Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Aaron Thomas. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Aaron, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Let’s start with the story of your mission. What should we know?
As far as I can remember, I was four when it started. I scribbled an image; I was proud of; I rushed to show my babysitter because I thought it was great; somehow, what she saw, was obscene. She scolded and spanked me; my response was never to draw anything again; I associated drawing with badness and punishment. Today, I assume that a tragedy she experienced caused her to interpret the drawing as inappropriate. After studying the effects of post-trauma, I reflected on that encountered moment. Then, I understood, it was apparent that my babysitter had experienced childhood trauma; perhaps it was sexual. The scribbled image triggered an uncomfortable memory from her trauma. She wanted to protect me from the pain she endured. She made an error in judgment and punished me. As a child, I didn’t understand. She was 14 years old, she thought the spanking would correct my be bad behavior. Her heart intended to help me be a good boy, but I became the child she wanted to protect from the awful experience that traumatized her. I believed she experienced post-traumatic stress. In the absence of drawing as a childhood artistic outlet, the gravity of photography captured me early. I remember spending days skimming through magazines and picture books, daydreaming of making pictures and sharing them with friends and loved ones. I was hoping the pictures would transmit how they made me feel to my friends and family, I wanted to share my experience. The photos took me on imaginary journeys. I didn’t know that I would travel on such imaginary trips all my life. As an adolescent, emotionally impeded away from drawing, I avoided drawn imagery as a defense to keep me from reliving my childhood tragedy. Little did I know that one spanking would be a life-changing event.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
My name is Aaron Thomas. I am a U.S. Navy disabled veteran who served from 1975 to ’81 as a shipboard electrician. Shortly after my tour of military service, I was the CEO of a technology consulting firm I founded named Computer Dynamics Consulting in 1990. I closed the firm in 2008 and went to college to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art with an emphasis in photography from Texas A&MCommerce, graduating in 2016. My motivation is energized through personal experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I founded a 501C3 nonprofit named Photographically Touching Souls Deeply (PTSD) because the education of photography and visual communication helps me cope and accelerates healing. With my Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Production and Studies, completion in May 2022, I have expanded my skills. I now include comprehensive storytelling through filmmaking for my fellow veterans. I am inspired by the recognition that the disciplines necessary to succeed in higher education complement clinical therapy efforts, improving mental well-being and quality of life. I always intend my contribution to humanity to be superior to my reward.
Is there a particular goal or mission driving your creative journey?
Yes, a particular goal and a mission drive my creative journey. It is all about decreasing the stigma surrounding mental health for disabled veterans and first-responders with post-traumatic stress through therapeutic photography solutions that will accelerate healing and reduce symptoms of the diagnoses. I was attempting to help my brother who also lived a troubling life due to post-traumatic stress from the events he experienced in the US Navy. When the information I discovered identified the nature of his mental health, I and my family were astounded when it became apparent that issues of post-traumatic stress is equally applicable in my life. When I found out how many of our nation’s first-responders and active military and veterans live with these symptoms and I realized that my skills and training could be a support to them, it became my mission to give back and serve those who serve our country and communities without hesitation. It is my life-long goal to continue through the Photographically Touching Souls Deeply, (PTSD) nonprofit I established December 2016.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
I struggled to believe that I could be creative as a young child. After an error in judgment by my babysitter, who gave me a spanking for a picture, I showed her that I had scribbled on a paper she had given me to draw on and entertain myself. Whenever I was given an assignment to be creative, I would always say, ” I am not creative.” I avoided creative challenges and opportunities, and I was not sure why. Throughout grade school, middle school, and high school, I was unaware of the damage to my emotional characteristics, which caused me to live with anxiety, avoidance, fear, and depression all of my childhood. I now know that I developed negative emotional responses connected to creativity after being punished for a drawing intended to be self-entertaining. I was 4-years-old when I got the spanking I would never forget. I had low self-esteem and self-worth most of my young-adult life. Because I disappointed my babysitter and thought that I was a bad boy, it kept a firm grip on the creative part of my personality. I was drawn to picture books instead of drawing. I developed a love for photographs through magazines, catalogs, and illustrated storybooks because I could share their stories and adventures without getting in trouble. Two decades later, at the age of twenty-four, I wondered if I could make photographs? I still didn’t believe that I had a creative bone in my body. However, I purchased my first 35-millimeter camera. It was a Canon model AE1. Making photography came easy because I consumed so many photographs as I matured. It made me happy to find, take, develop and share the stories I found in photography. It was 2010 when I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress due to a catastrophic event during my tour of duty in the US Navy. I was unaware that making photography was a form of art therapy. After many years, I began to research the effects of photography as therapy, and I found many evidence-based studies on the subject. In December 2016, I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography and established a nonprofit for disabled veterans who live with post-traumatic stress. Sharing the peace and joy that therapeutic photography helps develop with my fellow veterans and their families is the mission. The goal is to accelerate healing and raise public awareness, reduce the stigmas and hopefully decrease veteran suicides.
- Website: http://www.PTSDDfw.org
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/ptsddfw?utm_medium=copy_link
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mahlonaaron/
- Youtube: https://vimeo.com/aaronmahlon
- Other: https://vimeo.com/304653856 The above link is a video preview of my thesis film that I will complete, hopefully by May 2022 for my graduate degree of Master of Fine Arts in Documentary Production and Studies at the University of North Texas. Also the website above is under construction, not quite complete, it is okay to mention that if published.
Aaron Mahlon Thomas