Five years ago, I didn’t know that this snow-covered bush would have such a profound effect on my life, my mood, and how I would forever see the world.
It was the first picture I took for my #ICHOOSEBEAUTY project, something I thought would last just a couple of months to help get me through a dark, cold Ohio winter.
But that day in 2013 turned out to be the beginning of more than 1,600 photos of life's beauty.
I’ve been taking one photograph every single day and posting it on Instagram. It’s become my light through the dark days of depression.
Clinical depression runs deep in my family and I've struggled with it most of my life. A few years ago, I was at my worst. I didn’t realize it at the time, but so many things happened over the years that pushed me there little by little until I hit my lowest point.
I woke up one morning feeling like I was curled up at the bottom of a deep dark hole where I could barely breathe, wondering what happened. I wondered how I got there. I didn’t really care if I ever saw light again. I had fleeting thoughts of suicide.
I finally found the strength to get help and started seeing a therapist. It was a long, tough climb for me out of that dark hole. I kept falling back down. After months of raw excruciating work in therapy, I was feeling better but still very vulnerable.
Then came November.
I was living in Ohio and winter was the hardest time of the year for me. Once the days got darker, the temperatures dropped, and the snow started to fall, I struggled to keep going.
My therapist had an idea that he thought could help me get through the next few months. He suggested I look for something that's beautiful to me every day. He told me how positive psychology finds that people who notice and appreciate beauty are more likely to find joy and meaning in everyday life.
I took it a step further and decided to document the beauty I saw with pictures. So there, on a freezing cold day, I posted my very first #ICHOOSEBEAUTY photograph to Instagram – a striking red bush contrasted with a blanket of pure white snow.
After a few days of finding beauty, I noticed a shift in my mood. I was feeling hopeful. So, I kept going. After another week, I was hooked. So much so that I didn’t quit when winter was over. I kept going.
I haven’t stopped since. April 9th, 2018 marked my 1,600th day in a row – that’s more than four years!
The amazing thing that has come out of this project, besides my healing, is that it has inspired and helped other people who are struggling in life. Dozens have joined the movement, taken the #ICHOOSEBEAUTY challenge, and posted their own images of beauty on Instagram.
Taking a picture every day has really helped me to shift my focus to an entirely new frame of mind, and just notice all the little things – whether it’s the clouds, catching up with a friend, or just enjoying a hot cup of tea. I’m noticing beauty everywhere that I had overlooked before.
As someone with depression in her genes, I still have occasional episodes. There are still tough days when I can barely get out of bed. But #ICHOOSEBEAUTY has become my life preserver, and my daily images keep me afloat.
Mental Health America will be joining the #ICHOOSEBEAUTY challenge throughout the month of May for Mental Health Month and will share wellness tips along the way. You can follow our team’s journey at our Instagram page here.
Sahar Aker is a depression survivor, Mental Health America Partner, and founder of I Choose Beauty - a social media project that highlights the simple beauty in life and helps to bring hope and healing to those who are struggling. Previously, Sahar worked as a TV health reporter and freelance journalist.