As Charles Spurgeon, a 19th century preacher once said: “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”
No one is more aware of this than Liam Filtness, an 18-year-old former Croydon student whose debilitating levels of anxiety once left him unable to attend school or even go out to meet his friends.
During his childhood and into his teens, Filtness found that high levels of nervousness simply ruined his life…until it was saved by a passion for wildlife photography that has carried him from the shadows of anxiety and into the limelight of national television.
Last October, TV executives at the BBC saw some film he had shot of rutting deer, and his life – and the ability to confront his condition – changed forever.
“They saw my videos on my YouTube channel and then they messaged me asking for contact details,” he says. “I was very nervous about appearing live on TV in front of thousands of viewers, but I pushed myself to do it.
“Once I’d done the interview, it turned out I really enjoyed it and I’d love to do it again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am glad to have had and it will be a memory that I shall never forget.”
Appearing on television was an achievement that Filtness had never dreamed of because of his levels of anxiety – a condition described as a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something.
He says he first started noticing the symptoms of anxiety around the age of 13.
“I visited a place called CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] which I would go to and talk to a counsellor about how I felt and she would then offer advice,” he recalls. “The school I attended wasn’t very helpful in understanding what I was going through and they were saying I was making it up.”
When his anxiety became so severe he was unable to leave his house or go to school, Filtness started attending The Link school in Croydon that specialises in creating a friendly and welcoming environment for children who suffer from mental health problems.
“The Link helped me deal with my issues by explaining many different ways that they could help, such as getting us students to interact and talk with each other about our problems and issues,” he says.
Filtness found most comfort in his love of wildlife. From an early age, he had been drawn to animals and would spend many hours in his garden and local woodlands, engaging with nature.
His passion for photography began to grow from the age of 10, when his parents bought him a camera, and he found that this has helped him to overcome some of his anxiety issues.
Filtness now says he feels more confident after meeting other great wildlife photographers and filmmakers who are supporting and encouraging him. And he now regularly leaves the comfort and safety of his home in East Grinstead.
Overcoming his nerves to appear on television was the springboard Filtness needed to take his passion for film making to the next level.
“After appearing on BBC Autumnwatch Extra, I was contacted by a production company for National Geographic and ITN, who are now going to be showing my red deer rutting video all across the world,” he says.
“ITV has also contact me regarding the use of some badger videos that I filmed in May at a badger sett – for one of their programmes too.
“Photography has helped me overcome the anxiety, because I am doing something that I enjoy and get a buzz from. I especially like wildlife photography, as it’s calming.”
His advice for other anxiety sufferers is: “Find something that you’re passionate about and then work hard towards achieving your ultimate goal, whatever it might be. Just do what you enjoy.”