Nigerian Freelance Photojournalist, Nelly Ating, uses photography to turn the lens on herself, capturing a rather delicate and personal subject, her struggle with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) through a series of self-portraits. PMDD is similar to Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) but is more severe. It causes relentless irritability, depression, anxiety and in more serious cases even suicidal thoughts. Symptoms usually subside around two to three days after menstruation has started, but for some who have been diagnosed with this condition, their symptoms insist during the course of their period. There are more than 1.5 million cases each year in Nigeria alone.
“I remember talking to a friend about my situation, I was relaying to her my struggles and frustrations concerning my condition, and she advised me by saying that this condition does not have a face so I should document how I feel, what I see and keep things going!” Said Nelly. Her choice of literally turning the camera on herself to document this faceless condition enables those who are also suffering from the same condition to somehow confide in her honest and vulnerability, finding themselves a companion during such a difficult and somewhat lonely time.
“I have been suffering from this for such a long time and only found out recently what the problem was. There were days where I would just sit down and wail, I would literally be screaming. I am naturally a lonely person, and people would always ask why am I depressed? Is it because I am an artist that I am always depressed? And I would always try to explain that no, that’s is not the situation. So this project is from a very personal place and the lockdown enabled me to make this body of work and look after myself.” Explained Nelly. The images reflect Nelly’s struggle with loneliness, the monochrome tone enhances the feel of melancholy, but despite such a sombre mood, a sense of resilience can be perceived throughout her images.
“Making this body of work made me very vulnerable, I didn’t even want to share it, I just left it on my email to hide it! When my friend shared it I was nervous, I was scared of what the response would be like and if I would be judged. Imposter syndrome kicked in and I started asking myself if I am worthy plus self-doubt was also there” expressed Nelly. Imposter syndrome (a psychological pattern where an individual doubts their accomplishments and feels like a fraud) is an internal battle that almost every creative faces within themselves, but it is a battle that can be overcome with constant self-affirmations and reminders that your work is worth it.
“I always tell myself that I am not doing this work for anyone but myself. This is what gives me joy and there is no rush to publish this work, in fact, I have a lot of work that is stored in my archive. I tell myself to live in the moment and do the things that I enjoy, and later when I am mentally strong and able to face every critique that comes my way, then it can be published.” When asked what her advice would be to a creative making work from a place of pain and how to mentally process such activities and emotions, Nelly responded by saying; “my advice would be to incubate, by this I mean giving yourself time! Make the work that you are making and don’t be in a hurry to publish it. If you are not ready then do not publish it, make sure you have gone past a certain stage where you are not afraid to talk about it anymore. Make sure that the work created is shown after you have recovered and you can use this experience to advocate, your work should be creating an impact as much as you are telling a story.”
Nelly Ating is a Journalist and doubles as a Photojournalist reporting from the front lines of Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria. Her work has been published on renowned local and foreign dailies and blogs: CNN, Premium Times, Vanguard, Thisday. Visit her website to view more of her work.