This Stunning Photo Series Nails What It Feels Like To Have An Anxiety Disorder

05/18/2015 11:43 am ET | Updated May 18, 2015

It can be difficult to verbalize what it's like to experience mental illness, so photographer Katie Crawford decided to show people instead of tell them.

In a stunning self-portrait series titled "My Anxious Heart," Crawford captures how it feels to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and depression -- two conditions she has personally dealt with since she was a child.

"I created the project as a way for me to personally express what I feel like in my experience. I know it may not be specific to each person, but I hope that it creates the opportunity to open a dialogue between those who suffer from it and those who have never understood it," Crawford told The Huffington Post in an email. "I want the photographs and their paired writings to begin to express the constant, overwhelming presence of anxiety. It's not always terrifying, it's not always strong and it's not always intense, but it's always close by."

anxiety 1

"A captive of my own mind. The instigator of my own thoughts. The more I think, the worse it gets. The less I think, the worse it gets. Breathe. Just breathe. Drift. It'll ease soon."

Crawford accurately depicts how anxiety and depression feel on the inside -- from feeling like you're wrapped so tightly in anxiety that you can't breathe to the agonizing inability to fall asleep when panic is looming. She also wrote corresponding captions for the photos in hopes that they will further explain what it feels like to deal with the disorders.

"I want people that suffer from [anxiety] to be able to use these images as a reference if they need it," she said. "There's a misconception that anxious people are antisocial, short fused or overdramatic. But they're most likely processing everything around them so intensely that they can't handle a lot of questions, people or heavy information all at once. And I think certain images express that. Anxiety is when you feel everything."

anxiety 2

"A glass of water isn’t heavy. It’s almost mindless when you have to pick one up. But what if you couldn’t empty it or set it down? What if you had to support its weight for days...months...years? The weight doesn’t change, but the burden does. At a certain point, you can’t remember how light it used to seem. Sometimes, it takes everything in you to pretend it isn’t there. And sometimes, you just have to let it fall."

The artist's portraits are a welcome explainer in a world where mental illness is so frequently misunderstood. Only 25 percent of people with mental health issues feel that others are compassionate about their condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Crawford said she hopes the images bring to light what she and so many others deal with on a daily basis.

"I want to help end stigma that 'it's not the same as physical illness,'" Crawford explained. "Just like with physical illness, there are days that are lighter. There are days when someone with chronic back pain isn't wincing with every step, but the days of a flair up are almost paralyzing."

anxiety 3

"My head is filling with helium. Focus is fading. Such a small decision to make. Such an easy question to answer. My mind isn’t letting me. It’s like a thousand circuits are all crossing at once."

Most importantly, Crawford wants others to understand that while anxiety is an illness, it's an illness that can be managed.

"I want people to understand that fears are built on lies we believe," she said. "You have to understand what it is that is causing them to know how to make them lessen. Fear can't control your life. There are so many people that have this illness and I want it exposed for what it is. I want people to know they aren’t alone and that this is a real and very raw disorder."

Take a look at some of Crawford's other stunning portraits below.

"My Anxious Heart" Photo Series

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