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Archive for May, 2014

I actually shot the images for this self portrait back in 2012 sometime, as I recall, and it just kept getting pushed down on my list of photos to edit.  I generally prioritize images which have other people modeling in them, since they took the time and energy to come model for me, so sometimes my self portraits get a little forgotten.  This was one which I definitely did not want to let get completely forgotten though, so as soon as I had the time, I eagerly jumped into editing it!

I don’t think many of you will be surprised when I say I’ve had my share of troubles with clinical depression.  Even as a teenager, the seeds were being sewn.  It’s something I’ve struggled with on and off for most of my life.  I’ve been to many therapists, tried countless treatments, medications, alternative therapies, read books, talked it out, journaled, and, of course, done art therapy.  Art therapy and submerging myself in nature, with animals and my friends and loved ones are the things that seem to work best for me, but everyone is different.  I have mostly accepted that it will probably be with me to some degree for most of my life, which is an easier future for me to face than one where I’m constantly disappointed by finding myself under its shadow again.

***Side note: ME/CFS/fibro are often tried to dismiss as simply depression or other mental health problems.  They are absolutely NOT the same thing.  I have experienced both and they are completely different.  Where it gets tricky is that people with ME/CFS and fibro often develop depression secondarily to their physical illness, but it’s usually because they feel terrible every day, many people refuse to believe they’re actually sick and they suddenly lose huge, important parts of their life to their illness.  I challenge anyone to not become depressed in those conditions.  What drives me crazy is that no one suggests that patients with cancer, for example, who develop secondary depression are “simply” mentally ill, but it’s an extremely common conclusion for doctors to jump to regarding ME/CFS and fibro patients.  I’ve had doctors tell me the problems were all in my head.

None of this is to say that mental health problems are somehow less important or real than physical health problems, they are simply two distinct things and require completely different treatments.  The simplest explanation I’ve come across to illustrate the differences between the two is this: ask a person with depression what she would want to do the next day if she woke up feeling completely well.  She’d probably have trouble answering you.  Depression robs you of all joy and motivation.  Ask someone with ME/CFS or fibro the same question and they’d give you an entire list of things they’d like to do.  ME robs your body of the ability to do things, but doesn’t take away the desire to do them.***

Since the severity of my depression waxes and wanes, I tend to think of it as an entity which I am periodically under the attack of.  Sometimes I imagine it as a malevolent cloud, sometimes a huge dragon; something which is dark and dangerous and can completely envelop me.  When I find myself thus enveloped, I repeat a mantra over and over to myself; “The clouds will lift.  The clouds will lift.”  It might be hours, days, weeks or months, but I know that at some point this battle will be over and I’ll have made it through to the other side.

I’ve written about him before, but Andrew Soloman’s incredible Ted Talk on depression bears repeating.  It’s beautifully insightful, hopeful, even when I’m under the darkest cloud and most importantly, lets me know I’m not alone in how I feel.  It’s also supremely excellent at explaining clinical depression to those who have never experienced it firsthand; an invaluable gift.  As Mr. Soloman states, “half the purpose of art is to describe [depression.]”  I could not agree more.

I don’t know whether we’re friends because we all share the same demons, or if I just happen to have a large percentage of good friends who have their own mental health struggles, but I wanted to create this image to show not just my battle, but theirs… and indeed, the battle everyone with depression finds themselves flung into.

When you’re in the throws of it, you don’t feel strong or brave, but I know that we are.  We bear terrible burdens which can break the human soul and every time we don’t succumb to it, we should celebrate.  But mental health is still greatly stigmatized in our culture, so there is rarely any celebration; there is rarely any acknowledgement of the battle that rages at all.  I feel it’s important and part of my job as an artist to discuss these issues which we would like to pretend don’t exist.  If we deny depression, then we will lose the battle.  The only way you can fight it is by first saying that yes, it exists; yes, I am under its cloud; no, that does not me a less worthy person; yes, I am brave and strong even though I don’t feel like it right now.

So this image is dedicated to all my dear friends who have been under that same cloud.  To my friends who have not experienced the cloud themselves, but support us when we’re in the throws of it.  Who love us, accept us and keep us going.  Shame and secrecy feeds the depression monster.  Truth and soul baring disarm it, love and strength defeats it.   Many, many thanks to my dear friends and loved ones who help me through these battles.  I just hope I can do the same for them.

Let’s take a step toward making the world a better place.  Let’s finally let the stigma around mental illness die.  No one would ever, ever choose to be like this.  We fight unimaginable battles to overcome it.  Instead of shaming those covered in battle scars, let’s celebrate their success.  They made it through.  There may be more fights, but they will make it through them too.  They will if we start supporting them instead of shaming them.

