About six years ago Anna Pepper found herself in a crowded park on the brink of a panic attack.
The 34-year-old veterinary nurse from Winchester had been struggling with her mental health, experiencing panic attacks almost daily.
Grabbing her phone, she started taking pictures “and without knowing it I just got completely absorbed – the panic attack that I was on the edge of had just completely gone away”, she said.
“And that was the spark of this unexpected passion that completely turned my life around.”
She said: “I don’t want people to think that I’m saying pick up a camera and all your problems will go away.
“Photography just sparked this whole thing in my brain that if I worked hard and got the help I needed, and used my energy to be in nature and concentrate on something creative, I realised I probably could get better.
“It gave me this hope that I would be able to get through it.”
The panic attacks would come on with no real warning and “seemed to be more volatile each time”, she said.
“I live with a fair few chronic illnesses which can affect mental health – I don’t really know what triggered it, I just suddenly became very overwhelmed by life, it just came out of nowhere.
“I went to work and struggled through pretending I was OK every day, and then I would just count down the hours until I could get home and just shut myself in my bedroom.
“I felt I was trapped in this loop that I was either panicking, or if I wasn’t panicking I was feeling anxious about when I might next panic. It was just taking over my whole life.”
Ms Pepper said she had not felt ready to tell her friends and family what she was going through.
“Even though they would have wanted to help me there was an element of guilt and I just didn’t want the people I loved to worry about me,” she said.
The first thing she did was call the Mind helpline, “being able to talk to somebody that didn’t know me at all who just says ‘it’s OK you can talk to me’ – hearing those words I just released everything”.
She also continued to go out daily to take pictures, bought a camera a few months later and set up an Instagram page to post her photos.
Her main love became “locations where you are really in the thick of mother nature” such as forests and Dorset’s Jurassic Coast where she grew up.
After taking workshops and classes “it just continued to snowball and I ended up with two diplomas in photography,” she said.
“When I say it’s changed my life – it really has. Just to be quiet, just to be alone with my camera and nature, it’s like a form of medication.
“Looking back it’s the thing that got me talking, got me out of the house, it’s the thing that made me creative and I’ve learnt so much about myself.
“I don’t want to simplify it for anybody else and I don’t want to downplay it because I know that things can be very serious for people.
“This is my story but I just want people to know that no matter how hopeless it feels there is always hope and there’s always something and there is always someone to go to.”