Here’s a surprising statistic for you: today in America, there are 5.7 million adults diagnosed with bipolar disorder and approximately 14.8 million are living with depression every day. While mental illness is slowly shedding its longstanding stigma, the hardships these people face are still misunderstood. For photographer Liz Obert, her biggest struggle was the double life she was leading while suffering from bipolar II disorder. She knew she couldn’t be the only one living very different private and public lives. In what would become her ongoing series Dualities, Obert sought out other people with mental illnesses who were existing under similar circumstances.
Obert juxtaposes two images of her subjects – the first shows the reality of their depression and the second shows the person how they’d like to be seen. She gives her subject complete control over both scenarios. In many of the first photos, we find the subject under covers in bed, hidden indoors and shut out from the world. In the next set of images, we see people dressed up for work or activities they enjoy, their heads held high and even a faint trace of a smile. Each image is accompanied by a handwritten caption that relates to their state of mind during each scenario.
Obert even turned the camera on herself for a self portrait. She recalls it being a vulnerable experience, having to confront her illness and announce to the world that she is a sufferer of bipolar disorder. When living with a mental illness, one must put on a “normal” appearance in order to blend in with society. Obert hopes that with the project, people will begin to understand that people can’t always be their best selves. Her goal is that these images will add to the conversation of mental illness and help reduce the stigma.
All images © Liz Obert