To everyone who knows this malevolent cloud firsthand, you are beautiful and strong.  And the clouds will lift.

The Clouds Will Lift

The Clouds Will Lift

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail – I made custom bat wing brushes to construct the clouds

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail

If anyone would like to share stories of their own mental health struggles, please share it in a comment!  Talking openly about these problems is the first step to erasing the stigma.

*****

Just a few more days!!

For the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted.  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography.

Read Full Post »

First things first: the light.  Let’s get to the winner of The Blue Ribbon!  Drum roll please…

Congratulations, Brittany D. Perkins!!!  You have won a beautiful, 10″ x 15″ print of  The Blue Ribbon!.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper and will be hand-signed.  Please send an email to me at sarah@sarahallegra.com with your mailing address and I’ll get it to you!

What do you guys think?  Was that fun?  Something we should do again?  Did the tweeting format work for you?  Let me know your thoughts and I can fine-tune my contest process to make it better for everyone!  Don’t forget that my fundraising will continue for the entire month of May, so stock up on your art purchases now while they’ll do the most good!

Now, onto the shadows of this post….

The Exiled King Preview

The Exiled King Preview

You remember how I hinted that DreamWorld‘s first dark character was coming to life?  He has arrived.

I think I was telling you guys about the evolution of this character.  I’ve always had a thing for horns and antlers on people (see my very first self portrait as proof) and wanted to work them into DreamWorld from the beginning.  As with most mythologies, I felt there was room for a Puckish, trickster character, which is what I had in mind when I started constructing this creature.  The beginning of my work on him coincided with the beginning of True Detective, a pure coincidence, but True Detective’s ominous Yellow King bled into my concept, and before I knew it my trickster had transformed beyond a mere Puck or even Loki into the DreamWorld version of The King In Yellow.

DreamWorld is an ever-evolving place, and while this King is the first sinister character to be portrayed, there are other forces at work.  We will meet them eventually.  For now, I think it is enough to know that the King in Yellow has been sent into exile by DreamWorld’s true King for trying to usurp the throne and plunge DreamWorld into darkness.  He has been foiled for now, and is thus known as they Exiled King, though some still whisper of the King in Yellow and restoring him to his rightful, dark glory along with those who seek the same goals… but I don’t worry.  The King is strong and benevolent.  And we haven’t even met the Queen yet, though we will soon.  She also rules for good, and is not to be taken lightly.

Let the whispers and secrets travel where they will.  The King in Yellow has been sent into exile as a merciful punishment, but I doubt a second grab for the throne would be met with such leniency.

Now that you know about the Exiled King, want to see how he came to life?

My initial inspiration for the antlers was the Makhor goat’s horns, such as seen in this stock image:

© Erinpackardphotography | Dreamstime.com

 

Horns are always tricky to build for human heads.  Making them stable but light, keeping them balanced on the head while trying to appear that there’s no supporting structure at all… they’re always a nightmare to make.  And I knew these ones were going to be the largest pair I’d made yet.  As usual, I dove in without a real plan and figured it out as I went.

I started with a regular headband and some strong but light wire, wrapped around itself and twisted generously onto the headband.  I began introducing the twisted shape by wrapping it around my arm a few times.

horns1

I wrapped a thin layer of newspaper over each wire frame, adding a layer of masking tape on top to help it hold its shape and smooth it.

horns 2

Looking very lop-sided at the moment

I initially tried spraying the antlers with spray adhesive to try to help smooth the antlers further, but all it really did was make it tacky, even after it had dried.  I sighed and decided I’d try and use it to my advantage by covering the antlers with a layer of metallic gold tissue paper (which smells really weird, by the way).  I filled in some of the larger dips and gaps with hot glue and added a little more tissue paper, but I knew I’d end up having to do a little smoothing to them in post production.  I don’t remember why now, but I ended up getting these finished just the evening before my morning shoot, so I didn’t have more time to tinker with them and make them absolutely perfect.

horns 4

mantle 1

You can see here the careful support structure I created literally with toothpicks and popsicle sticks broken into smaller strips.  Sometimes the most straight-forward way is the best way 🙂  They’re also reinforced with a little bit of monofilament line to help them not bow away from each other.

mantle 2

With the antlers done, I moved onto the leaf mantle.  I used approximately a billion fake leaves for this which I’d collected over several years and a number of projects.  I still found myself nearly running out by the end and had to ration them carefully.  I concentrated on the leaves around the face first, which also conveniently covered the antler’s headband and support structures.

