The Definition

anxiety noun

(1) apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill: a state of being anxious

(2) medical : an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it

Ben leaning on the piano in his apartment, with a large, bright lamp right of frame.

The Project

This project explores the anxious tendencies and surrounding environment of my boyfriend and first time New York resident, Ben Montoya. It aims to illuminate the daily apprehension, fear and confusion of living in a city while simultaneously attempting to reveal the uncertainty of the situation he’s put himself in and the physical strain of the mental state.

Through the intimacy Ben and I share, I capture his vulnerable moments where the fatigue of everyday causes a disconnected and removed disposition. As a homebody, pining for the familiarity of his New Mexico lifestyle, he takes refuge in the comfort he’s built in his own space, or sometimes even just the idea of that comfort.

Ben taking a break from work and hiding under the covers in bed.

Although Ben doesn’t suffer from clinically diagnosed anxiety, the disorder has always been apart of my own existence. I don’t include my visible self in the imagery, but the photos strive to show Ben’s anxiety through the way I feel my own: through an unsure yet hyper-awareness of the space I encompass. Anxiety is time-consuming, heart-breaking, complacent, numbing, overwhelming, paranoid, unpredictable and fraught.

Ben waiting for the R train.

The Story

Living in a metropolitan environment has been known to take a toll on some people's mental health. Coming into a major city after spending most time in the comfort of a small town could may make those affects worse if unprepared for the intensity. Ben Montoya, 23, just moved to New York City from Santa Fe, New Mexico in August of 2018 and is already suffering from more day-to-day anxiety than he ever has.

After 4 years at The University of New Mexico, Montoya graduated with a BA in English in the Spring of 2018. In his time as an undergrad, the nagging existential questions that come with college invaded his mind every once in a while:

"Where am I going? Is it all worth it? Why am I doing this?"

However, since he's moved to NYC and started at NYU's Center for Experimental Humanities Graduate program, those concerns grow louder and louder. Students in higher education suffer higher amounts of stress right now more than ever before. Based on a 2016 survery from the American College Health Association, 62 percent of college students said they felt "overwhelming anxiety," and the same goes for Ben.

Ben working on homework at NYU's Bobst Library.

"I'm just not sure how it's gonna connect to my actual life after I'm done here," said Ben about the time he's spent so far studying. One could chalk up the increased worrying to the change from undergraduate to graduate level study, but the move from his home state (and only other placed he's ever lived) has been as anxiety-inducing as it has been eye-opening. "I definitely don't feel as paranoid [in Santa Fe] as I do out here," Ben said.

The major difference between a city like Santa Fe, which is the capital of New Mexico and still considered an urban area, and New York City is the physical space one person takes up to live there. Although one could argue that it's better for the environment to live in a city like New York because the carbon footprint one leaves behind is much smaller compared to in a more rural area, the problem for Ben is that seemingly every inch of the city feels uncomfortably cramped and crowded. "I think that's the biggest thing I've had trouble adjusting to is just how many people there really are," Ben said.

Ben clutching his backpack on the subway.

According to him, like many others, the anxiety he feels can be contradictory. While he knows, as a social being, one should get out into the world and explore what it has to offer, but the emotions that inhabit his mind when nervous thoughts creep through can make him moody, standoff-ish and sullen. "Just a lot of conflicting ideas about who I am, what I'm supposed to be doing, what other people see me as doing," Ben said. "It's just, like, a weird sort of double-conciousness."

“It’s just weird. You don’t feel like all these other people are actually real, to a certain extenet. They kind of just, like, float by and give you this, like, anxiety that they’re there.” - Ben Montoya

Anxiety in his own words:

Ben biting his knuckle, a nervous habit that has caused permanent scarring.