How does one succinctly explain who they are and what they do?
Lee Horbachewski is a photographer, mental health advocate and author based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Photography took Lee out of the depths of darkness in 2013 and taught her to see the light in the dark, by adjusting some settings. For almost a decade, Lee has been a spokesperson and advocate for Distress Centre Calgary by sharing her story of overcoming years of depression and anxiety.
The past couple of years has seen Lee expand her philanthropic and advocacy efforts into wildlife conservation. Lee’s love for wildlife was re-ignited on a photo tour with John E. Marriott in the Great Spirit Bear Rainforest in 2014. Since then, she has been on many of John’s tours learning and developing her photography skills while developing an even deeper passion for wildlife, in particular grizzlies.
Lee has completed the Certificate of Visual Design – Specializing in Photography through the University of Calgary and has grown as a photographer through workshops and courses from some of the most talented professional photographers in Canada.
I’m Lee Horbachewski, who I am today is a culmination of a lifetime of experiences. I believe everybody has a story that has brought them to where they are today. Personally, I value real connection with people, Oriah writes it perfectly in her prose “The Invitation.” So I wanted to invite you to read a more in-depth bio of my life, to give you an insight of some of the life circumstances, challenges, and working through mental illness, that have helped shaped who I am today.
Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, the oldest of three siblings, the younger me definitely didn’t envision where I am today. I definitely had no idea I’d be a passionate photographer, a mental health advocate and having published a book. I thought I’d be a Veterinarian or Physiotherapist. I saw myself living on the south coast of NSW, Australia in a ranch style home near the ocean.
How then, did this Aussie end up living in Canada?
A long, condensed version – believe me, there are a lot of choices and life circumstances that lead me to Canada.
After a trip to Korea in 1986 for Volleyball, I was hit with the travel bug. Returning to year 11 after the trip, left me unenthused to finish school. I dropped out half way through and began a Traineeship in Travel Consulting. Being a Travel Agent afforded me the ability to travel and experience different parts of the world. It also educated me about places I hadn’t visited, which began my bucket list of countries to explore.
Unfortunately a long term relationship, with my unofficial fiance, ended in his infidelity with my best friend. This lead me down a destructive path of uncontrollable jealousy, abandonment, self-sabotaging beliefs and lost trust. Not long after, my Grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, and wanted to remain at home. At 18, I moved in and cared for her. Seeing someone you love, day in day out, waste away to nothing, while bathing them, feeding them, giving medication – is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I had to grow up, and grow up fast. I had to be responsible and put someone else’s needs in front of my own. When I found my Grandmas lifeless body, my world came crashing down. All the stages of grief you read about are real. I became withdrawn and increasingly angry.
After years of self-sabotaging behaviors, I recognized the path I was on, moved and changed my lifestyle.
It was then I won a competition that landed me on a popular Australian television travel show filmed in Fiji. A twist of fate on that trip, led me to meet and fall in love with a Canadian in one and a half days. Six weeks later, on October 22, 1994, I moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, leaving behind my family, friends and my home all in the name of love.
Establishing myself and my own identity in a new country amongst new people definitely had it’s challenges. The first two years were difficult, during the long winter months I would question my decision and had numerous close calls to move back to Australia. And then, I secured a job with a new airline that gave me the opportunity to grow and excel. I began making my own friends, and was able to apply my travel experience, project management skills and natural flare for organization. During that time, my two beautiful daughters arrived and life as I’d come to know it changed again. After my second daughter was born, untreated postpartum depression landed me in a psychiatric ward with major depression and panic disorder.
Multiple suicide attempts while I was in the psychiatric ward finally led me to accepting how sick I was. My search for mental health, happiness, peace and contentment began on that cold winter day in 2004. Years of therapy, personal development courses, trying different healing modalities – such as cranial sacral therapy, energy work, cognitive behavioral therapy, and working with a Shaman – helped me on my road to recovery. As I healed, I looked for a sense of purpose, I knew I needed to have a job, career or something that inspired me. I became a Certified Feng Shui Practitioner and launched my business – SimpLee Serene Interiors – helping people create harmony in their homes. At the same time I taught Feng Shui & Spirituality and Interior Decorating with Feng Shui at what was then Mount Royal College.
I continued with personal development, volunteering with a company that did retreats. Co-facilitating follow-up programs and having had to do a suicide intervention, I began looking into suicide prevention courses and studied to become a Professional Life Coach. My coaching practice focused on peer mentor coaching people with depression and anxiety. I began sharing my stories of dealing with depression and anxiety on my blog. The blog and my social media presence grew to over half a million people from all over the world, with a large percentage of regulars from the UK. My business had an overhaul, I went from being a Feng Shui Practitioner and became known as SimpLee Serene – Life Coach, Speaker and Author. I spent countless late nights and early mornings on Twitter trying to save people’s lives through suicide intervention and helping them find resources in their community. At that time, my book, “A Quiet Strong Voice – A Voice of Hope Amidst Depression, Anxiety and Suicidal Thoughts,” had become an international best seller. I was a highly sought after Public Speaker sharing my story and was featured on multiple media outlets as a mental health advocate.
From the outside, my life looked perfect. On the inside I was spiraling down, yet again, into the darkness of depression. My life was consumed with mental illness and I wanted to escape it. In August, 2012, I came dangerously close to ending my life. It was a wake up call, an opportunity to pause, and re-evaluate. I knew that change was needed for my own mental health and I was scared.
In November 2012, I closed my beloved business, SimpLee Serene. Leaving behind all that I believed was my purpose – to advocate, inspire and save people’s lives. SimpLee Serene had become all of me. I felt empty, guilty, useless, and living with no purpose.
My husband gifted me a camera for Christmas. After some coaxing, I started going on adventures with my camera. Exploring so many beautiful places right near our doorstep in Calgary. I found myself in awe of the wide open prairies, the majestic Rocky Mountains and the abundance of wildlife. I found hope and inspiration in nature, it was also a place where I found peace. Long drives would give me an opportunity to reflect and heal. Nature provided the perfect place to journal and work through the mental health challenges I faced. It gifted something I could not put a word on till recently – mindfulness. In nature and with my camera I felt present in the moment.
Photography gifted me opportunities to look at things from a different perspective. It helped me practice patience and be persistent.
It also gifted me a metaphor for life:
For the past eight years, my photography skills have grown. I’ve invested in learning from brilliant professional photographers who have supported, guided and mentored me to be where I am today. Over the years, depression and anxiety have reared their ugly heads, I always reach out for professional help and seek ways to take back control of my life. Photography is always there to help pull me out of the darkness. With photography, I find healing, life lessons, a way to fuel my creative mind and spirit. It plays a significant role in my mental health and coping with depressive episodes and anxiety. I believe photography has the ability to help others in the ways it has helped and continues to help me.
Continual learning and growth is something I deeply value, I recently completed my Certificate in Visual Design – Specializing in Photography, and completed a 15 week Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Program. I believe learning never stops for us, and life presents us with so many opportunities to do so.
My hope, is that by being here, you will find hope, inspiration and beauty – whether it’s to find tools and resources for mental health, to purchase my book, to purchase or find inspiration in my photographs and the stories that come along with them, or share in the beauty of nature with me and learn basic photography skills and mindfulness practices for mental health.
So after all this, who I am today, is a passionate, kind, loyal, generous and loving woman who loves sharing the beauty of nature and mindfulness for mental health.
Welcome, and thank you for being here and taking the time to read my long, condensed life story.