mantle 4

A full mantle of leaves

vest

I’ve had this one vest in my “costume” supplies for a very long time and I just love it.  It looks very rugged and home-spun and fits a very wide variety of looks and styles.  I’m pretty sure it was made for someone closer to my size than Dan’s, so I quickly added extra length to it by cutting straight through the shoulder seem and building a new shoulder strap with leaves hot glued to each other.  The yard provided a wealth of beautiful acorns to choose from and use as buttons.  And don’t worry, the squirrels still had more to eat than they ever could.

leaf1

Next was the big leaf amulet.  I’d gotten this pack of huge, very realistic leaves probably two years ago and had been holding on to them, waiting for them to become useful.  Now was their time!  This heavy chain was also in my stash for similar reasons, and became a lovely chain for what would be a leaf amulet.

amulet 3

Some smaller, gold-dusted leaves, a large gold key and an amber-colored, leaf-shaped crystal finished it off.

amulet 2

Almost done!

foot 1

Leaf slipper tops

The very last thing I made were “leaf slippers,” for lack of a better word.  They were just several leaves glued together with elastic straps to help keep them on Dan’s feet; super easy!

Leaf slipper bottoms

Leaf slipper bottoms

I also cut up some strips of a golden-brown, rustic-looking cotton to tie around Dan’s sleeves and pant legs, but that would be assembled the day of.  As far as my prep work went, I was done!  I honestly can’t remember exactly how long the whole costume took to make… several days of solid work, no sleep?  Eight weeks?  I have no idea, but it was long.  When I’m deeply involved in a project like this, time melts away for any practical use.

Before I get more into this, let me back up and tell you about Dan Donohue, who so beautifully brought my character to life.   Dan is celebrated actor, best known for his extensive theater work.  He played Scar in Disney’s Broadway version of The Lion King and left for Oregon almost immediately after our shoot to go play Henry the III at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s version of Henry the III, as well as the father in their production of A Wrinkle In Time.  You would never believe from meeting him that he does evil and sinister so well; he is truly one of the kindest, most enthusiastic and genuinely lovely people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.  But the moment I told him to be a villain, it all fell away and for a second I had to catch my breath because he so completely embodied The King In Yellow.  Dan is a muse if I’ve ever met one and a pure delight to work with!  He’s also very creative and funny, as I’ll get into more later.

The morning of the shoot came quickly, Dan and I found our location and the entire shoot was easy and felt effortless.  There may have been a bit more effort on Dan’s part trying to keep his antlers and mantle from toppling over if he moved his head too far in any direction, but it seemed that his theater experience really paid off and helped him manage this probably cumbersome bit of costume beautifully.

Antler wrangling

Antler wrangling

Generally when I shoot new DreamWorld characters, I edit one or two images; maybe three if I feel they’re all really compelling, but in this instance I edited five.  This is almost unprecedented.  The only other time I’ve edited more photos from a single concept, with no costume or location changes was for the Katie’s World set.  That says quite a lot about how perfectly Dan was able to become the Exiled King.  But enough talking about them.  You want to see the images, right?

You’ve seen this first one already since I used it to tease the series, but I’m posting it again so the whole set can be seen together as intended.  To set the mood, here are the two quotes which most directly influenced how I took the set, one from Robert W. Chamber’s book The King In Yellow and one from True Detective.

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.
–Cassilda’s Song, The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
“Him who eats time.  Him robes; it’s a wind of invisible voices.  Rejoice, death is not the end!  Rejoice, death is not the end!  Rejoice, Carcosa!”
– Miss Delores, True Detective episode 7, After You’ve Gone
The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen

 

The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen – detail

The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen – detail.  Dan’s hand here kills me every time, it’s SO PERFECT.  I never knew a single hand could be so expressive, yet it is.

 

Pliable Reality

Pliable Reality – shot using a home-made “Lensbaby” which was the top of a water bottle

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

 

Where Black Stars Rise

Where Black Stars Rise

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

The Tatters Of The King

The Tatters Of The King

The Tatters Of The King - detail

The Tatters Of The King – detail

The Tatters Of The King - detail

The Tatters Of The King – detail

And perhaps my favorite of them all….

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

 

Whew, still with me?  I know that was a long post, but I had a lot of photos to cover!

He's not REALLY evil, he just pretends really well!

He’s not REALLY evil, he just pretends really well!

The only sad thing is that we never got to see how well Dan managed his leaf slippers, but trust me, he killed it like everything else.

The only sad thing is that we never got to see how well Dan managed his leaf slippers, but trust me, he killed it like everything else.

To wrap up, I’ll leave you with a couple fun things.  Dan does these really fun recreations of scenes from movies, hunting down the original locations and taking photos!  Dan’s spoof of Anthony Hopkin’s letter to Bryan Cranston about Breaking Bad (read the original letter here).  Doesn’t Dan sound exactly like Anthony Hopkins?  And lastly, if you have a chance to go see him perform at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, do it!  You won’t be disappointed!

