs (which no doubt makes for good pictures). Donna is the kindest of souls and I feel so lucky to have met and know her.
As someone who’s a little bit on the awkward side it’s usually easier for me to be silly than look graceful and serious but somehow Donna managed to show this side of me! I was blown away by the images and I could barely believe that I could look like that. I was so excited to show them to my Mum, as I have so many pictures of myself which as less than sophisticated and she loved them too! I would encourage everybody who is considering it to have beautiful photos taken by Donna. It’s amazing to feel glamourous even if some days when you’re spending hours on a toilet, you might not feel it."
Not going to lie, reading about Chelseas experience of shooting with me gave me a big lump in my throat, I adore photographing Chelsea and I hope to again and again! Chelseas makeup was done by herself, her dress is by Collectif, and the incredible headpiece in the final photographs is from MyWitchery.
I'm Hazel. I am a mother of two beautiful boys, and I’m a portrait and wedding photographer too. I also have Type 1 diabetes.Read More
A few weeks ago I photographed the beautiful Jessica, mum to gorgeous furbaby Marlow and who is currently transitioning. I haven't photographed a trans woman before so I was super excited to put all the skills I have nurtured into creating some super flattering portraits and showing Jess' beauty to the whole world. We had a little conversation about her journey to find herself, and I think you will all agree not only is she brave and courageous, she is a true beauty and an incredible representation of femininity. I can't thank her enough for trusting me and allowing me to capture her portraits!
Tell me a little about yourself! Where are you from, what do you do for work/hobbies?
My name's Jessica, I'm 29, originally from the Liverpool area and I enjoy everything from running around with my dog to a glass of wine and a snooze. I work as a web developer in Altrincham - something I managed to get into from being self-taught through my other hobby, computers and web design.
When and how did your journey begin?
I've always had a fundamental disconnect with my appearance that I can remember right back to primary school. It manifested itself in varying ways through my teenage years - secret clothes bought from charity shops for example - until it culminated in a wild goth phase at university that I may not yet have fully grown out of. Over the following years through my 20s I realised this was a serious matter causing me daily mental health difficulties so I consulted my GP, was referred and started on the path to rectifying things. That was when the fog that had followed me day to day finally began to lift.
How does it affect you day to day?
I used to really suffer with everyday tasks in public, such as going to work - dealing with girls and women was extremely hard and I ended up in very male-dominated environments as a result such as IT. Going out on the town was nigh on impossible towards the end as I'd be crippled by such misery that I couldn't wear a nice dress and heels that I'd have to crash out early and go home - this even manifested itself at our work's Christmas do one year which was especially nasty.
Now I'm out I'm 'loud and proud', so to speak. I like to think I work my height and long legs and am doing what I can to make up for the shortcomings I can't do anything about. Sitting and moping hasn't helped before and won't help me now. Perhaps in the future this will change and I'll decide to be a bit more stealth about being trans but I think at the moment I'm enjoying my new lease on life a little too much.
Advice to others about to undertake or are at the beginning of a similar journey?
I'll tell you the words I should have heard when I was stood at my front door, cowering about my first time round the block in girl mode, so to speak - just f*cking do it. Nobody gives a toss about you in reality. Sure people might look or say something but so what? You're interesting to them - something unique, something worthy of discussion, something some people, like me, would celebrate! You're not just another stupid stick figure in a Lowry painting so why listen to those who are? Most people you see are wrapped up in their own lives as complex as their own and to them, you're as much of a background character as they are to you.
About your photo session, how was the experience as a whole?
Absolutely second to none. I felt comfortable, at ease and guided the whole time. I was worried I'd need a level of know-how and even maybe make a fool of myself through a lack of experience but that absolutely was not the case.
How do your photographs make you feel?
Amazing! You get so used to seeing yourself in the mirror and picking faults with yourself that you forget that, actually, you are stunning in your own way. Donna's work finds details you've taken for granted and shows them to you in this incredible way that makes you stop and admire them. Then you remember they're yours and that feeling is priceless - for me it was my eyes, but for anyone it could be anything.
What would you say to someone like yourself who was considering a portrait shoot with me?
I've now had a shoot with a so-called 'big brand' studio, and I've had a shoot with Donna and I can honestly say I preferred the latter - it was less rushed, friendlier, less 'formal'... and the results speak for themselves!
What an inspiring story, I can't thank Jessica enough for allowing me to capture her beauty on camera <3
Erin was 39 weeks when she came to the studio, just about ready to pop! I WAS supposed to be photographing her little mans arrival into the world but even at the speed of light I wouldn't have got there in time-he was out within 30 minutes of labour starting. It was actually rather convenient because they were home by Monday afternoon, with the UK's worst snowy weather in many years descending on us Monday night/Tuesday morning. Good timing little man!
Lee is clearly absolutely smitten with Erin. He said of this portrait, "I cannot put into words how much I love my beautiful Erin, but the amazing Donna Craddock captured it in one picture" How lovely is that!
Bonus shot of Lee helping Erin get her shoes off as she couldn't reach haha!
I cannot WAIT to meet their little dude, I've been snowed in for 3 days so haven't been able to do much and meeting him is on the top of my to-do list. I love shooting Maternity portraits, theres a regal, proud nature to them that I love and it always brings back memories of when I was pregnant with my two now huge babies <3