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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Shades Of Sleep: Invisible Illness Day

Sometimes I get a little daunted when May 12th rolls around each year, wondering what new I can say about the subject.  If you didn’t know, May 12th is Invisible Illness Day; a day to bring attention and awareness to illnesses and diseases which don’t manifest obvious outward symptoms for the world to see.  If someone has the measles or is in a wheelchair, you can hopefully tell that just by looking at them.  Diseases like fibromyalgia*, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome*, Crohn’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, mental health problems, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome7, Celiac Disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease and the one I have, myalgic encephalomyelitis* (ME for short) are considered invisible illnesses.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few examples.

Shades Trio

According to Wikipedia and the 2002 US Census Bureau, 96% of chronic illnesses are invisible.  This adds in an enormous extra challenge in obtaining proper medical care and treatment as well as being misunderstood by the population in general.  If people don’t know that there are quiet, private, hellish wars being fought every day by millions of people all over the world, how can we ever expect our treatment to improve, let alone find cures?

That’s why May 12th is so important.  We, the sick, need people to understand, to care, to help us advocate when our treacherous bodies won’t allow us to.  Awareness is the critical first step in any change happening.

Why is it so important that we treat ME?  What makes our disease so special?

It can be fatal.  People die from this.  If not from the disease ravaging our bodies for years and decades, then it often comes by our own hands as we can no longer endure the daily torment.

No one should have to live like this.  As someone who has what’s considered only a “moderate” case of ME, I can tell you it’s a living hell.  Pain is nearly constant, sometimes to the point where I’m in tears and desperately wishing to die.  It takes away the plans you had for a normal, fulfilling life.  Careers, hobbies and passions are taken from you.  You either simply cannot expend the energy on anything non-essential, you lack the basic funds to sustain most pursuits because most of us can’t work, or your brain is compromised by what we call “brain fog” and you’re unable to focus on and accomplish anything.  (More on brain fog later.)

We deserve to live happy, fulfilling lives, just like everyone else.  When you’re constantly in pain, always exhausted and unable to think clearly, this doesn’t leave much room for whatever kind of life you wanted for yourself.  And when I say exhausted, I don’t mean that we’re tired because we didn’t sleep well the night before.  On a good day for me, it’s like how other people when they have the flu.  A constant, crushing weight that makes the slightest exertion a Herculean effort.  On bad days all I can do is lay in bed and drag myself to the bathroom periodically.  Sometimes even feeding myself is a challenge.  I might have to choose between feeding my animals or myself, because I don’t have the energy for both.  And of course the animals always win; they’re my responsibility.

I am mostly house-bound and I require help with the sort of tasks I used to take for granted.  Forgot something at the store?  No problem, just go back tomorrow!  Nope, not with ME.  Any time I take a trip outside my home, I have to plan at least one full day of recovering at home from it.  If it’s something late at night, very noisy and extra stimulating, plan on 2-3 days at least.  (But frankly, late night, noisy, stimulating activities happen EXTREMELY rarely because of the damage they cause later.)  When I do gather my strength to photograph models, that is my exertion for the entire week at least.

ME is extremely isolating.  You can’t just go hang out with friends.  You can rarely make it to family functions.  Last year, I had to miss a surprise party thrown for my own mother, something which still upsets me today.  I was just too exhausted to go, and I knew that if I REALLY pushed myself and forced myself to go, I would pay for it for a very long time.

ME is vengeful god.  If you violate any of its insane decrees, you WILL be punished.  Probably for a long time; sometimes forever.  There have been cases where someone with ME did just a little too much one day, they spent the next day in bed… and then they were never able to leave it.  At the same time though, if you try and do as little as possible, your energy supply will shrink and you’ll be worse off too.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Right now ME received approximately 5 million dollars a year in funding from the US government.  To put that in perspective, that’s about the same amount given to researching hayfever.  Male pattern baldness gets at least four times as much.  HIV/AIDS, which is comparable in both frequency in the population and severity of illness, gets about 600 times that amount.  I’m not saying that HIV/AIDS patients shouldn’t receive that much; I think they should!  What I’m saying is that ME needs to be recognized at all levels of society and government as the deadly, hellish disease that it is and get proper funding as well.