Dan as Richard the III - Copyright Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Dan as Richard the III – Copyright Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Thank you so much to Dan for being the perfect King in Yellow and furthermore being extremely patient as I slowly edited all of these!!  Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see the Exiled King’s companions and cohorts!  Dan has been invited back again whenever he returns to California, so he may pop up in more photos; I hope so  🙂

 

Us

 

*****

 

For the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted.  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography.

 

Read Full Post »

Ok, guys!  You have one more day to enter the print giveaway and win your own FREE, archival, shimmery, pearlized print of The Blue Ribbon, so get those entries in!  Entering couldn’t be easier.  Simply tweet one of the ME facts below, making SURE to use the hashtags, and you’re in!  That’s it!

 

The Blue Ribbon

The Blue Ribbon, model: Katie Johnson – enter the giveaway to win a print of this image!

Ready to tweet?  Use any of the following!

Curing baldness gets 4x more funding than ME/CFS, but no one ever died of baldness    

*****

ME/CFS knows no social or economic boundaries; it affects all equally w/out mercy.    
*****
ME/CFS in not in our heads & cannot be cured with exercise & a better attitude.    
*****
ME/CFS is not a “female” disease; 20% of sufferers are male.    
*****
ME/CFS isn’t just about being “tired,” it ravages every single part of the body.    
*****

ME/CFS can be just as deadly as MS, HIV and AIDS, yet it is largely ignored.    

*****

More exercise and a better attitude will not cure ME/CFS.    

*****

We’re not chronically fatigued, @CDCgov. We have myalgic encephalomyelitis.    

Tweeting multiple statements will count as extra entries, so enter as many times as you like.  However, tweeting the same statement multiple times will not count.  And that will probably just annoy the people reading your feed, so don’t do it. 😉

I will choose a random winner from all entries on May 20th and announce the winner here!  Stay tuned!

Thank you to everyone for reading and participating!

Read Full Post »

***Want to win a free print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon?  Read on to find out how you can enter!!***

It’s been an emotional week for me; not surprising since ME is something I deal with firsthand.  Since we’ve all walked through the more difficult parts of this disease, let’s take a break with some levity and fun!

 

From constantfuckingshit.wordpress.com

From idelhearts.com

This actually does happen to me. From invisibleillnessweek.com

 

From memgenerator.com

From icanhascheezburger.com

And lastly, one poignant one:

From PostSecret.com

Now go tweet some facts so you can win a print!! 🙂

 

To do my part in raising awareness about ME, for the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted..  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography

Also, in honor of this day of raising awareness, I’m holding a contest to win a beautiful, 10″ x 15″, museum-quality print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon; an underwater representation of the struggle that living with ME can be.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper.  And all you have to do is tweet!

The Blue Ribbon

The Blue Ribbon, model: Katie Johnson – enter the giveaway to win a print of this image!

Ready to tweet?  Use any of the following!

Curing baldness gets 4x more funding than ME/CFS, but no one ever died of baldness    

*****

ME/CFS knows no social or economic boundaries; it affects all equally w/out mercy.    
*****
ME/CFS in not in our heads & cannot be cured with exercise & a better attitude.    
*****
ME/CFS is not a “female” disease; 20% of sufferers are male.    
*****
ME/CFS isn’t just about being “tired,” it ravages every single part of the body.    
*****

ME/CFS can be just as deadly as MS, HIV and AIDS, yet it is largely ignored.    

*****

More exercise and a better attitude will not cure ME/CFS.    

*****

We’re not chronically fatigued, @CDCgov. We have myalgic encephalomyelitis.    

Tweeting multiple statements will count as extra entries, so enter as many times as you like.  However, tweeting the same statement multiple times will not count.  And that will probably just annoy the people reading your feed, so don’t do it. 😉  I will choose a random winner from all entries on May 20th and announce the winner here!

Read Full Post »

***Want to win a free print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon?  Read on to find out how you can enter!!***

ME Awareness Week continues!  Catch up on the story with the first, second and third posts!

Spoon Theory - a self portrait

Spoon Theory – a self portrait

For anyone not convinced of the seriousness of ME, let me present you with a quote from Dr. Nancy G. Klimas in a Q & A article from The New York Times on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Dr. Klimas serves on the board of directors for The International Association for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and treats both CFS patients as well as patients with HIV and AIDS.  In 2009, she made a comment comparing CFS to HIV and AIDS.  A reader expressed anger over her comment, calling it alarmist and saying it was making CFS sound like a much more deadly disease than it is.  Dr. Kilmas had this to say [emphasis mine]:

“…But I hope you are not saying that C.F.S. patients are not as ill as H.I.V. patients. My H.I.V. patients for the most part are hale and hearty thanks to three decades of intense and excellent research and billions of dollars invested. Many of my C.F.S. patients, on the other hand, are terribly ill and unable to work or participate in the care of their families.

