There’s one photo that has perhaps the deepest personal meaning to me. I call it the ‘valley of hope’. Let me tell you the story behind it.

It was in the spring of 2015, when I was still wrestling with bouts of depression and loneliness, that I settled down for four days in the Val D’Orcia, Tuscany’s iconic valley of rolling hills south of Siena.

I had seen the most gorgeous pictures of this world heritage site, dotted with tiny medieval farmhouses, solemn cypress trees, and lush flower beds – all evoking the classic beauty of Renaissance paintings.

These pictures had sparked something inside me, at a time when I was still desperately in search of meaning in my life. A calling, if you will.

Yet when I arrived in the valley, the weather was fully overcast, stripping the landscape of much of its magic.

That didn’t deter me from scouting for locations where I could capture the sunrise the next morning, in the hope that the skies would clear overnight.

But the skies didn’t clear. I woke up at 4 a.m. only to find the hills still buried beneath a thick blanket of grey.

Disappointed, I returned to my hotel room, where an actual painting of Tuscan hills bathing in golden sunlight stood in stark contrast to the dreariness outside.

Later that day I went for another walk, hoping that conditions would improve. They didn’t. Heavy rain started pouring down on the valley, turning zigzagging lanes of cypress trees into mazes of mud.

For three days it didn’t stop raining. Goodbye photography plans. My mood sank even further. I spent many daytime hours lying lethargically in bed, feeling a crushing apathy that anyone who has experienced depression will be familiar with.

Determined to at least give it one more try, I returned to the same spot overlooking the valley on the fourth and final morning of my stay, this time without expectations.

It’s hard to describe what I felt when the skies opened up at last, and the first rays of light started piercing through the clouds, revealing layers of fog swirling in all directions as if the rain was finding its way out of the valley.

It was in that moment that I realized how the preceding days of rain weren’t as pointless as they had initially seemed. They had actually made this very morning possible, and I was able to appreciate its beauty all the more for it.

There’s a wonderful line about grief and depression from the British author C.S. Lewis, who wrote that “the pain now is part of the happiness then”.

The beauty of this line is that it’s true in two ways. All happiness in life is transitory. We cannot escape the pain of looking back. But when the rainy days come, as they inevitably do, it’s actually the pain that propels us forward and that allows us to experience a deeper kind of happiness again in the future.

It’s this duality that sits at the core of our being, and which we can take comfort in whenever we’re struggling.

The pain now is part of the happiness then – even when we can’t see it yet.

This photo, “The valley of hope”, is also available for print in a variety of sizes. To receive more stories like this in your mailbox, please subscribe to my newsletter.