Agoraphobic Traveller’s Instagram Is Helping People Deal With Isolation
Mere weeks ago, I was chatting happily with friends about a mates’ holiday overseas; with the only obstacle being reaching an agreement about which Airbnb to pick.
There is nothing quite like arriving in new places; to feel the warmth engulf you as you step off a plane. To walk along coastal streets and pick a restaurant based on how mouthwatering it smells.
However, like so many people across the world, I have since found my life hemmed in considerably; a walk to the local shops being as far as my feet can sensibly take me.
I have come to terms with the fact that this summer may well be more restricted than any other other. There will be no sea salt in my hair, no iced cocktails by the pool.
And still. I want to see things. I want to see craggy cliff tops which make my stomach plummet and impossibly blue skies and roads which snake their way up to the tops of mountains.
In short, I want to see life going on beyond these four walls; vivid and ancient and so much bigger and more beautiful than my everyday concerns of which day-time pyjama pants to pull on.
Like many others out there, I’m in need of a bit of guidance about how to make this current situation feel a bit more breathable. How to make the perimeters of the living room carpet feel slightly more open.
Jacqui Kenny is a gifted photographer whose work makes you forget everything else for a moment, with her photographs offering understated yet transfixing windows of reality. Glimpses of camels and wide roads bordered with snow piles. Cacti and dust trails and remote village streets.
These are the sort of photographs you can spend time observing, slowing down and picking out finer details; interesting local quirks or sweet moments of interaction between wild horses. And there’s far more to them than meets the eye.
In 2016, Jacqui was going through a very difficult time with her agoraphobia; an extreme fear of open and crowded places. Those with agoraphobia may be afraid to leave their homes, or being in a place without easy escape routes.
Jacqui, who is now in her forties, began getting bad panic attacks in her early twenties, meaning travelling far from home became very difficult. She didn’t know where to turn for help at this time and so things got ‘progressively worse’.
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Google Street View Scene – Kissing Horses, Mongolia. Sending love to each and everyone of you through these tough times. Hope you are all ok? I've had a few people ask If I could share the coordinates from some of my favourite locations. I will definitely be doing this over the next few months and in the meantime, if anyone's keen to jump into the world of Street View, I would recommend starting with some of my favourite countries such as Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. I'll also be sharing excerpts from the essay Emily Berry @no1_emily is writing for our upcoming book ‘Many Nights’. Her beautiful words are more relevant than ever. Stay safe and take care. Jacqui ❤️
Jacqui told UNILAD:
I didn’t understand what was happening to me and it made me feel incredibly alone. Eventually it got to the point that I struggled to travel anywhere that wasn’t close to my home and I was eventually diagnosed with agoraphobia.
Isolated and ‘desperate’ to make a change, Jacqui came across Google Street View. A tool that would help her situation immeasurably.
With her ability to travel left severely limited, Jacqui – who has mostly been unable to leave the house since 2016 – got creative in order to keep exploring and connecting; using Google Earth as both her eyes and her feet.
Speaking with UNILAD, Jacqui revealed she was ‘in awe’ of Street View:
I had only ever used Google Maps to get from A to B or check out my house, so I was really surprised by what I was discovering. I found myself searching endlessly for moments of magic, all frozen in time.
I realised that the possibilities were endless and, with billions of images to search through, there was so much to explore. I loved finding remote areas that I didn’t even know existed and I had so much fun leaping from one city to another.
Jacqui has described herself as feeling like a ‘time traveller’, with the instantaneous, ‘surreal’ method of crossing borders and oceans often taking her years back into the past.
Initially, Jacqui was keen to explore ‘everywhere and everything’, filled with curiosity and excitement. However, over time she found there were certain places she liked visiting more than others, and her travels became more purposeful.
I started following the light and I was drawn to places with extreme environments, usually in the the desert. I loved searching through the desert because it both terrified me and fascinated me all at once.
As someone with agoraphobia, the desert is quite overwhelming with no easy escape or exit. I would leave the busy cities and venture out to the smaller towns, where there was so much space, making it easier to find a composition that suited my style.
Fascinated by Google Earth’s potential, Jacqui began to record her travels through taking screenshots. Sometimes peaceful, and othertimes melancholy, Jacqui’s inquisitive nature can be felt in each shot.