I split my clinical time between the two illnesses, and I can tell you if I had to choose between the two illnesses (in 2009) I would rather have H.I.V. But C.F.S., which impacts a million people in the United States alone, has had a small fraction of the research dollars directed towards it.”

In Between Awake And Asleep - a self portrait

In Between Awake And Asleep – a self portrait

This is the point in my explanations where I like to remind people (and myself) that I am lucky; I am on the mild-to-moderate end of the ME illness spectrum.  It can get much, much worse.  There are thousands of people afflicted with severe ME, on constant morphine drips, in agonizing pain, earplugs in every second of the day, unable to tolerate the slightest light or sound, unable to feed or dress themselves or even use the bathroom on their own.  People die from ME.  That is why it is so very, very dangerous when the medical community trivializes our disease, insists it’s psychosomatic, insists there’s nothing physically wrong with us.  YES.  Yes, there is, doctors.  Those who have died from ME, and there are many, many examples, frequently show the same inflamed areas in the brain when autopsied.  While I’m not sure I’m ready to say ME is purely a neurological disease, it sure seems to be a big piece of the puzzle.

When the medical community has nothing to offer you, you become your own doctor, your own detective and your own science experiment.  You try anything and everything that might help; medications, physical therapy, diet changes, supplements, “Eastern” medicine, energy healing, modifying your sleep habits, psychotherapy; anything.  One year when I was still able to work a part-time job, I spent over a quarter of my pitiful earnings on doctor copays, medications, supplements and treatments.  That amount hasn’t changed much since then.

While there have been some setbacks recently for the ME community, there has also been forward momentum.  I know of at least two ME documentaries currently in production.  I had the chance to work with one of the films, Canary In A Coal Mine, and get involved with when it was raising funds through Kickstarter by donating the printing rights to some of my ME-themed images for them to use as backer rewards.  Everyone was shocked and delighted when the Canary film more than quadrupled its initial goal in its 30-day campaign!  I take this overwhelming support as a sign that our voices are finally starting to be heard, and that, perhaps, this indicates the winds are finally starting to change.

The Fragile Blossom That Opens In The Snow - a self portrait.  "“Courage is not the towering oak that sees storms come and go; it is the fragile blossom that opens in the snow.”  – Alice M. Swaim

The Fragile Blossom That Opens In The Snow – a self portrait. “Courage is not the towering oak that sees storms come and go; it is the fragile blossom that opens in the snow.”
– Alice M. Swaim

I never write posts about subjects like this with the intent to garner pity or complain.  That is never my intention.  What I want is to bring awareness to this extremely misunderstood, unappreciated and devastating disease by speaking frankly and candidly about it.  We are suffering and dying and there are few people who know about it and even fewer who are doing anything about it.  The squeaky wheel does get the oil.  Enough noise needs to be made and enough public outrage needs to be expressed over how the medical community (as a group; there are certainly exceptions and wonderful doctors working alongside us) is ignoring us and indeed doing harm.

It can feel daunting to attack such a huge, glass mountain.  It does not matter that you are only one person and that I am only one person.  Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. were each just one person.

I genuinely believe this is a problem science could solve if enough effort was made to solve it.  At the very, very least we could find treatments to alleviate the symptoms.  We have tackled other serious diseases.  But we need the funds and we need the public to demand action.  And we need a name that isn’t dismissive and demeaning.  So this last part goes to the CDC:

Hey, CDC, change our fucking name already.

Exoskeletonation - a self portrait

Exoskeletonation – a self portrait

To do my part in raising awareness about ME, for the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted..  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography

Also, in honor of this day of raising awareness, I’m holding a contest to win a beautiful, 10″ x 15″, museum-quality print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon; an underwater representation of the struggle that living with ME can be.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper.  And all you have to do is tweet!

The Blue Ribbon

The Blue Ribbon, model: Katie Johnson – enter the giveaway to win a print of this image!

Ready to tweet?  Use any of the following!

Curing baldness gets 4x more funding than ME/CFS, but no one ever died of baldness    

*****

ME/CFS knows no social or economic boundaries; it affects all equally w/out mercy.    
*****
ME/CFS in not in our heads & cannot be cured with exercise & a better attitude.    
*****
ME/CFS is not a “female” disease; 20% of sufferers are male.    
*****
ME/CFS isn’t just about being “tired,” it ravages every single part of the body.    
*****

ME/CFS can be just as deadly as MS, HIV and AIDS, yet it is largely ignored.    

