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Feb 06, 2024 | Podcast

Creative Expression, Mental Health, and Healing with Carey Kirkella

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About the episode:

This week’s episode of the Prosperous Empath® gets to the heart of how to access your creativity to overcome hardship and build an aligned life. I sit down with Carey Kirkella, an award-winning photographer for purpose-driven brands and the creator of The L.E.N.S. Method™, to have a conversation about mental health, regulating your nervous system, and sparking your creative expression. Carey shares her story of living with bipolar disorder and experiencing postpartum psychosis and how she channeled her lived experience into creative self-expression. What if we go through life experiences – and even hardships – to ultimately use them as means to create, tell stories, and heal? As Wayne Dyer once said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. I hope this conversation helps you shift your perspective, become more creative, and generate more abundance in your life. Enjoy!


Topics discussed:

  • Living with mental illness and how you can transform your hardship into creative expression to find a deeper purpose
  • How to connect with your art and self-expression to tell your story as an empath and a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
  • Shifting your perspective to experience life through a lens of deep gratitude, love, and creativity 
  • How to regulate your nervous system and look for creative responses instead of reacting to your circumstances
  • How to start seeing your sensitivity as a superpower instead of a weakness


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Click here for a raw, unedited transcript of this episode


Catherine A. Wood  03:51

Hi, Carrie, welcome to the podcast.



Hi, thank you so much for having me.


Catherine A. Wood  04:14

I’m excited to have you today. I know that we have some kind of mutual connections in common and, and I also you know, I only know a little bit about your work. So maybe by way of getting a started, you could share with us a little bit of your story and also your pronouns.


Carey Kirkella  04:34

Sure. So I am a she her and I am a photographer who also has created something called the lens method. And it’s creative photography workshops with a focus on emotional well being. And lens is an acronym for light, empathy now and storytelling. The photography work that I do is primarily branding photography for impacts really. But I work with service based businesses primarily. And usually changemakers. You know, people that want to help the world become a better place.


Catherine A. Wood  05:17

I know that when we chatted, previously, you shared a little bit about how your photography work has shifted over the years from being more kind of commercial shoot driven to working more with empathic creators. And I’m wondering, like, how is your experience of your work shifted as your niche audiences has become more specific? Yeah,



well, I, I started out doing commercial work for companies like big companies, Pfizer, Schwab, or a couple of them that I’ve done advertising photography, for, right. So ad campaigns, basically. And the more I got more in touch, kind of with what I with who I am, and what I want to do, the more I wanted to be around those types of people. And so I said, Why don’t I do branding photography for, you know, small businesses, coaches, things like that. And the more I kind of became more in tune with how to help them create their own better, or sorry, how to, you know, share their stories through images that I would create with them, I thought more about my story and how that basically led me to realize, you know, you are your personal brand, right. So that’s kind of where, where I am right now with sharing my story and how I’ve created the lens method. And, and I’m kind of shifting, I’m in transition mode, again, where I’m like, okay, you know, I’m a photographer, but what I really care about is helping people with their mental health and emotional health. And so because of just my story and what I’ve been through, so I, I feel like I can bring what I do, as a photographer into that and become more of the creative artist, again, that I was when I started out being a photographer, that’s really what you know that that’s really what I care about, you know, making, making photos as a way to have fun and play and be creative. And, you know, and I’ve realized that I can use that as a tool to help my own mental and emotional health, and I can help other people do that, too.


Catherine A. Wood  07:28

I know that photography has been a huge part of your own story and journey with healing and taking care of yourself. And I, you know, if you’re willing, I’d love for you to share a little bit more of that story. Because something I notice a lot working with my clients is that finding a creative outlet is direct access to reconnecting with our own joy. And we all need it. And so many of us really struggle with accessing it or finding it or choosing a creative path. And so I I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you found yours.