This year I decided to do something that was a big stretch for me physically.  I planned a set of self portraits (all shot at the same time) with a rather complicated makeup look for my Enchanted Sleep series on living with ME.  Doing that much makeup on myself normally would have been enough exertion for one day for me, but that plus shooting the images, even with Geoff’s generous help, put me in bed for days afterward with migraines pounding my head.  But I’m not sorry.  It was worth it.

Oh yes, brain fog.  (Which I’ve got a bit of as I’m writing this.)  It’s like when you have a fever and can’t concentrate or think clearly.  Sometimes it reaches new heights where people suddenly can’t spell, remember their names or understand their native language.  Most days it’s more like mentally wading through a bog, at least for me.  I decided I wanted to portray this visually in the images I created since it’s such an annoyance at best and terrifying at its worst.  I think it will be obvious how I incorporated that element into the images.

I have the video I took of me applying the makeup as well as the finished photos to show you, but I want to issue a challenge as well!  I want you: you, who are reading this right now, to #GoBlue4ME!  Why blue?  Because that’s our disease’s awareness ribbon color.  What does “going blue” mean?  There are any number of things you could do to go blue.  I created a couple images that you could use as your profile photos for May 12th, or even this whole week (or more!).  You are more than welcome to download them and use them however you’d like!  You could dress all in blue and post a photo of yourself with the #GoBlue4ME hashtag on any of your social media accounts.  You could get a bunch of blue balloons, take a photo of them and use the hashtag on them too; anything blue works!

For makeup artists, I’m issuing a special challenge.  As you’ll see in my video applying my makeup, I used ONLY blue shades for this entire look.  Foundation, concealer, eyeshadows, blush, mascara, EVERYTHING.  I challenge you all to do the same and post your looks using the #GoBlue4ME hashtag!  If you’re on YouTube and create makeup tutorial videos, this would be perfect for you.  There are so many fun makeup challenges going around YouTube, Instagram and other social media sites; let’s make this the next big trend!  You’ll not only be stretching yourself, you’ll be contributing to a wonderful cause and helping us raise awareness for the whole world!

I did allow myself to use shades of teal, green and purple in my look because they’re offshoots of blue and I really thought it would make for a better overall look, so feel free to do the same.  And you don’t have to make the blue tie into your foundation color as well, but bonus points to you if you do. 🙂  Let’s have some fun, create gorgeous looks and help a community in need of a lot of support by coming together!

Ready to see the video and my images?  Here you go!  I’ll be releasing the images individually over the course of the week leading up to May 12th, but you can always find them all here.

And please, pass these around!  Share the links, video and images with anyone and everyone!  We have to make a lot of noise to get the change we so desperately need.  You have my full permission to share far and wide!

And please, if you take up the #GoBlue4ME challenge, let me know!  Of course, I can search the hashtag and see what you guys have been up to, but I’m very excited to see what you come up with!

One last note, your going blue does NOT need to happen on or before May 12th.  Keep doing it as long as you’d like to!  The longer we can keep the word spreading, the better.

Thank you to absolutely everyone who has and will participate in this!  You are helping so many more people than you know.  I thank you from the deepest wells of my heart.

Download these images and make them your profile photos for a day!

ME avatar 1

ME avatar 2

Shades of Sleep

Shades of Sleep, © Sarah Allegra.  A self portrait about brain fog and living with myalgic encephalomyelitis.

Shaed of Dreams

Shades of Dreams, © Sarah Allegra.  A self portrait about brain fog and living with myalgic encephalomyelitis.

Shades of Blur

Shades of Blur, © Sarah Allegra.  A self portrait about brain fog and living with myalgic encephalomyelitis.