*****

More exercise and a better attitude will not cure ME/CFS.    

*****

We’re not chronically fatigued, @CDCgov. We have myalgic encephalomyelitis.    

Tweeting multiple statements will count as extra entries, so enter as many times as you like.  However, tweeting the same statement multiple times will not count.  And that will probably just annoy the people reading your feed, so don’t do it. 😉  I will choose a random winner from all entries on May 20th and announce the winner here!

Catch up on the story with the first, second and third posts this week about ME.

Thank you to everyone for reading and participating!  If you have had your own experiences with ME, CFS, fibro or any other chronic illness and you’d like to share your story, please leave it in a comment!

Read Full Post »

***Want to win a free print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon?  Read on to find out how you can enter!!***

As ME Awareness Week continues, I feel it’s time to share my personal history with this disease.  Catch up on the story with the first and second posts!

Most of you will have heard my own story about ME.  To briefly recap for anyone new to the blog, on May 27th 2008, I came down with what I thought was food poisoning.  It wasn’t fun, but I thought it would surely pass quickly.  It did not.  Everything got worse.  Looking bad, I can see signs of ME showing up as early as my teens, but it was May 27th when it really exploded.

I have not been the same since; I have not had a pain-free day in all that time.  I had three brief, beautiful days at the beginning of 2011.  I was on steroids for an infected cat bite and for those three days, I wasn’t constantly dragged down by the muddy, boggy, wet-wool, bone-deep exhaustion of ME, which I commemorated with a self portrait.  Outside of that, there has been no relief.

3 Good Days

3 Good Days – a self portrait

Though there is much controversy over the subject, and I make no claims to be any kind of expert (except about my own experiences) I believe that ME, CFS and fibro are really all the same thing.  Or, at the very least, they’re all branches of a “mother disease” which we have yet to identify.  Either way, they all seem intrinsically connected.  However, the United State’s intentionally wishy-washy definitions of CFS and fibro have led me to setting their names aside and using ME as much as possible.

ME has excellent, testable, finite guideline, though getting your doctor to agree to those tests is another matter.  ME has the most scientifically sound definition, and it’s the one I connect with most of all, since it is so specificHowever, since almost no one in the United States has heard of ME, including all of my doctors, I tend to use the names interchangeably depending on whom I’m talking to, to make it easiest for them to understand.

The hallmarks of ME include unreasonable fatigue that is disproportionate to how much you’ve exerted yourself.  For instance, I might go to the grocery store and come home feeling like a healthy person would after running a marathon.  You experience post-exertional malaise, typically worst 24 to 48 hours after said exertion.  Muscle pain is key.  Headaches and migraines common.  Neurological symptoms begin, often in the form of tripping, falling, sudden “brain fog” where it seems like your brain has turned into oatmeal, the inability to remember words, or even your own name.  Light, sound, scent, noise and touch are all heavily amplified; it’s like the volume in our brains in constantly set to 11.  Every now and then this proves useful, like when I could smell the very faint gas leak at my neighbor’s house that no one else could.  Usually it just means there are more things to avoid which would trigger pain and migraines.  My husband Geoff and I joke that I can smell things only dogs and I can detect, but there’s a truth behind the laughter.

The Fog Rolls In - a self portrait about "brain fog"

The Fog Rolls In – a self portrait about “brain fog”

And, ah yes, pain.  Pain blends into your existence like spilled ink, no matter how you try to resist.  The areas of pain vary from patient to patient, and even from day to day for each patient.  I have a mystery flank pain with no identifiable cause for which I receive nerve-blocking injections a few times a year, including the latest round just this morning.  The recovery period from them is usually brutal, but it’s better than not being able to have it done.  If I clean the toilet too vigorously, my arm and shoulder might ache for a month.  Sometimes longer.  I am also extremely susceptible to every bug that comes around; I cannot get through a cold and flu season unscathed.

There is currently no cure for ME, nor many good ways to even manage the symptoms.  Nor is there a clear idea of what the cause is.  There are good arguments to be made for it having a neurological cause, or it could be an auto-immune disease, something viral, something bacterial, something sent by the gods to people who were very naughty as children in previous lives… it’s all up for debate.

Unjust - model, Aly Darling

Unjust – model: Aly Darling

Back to my image, The Blue Ribbon. It’s the latest in my photographic series called Enchanted Sleep, which visually portrays what living with ME is like.

