Written by Mala Vadgama

I met Cass for the first time when we worked together on a fashion shoot. She turned up to the location ready to shoot straight away, with confidence in front of the camera. She had many ideas of her own, and together we worked to create beautiful images organically. Photographing Cass allowed me to get to know the ‘unspoken’ side of her. I could see the kindness in her eyes and her vulnerability, even through the lens. Over the course of a year, we got to know each other more and Cass told me about her friendship with Monique. It was such an endearing friendship of support that I was happy to photograph this sisterhood. As we met for our second shoot, ideas arose organically again, with both Cass and Monique. It was as if the untold story of our mental health struggles wanted to say something of their own. We had a mutual language of understanding and non-verbal communication which guided these images.

After the photo shoot, Cass told me more about her eating disorder and her upbringing. Cass had a difficult childhood and was anxious for as long as she could remember. She developed an eating disorder and still struggles with anxiety. She has a supportive psychotherapist and psychiatrist and doesn’t feel ashamed to receive help anymore. Cass says, ‘I have now received training to be a therapist as I know what it’s like to feel isolated and alone, and I want to help others in these types of situations.’

I met Monique when she arrived with Cass for the photo shoot and noticed her warm character straight away. Her smile was so soft and her eyes expressed vulnerability too, just like Cass’ – I could see why they were good friends. This was Monique’s first professional photo shoot and she told me she was nervous. Both Cass and I reassured her and she warmed up to the camera in no time. When I asked Monique if she would like me to write about her mental health story, she was happy to share her poetry as that is the way she finds release for her anxiety and feels more comfortable expressing her story. Here is the amended version of one of her poems:

Poem by Monique:

I am the room that encases you; I’m the doctor that invades any privacy you believed you were entitled to…
I am the hospital walls, the doors that lock shut behind you,
Sound proof.
I am the wind in your face, the only signal that allows you to differentiate between what is real and not real, What is reality and fantasy…
What is imagination. What can the blind see?
You’re no longer drowning, you’ve left it all behind, you’re at peace… You’ve drowned, totally and you’ve sunk.
Man down, what do we do?
Prevention? No, it’s fine we have cures…
Drag you to breaking point then wonder why you’re on the floor…
You’re safe with us, no windows, no space
All secure, society glares at your face
Into your soul… You’re becoming crazy, out of character, out of control… When was the last time you had sanity to hold?