1 Year Struggling with Depression

1 Year Struggling with Depression (Photos below description)

Between June 2015-June 2016 I struggled a lot with depression, ranging from mild to severe. On the good days, I felt pretty normal but like a monster was lurking around the corner waiting to plunge me back into sadness, on the bad days, I struggled to even get out of bed and felt completely numb and even detached physically from my body, like I was watching myself at a distance smile at people and pretend to care about our conversations as I wanted to curl into a ball and escape inside myself. At first this was just a day or two here or there, but eventually it began to drag on for days on days, weeks. At the worst times, suicidal thoughts briefly passed through my head. “Would anyone even care if I died?” I thought. I was already so numb that death didn’t seem like it would be that different than how I already felt. Even as professionally  much of my life was going well, emotionally and mentally I felt like I was falling apart. At the urging of several friends, I began seeing a therapist in October 2015 which helped immensely, but also surfaced a lot of suppressed trauma from abuse I endured particularly as a teenager. When I thought things were getting better in late 2015/early 2016, I plunged back into depression from my suppressed trauma in spring 2016. I was again totally numb. I didn’t even enjoy photography anymore. I eventually began to rest more, reflecting on the year and the trauma that I had suppressed before synthesizing and beginning to really recover in a real way in June 2016.

Throughout this time, I documented my experiences and feelings through photography. At the time, I ambiguously titled many of the photos as “Xx”. I knew that the series I was doing was about my depression but I was scared to talk about it. The stigma against mental illness is so strong, especially in black and many immigrant communities and particularly amongst men, that I felt smothered into silence. I stalled seeking help as long as possible until much of my life emotionally felt like it was in pieces. I suffered in silence much of the time, especially as people shamed me for not being social and more. Mental illness is not a joke and depression and anxiety in particular are incredibly common, especially in black and brown communities that have endured tremendous historical trauma. That is why I find it important that I share my story, as a queer person, a black person, an immigrant, a victim of abuse and more. We need to destigmatize mental illness so that people can and do get help when they need it and feel loved and supported by their communities in doing so. And if it weren’t for my closest friends repeatedly urging me to go to therapy until I relented, I’m not sure where I would be today. 

Below are the photos I captured over that year I spent struggling with depression in (roughly) chronological order from when I first started to slide into one of the hardest years of my life to when I began to truly recover and heal. 

06.15 - Xx

06.15 - Xx

06.15 - what remains pushes on

07.15 - Royal

07.15 - Xx

07.15 - Xx

08.15  - heritage

09.15 - suspended animation

09.15 - Xx

09.15- Xx

09.15 - Drink up

10.15 - Xx

10.15 - ever forward

10.15 - the materia series

11.15 - untitled

12.15- Me

02.16- wednesday morning

02.16- day.z

03.16 - spring

03.16 - moonlight

04.16 - . . pause

04.16 - untitled

04.16 - untitled

04.16 - untitled

05.16 - embrace your magic

05.16 - untitled

05.16 - untitled

06.16 - comp 2

swimming in sunshine

When I touched heaven

The last two pictures from 06.16 were accompanied by this poem:

swimming in sunshine 

in too deep

you paused for a moment

conjuring the beat 

When i touched heaven


Limit(less) Project: Tyler

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. 

For more on the project, follow us on TumblrInstagramFacebook and Flickr.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Tyler: Queer Kenyan-Somali (Canada)

Q. What’s your name, country of origin, ethnicity, pronouns, and how do you identify in terms of your LGBTQ identity?

My name is Tyler. I’m a Kenyan-Somali-Canadian. Pronouns, he and him. I identify as queer. 


Q. How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style as mysterious. Not mysterious in terms of being confusing to others, although that very well may be the case. Rather, my style is mysterious to me. I’m always surprised by what I end up leaving the house in, but it also almost always puts a smile on my face.


Q. How do you think your style incorporates/blends elements of your African and LGBTQ identity?

As the cliche goes, my style is a way for me to express myself - and my multiple identities, those discovered and undiscovered, all play into that. When I wear my kikoy I feel like I am on the coast of Kenya being enriched by the sun and bewitched by the aroma of spices. When I wear my Kenya bracelet, I feel connected to the growth and prosperity of home. When I wear my traditional necklaces I feel the halo of my ancestors resting around my neck and upon my shoulders. When I wear my yellow bracelet, I feel connected to the dirt road near my home in Nairobi where I found it abandoned.

As per my queer identity, my style is not regulated by arbitrary gender norms. If I want to wear short shorts and a dashiki then I do. I guess my queerness, in part, fuels my ability to transcend the expected. And that is what I try to do with my style, transcend the expected and, in many ways, come home to myself.


Q. Was there ever a time where you felt pushed away from your African or LGBTQ identities? If so, how did you overcome that personally?

During a conversation about queerness, African(ness), and identity a good friend of mine made a statement that has stuck with me ever since. He is also a queer East African man, a Black body, living in Canada. He said that one difficulty in being a queer African man in the Canadian diaspora is that within our own African communities we are expected to be hyper feminine, as a consequence of our sexual orientation while within the Canadian queer scene we are expected to be hyper masculine as a result of our Blackness. I couldn’t agree more.