Most illnesses and many causes have their own color ribbons these days; pink for breast cancer, fibro is purple, red for AIDS, etc.  (And yes, certain colors are shared by numerous diseases and causes; purple is also used for lupus and Alzheimer’s along with quite a few others.)  ME’s ribbon is blue.  I photographed this image several months ago during an underwater shoot with Katie.  It took me longer to get to editing it than I had planned, and by the time it was done, it was so close to May 12th, I decided to just wait to release it now.

Katie is my honorary ME-er; she’s quite the opposite of someone with ME, being full of energy and vitality all the time.  But she’s been around me and other friends who do have similar illnesses that she seems to understand our struggle as much as anyone could.  I have great trust in her modeling instincts, so when we shot this, I gave her a long strip of blue ribbon and just told her to do something with it.  What she came up with so clearly encapsulated the physical fight you’re forced to be in every day, I knew it was the perfect visual metaphor.  Thank you, Katie, for taking on our cause and helping me portray it in my images!!

The Blue Ribbon - detail

The Blue Ribbon – detail

To do my part, for the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted.  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography

Also, in honor of this day of raising awareness, I’m holding a contest to win a beautiful, 10″ x 15″, museum-quality print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon; an underwater representation of the struggle that living with ME can be.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper.  And all you have to do is tweet!

The Blue Ribbon

The Blue Ribbon, model: Katie Johnson – enter the giveaway to win a print of this image!

Ready to tweet?  Use any of the following!

Curing baldness gets 4x more funding than ME/CFS, but no one ever died of baldness    

*****

ME/CFS knows no social or economic boundaries; it affects all equally w/out mercy.    
*****
ME/CFS in not in our heads & cannot be cured with exercise & a better attitude.    
*****
ME/CFS is not a “female” disease; 20% of sufferers are male.    
*****
ME/CFS isn’t just about being “tired,” it ravages every single part of the body.    
*****

ME/CFS can be just as deadly as MS, HIV and AIDS, yet it is largely ignored.    

*****

More exercise and a better attitude will not cure ME/CFS.    

*****

We’re not chronically fatigued, @CDCgov. We have myalgic encephalomyelitis.    

Tweeting multiple statements will count as extra entries, so enter as many times as you like.  However, tweeting the same statement multiple times will not count.  And that will probably just annoy the people reading your feed, so don’t do it. 😉  I will choose a random winner from all entries on May 20th and announce the winner here!

Catch up on the story with the first and second posts this week about ME, and keep an eye out tomorrow for more about this glass mountain!

Thank you to everyone for reading and participating!  If you have had your own experiences with ME, CFS, fibro or any other chronic illness and you’d like to share your story, please leave it in a comment!

Read Full Post »

***Want to win a free print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon?  Read on to find out how you can enter!!***

Yesterday’s release of The Blue Ribbon has special meaning for me since it marks the 30th anniversary of the Incline Village outbreak in 1984.  Never heard of the Incline Village outbreak?  I hadn’t either, not until I’d been sick with ME for several years.

That ME outbreak gave birth to a medical schism between the United States and the rest of the world.  It enabled American health insurers to coin the demeaning name “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” so they could distance themselves from covering ME patients…or even recognizing they are ill.  The most well-written, comprehensive and succinct explanation of the outbreak and its consequences comes from an excellent article written by Erica Verrillo, which I will share with you here [emphasis mine]:

Martyrs To A Name - models myself and Aly Darling

Martyrs To A Name – models myself and Aly Darling

*****

Nobody is willing to wrap their tongue around anything that requires 11 syllables. But that is not why Steven Straus at the NIH decided to “rebrand” myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) as “chronic fatigue syndrome” in 1987. He wasn’t verbally lazy. He was nefarious.

…To understand why the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decided to bury this illness with a silly name, we have to go back to 1934, to the Los Angeles County Hospital. In that year, a polio epidemic was raging through California, claiming hundreds of lives. In 1934, 198 staff members at the LA County Hospital were struck. But they did not develop paralysis, nor did they die. They suffered from a range of symptoms that included weakness, easy fatigability, exercise intolerance, and photophobia, all of which suggested a neurological disease – like polio. But their symptoms did not resolve over time.

It was not polio. The physician who reported this mysterious epidemic, Dr. Alexander Gilliam, called it “atypical polio.” Eventually, two of the doctors who had fallen ill sued. They each won two million dollars – an enormous amount of money in those days.

As the epidemic of “atypical polio” spread around the Northern Hemisphere, increasing numbers of people were struck. In 1955, there was an epidemic in Royal Free Hospital in London. Like the LA epidemic, there was a high attack rate among hospital personnel. The investigating physician, Dr. Melvin Ramsay, called it “myalgic encephalomyelitis,” meaning pain accompanied by inflammation in the brain and spinal column. He noted that the symptoms of ME exactly replicated those of the LA County Hospital outbreak.

