Rob Olver had hit rock bottom, with his mental health teetering on the edge, when he made a courageous decision that would alter the course of his life. Leaving his high-pressure job as a vet and taking off across country in his faithful Camry would prove a balm for Rob’s weary soul, sparking the next chapter of his life as an artist.
“Leaving my job and travelling Australia with my little tent and camera was easily the best thing I’ve ever done. I had a lot of traumatic stuff happen as a vet and it took a real toll on me. My anxiety and depression was out of control. I guess it took a series of meltdowns for me to realise that I could either stay and be miserable forever or I could leave.”
“The turning point was when one of my friends, who was also a vet working at the same practice, didn’t exactly take her own life but practically did because she drank herself to death. Liver failure at age 35. I thought, ‘this is not going to be how I end up’.”
Rob faced a lot of pressure in life to follow the path of ‘success’ in finding and maintaining a stable, lucrative job, which lead him into veterinary science. The idea that he could forge his own path as a photographer seemed like little more than a pipe dream until he made it a reality.
“To try to alleviate the stress of my vet career, I would duck off on little holidays with my camera, which I just loved. I created my first book 20 years ago, which was a bushwalking guide with photographs and commentary on natural history. I’ve always needed a creative outlet.”
“I’d been thinking about doing the Australia trip for about ten years before I actually did it. It wasn’t easy – I sold all my things and had to leave everyone and everything. But as soon as I was on the road, I knew I’d made the right decision. There was a lot of emotion that came up on that trip, but even when the emotion hit, I felt I could handle it.”
|"The Sea I" by Rob Olver on display at the 2022 Recovered Futures Art Exhibition.
With a kindred spirit now by his side in his new wife and fellow Recovered Futures exhibiting artist, Joanna Wharton, things are looking up for Rob.
“2022 was our first year exhibiting with the Recovered Futures Art Exhibition, and it was a fantastic experience. Joanna’s sister Deb De Angelis has exhibited for the last few years and has been encouraging for us to enter. It was exciting to be involved in – usually I don’t like crowds, but I felt very comfortable there.”
While Rob’s accepted that anxiety will always be part of his story, he now has coping techniques that help him manage the dark days.
“With the benefit of hindsight I can recognise that I’ve always had anxiety. I was bullied at school and had deep moments of sadness, even as a kid. But it didn’t really get serious until a year or so into working as a vet – then it was up and down and extremely challenging for many years.”
“The anxiety still stalks me; I have to be very careful in crowds and step away to do some stretches when I need to. I find daily – or even three times daily! – walks to be one of my main techniques for managing. Over the years I have learnt to keep an eye on my fight or flight response.”
Rob now feels that he’s on an authentic, fulfilling path after many years spent in the shadows.
“I know photography is what I want to do with my life. I’m much poorer but much happier!”