*[There are various theories and arguments about weather ME, CFS and fibromyalgia are all the same disease or separate.  You’ll find as many different opinions as there are sufferers.  It is my personal belief that they’re probably all the same thing, or at least all very closely related.  Some people are extremely militant about using the “correct” name; I find it more important to help people understand by using the name they’re most familiar with.  I tend to use them all interchangeably depending on the situation and who I’m talking to, but if I had my druthers, I’d simply call it ME and be done with it.]

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Rapeseed's Harvest

This was one of those self portraits that I just HAD to shoot RIGHT THEN or I was going to explode.  It’s actually been a pretty rough couple of months; I’m fighting my way out of another bout of depression that came on for seemingly no reason.  This does happen periodically, so I tried to just give it time and let it pass, it always will eventually… but it’s been clinging like it hasn’t in a long, long time.

As depression progresses, it gets worse, not just additionally, but exponentially.  You can very quickly move from, “Ok, I don’t like this, but I’ll get through it soon,” to “Oh my god, this is going to be the rest of my life, I will never feel joy again ever; what’s even the point of living??” in shockingly short time.

For me, one of the best tools I have against depression and slowly losing my will to live is creating art, especially art that expresses how I’m feeling at the time.  It’s incredibly cathartic.  Working on this self portrait has been a huge help in keeping me sane lately, but the pessimistic side of me wonders if I’ll just be left right where I was before I started it, once I’m totally finished creating it.  I suppose that even if it does, I’ll at least still have a new image in my roster.  It hasn’t helped my depression to know that it’s been so long since I released any new images (there are far too many reasons to get into right now, but it’s been incredibly difficult to find and make time for art lately).

I was thinking about what I would say to accompany this image, which (probably obviously, belongs to both my DreamWorld and Eternal Storms series) and pondering how to explain what long-term clinical depression feels like to those who haven’t experienced it.  It’s not the same as just being sad or upset, it’s a stain on your soul which you can’t ever blot out.  Out, out, damn spot.  A stain which not only looks ugly, but spreads like a cancer and does you actual harm, emotionally, physically and mentally.

Depression, especially when it gets really bad, feels like your brain is beating and gang-raping your soul every day while the rest of the world goes about their business, either not noticing, or at best stopping to take cell phone videos of your torment, but offering no help.  And much like the unjustified stigma and shame victims of abuse feel, people who have trouble with depression and who don’t feel excited about being alive are often subject to the same kinds of judgements.  We must enjoy wallowing in our own emotional filth, or else we’d just get up, dust ourselves off and go be happy, right?  Or, ok, maybe it’s really a chemical imbalance thing; so just take an anti-depressant and let’s all get on with our lives, all right?  And she was wearing a short skirt, so she was asking for it.

I wish it worked like that; I wish it was that easy.  I can’t recall how many medications I’ve tried, not to mention the far, far greater number of alternative healing treatments, supplements, and anything else I could think of.  Some help more than others, but so far nothing has completely cured me.

For anyone wondering, no, I do not believe this bout of depression is really related to the ME.  The ME has been about the same as it has been since my injections kicked in, so there haven’t been any recent changes on that front.  It definitely doesn’t help anything, but I don’t believe it’s the cause.

Depression lays a gray film over your life.  Everything appears bleak and hopeless.  There’s no point to trying, no point to doing anything.  And there’s also the honest, nothing-to-do-with-depression frustration of having to be your own guinea pig as you try different treatments, often with horrible, horrible side effects, which may or may not stop after you discontinue the medication.  It’s been recommended that I add a psychiatrist to my team of doctors (I have a wonderful therapist, but she’s a psychologist, so she can’t prescribe medication) which I’m not looking forward to.  My depressive mind doesn’t want to go through the bother of more appointments, more co-pays, more explaining my symptoms and feeling judged, more trying new medications will probably make everything worse before it even might get better.  My rational mind says I should try it anyway, but I’m not looking forward to it.