Since then, there have been over 60 outbreaks of ME, but the one that drew media attention in the US was the Incline Village outbreak in 1984. Two doctors, Dr. Dan Peterson and Dr. Paul Cheney, began seeing patients with a peculiar illness. The illness caused easy fatigability, weakness, pain, sleep disorder, and a spate of neurological symptoms. It got worse with exercise. Over that summer, hundreds of people were struck. The doctors were sure that it was an epidemic, and that it was caused by a pathogen affecting the central nervous system. They called the CDC.

The CDC showed up eventually, but they refused to examine any of the patients. Steven Straus called it a disease of “depressed menopausal women.” HHS made this characterization known to the press, which then dubbed the disease “yuppie flu.”

Once it was sufficiently discredited, “CFS” could be safely shoved under the rug for three decades.

Since the 1984 Incline Village outbreak, over one million people in the US have contracted the disease. Between 17 and 20 million people have ME worldwide. The economic losses are staggering – $17-23 billion dollars annually in the US alone.

But over most of the past 30 years NIH has spent nothing on research for the disease. This year it reserved $5 million, or less than $5 per person. In contrast, the NIH is spending more than $2.7 billion on AIDS, which has a comparable prevalence.

This paucity of expenditure has slowed serious scientific research. In addition, because there is no money for research, researchers and clinicians at academic institutions are discouraged from studying the disease. Doctors in major hospitals are told not to treat it, because insurance companies won’t pay for an illness that has “no cause and no cure.” And peer-reviewed journals will not publish research papers on the illness.

In short, the illness has been blacklisted. And the reason is not simply because HHS is incompetent, or because it feared yet another AIDS-like epidemic – although those things influenced its decision to do nothing. The reason HHS has spent thirty years in denial stems from those two doctors who received $4 million after the 1934 LA County outbreak. From that point on, this illness has been on the radar of insurance companies.

It would be a mistake to think that HHS operates without input from the insurance industry. And it would be a mistake to believe that the insurance industry – which has spent 30 years refusing to cover patients with the illness, and has hired physicians to dismiss the disease as “all in your head” – is not panicked by Obamacare. With over a million sick with ME, and a quarter of those unable to get out of bed, they stand to lose billions.

*****

Breakable - a self portrait

Breakable – a self portrait

Yes, a bureaucratic trick of the insurance industry changed our name and helped keep the world ignorant to our illness.  This makes me so angry I could cry.  The sheer cruelty of it is astonishing, even for insurance companies.  Intentionally denying care, intentionally denying the existence of the disease at all; it’s unforgivable.  But we sick will NOT be forgotten.

The vast majority of the world has never even heard of ME, let alone experienced it, on their own or through others.  That ignorance is absolutely deadly to us all.  If the public does not demand, loudly, persistently, that change MUST happen, it never will.  And that cannot be allowed.  The stakes are far too high.

For the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted.  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography

Also, in honor of this day of raising awareness, I’m holding a contest to win a beautiful, 10″ x 15″, museum-quality print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon; an underwater representation of the struggle that living with ME can be.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper.  And all you have to do is tweet!

The Blue Ribbon

The Blue Ribbon, model: Katie Johnson – enter the giveaway to win a print of this image!

Ready to tweet?  Use any of the following!

Curing baldness gets 4x more funding than ME/CFS, but no one ever died of baldness    

*****

ME/CFS knows no social or economic boundaries; it affects all equally w/out mercy.    
*****
ME/CFS in not in our heads & cannot be cured with exercise & a better attitude.    
*****
ME/CFS is not a “female” disease; 20% of sufferers are male.    
*****
ME/CFS isn’t just about being “tired,” it ravages every single part of the body.    
*****

ME/CFS can be just as deadly as MS, HIV and AIDS, yet it is largely ignored.    

*****

More exercise and a better attitude will not cure ME/CFS.    

*****

We’re not chronically fatigued, @CDCgov. We have myalgic encephalomyelitis.    

Tweeting multiple statements will count as extra entries, so enter as many times as you like.  However, tweeting the same statement multiple times will not count.  And that will probably just annoy the people reading your feed, so don’t do it. 😉  I will choose a random winner from all entries on May 20th and announce the winner here!

Keep watch for tomorrow’s post about my own personal history with ME, and catch up with yesterday’s blog if you haven’t seen it yet!

Thank you to everyone for reading and participating!  If you have had your own experiences with ME, CFS, fibro or any other chronic illness and you’d like to share your story, please leave it in a comment!

Read Full Post »

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