Pale and dreamy, Jacqui’s photographs capture the feeling of wandering into a new and distant place all by yourself; taking in the unfamiliar light and dust and the homes so very far from your own.
Jacqui told UNILAD how she is ‘always looking for images that are every day scenes but don’t really feel like they fit in the real world’:
The sense of isolation and control yet at the same time hopeful. It’s important there is both a dark and a light side to each of the images and I want people to make their own decision on how they make them feel. Some see the light, some see the dark.
It’s the ‘little things’ Jacqui looks for in her work, the small moments which initially seem unremarkable, but in Jacqui’s words, ‘shows so much humanity’.
One example she gives is a photograph of an ‘elderly man walking his little dog’, with the lead fastened to his Zimmer frame. A deceptively ordinary scene, made beautiful through Jacqui’s eyes.
Moments like these make smile and love the world a little bit more. I also love finding the similarities between countries, it shows just how connected we all are. A good example of this is kids playing football on the streets, backyards or in fields. You see the same scenes everywhere.
Although Jacqui says she is constantly searching for photographs which represent her in some way or another, it’s clear they also resonate with many people from a range of countries and backgrounds.
At the time of writing, Jacqui has over 118,000 Instagram followers, with many finding solace and inspiration in her personal means of exploration at this difficult time.
In the wake of the outbreak, our lives have been restrained and pulled back considerably. But Jacqui – in both her life and work – shows us we still have the means and ability within ourselves to be left completely awestruck.
Jacqui told UNILAD:
I’m already seeing so many experiences move from the real world to the online world, from virtual art galleries to online parties. I think this is just the beginning and we are going to see so much more innovation with stay at home and local experiences. You don’t always have to travel to be transported.
I also think it’s a great time to be creative and I don’t think there’s any place quite like the imagination. Creativity was a real life saver for me when I was feeling my most isolated and anxious.
It helped me process my feelings and my situation and gave me a whole new perspective on the world. You can use this time to take you somewhere new.
Jacqui has visited over 70 countries so far, covering most of the countries currently mapped on Street View. In terms of the places she loves best, Jacqui’s personal favourites include Senegal, Mongolia, Chile, Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Mexico.
Offering advice to those who might want to follow in her virtual footsteps, Jacqui has suggested beginning with Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, countries which she has found to be ‘so incredibly beautiful and fascinating’.
Jacqui is now waiting for more countries to be mapped and ready for exploration; eagerly looking forward to travelling through more countries in the continent of Africa.
Opening up about how Street View has enhanced her life and outlook, Jacqui told UNILAD:
It has given me a voice, a confidence and an acceptance I’ve never had before. It has given me the courage to travel outside of my comfort zones and I don’t feel the the same amount of stigma I once did when it came to my mental health.
I’ll forever be grateful to the people I have spoken to around the world that have helped me not feel not so alone.
I have learned to love and appreciate my local area. I am not usually housebound like I am now in isolation, but travelling far distances has been very difficult for me.
It has taught me to respect and enjoy what I have close by and has made me appreciate the smaller things in life. I also found that it took me on an internal journey which I think can be one of the most important journeys anyone can take.
Having struggled with agoraphobia for more than twenty years, especially since since 2016, Jacqui has come a long way. Her book, Many Nights, is coming out later this year, and she also donates proceeds from selling prints to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, an NGO which works to improve understanding, prevention and treatment of mental illnesses.
In terms of managing her own mental health, Jacqui has worked hard over the past six years to understand and reduce her agoraphobic thoughts, a process which has involved regular Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and mindfulness.
Jacqui also tries to keep herself ‘in the present as much as possible’, something she describes as being ‘incredibly hard but so important’. Thankfully, things have recently gotten a little bit easier.
Crucially, Jacqui has come to a place of self-acceptance, telling UNILAD:
I now realise it’s a part of who I am and It makes me see the world in a unique way and for this I am grateful. I know that I will probably always be dealing with anxiety but I have found ways to reduce it and I can now travel more than ever.
At this difficult time, Jacqui’s work feels especially important, with each photograph showing appreciation and wonder for our beautiful, shared planet and all those who wander it.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.
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