So, back to talking about this image.  I chose the title even knowing it might ruffle some feathers, because I honestly don’t feel like there’s a better way to explain it to those who have been fortunate enough to never be so depressed that they feel they can’t go on another day.  It is your mind raping your soul, verbally abusing you, telling you you’re worthless, a horrible person, undeserving of love or bothering another person by asking them for help.  It’s a prison only you can see and feel; a prison you both hate and are afraid to leave, because it’s all you’ve known for so long.  (My first memories of what was clearly depression are from my early teens, but I wonder if the terrible anxiety and nightmares I endured since I was a very young child were a precursor to this.  The first time I gave serious thought to killing myself, I was 17.)  A strange Stockholm-like syndrome can develop where you long to escape, but are afraid to.  However, I hope it’s clear that I am in no way trying to take anything away from the trauma victims of the “regular” kind of rape suffer from.  Though our hells overlap in some ways, they are not identical.

I liked the idea of using “rapeseed” in the title, not only because it catches the ear, but because I feel it works on a metaphoric level.  Rapeseed is a plant which grows beautiful yellow flowers; it belongs to the mustard family from what I’ve read (and apparently the name has to do with the Latin word for root vegetables and nothing to with an act of violence).  Kirsty Mitchel shot part of her Wonderland series in front of a breathtaking field of rapeseed flowers.  It is also, apparently, what canola oil is made from (or at least used to be?  I’m finding mixed info), around which there is some controversy if it’s truly safe for human and animal consumption.  The word at once touches on horrible, horrible acts of violence and abuse, potential danger but still has immense beauty to offer the world.

In this image, I imagined a beautiful, unicorn-like creature, someone that would look completely pure and innocent, someone who looked like that would never have had a single bad day.  And I just poured my emotions into the shoot, letting them all out.  I’ve already said it was cathartic, but I can’t stress just how much it was.  I felt lighter that day than I did in a long time.  Even editing it was therapeutic.  Some images seem to fight you the whole way, kicking and screaming, into what you want them to be; this one felt like it was actively working with me to help me achieve my goal.  It’s one of the most gratifying feelings when art flows like that.

I have been studied makeup application a lot recently (mostly for upcoming images) and this was one of my first times being able to test just a little bit of my new knowledge out.  That was fun, although tiring.  But I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt at being a makeup artist!  I had to search high and low for some cosmetic-grade silver glitter of the right size and color to make the glitter-tears; you really wouldn’t think it would have been so difficult, but it was!  I eventually found some on either eBay or Etsy; I’ve bought some from both and now I don’t remember where this particular one came from.  I already had the silver wig, so I just grayed up my eyebrows to match it better.  I used Nyx’s Jumbo Pencil in Milk for the entire eye/cheekbone area along with a nice matte white eyeshadow from BH Cosmetics pallet, along with two shades of lavender and a darker purple in my crease and as blush.  I contoured with another Nyx product, an eyeshadow in Taupe which is perfect for my pale skin (even paler here, so I used a very light hand).  I highlighted cheekbones, lids and inner corners with Deviant Cosmetics Ghost Violet, which is just about my new favorite thing ever.  It has the most gorgeous flash of purple when the light hits it, and Deviant Cosmetics has four or five colors in their Ghost line; I recommend them all!  (If you’ve been eyeing the Kat Von D Alchemist Palette but don’t have the money, go see Deviant Cosmetics.  Their colors are brighter, more vivid, they carry one more color than comes in KVD’s pallet, and it’s WAY less expensive!  And since it’s mineral makeup, there are no weird or harmful ingredients to worry about.)

After I did my makeup and looked utterly insane in person, I set my camera up and a couple lights.  I actually really hate setting up lights, so I always try and make it as minimal as possible.  Luckily, this shot didn’t call for anything fancy, so I got away with only two.  I taped some white, mesh fabric to the inside of my front door, and it gave me a lovely, neutral whiteish backdrop that wouldn’t distract from the main subject.  I was nearly done shooting when I remembered I’d intended to wear my unicorn horn circlet from Firefly Path!  I quickly shot a few more images with it on, tipping my head at different angels and planning on adding it on to the final image in post, which I did.  (This is not the exact circlet that I have, my horn is silver and the crystals are lavender, but this seems to be the only one in her shop at the moment.)