In many ways we are pushed out of both communities in unique and specific ways and pulled in in just as complex ways. For me, this is a source of power. When we are neither here nor there, we are free to carve out and customized space for ourselves through community, art, and self-exploration. It’s both agonizingly isolating and indescribably freeing to live on the margins of the expected. It is at this crossroads that we make our home, and brick by brick it becomes ever more immaculate.


Q. How is your relationship with your family, and what does being “accepted” by your family look like for you?

Family is who you come home to. Who you call in tears. Those who call you in tears. Those with whom sharing a simple look can substitute for a whole conversation. To me, family is not only nuclear, not even only genetic, but also includes those whose hearts have shared a kiss with our own.

My heart has been known to kiss rarely, but passionately. 


Q. What would you have to say to people who say that being LGBTQ is “un-African”?

We don’t believe in the same Africa. 


Q. How was participating in the Limit(less) shoot?

I’m always willing to support Black art. Glad I could be a part of the project. 


Q. What are you most excited about for Limit(less)?

Being a part of the visibility of our people. Often, visibility is underplayed in terms of contributing to the empowerment of any marginalized group. I am excited for my narrative to resonate with folks who can not only understand my words, but also feel my story. I’m excited for you to hear my story.

I’m excited for my kinfolk to know that they are not weird or misunderstood, they are just levitating on a different level than some people. I need them to know that they aren’t levitating alone. We’re Black. We’re African. We’re queer. And we are most definitely in


Q. Where are you comfortable with people reaching you on social media (include links to your accounts that you’re willing to be shared with each post)?

Instagram: @tmonaayyy 

Blog: www.tylerblackpower.wordpress.com


Limit(less) Project: Taib

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. 

For more on the project, follow us on TumblrInstagramFacebook and Flickr.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Taib: Queer Ethiopian-Kenyan (Canada)

Q. What’s your name, country of origin, ethnicity, pronouns, and how do you identify in terms of your LGBTQ identity?

My name is Taib. It’s an Arabic word meaning ‘good’ or ‘pure’. It was my father’s nickname growing up and he gave it to me.  I was born and raised in Canada. By way of my parents my ethnicity is mixed. My mother’s Ethiopian and my father is Kenyan.

I answer to him/he and identify as queer.


Q. How would you describe your style?

My style is always evolving. I enjoy the freshness it gives to my life so therefore I do not stick with a particular look for long. To describe it now I’d say “Youthful East African going to the market”. 


Q. How do you think your style incorporates/blends elements of your African and LGBTQ identity?

Just recently I have been trying to incorporate more of my African heritage into my attire. Access to African elements from my heritage has always been a challenge living in the ‘great white north’. Besides the occasional gifts from my grandma from Kenya I really didn’t have much to go on. This past year I have had the opportunity to live and work in East Africa and have collected items along the way. I try to mix different elements into both my professional and casual wear.

Given the right circumstances, I like to flirt with aspects of femininity and masculinity. I like subtle accents like a dangly earring on one ear with the occasional application of eyeliner, and accent (s) of colour.


Q. Was there ever a time where you felt pushed away from your African or LGBTQ identities? If so, how did you overcome that personally?

Navigating in all white spaces for most of my adolescence there was always an eerie push to suppress identities that would force me to standout. Sometimes I did this intentionally and other times unconsciously.

As I got older I realized there was a certain power in being ‘different’. I have access to a culture and community that the majority of my peers didn’t. Starting in university I started to embrace all facets of who I am because that’s what I need to survive. I realized running from who I am won’t get me anywhere. I have big plans for my future and in order for me to reach my full potential I need all of me at the finish line not just the pieces that white society can stomach.


Q. How is your relationship with your family, and what does being “accepted” by your family look like for you?

When my family was formally introduced to my queerness they were scared. Not of me but for me. They knew the cruelty society had towards people like me. Over time there fear has turned into pride. My immediate family is completely accepting of me. Though they are not completely understanding of what it’s like to live as a gay black man, they support me and treat me the same as they always have. I’m so fortunate to have the family that I have.

Acceptance to me is the freedom to talk openly about my sexual orientation, no restrictions on clothing, and 100% unconditional love and support.


Q. What would you have to say to people who say that being LGBTQ is “un-African”?

I would ask them where are you deriving this ideology of Africanism? Is this origin African? The Africa that I know is welcoming, diverse, rich, and free.


Q. How was participating in the Limit(less) shoot?

I have never done something like this so I would like to thank you Mikael for prosing the idea. It was a hot summer day on a rooftop in Toronto and I would not have changed a thing.

I would do it again in a heartbeat.


Q. What are you most excited about for Limit(less)?

I’m looking forward to seeing how this project is received. More people should be doing things like this. Representation is key in a society where there is a narrative that queerness is synonymous with whiteness.

Projects like this are explosive because they demonstrate to our elders and children that we are not invisible. Queerness is alive and well on the continent of Africa. Queerness has no borders it has no limits. I’m excited to have an encounter with a bigot who says queerness is un-African then send them a link to your blog and ask them to explain then ‘how all these children of Africa came to be who they are?’  

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