In this, the second part of our chat with Tessa Rothnie, we delve deeper into the role of creativity in her life and recovery.
In particular, her photography, juxtaposed with song lyrics and quotations in her stunning Instagram feed.
In part one Tessa tells us about her battle with addiction. A battle that has lasted for most of her adult life. In testimony to her strength and commitment, Tessa has recently graduated from university and qualified as an NHS nurse.
In addition to talking to us about her photography, Tessa has kindly collaborated with us to produce a photo-essay, “Lose Yourself In Lines Dissecting“. We both hope that this will be something you can download and enjoy at your leisure. You might wish to do just that before you read our interview with Tessa, which is continued below.
Either way, I hope you find Tessa’s words as insightful and inspiring as I do.
You can read the first part of our interview with Tessa here.
You can download Lose Yourself In Lines Dissecting by clicking this image:
OK Tessa… (drum roll)… let’s talk about creativity – in particular your photography and your Instagram feed… Could you tell us about how you approach Instagram (why? How? What you like about it…)
It’s an artistic outlet for me, and I see art as a way to ‘wash the dust off the soul’, as Picasso believed.
In a sense I use Instagram to record memories, so that I can revisit them in times when I struggle.
I also use Instagram to be inspired and uplifted by other peoples’ art, and travel the world through photographs. Mostly I spend my time staring at photographs of the sea, sky and space.
I like using photography to convey how I am feeling. Not in an attention seeking sense, more as a cathartic process. I get a lot of happiness from creating what I perceive as beauty in images.
I find photography is a way to materialise emotions, feelings and concepts that are in my mind, but I cannot perhaps put into words.
You seem to have an affinity with certain types of imagery – architecture, skies, nature and also self-portraits. Could you shed some light on these for us?
I’m drawn to things which have an emotive quality, no question.
During my addiction I could not experience joy in the small things, or in any things really. I had no sense of connection to anything. In sobriety I found that I experience a deep sense of awe and connection to nature, the sea and sky. I am genuinely excited by the stars, the sun and the moon. They remind me of the innate possibility for rebirth, renewal and hope all around us. Being near the sea makes me feel ‘at home’ and at at peace in a way nothing else does.
Nature draws my focus back to the bigger picture in life, and reminds me of my smallness and insignificance in our universe. I find this a good way to quash the abundance of irrelevant and incessant worries I have. It’s grounding. Mindfulness practice and gratitude has been a big part of my recovery. I feel a great sense of gratitude when considering the vastness and beauty of the sea, sun and sky. Ultimately I think I seek from these things what I do not feel enough of within. I could endlessly watch the movement of leaves in the wind, and be encapsulated by its beauty. Maybe a little like the scene from American Beauty where the character watches a plastic bag dancing in the wind.
“… there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.”
What makes you “tick” as a photographer?
Line, shape, form, movement, acutely considered framing, documentary style photography, black and white, rawness, purity, originality, depth, thought, honesty, transience, fragility, beauty in imperfection, beauty in the so-called ‘mundane’.
We’ve noticed that you tend to pair your imagery with song lyrics – why? How does this work for you? How does it make you feel?
Often I’m maybe not quite sure how I feel, or I am not adept at putting these feelings into words.
Photography allows me to do this. I like combining images with music/quotes to portray mini-stories. Small snapshots into the transience and beauty of life. It’s not always about me/sharing emotions – perhaps about friends, past events, thoughts about the world, sharing insights/hopes/fears/dreams. I also love to share things that may inspire/empower/lift others.
Are you conscious that other people follow you because of your images? Are you doing what you do purely for you? Or is there an element of “sharing” your work with others?
I’ve never considered that anyone cares or particularly pays attention.
I like to share my ups/downs to remind people what’s real in a platform that so often portrays an idealised (non-existent) version of peoples’ lives. So in a sense yes, I do hope this may comfort others that it is ‘normal’ for life to exist on a spectrum of happiness, sadness, and all that’s in-between. Happiness is momentary. Instagram can perpetuate the myth that life is only about things being perfect/feel-good stuff, which is only one layer of the human condition. If this honesty helps others feel less alone that’s fab, and it is something that I gain from it.
Following you, looking at your images and checking out the songs has been something that has become part of my recovery routine (no, really!!) – are you conscious of this? What would you hope your work “does” for others?
Wow!!!!!!! I’m truly flattered, and no I would never have imagined or thought it would interest anyone all that much.
On one level it’s ultimately irrelevant to me how many people like any of my pictures, or if no one does. I simply love creating photographs and art. But on another level if just one person finds any of what I do uplifting, interesting, or aesthetically pleasing – that’s more than enough for me, and I’d be chuffed!
What we allow into our thoughts most frequently is ultimately what we become
My Instagram started out quite dreary in my early recovery. But I learned quite quickly the importance of focusing on the positives when you can. Our minds are incredibly malleable, and I worked hard to unlearn a lot of negative thinking and self-talk. Whilst keeping things real, I do like to focus on positive and inspiring imagery and quotes more often than not, as I believe that what we allow into our thoughts most frequently is ultimately what we become.
Lastly, I am passionate about reducing the stigma associated with living with mental health problems. I feel it’s kind of my duty to share my story, so that prejudices are challenged. I believe only by normalising the fact that many, many people live with mental health problems through open discussion, can we create a world where it isn’t something that anyone feels ashamed of, or that they have to be secretive about.
You’ve given us a playlist to accompany this profile – tell us about it…
Nick Cave says it better than I can:
“I am not interested in anything that doesn’t have a genuine heart to it. You’ve got to have soul in the hole. If that isn’t there, I don’t see the point.”
That should pretty much cover that question. It’s good to keep a bit mystery.
Cool… okay, great, so… what’s next for Tessa? Spill the beans!
I’m about to start my first Nursing job (in the next week or two) at St. Anne’s Alcohol Rehab. It’s somewhere I was detoxed myself years ago, so a bit of a dream I’d never thought would come true. I’m passionate about mental health in general, but helping those with addiction is maybe where my heart is. I was over the moon to get this role. I’m excited, but utterly terrified at the same time.
And outside of work … I’m going to start taking life more slowly, and be kinder to myself.
And kind to others always.
About our author, Tessa:
Tessa Rothnie is a newly qualified NHS Mental Health Nurse, something she describes as being both exciting and terrifying in equal measures. She is trying to take life more slowly, and lives in Leeds, with her two cats.
You can follow Tessa on Instagram.
And download Lose Yourself In Lines Dissecting (click on the image)