Carey Kirkella  08:10

Yeah, definitely, I am happy to share, I feel like another kind of driving force for me is that I want people to talk more about sharing their story, sharing what they’ve been through, and using, you know, kind of using that as a way to, to kind of reconnect them with who they really are. Right. And that’s kind of what I do with with the lens method work. But so I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was in my late 20s. And I really believe that a lot of that has to do with trauma. Just I environmental stressors and you know, as an empath, and a highly sensitive person I, I was affected a lot by September 11 2001. I was in my early 20s, at the time, and I had worked at The Wall Street Journal, I was a photo editor and Assistant. Let’s see what was I was the staff photographer and assistant photo editor for the weekend section of the Wall Street Journal. And so I had that job for about a year and a half. And it was really not good for me. It was very corporate and hard for me to be there. But I, I had a premonition, while I was on my lunch break one day that these that the Twin Towers were going to come down and that I kind of dismissed it. It was just a bit of a very clear knowing. And I didn’t know how or why or when, but I just put that out of my mind. And I couldn’t really take working there anymore, and I just kind of abruptly quit sort of, I mean, I kind of gave them you know, a decent amount of heads up. I think it was three weeks or something. But I had a little bit of money saved and I thought I’m just gonna you know, take the summer To put together my portfolio as a photographer and do that, and somehow make it work, I had no idea what I was doing. But I, about two months after I quit my job, the September 11 2001 happened, and the attacks on the Twin Towers happened. And I just completely shut down my intuition. After that, I was terrified of it. And I really had no one to talk to you about it, either. I didn’t have any sort of, you know, spiritual mentor, or, and my, you know, I didn’t really have any mentors, basically, let’s just say that. And I, I went through a lot in those few years, when I was really struggling to try to figure out how to make a living. And also just the weight of this trauma on on me than in me, because I can really feel it. And I started photographing, I went, well, basically, what happened was, I just photographed a Christian music festival, that basically kind of blew my mind in a few different ways. Because I went there thinking, Oh, um, this will be, you know, an interesting thing to photograph like, kind of like almost, you know, in a condescending way, I was being judgmental, and I was, like, you know, I have to do some sort of, kind of sensationalism type of photo shoot, that will help. I don’t know, I don’t really know what I was thinking at the time. But I was about, you know, 23 or so. And it was a camping experience. Amazing. But I was also, you know, that I really still need to do something with that work, because I actually, I made a really a nice series of images there. And I did some interviews with video. And anyway, that was sort of the start of it. But it was also in kind of a catalyst for having my first manic episode related to bipolar disorder, because I was under a tremendous amount of stress financially, and just kind of in general. And I, this Christian music festival happened where certain people told me things that I needed to hear that were coming from somewhere higher than us, I believe. And it really blew my mind. And I just, you know, kind of literally, I couldn’t sleep for a few days after that. And once, sometimes people when they can’t sleep, they and sort of basically, bipolar disorder, there’s usually two versions, there’s bipolar one and bipolar two, I was diagnosed with bipolar one, which has usually free, less frequent episodes, but when they if and when they do occur, they can be more intense and usually require hospitalization and medication. And that happened to me three times over a period of 16 years. And there was an trauma was the reason for all three. And let’s say, I’m probably getting too far away from your original question. But basically, my story is long and kind of, you know, all intertwined with photography, and creativity and sensitivity and, you know, being an empath, so I feel like, you know, it’s, yeah, I mean, my, I guess I could just leave it at the the three sort of instances where it happened, I I was experiencing an extreme amount of stress and lack of sleep. And a lot of the time when those two things happen, then you’re someone’s brain chemistry can speed up and then they can no longer sleep. And so then bad things happen. Right? hallucinations, all kinds of things can happen when you don’t sleep.


Catherine A. Wood  14:04

You know, I didn’t mention this when we last talked, but something you just said really spoke to me that we really do need to hear more voices talking about the consequences of living with mental illness and disease and hardship. And I have a very close family member who has that, who also experiences bipolar has been hospitalized many times and it creates so much hardship for the whole family, and for all the people who care for us. And so I really admire your willingness to be vulnerable, but I also am really humbled by what you’ve done with it because the way in which you have pursued art and creative acts self expression as a way to process through your experience I think is really at admirable and something that I know many people would love to hear more like, how like, how do I take this experience that has been so traumatizing and painful and hard. And I imagine that to some degree, like out feels like it’s outside the realm of my own self control, and then channel it.


