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A Cry From The Darkness

A self portrait that belongs to my Eternal Storm series, which explores depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

Wow, it feels like FOREVER since I finished my last piece!  This year has not been conducive to creating art.  I’ve done my best despite the circumstances which kept popping up (moving, medications, long ME flares, devoting a ton of time to the gallery show, stress from my recent battle among other things) but it’s felt like a very dry year creatively.  All I can do is my best though, and even when the ME really cramps my style, I still manage to get pieces finished… just much more slowly than I would like.

It was in this depressed feeling of “I haven’t created anything in the longest time imaginable” that today’s image was born.  When my regular creative outlets are blocked to me (by, say, solid weeks of migraines as I adjust to each new medication dosage), I become despondent and depressed.  Life slowly loses its flavor and color and if I’m not careful, I’ll sink into a pit of despair just like Artax in The Neverending Story.  Luckily, I have Geoff and my friends and family around to cheer me on and make sure I never sink too low, but much of it is outside of anyone’s control.

As I mentally pictured how I felt, this was it.  A big, ugly cloud of despair, depression, worthlessness, swirling around my head.  But this time, unlike my last self portrait which explored a similar theme, I wanted to show a bit of hope at the same time.  The cloud is surrounded, penetrated and pierced by beautiful, golden rays of light.  They stream in through the darkness, weaving through its thick blackness.  The darkness cannot survive in the light.  It will be broken up and dissipate.  And while I know this will probably not be my last battle with depression, I also know that each round will eventually be over… and once again, the light will have won.  That is the hope I cling to when the clouds cover me.

I’d like to mention my friend and very talented photographer Robert Cornelius’s Dust to Dust series as it provided some inspiration in my planning out of the darkness cloud.  Thanks, Robert!  🙂  He’s an incredible photographer and all-around cool dude, so check out his work if you’re not familiar with it!

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra - a self portrait

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait

This image belongs to my Eternal Storms series on depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.  These topics are still seen as quite taboo to discuss, something I hope to help with by portraying what living with them is like openly and honestly.  Silence and shame never helped a single illness get cured.  We need to be able to speak openly about our experiences, without judgement or fear, if we’re ever going to healed from them.

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

 

Do you have depression?  Try being a little more honest next time a trusted friend asks how you are.  You don’t have to go into excruciating detail, but try to avoid the temptation to simply answer “fine,” unless you actually are.  And if you have friends or family who you suspect or know suffer from any kind of mental ailment?  Invite them to tell you about it, ask some questions, assuring them that talking to you is safe and you will not judge them or call them crazy.  It is crucial that you answer whatever they tell you with love.  It is incredibly hard for people to open up and talk to others about these problems, so take their trust very seriously and treat it with the gentlest and greatest respect.

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

As we approach Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for the help and support we have.  For the people dedicated to helping us win our fight.  For the people who will listen to us with only love and understanding in their hearts.  The people who give us hope.  The inner strength we are able to find when we think we’ve exhausted it all.  Those extra beams of light when we need them the most.  We need more people like this in the world.  Let’s try and all be them to each other.  The simple fact that there are people in the world who try to reach this goal is something I am very thankful for!

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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.

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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.

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First post of 2014!

How was everyone holiday and new year’s celebration?  Geoff and I had the chance to take a little road trip to see some family, which was really fun!  We got to hit some stops coming and going we’d been wanting to see for a while, so I’ll just get right into it.

First stop was the Arizona Deer Farm!  I visited the deer farm with my family when I was about 4 or 5, and I remember it quite vividly.  I was very excited to realize that not only was the place still around, it was pretty much right on our way!  It’s more of a large petting zoo than a farm per say, and they encourage photographs to be taken.  I have a series coming up which is taking a lot of inspiration from deer, so it was very much a win-win situation for me!  Thanks to Geoff for taking all the photos that have me in them!

