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Stunning photo series tells honest stories about women battling depression

What does someone with depression and anxiety look like?

Stumped? You should be: People who suffer from these mental illnesses look just like everyone else — they’re women and men from all different races and backgrounds.

More: Vlogger’s confession about depression is a must-watch

Every person with mental illness has their own story, too. Photographer Natalie McCain wants to put a face on an invisible disease by showcasing a few strong women in “The True Faces of Depression,” a new installment in her Honest Body Project. “Depression doesn’t always look sad,” McCain wrote on her website. “It can be the forced smile on a new mother’s face, or your best friend who keeps canceling plans. It hides behind your friend saying she is ‘okay’ when you know she isn’t.”

McCain features each woman’s story alongside her photos. Though each story is completely different, they all have one thing in common: mental illness. Her hope, she says, is for those suffering in silence to read the stories of others and reach out for help, because things can get better.

“I was no longer functioning in the real world”

Honest Body Project
Image: Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project

“I have been suffering from PTSD since I was 19 years old. The reason I suffer from PTSD is because I was sexually assaulted. Once at a house party when I was 19, by a ‘friend’ and again this past year, outside of a bar, by another supposed friend. This caused me to become extremely paranoid of the people around me. This led me to realize that I needed to reach out for help, since I was no longer functioning in the real world. I found myself wanting to stay in bed all day and sleep,” she said.

More: The best resolution you can make for you mental health

What helps her cope is writing, venting and working out.

“Another huge struggle for me is that I self mutilated to escape from my problems. I have been clean from self mutilation and prescription drug use for 9 months,” she continued. “I’ll tell you first hand that cutting or any type of self mutilation is harder to quit than any drug. This is because you are your own drug.”

“I figured it was just part of being a new mom”

Honest Body Project
Image: Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project

“My first child was born at 36 weeks and I went on bed rest about 27 weeks. My pregnancy was a very difficult and uncomfortable time for me. I didn’t have that pregnancy glow or that feeling that women say that they have when they’re pregnant, that they’re just so elated. I can truly say that I just didn’t enjoy being pregnant,” she said.

She tried to go back to normal life, but cried the whole way when she went back to work after maternity leave.

“I think that was the beginning of me being truly depressed,” she continued. “I kind of went through a fog for the next several months, I couldn’t get my performance at work to be as good as it was in the past and felt like I was just struggling to get through the day. But I figured it was just part of being a new mom.”

“I always feel like people are laughing at me”

Honest Body Project
Image: Natalie McCain/The Honest Body Project

“I have had low self esteem and been self hating since I was 7 years old. I started getting bullied in the 3rd grade about my weight and the way I looked, not being pretty, because I was smart, etc. When I was 13, in 7th grade gym class, I was spit on by a boy I had a crush on, just because I wasn’t pretty enough, I had never even spoken word to him,” she said.

More: Reasons we body shame ourselves (and why we really shouldn’t)

“I began seeking help both with medication and counseling when I was 18,” she continued. “… I am finally on a regimen that is working well. … It is not easy, and sometimes the road is a long one, but do not give in. The world needs you, even though this disease is lying to you saying it doesn’t.”

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