Unicorns represent a lot of things to me, but innocence and purity are two big ones.  If a human is sad, well, that’s… sad, but normal.  If a unicorn is sad, it’s tragic.  That there could be anything their magic couldn’t overcome underscores the power of whatever is causing them pain.  To me at least, that emphasized the magnitude of the power depression can hold over you.  The working title for this image as I tinkered on it was Sad Unicorn, because that was all I could think of when I needed to save the file for the first time.  It still feels appropriate in a way.

I added the trees and birds on the background, as if perhaps the unicorn girl is longing for her forest home.  I specifically chose to add crows, both because they’re one of my favorite birds (did you know they actually make and use tools and are incredibly smart?) and because Native American legends say they escort one’s soul into the afterlife.  That felt very fitting giving the subject of the image.  She seems like she’s in an alien land, somewhere she doesn’t truly belong, which is how I’ve felt about my time on earth just about every single day since I was born.  I knew this was not my true home.  My true home is where my soul resided before it decided, for whatever insane reason, to incarnate into this life.  In a meditation, months ago now, I actually visited what I consider to be my true home and I sobbed and sobbed, because I was so glad to be back, even for a moment, and also because I knew I couldn’t stay.  That place, that timeless, unchanging Home, is where this ethereal creature belongs too.

Now that I’ve gone on for probably far too long, I’ll finally show you the image.  I felt it was very important to explain my reason for the title I gave it to give people a way in to understand it.  And for anyone concerned about me, thank you, but I’ll be ok.  I’ve been through worse.  And I didn’t even have photography back then.  I have an excellent support system, which I didn’t have nearly as much of before, including my really incredible therapist.  All that said, let’s get on to the first image I’m releasing this year!

Rapeseed's Harvest

Lastly, I don’t enjoy talking about my mental health (or lack thereof) to strangers on the internet, no matter what impression this post gave you.  I speak candidly and openly about it because we NEED to end the stigma around it.  And the only way for that to happen is for those of us who struggle with it to speak about our experiences.  A lot.  In detail.  Repeatedly.  I do think things will change eventually, but it will take a lot of voices speaking honestly, blatantly, about it.  My voice is only one drop in the ocean of voices, but to quote Cloud Atlas, what is the ocean but a multitude of drops?

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It’s time for all those end-of-the-year blog posts!  I admit, I kind of like this tradition.  It’s a nice way to look back on things from a larger perspective.  And I have a brand new DreamWorld image featuring Travis Weinand for those who want to just scroll to the bottom 🙂

I Felt It Was Glory, detail. Model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

I Felt It Was Glory, detail. Model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

* * * * *

2015 was a… challenging year, to say the least.  And it turns out I’m starting it with a fresh, new cold and fever.  It has been the worst year I’ve had, ME-wise, so far.  It didn’t help that the year began with a crunched-for-time move of houses which literally took me several months to recover from.  Medication changes gave me months of terrible headaches and migraines, which also meant that this year was the least photographically productive year I’ve had yet also.  Between feeling terrible physically and not having nearly as much access to my art therapy as I wanted, it was a very depressing, frustrating and emotionally trying year as well.  All said, I’m happy to leave 2015 behind me and have set my intentions to have a much more fulfilling 2016.

I made a short video about my experience living with ME for last year’s May 12th (ME Awareness Day).  I generally really dislike making videos, so you can see that this was important to me 😉

There was some drama in the larger world of ME as well.  The US officially changed its name from the very belittling “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” to the vague and incredibly widely-defined “Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease.”  Most patients and advocates were very unhappy about this and there was a big backlash, which the powers-that-be mostly ignored, as is their usual method of dealing with us.  I’m still calling it ME, which is what most of us wanted it to be changed to.

