How To Document Difficult Times Using Photos

January 14, 2022

We all have them … photos that bring back memories that might not be the happiest ones and that might upset us when we look at them. So, what should we do with them? Toss? Keep somewhere in a box in the darkest corner of our wardrobe?



Disclaimer: Before I share my thoughts, I’d like to mention that I am very aware that some people have experienced extremely traumatic events in their life. These are not the events I mean in this post.

Personally, and I think I’m not the only one, I tend to remember and focus on good things. Not just when looking to past events but also right here and now and into the future. I’m not a psychologist and have not studied this topic but from what I hear from clients and others, it seems we tend to almost romanticise past times and forget that not all was rosy either. Life simply is not always rosy and happy. It’s normal and real (and probably healthy) that we have to deal with more difficult and challenging times.

Common examples could be the loss of a loved one, a separation, a move, a job-loss or a health scare.

So, what can we actually do when we come across photos that are difficult to look at and how can we document those more challenging times?



I will share some ideas and examples in a minute. First though, I would like to reiterate that there is no right or wrong and if it is all too much, just leave it for now. These thoughts I’m sharing with you may or may not resonate with you. Also, by no means do I want to belittle any emotions or feelings.

So, here we go:



Let the memory come back and – if you can – acknowledge the thoughts, emotions and feelings it brings up. What comes to mind when you think about that time? Grief, sadness, regret, disappointment, anger? Instead of blocking these emotions and feelings and throwing out photos, reframe it and allow yourself a new perspective – because we can’t change the past. Instead, why not try to change how you look back to those times. Maybe focus more on acceptance, appreciation, and reflection.



Try to capture the memory that you would like to remember, not the one you want to forget about.


Take a new photo

Explore the idea of using a photo to remember that moment / time / person in a way that is going to serve you better. What could you take away from that memory that is going to empower you? Find a photo – or even take a new one – that helps you to look at the lessons or the positives that came with that difficult situation. For me, this worked wonderfully, as you can read in the following example.



A practical, personal example


Especially during difficult times or situations, we tend to not take pictures. However, you might find one or even take a new one that represents what you have survived or grew through. I’d love to share this personal experience with you to explain better what I mean:

I live near Melbourne and we have acquired the not so great world record of being in full lockdown for an accumulated overall total of over 260 days due to COVID-19.

When we finished the 5th lockdown this year and went into the next one – not even a week later – in early August, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Until then, I had been able to not let it get to me and I and my family belonged to the lucky ones. COVID-19 and lockdowns had not had any extremely negative impact for me and my loved ones. Nobody lost their job, nobody got sick – neither physically nor mentally – we really can’t complain. However, it was not easy and there were darker days for all of us.

Personally, I really struggled for a few weeks at the start of that 6th lockdown from early August onwards. I was really, really down during the whole month. September school holidays were rather depressing, too, since we were still in lockdown and only allowed outside for a few hours every day within a radius 15 kilometres from home (which was already a progress after the 5 km radius that was in force for a long time before). On top of that, everything except grocery stores, post offices and doctors was closed … you see the issue with two teenage boys?! The time spent behind screens is scary as … but it’s also been a saviour.

Well, that brings me to a question: would you agree that living in COVID-19-times is not the easiest of times?

So, here is my photo that represents that whole COVID-19 time:


Why that tree – what has it got to do with it all? Let me share the story behind it:

Since it all started last year, we explored many new walks in our area because we were not allowed to move outside a 5 km radius from home for many weeks. During that time, we had discovered a park we hadn’t explored yet and in it the above pictured tree. This one tree has become very precious and special to me. Whenever I’m there, I feel so much positive energy.

So, this tree – and the photo of this tree – for me represents that entire COVID-time. Not in a negative way, but rather as a representation of my belief that everything has two sides and that most of the time, I was able to stay optimistic and healthy by focussing on the good around me and on things I can do and change.

It represents the resilience of not only me but our children especially. There is even that symbolic meaning: we’re strong like that tree. We change with the seasons, we move with the wind, but we stay strong, we are rooted. The ability to adapt to a new situation but also the heartache of not being able to see family living overseas. All this and more is packed into that one picture.



This is my personal example. Maybe you can think of an image that would do the same for you? If so, I’d love to hear more about it and I’d love for you to share it in the comments. If you think this is totally bonkers, I’d love to hear it, too! I am aware that I am in a very fortunate position and that this will not solve any major struggles and challenges. But I do believe the mind is very powerful and that photos can play a positive role in shifting focus.


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