Carey Kirkella  15:21

Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m working on doing here with the lens method, I really believe that I went through all of what I went through in order to create this. I really believe that that’s my purpose. And that was why I went through it, and I chose to go through it before I even arrived. I really believe that. And when I really kind of started to understand that was the last time that it happened, which was when I had postpartum psychosis after the birth of my son. And I had basically prepared for a long time to Well, I had had to miss two miscarriages before he was born. And I, I was very, I had a lot of anxiety while I was pregnant. Because I was worried about him, and I was worried about me as well, I was worried about, you know, his physical health, because I had had lost, you know, true to previous pregnancies. And I was worried about my mental health, because also, a prominent psychiatrist in the maternal mental health field recommended that I not have children. Because I had had two previous hospitalizations for bipolar disorder. She had never met me before. This is a one time conversation, I was looking for some, you know, preventative care, which doesn’t exist, by the way. And I, you know, it took about two years for me to get over that. And to me, and for me to decide that, I felt like it really was important for me to have a child, I really just couldn’t let that idea. Go. And it wasn’t just society telling me that I shouldn’t have a child, it was something deep in my soul that I knew that I was going to, and I was going to make it through somehow. And I tried reaching out to doulas to see if anyone had worked with someone with bipolar disorder. And, you know, did they have postpartum psychosis, like what happened, you know, and nobody would speak with me, they did have a few clients that that had it, and they didn’t want to talk about it. And so that was one day where I was I kind of vowed to talk about it. I said, Whatever happens, I’m going, I know, I’m going to tell the tale, if I make it through life. And so I, when I was in the hospital, after the birth of my son, I had had 26 hours of labor. And then ultimately, a C section. And the 26 hours of labor part was really why I ended up having a manic episode, I think, well, it was that coupled with having to share a hospital room in New York City with another family that kept me up a lot. And I was also really determined to breastfeed. And so I was, there was just a few different factors there where I didn’t, it just meant that I didn’t sleep for a long time. And then, and also, the system really let me down, they were supposed to follow up with me within 24 hours of the birth. And that didn’t happen, I tried to put a lot of things in place to do some sort of preventative care, but it’s just not something that is built into the system. And so when I was in the second hospital, basically straight from that, from the hospital having after having had him, I had to go to a mental facility that was just for women. It’s kind of geared toward maternal mental health, but because there’s a need for more mental health care, there was sort of a mix of different women there. Which was scary, the whole thing was terrifying. But I just knew something just told me, you know, I’m here for this is I’m going through this for a reason. And I’m going to come back here and I’m going to help people I’m going to, you know, I’m going to do something with this that’s going to help people. And I mean, I have ideas about how to even help prevent postpartum psychosis because I have, you know, a lot of ideas that I want to share with more. Anyone who will listen to me more, you know, mental and physical health care professionals. And so that’s another reason but coming back to you know, who am I right? I’m a photographer. I’m an artist when I was a kid, I love making photos. I wanted to be a photographer since I was about 12 years old. And it was There’s a photographer or some sort of therapist, when so little did I know then that I would be going through a lot of my own mental health. And so now I’m basically kind of bringing everything together and what I’ve learned through my own, you know, tons of therapy that I’ve had, but also just personal development, I’ve always been interested in it. And I feel like everything I’ve learned has helped inform what I’ve created. And I just feel like it’s accessible, right? There’s, everybody has these cell phone cameras. Now, it kind of dawned on me during the pandemic, how I could do this, it kind of came through me then because I had that minute where I was outside of the city. And I was kind of able to hear my intuition more clearly. And I also wasn’t able to work much because I had a two year old and I was not doing photo shoots, really. So that’s when I actually started doing self portraits as a way to start sharing my story. I remember saying to my husband, I want to tell people that I had bipolar disorder, or have it and have, you know, come through the other side, I think other people need to know. And he was really apprehensive about it. And but, you know, it’s something that I think now more and more people are talking about. So I think that’s great, too.


Catherine A. Wood  21:26

Well, I really appreciate you sharing all this, I wasn’t sure where our conversation was going to go today. But I am certainly like clear how much sharing your story is part of your work and normalizing normalizing your journey as access to supporting others in normalizing their own and humanizing it. And, and I also hear how personal this is for you like how personal your art is, how personal your work is in is directly connected with why you’re here. And I guess like, I want to hear more about the lens method. But before we go there, like, I know that there are listeners tuning in who are like, really lacking a creative expression in their life, or really wanting to connect more with their own art form or their own self expression. And I’m wondering, like, what would you offer them?


Carey Kirkella  22:31

Yeah, well, if you have a smartphone, that can take pictures, I would suggest I have a, I have a free guide to about this, it’s called creating a visual gratitude journal, through the three L’s, what I call the three L’s, so that’s light, love and laughter. So this is also kind of about helping you elevate your frequency, right helping you tune into more of what you want to see in the world. And you can do that through Creative Photography, even just with your smartphone. So you know, as much as you can look for pretty dappled light coming through the leaves in the tree look for, you know, maybe just maybe you’re already making pictures of people that you love, or pets that you love, or something that you see, that’s funny, you know, a spouse making a face that you or a child doing something silly, but if you do it with intention, and kind of look at the images later, it’s a way to help you create different neurons in your brain, right, that help you kind of see what you value, see what you’re grateful for, and tune in more to that frequency. So I think, you know, this, the cellphone cameras take some pretty decent photos, and I feel like it’s a really accessible way to, to spark some creativity and spark some more joy to


Catherine A. Wood  23:54

I mean, I I appreciate that, like I certainly hear, like the invitation to connect with the magic that’s all around us through focusing our lens.