Silenced © Sarah Allegra - model: Travis Weinand

Silenced © Sarah Allegra – model: Travis Weinand

Then the Senate rubbed salt in the wound by proposing they slash ME’s funding to absolutely $0 per year.  The paltry amount we currently get is the same amount given to research hayfever, despite ME being as deadly and serious as congestive heart failure and HIV/AIDS.  I extolled people to write to their representatives in protest of this; we’ll see what comes of it.

Please save this graphic and send it to the email addresses above!

Please save this graphic and send it to the email addresses above!

I got to meet fan-turned-model-turned-friend Noemi Regalado and photograph her for DreamWorld.

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado

I officially started a series dealing with mental health issues; Eternal Storms.  It seeks to help break down the stigma associated with these illnesses and show sufferers how they are not alone.

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

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

One of the first models I ever worked with, Dedeker Winston, who has continued modeling for me over the five years we’ve known each other, despite me forcing her to wake up early, pose laying in cold, slimy, creeks, regularly get naked in forests and once helping me discover what stinging nettles look like when I accidentally had her pose nude in a patch of them, left for an extended time abroad.  She is having a wonderful, life-expanding time and I’m able to keep in touch and follow her journey online and through social media and texts.  I was sad to see her leave, but glad that we’d gotten in as much shooting as we did before she left, such as the Pink Mother for DreamWorld.  Speaking unselfishly though, I’m really happy she had this chance to do so much traveling and is having such an incredible time!  But I won’t be sad when I have the chance to photograph her again 🙂

The Living Sepulcher © Sarah Allegra, model - Dedeker Winston

The Living Sepulcher © Sarah Allegra, model – Dedeker Winston

My dear friend Danica gave me a priceless chance to work with an incredible, stunning, cream-colored Gypsy Vanner stallion named Booger.  As soon as I discovered she was horse-sitting him, I began planning a shoot with Katie Johnson and him together, utilizing him in every way I could think of.  I have a LOT of his shots still on my hard drive waiting to be edited, but I did at least complete one image from that magical shoot!

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson

I tried my hand at a more editorial style, which is fun, but not going to be the main thing I do any time soon.

Wall 8- model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

Wall 8- model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

Alabaster 1 - model Dedeker Winston. © Sarah Allegra SarahAllegra.com

Alabaster 1 – model Dedeker Winston. © Sarah Allegra
SarahAllegra.com

I was accepted into the online art gallery A Gallery, and also participated in a group show over the summer at the Creative Arts Group.

The summer show at the Creative Arts Group Gallery in Sierra Madre. This is how I want my work to be displayed, finished works alongside actual props and costumes.

The summer show at the Creative Arts Group Gallery in Sierra Madre. This is how I want my work to be displayed, finished works alongside actual props and costumes.

I FINALLY finished editing an image I started in 2013.

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson

I was able to attend another screening of The Last Unicorn, which was absolutely delightful!  I dressed up as Amalthea and made a taco purse (get your own here!), which I think was the secret behind me winning the nightly costume contest.  I was also able to introduce my dear friends and ex-neighbors Donna and John to the movie for the first time (though I’d already made them fans of Peter’s writing) and they were appropriately impressed.

Taco purse available on Etsy :)

Taco purse available on Etsy 🙂

At the screening as Amalthea (with purse) and back at home.

At the screening as Amalthea (with purse) and back at home.

Sadly, shortly after this screening it became clear that Peter Beagle is not nearly as well as everyone had thought.  This is leading to a number of problems for him and his manager/publisher Conlan Press, which I’ll leave to them to discuss.  Regardless, it is sad to see him unwell and it makes the conversation I had with him at the screening last January all the more precious.

Speaking of illness, one of my favorite photographers, Ashley Lebedev, let us all know that she has struggled with a chronic illness for a long time.  It was beautiful to see people’s support and desire to help her gather funds for treatment.  I wish her a much better, healthier 2016 also!

