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Posts Tagged ‘change’

What Else Can I Say About ME?

Here we are at May 12th again.  Another Invisible Illness Day come to bring awareness to all the illnesses and diseases which are impolite enough to leave their sufferers still appearing to be well.  Of course, anyone more than casually acquainted with someone who has fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, complex regional pain disorder, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Lyme, lupus and many, many more illnesses can attest to how debilitating they can be.  The facade of health they leave intact feels like salt in the wound; a confusion for those untouched by their cruel hand, a silent undermining force with us at every doctor’s appointment, a declaration that we are lying or greatly exaggerating our illness.

What else can I say about ME?  About all the other forgotten, ignored diseases swept under the rug of modern medicine?  Illnesses which embarrass our doctors with their constant reminder that we remain unhealed.  Sicknesses with confusing, confounding symptoms which can morph and change like the whim of a butterfly’s flight.  Maddening maladies which suck away our vitality, our joys, our passions, our lives as completely as any vampire.

I’ve written about ME extensively as it’s been an enormous part of my life for the last eight years.  How I have not had a single day since late May of 2008 that was free of pain or its constant, overwhelming exhaustion.  How it has progressively gotten worse each year.  How the government would like to pretend we invisibly ill don’t exist.  How grotesquely underfunded our research is, giving us the same amount of money for research as hayfever gets and less than 1/4 of what male pattern baldness receives.  You have heard me spout the facts and statistics.  You’ve heard me talk about my personal story and fight with ME.  What else can I say?

I can say this: I am not beaten.  I have not given up.

I am determined to get better.  I am committing myself to be well, even if I have it about through sheer mental will.  I will not give in to ME’s gloomy, hopeless future forecast of progressively worsening every year.  I am not accepting a future of the living death that is ME.

I don’t know exactly how I will get better, but I am going to.  As a sign of my determination, I changed my blog’s tagline for the first time since I started this blog years ago.  “Art, photography, life and why I always feel like shit,” felt perfectly appropriate at the time.  “Art, photography, life and how those are really all the same thing,” is much more appropriate now.  My identity is not Sarah-who-has-ME.  I am just Sarah.

As I wrote about in my last entry, my life has been pleasantly consumed recently by my spirituality.  I have strongly felt how focusing on fighting ME has been feeding it.  So now, I will ignore it as much as possible.  I do not mean that I will forget my body’s current limits, or not honor them.  Listening to my body and what it’s able to do is vital for my current and future wellbeing.  But I’ve realized that I can live within the confines of my case of ME while still not letting it reign in every area of my life, and that feel incredibly freeing.  This is the path I will pursue.

This also does not mean that I will not advocate for ME sufferers.  I still feel very strongly that the only way we will bring about change is by demanding it.  And we can only demand it if we know that it exists in the first place.  But I can also advocate without allowing ME to rule every part of my soul.

As May 12th approached, I wanted to create a new image for my Enchanted Sleep series, which is all about living with ME.  I asked Katie Johnson, frequent model and collaborator as well as dear friend, if she would help me bring some concepts to life and she gladly agreed to help.  Through a variety of factors, I wasn’t able to shoot these images until very recently, which meant I had a very short window to edit one up and release it for Invisible Illness Day, but I got it done!  Ideally, I would be releasing the whole short series we shot, but I am content with having just one to show you and help illustrate life with ME.  With that, please let me present my latest image to you, Living With The Tombstones.

Living With The Tombstones

Living With The Tombstones – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Katie Johnson. An image to help raise awareness about ME/CFS and other “invisible illnesses.”

I probably don’t have to explain the symbolism behind shooting this image in a graveyard.  ME (and many other invisible illnesses) truly can be a living, nightmarish death.  Even if you’re not one of the unfortunate souls cursed with severe ME, where any touch, light or sound cannot be tolerated, you die every day to the dreams and hopes you had when you were healthy.  You might discover new passions to pursue within ME’s confines, but do you ever truly forget what’s been taken from you?  If you do, I am not there yet.

I took the name “invisible illness” and interpreted it quite literally, editing out any part of Katie’s body which showed outside her long, princess-like dress.  And the mirrored mask felt like the perfect touch.  When people look at us, they rarely see us; they see their projections of who we are.  Often what they see says far more about them than us.  Some will look at me and, because I can occasionally manage to put on clothes, have Geoff drive and go with him to the grocery store, refuse to believe there could be anything physically wrong with me.  They don’t see the toll that those short, simple trips take on me.  They don’t know that grocery shopping is my ENTIRE plan for that day, probably several days.  How the lights and noise and bustle inside the stores give me migraines, panic attacks and leave me in bed for the rest of the weekend.  They don’t see the weight of my illness on Geoff and my family.  How if I see friends, they always have to come to me.  I so often feel like a dead-weight wife, daughter and friend.  The times I’m overwhelmed by the ME and can’t decide between crying and being too tired to cry.  How many pills I take every day to try and make it to the next day and not be consumed by the constant pain I’m in.  They just see a fairly normal-looking girl.