Carey Kirkella  24:08

Yeah, and the lens that you see your life through the lens you see yourself through is really a direct has a direct effect on the lens that you see yourself through. So that’s it, I make sense there, hold on the lens that you send yourself through, has a direct effect on, you know, how you experience the world basically, is what I mean to say by that. And so you have to kind of be aware of that. And you have to remind yourself, everyone, everyone has to remind themselves, right? I mean, I live in New York City. I’m not super happy about it. I’ve been here for a long time, but I have a roof deck. Not everybody has a roof deck that they can go out and enjoy, you know, the sunshine or play with their dog privately without going to a park. You know what I mean? So there’s a lot of things that I have to be grateful for and I need to I just know that it’s so important to value that and elevate it. and amplify it in your life. So how can you do that? How do I do it, I take pictures, right. And that’s something that a lot of people can do.


Catherine A. Wood  25:09

I mean, I really appreciate this conversation, even through my coaching ear, because something that I say a lot in my work is that the lens through which we experience our life is it’s decisive, like everything that we experience is filtered through the lenses, which we choose to put on. And whether we choose to experience life through lenses that are filtered with gratitude, or joy, or love or presence, or, or, or not, you know, are more disempowering viewpoints. So I certainly appreciate the practical conceptualization of that through through photography.


Carey Kirkella  25:54

Have you heard the quote by Wayne Dyer? If you change the way, does it change the way you look at things and the things you’ll look at change? Yeah, it’s really it’s really simple, but it’s really powerful. actually


Catherine A. Wood  26:08

heard him speak a couple years ago in New York at that I can do it conference, and I feel really grateful for having had the opportunity.



Yeah, that’s amazing. Yeah, I loved him. I definitely have, he’s definitely been a big influence, you know, just reading his books has helped me a lot.


Catherine A. Wood  26:27

Well, so tell us tell us a little bit more about the lens method, like tell us? I mean, I’d love to hear about kind of your viewpoint, and then how can we adapt it? And like, every day in our everyday lives, like, how can we apply this? Yeah, so


Carey Kirkella  26:43

basically, I have a longer kind, of course, or program that’s based on the the five pillars of emotional resilience. So those are mindfulness, self awareness, self care, positive relationships, and purpose. And so basically, in the program, it would be I would I share a photo story prompt, you know, inspiration around around it, and a photo story prompt based on each of those pillars each week. Hopefully, that makes sense. My first language is photography, not speaking. And so but by my foundation workshop, which everyone can do and get started with is about how to create intentional photos of nature as a walking meditation practice. But really kind of tuning into kind of, you know, tuning into your senses, getting grounded, even physically, if you can write hug a tree, get your bare feet on the ground, feel the sun on your face, feel the breeze in your hair, you know, appreciate the beauty around you, and then create some photos about something that you want to connect with in relationship to nature. So what that might be what that might look like. There’s a beautiful quote by Virginia Woolf, who, incidentally had bipolar disorder. She said, I am rooted but I flow. And I love sharing that one because, you know, it’s such a, it’s, it’s kind of something that I strive to, to be right, I want to be grounded rooted. And I also want to be adaptable, I want to, you know, not be reactive, which is really what a mindfulness practice helps you do is not to be so reactive. And so, what does that look like though, in a photo, you can tune into your sense of sight and just look for it? It’s kind of like a fun scavenger hunt, a visual scavenger hunt, right? But as grounding look like what does flow look like, it doesn’t necessarily have to be water, it could be the lines on a on the bark of a tree. It could be you know, the veins on leaves, remind me of how the veins in our bodies, we are connected with nature, right? There’s just so much that you could do with that, that and it’s good for you anyway, just to be in nature. So I recommend that


Catherine A. Wood  29:19

I mean, I, I love that kind of sensory perception, like really looking at, like experiencing life through a filter that that tunes into all of our own senses, our own collective senses, right with what’s external versus what’s internal.



Yeah, and it helps regulate your nervous system which is so valuable. You know, it’s really what becomes our superpower in this day and age with kind of all the stressors and all of the, you know, outside kind of messages that we are getting and it can be a real it could be a lot asked for a highly sensitive person and an empath. And so I think that this practice is something that is, is accessible. And it’s something that just kind of takes, you know, you’re maybe you already know that taking a 20 minute nature walk is good for you. But this is kind of something that can help spark your creativity too, and help you. You know, have fun with it as well.