The Weight of a Whistle Already Carved, @ Ashley Lebedev

I helped my husband (he helps me SO much with my shooting and projects, I more than owe him!) with a project that he’s been working on for a long time, which ended in his creating the dystopian, sci fi, 8-minute short film A Secret War.  You really should watch it!

My friend Jessi started an Etsy shop which has beautiful jewelry in it!  But it’s not simply pretty, much of it helps raise awareness about various invisible, chronic illnesses, such as ME.  As a spoonie herself, purchasing her jewelry is helping her support herself as well as getting something pretty 🙂

Jessi’s shop, The Hopeful Spoon

I discovered the wonder that is the film Unbroken, which is now one of my go-to stories to tell myself when I need some extra motivation to get through anything difficult.

Speaking of Peter S Beagle, Amazon released an exclusive Kindle offering of 13 of his most beloved titles for the first time in e-editions… and 6 of those titles were released with my images on their covers!  To say I was elated would be a huge understatement.  There may have been joyful tears when I first saw them in my browser window.  🙂

Go buy one of these titles! You'll thank me when you discover how magical Peter's writing is :)

Go buy one of these titles! You’ll thank me when you discover how magical Peter’s writing is 🙂

And, as always, I put out a calendar with a year’s worth of beautiful images to brighten up your walls every day!  Red Bubble does an excellent job at making beautiful, high-quality items and its calendars don’t disappoint.  Feel free to grab your own; I can promise that you’ll love it!

Sarah Allegra 2016 Calendar

Sarah Allegra 2016 Calendar

* * * * *

Since 2015 was so heavy with ME, migraines, frequent colds, injuries, deep ruts of depression and stress in ways I have seldom experienced it, an incredibly huge percentage of my physical energy was devoted to simply existing and not giving up.  It really underscored how precious my time and energy is and how I need to devote it to things that are worthwhile.  No, not just worthwhile, but things which I cannot live life without.  The things are dearest and most deeply important to me.

This has given me a lot to think about as I ponder how I’ll change my management of time and energy in 2016.  I will try and devote myself to not just ideas I like, but the ideas which I think are the best.  The most important.  I simply don’t have time to pursue anything less.  This is helping to bring my artistic goals into much sharper focus.  The dross will be burned away; the leftover gold burnished until it gleams.

I’m also making an effort to set aside more time for self-care activities, like short walks with Calantha or yoga when my body allows, meditation and reading for pleasure.  Few things enrich my life (both my actual and imaginary worlds) as much as reading does and I need to make sure I don’t let that slip away from me by being “too busy” for it.

But of course the most important things are the relationships I have with friends and loved ones.  Those will always be tended to, nurtured and cultivated as best as I can manage!  I am blessed to have many, wonderful friends in my life, online and off, who get me, support me and my art and are incredibly gracious about my health problem.  That’s something I should never forget to be grateful for or take for granted.

* * * * *

Now, as promised, here is my new DreamWorld image!

When I first met model and friend Travis Weinand, I was struck by how truly ethereal he looks.  Not simply in pictures or when in costume, he always looks like he stepped out of a comic book, collection of mythology or possibly Middle Earth.  With a quick stop-off for a dose of Viking and tattoos.  Anyway, I immediately wanted him to have wings.  I wasn’t sure how, but I knew he’d get them before we were done working together.

So at our next shoot, I asked him to sit in front of a dark backdrop and pose angelically.  He made looking strong, gentle, loving and bad-ass all at the same time look effortless.  Editing did take a while since I painted the wings myself and had to figure out exactly how I wanted these “wings made out of light” to look, but it was very worth the effort!

This character lives in DreamWorld, as you would probably guess, a centurion of sorts to DreamWorld’s Queen (whom you have not met yet, but hopefully you will soon).  He leads the Queen’s army, the Glorious Guard, but he’s more than just a devoted servant.  Part bodyguard, part lieutenant, part enforcer, part adviser, he is a dazzling embodiment of good.