I can’t blame other people for not knowing that I’m sick.  I don’t display the characteristic signals of someone who is unwell, so of course people assume I’m healthy.  But we need to get to a place where I could tell a stranger that I have ME and they might know what I’m talking about.  That if someone else said they have MS or Crohn’s or fibro, that stranger would have heard of those illnesses.  That the stranger would have at least a basic idea of our struggle and the dire need for change, for research, for treatments, cures and basic respect.

We can get there.  We will.  One May 12th at a time.

Want to do more?  I can help you with that!

I’d like to thank everyone in my life, online and off, who has supported me during these trying past eight years.  Especially Geoff, who I’d only been dating for a month when I became ill.  Lesser men would have run from what he had to face, but he’s stuck with me, no matter how bad things get.  And I’d also like to thank everyone for the extremely warm and receptive response you all had to my previous blog post.  Your kind words and love and support are greatly appreciated, now and always! ❤

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***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!

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***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!

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“The rhinoceros went on, ‘I was very interested in the comparison you drew between Spinoza and Thomas Hobbes. I would enjoy continuing our discussion.

‘I do not think I can,’ the Professor said at last.  ‘I do not want to talk anymore.

‘In that case, perhaps we should be on our way,’ the rhinoceros said.  ‘I have lived in your house for a long time.  We have talked together, days and nights on end, about ways of being in the world, ways of considering it, ways of imagining it as a part of some greater imagining.  Now has come the time for silence.  Now I think you should come and live with me.’

– excerpt from Professor Gottesman And The Indian Rhinoceros, by Peter S. Beagle.

This short story is one of my favorite from my tied-for-favorite-author-with-Robin-McKinley-author Peter S. Beagle.  His work always has an exceptional balance of sadness and joy; in such a way that the sadness doesn’t counteract the joy, but somehow enhances it and adds a poignant radiance.

This story has quite a range of themes, remarkable considering how short it is, and manages to cover not judging by appearances, accepting wonder and awe, healing and moving on, to name a few.  And with the new year upon us, the healing and moving on feels appropriate to bring up now.

It seems just about every person with a blog is tempted to write an end-of-year summary, and I am not immune to such desires.  The last year was certainly very difficult for many reasons.  It was perhaps the worst health year I’ve had since my body started falling to pieces with ME almost five years ago.  I’ve been tracking my daily fatigue on my wall calendar for the last couple years, to denote how tired I am each day.  A good day is blank, a bad day gets an X.  A day that I’m so tired that I feel I could be a danger to myself or others while driving, or find myself secretly wishing just a little bit that I would get in a car accident, just so I don’t have to do whatever I’m going out to do, that gets a skull an crossbones.  There are a few other designations for when it gets even worse, but you get the idea. This year I’ve had about 20 blank days, most near the beginning of the year, and far more skulls than X’s.  As I said, it’s been a rough year.

But through it, I’ve made progress, and have come to see some new doctors who I feel hopeful about.  And while the struggle was there, there was also overcoming the struggle.  I’ve had wonderful experiences with my friends and loved ones that I hold close to my heart.  I moved into a new home that I absolutely adore, and which is an incredible step up, both for Geoff and I and the animals.  Calantha now has a doggy boyfriend with the Australian kelpie next door… they do lots of snuggling when she isn’t running circles around every living thing.  I’ve had another year to spend with my sweetie, sharing new experiences and growing closer.  I achieved some artistic goals; I had a great gallery show, got on the cover of a book, and I won some contests and awards.  And of course, I took lots and lots and lots of photos.  Through everything, there is always art.  I’ve spoken much about the power and healing found in art, and this year it has been more evident to me than ever.

Speaking of the wearying health year, I will keep this entry on the shorter side.  But I know this new year will bring wonderful new adventures.  There will be more growth and change.  And, I hope, healing.  I would very much like to move on from the part in my life where I am chronically ill.  I don’t know if that will ever happen.  But I can hope.  The story of Professor Gottesman And The Indian Rhinoceros brings me hope.  Healing and moving on is always possible.  Though the body I inhabit, the part of me everyone sees, may often fail me, my spirit is strong.  Even if my body never changes, my soul always can.  Good will come.

I am genuinely bubbling over with excitement over the projects that I have planned for the near future.  A great deal of work needs to be done before they’re ready to be seen, but they are underway… and I can’t wait to unveil them 🙂  These upcoming photos will, on the whole, be the most detailed, labor-intensive works I have yet produced, but I am loving the whole process of creating them.  It makes it all the more meaningful and personal.

What are your hopes and goals for the upcoming year?

I hope you all find this new year to be magical and full of delightful adventures 🙂

Now Has Come The Time For Silence

Now Has Come The Time For Silence

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