Catherine A. Wood  30:23

That’s such a powerful reminder like that. Connect that regulating your nervous system can spark your creativity, because I know from a coaching perspective, when I regulate my nervous system, it allows me to connect with more levels of my clients. Being right, like I can actually perceive more levels of how they’re showing up what they’re saying, what they’re not saying their energy, their tone, like I’m present to more of them. And so from the artistic perspective, like the idea that regulating your nervous system can spark deepened levels of creativity, like it makes complete sense. And I love I love those nuances.


Carey Kirkella  31:13

Yeah, and I just, I feel like, as you know, I know that a lot of people in your, in your community are business owners. And so this is something that is a way to create content to that helps you to connect with the resonance of and share, right share the feeling and the resonance of who you want to connect with and what you want to, you know, how you can inspire people as well. So it’s something that I actually am running a beta program right now. So my mind is on that as well, but it’s about it’s called a lens method, creative incubator. So it’s about helping heart centered. Entrepreneurs create their own more meaningful, more energetically aligned storytelling photos to help share about their businesses. And so yeah, there’s a, you know, another application for it besides just kind of not just but besides helping your creativity and helping your nervous system, it’s another way to look at content creation. So I just wanted to mention that totally.


Catherine A. Wood  32:21

And we can absolutely drop the link to that in the show notes for today’s episode, for sure. Well, I, I appreciate our conversation, like even thinking through the lens of my own creative expression. I mean, when I think about creativity, like I often think about Martha Beck, because she has helped me really connect with creativity through the lens of integrity. Integrity is a theme that is really integral to who I am, but also, in my own work with myself and my clients, like really looking at, you know, where we’re operating in alignment with our values. And integrity is often one of those key places to look. And she defines integrity, as whenever you notice, you’re reacting to look for the creative response, right? Like in the, in the face of feeling at effect, or, like you’re being done to like, what is the creative response? And so I really appreciate this conversation, even through that lens for entrepreneurs, but but for all for all heart sensors, heart centered creators, right, like, what is the creative response?


Carey Kirkella  33:41

Right. I love that. And yeah, I mean, I’ll just add that we’re all co creating our reality, right? And so that’s, I feel like, I keep looking at this piece of paper that I have on my desk, because that sort of sums up. There’s Gabby Bernstein. Have you heard of her? She’s a personal development coach. She says, How do I want to feel today? Who do I want to be today? What do I want to give today? And what do I want to receive today? So I just think that really is in alignment with you know, integrity, because that’s really where I’m coming from, too. And it’s kind of just thinking about, through the lens of, you know, who do I want to be in this world? Right? What who am I? What am I creating? And what am I putting out there? And is it? Is it in alignment with who I am and what I want to create more of in this world?


Catherine A. Wood  34:38

Well, honestly, that’s exactly why I launched this podcast because I wanted to be creating more voices for empaths thriving in business because I think when we thrive, our communities thrive and the world thrives because we give back because we’re so oriented towards giving. So in that vein, something I asked All of my guests is really like what has made the difference for you and becoming a prosperous empath?


Carey Kirkella  35:08

I really think that the answer to that lies in understanding that sensitivity. And being, you know, a highly sensitive empath is actually my superpower and not a detriment, I feel like that is something that has taken me a long time to understand. And I’m only just really beginning to really step into that power, basically, because I, I feel like it’s kind of been ingrained in me that I’m too sensitive, or, you know, everything sort of, can be harder, and it’s true, you feel more. So the downside of that can be that you may experience more pain, which I definitely have. But that’s the opposite of that means that I can experience more joy, right, I can just amplify the positive side of that. And I would say just that, basically, it’s a conglomeration of all of the books, and, you know, audios and things that I’ve read and exposed myself to that have been reminding me that, that my sensitivity can become my superpower and helped me become the creative leader, and, you know, intuitive, caring person that I am, and that can help ripple out to the rest of the world. So that’s, that’s what I would say. Well,


Catherine A. Wood  36:33

cheers, harder. A hearty cheers to that. I could not agree more. Carrie, thank you so much for today. It was a complete joy to hear to have you on the podcast and absolutely to hear your story.


Carey Kirkella  36:46

Thank you so much for listening into and for sharing your wisdom with me as well. I love your podcast.


Catherine A. Wood  36:53

Thank you



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