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There’s a path for people to walk on, and most of the deer mill about freely inside a large enclosure.   They have plenty of places they can go and hang out or take a nap that are well off the path, so they only are interacting with you if they want to.  And since you get a big cup of feed when you go in, many of them want to 🙂

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Most of the deer are fallow deer; as you can see, they don’t get terribly large, they come in a variety of beautiful colors, and they retain their fawn-like spots into adulthood.

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The price of food: one smooch on the head. This one thought it was a fair trade.

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Checking my hair for edibility; sorry, buck.

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Sadly, my coat is also not edible.

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The males have the most stunning antlers of any deer I’ve seen!  I took lots of photos of this handsome gentleman.

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Once we arrived safely in Kansas, we settled in to the cold weather.  They had an unusual amount of snow for this time of year, which was sighed at by all the locals but I rejoiced in.  We met up with Erick Riedell, a friend of Geoff’s since Junior High, who also got ordained and married us, and who is also a photographer.  In addition to being an all-around great guy, he’s a cancer survivor twice over now.  He had volunteered to be a part of DreamWorld while we were back, and I wanted to find a way to honor his battle and triumphs… hopefully I’ll be able to share the result of that shoot soon!

While we were wandering around a snow-covered wood for the shoot, I was enchanted by the fairy-world sparkle the snow gave all the plants.  I snapped this shot, which reminded me of the fairy tale of The 12 Dancing Princesses and the underground world where all the trees and fruit are made of jewels.

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

On our way back home we stopped at the Wigwam Motel, the epitome of Route 66 kitsch.  We’d stayed there once before, and while the rooms are humble, they are so fun to stay in!  It looks like very little has changed since it opened in 1950.

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.  Those are my gloves on the car trunk, not a wad of used tissues as it appears.

As we made our way home from Arizona, we stopped at The Roadkill Cafe, another historic Route 66 stop.  They had great food (which was not at all made out of roadkill) along with a lovely hand-drawn sign honoring the fallen Hotshot firemen.  I had an unsettling moment when I saw the sign; my heart sank at the reminder of all the brave souls who were lost that day, but I loved that the cafe was honoring their lives and memories.  Regular readers will remember why the loss was hard for me.

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Thank you, Roadkill Cafe, for your very sincere and personal gesture showing your gratitude to the firemen heroes.

So now… on to the first photo of the year!  As much as possible, I feel it’s important to start a year off right with my photos.  Get going on a direction that will determine a positive trajectory.  I wanted my first photo of 2014 to be one I’d look back on proudly.  This photo ended up being quite a bit more work to edit than I’d expected, but I felt waiting a little longer would be worth it.

This concept was actually one I’d shot with Katie at our very first shoot many months ago, but it just didn’t turn out quite like I’d wanted.  The concept was a DreamWorld character; a wind spirit, or perhaps wind goddess would be more appropriate.

I started by making her an art nouveau-inspired headdress.  I remember I’d been looking at one of my books on Alphonse Mucha and had wanted to make a headdress similar to what many of his women are adorned with.

I used my foam head to pin and hot glue sensual, looping ribbons into a headband shape.  The forehead and sides were decorated with masses of little white flowers and small glitter-covered styrofoam balls in a variety of sizes.

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It was meant to be worn rather low over the forehead, which almost instantly gave it that art nouveau feel.

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After that, I hot glued long strands of ribbon to the headband and dotted them with a few more of the styrofoam balls which would help show the blowing wind, along with making it feel more magical.

The second shoot went much better than the first one did!

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky - detail.

Where Earth Meets The Sky – detail

Katie always plays ethereal goddess-types so easily!  Her acting chops are so important to the kind of photography I do.  We both would like to see this kind of headdress become fashionable so we could just go around wearing them all day, at, say, the grocery store… so how about it?  Would you like a wind goddess headdress of your own to help start a trend?  🙂

Thanks to Katie for her patient modeling and to all my readers!  I hope your year has been off to a great start!

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