The title of this image comes from one of my favorite poems of George Gordon Lord Byron, All For Love.  In it, Byron discusses love being the greatest glory one can receive, far greater than wreaths, trophies or other symbols of glory:

O Fame! if I e’er took delight in thy praises,
‘Twas less for the sake of thy high-sounding phrases,
Than to see the bright eyes of the dear one discover
She thought that I was not unworthy to love her.
 
There chiefly I sought thee, there only I found thee;
Her glance was the best of the rays that surround thee;
When it sparkled o’er aught that was bright in my story,
I knew it was love, and I felt it was glory.

That last line kept repeating and repeating through my head as I edited… thinking about the love he has for his Queen, those he protects and his glorious vestige, so I finally gave in and just used it as the title.

 

I Felt It Was Glory, detail. Model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

I Felt It Was Glory, model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

 

I Felt It Was Glory, detail. Model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

I Felt It Was Glory, detail. Model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

 

I Felt It Was Glory, detail. Model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

I Felt It Was Glory, detail. Model: Travis Weinand. © Sarah Allegra

That’s it!  Everyone have a happy and meaningful 2016!  🙂

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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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Hey guys!  2016 calendars are HERE!!

First, let me quickly update those of you who are regular readers.  You may remember my Preparing For Battle post where I talked about… well, preparing for the big battle I was about to face.  I was sick with stress and worry about it; it was honestly one of THE hardest things I have ever had to do.

But guess what?  I WON!!!  I’m afraid I still can’t give many details about the nature of the fight, but this is a huge, wonderful victory for me and will help make my life a little bit easier.  So thank you VERY much to each and every one of you who said a prayer for me, lit a candle, sent Reiki or good thoughts… they all melded together and produced one hell of a win for me!

Now, with that’s said, let me tell you about my calendars!

Sarah Allegra 2016 Calendar

Sarah Allegra 2016 Calendar

These guys are always a favorite; they’re probably my single best-selling item.  And with good reason!  Red Bubble packs a ton of quality into these babies with thick paper, almost like a heavy cardstock or watercolor paper.  The pages have a subtle sheen without being shiny.  The daily squares are big enough to make notes in.  I still have calendars (both my own and from other artists) from years ago which hold up beautifully, even after years of flipping through them to see the lovely pictures!

Sarah Allegra 2016 Calendar back

Sarah Allegra 2016 Calendar

This also brings something else up: getting this calendar is like buying 12 small prints of my work!  Each year’s images are different, making each year a unique and collectible item.  And if you want to keep the calendar after the year is over, like I do, to enjoy the images whenever you want to pull it out?  That’s fine!  Red Bubble does a great job at printing the images and making them look the way I want them too; this is a solid buy!  You’ll get images which span across my series, from my DreamWorld, Enchanted Sleep, Eternal Storms to self portraits, which feature Katie Johnson, Dedeker Winston, Travis Weinand, Noemi Regalado as well as the beloved author of The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle!

Also, while I was uploading a diptych of Travis for one month of the calendar, I noticed that it made a really awesome pattern for Red Bubble’s leggings.  So get your Travis-printed leggings now!  😀

Travis Leggings

Travis Leggings

All of us independent artists and craftmakers REALLY appreciate your purchases, whether it’s for Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, regular holiday shopping, something for yourself, or any other reason you might have!  Please keep shopping small in mind during this holiday season!

And remember if you want to support my art with your purchases, there are always museum-quality prints of my images that you can buy, my online self-discovery-through-photography class Introspective, the Peter S Beagle e-books that have my images on their covers (but buy his other books too!), along with Red Bubble which has a myriad of other items with my images on them.  Everything from stickers to leggings to mugs to laptop/iPhone covers.  There’s really something there for everyone 🙂

A smattering of offerings from my Red Bubble shop

A smattering of offerings from my Red Bubble shop

And don’t forget to check out my friend Jessi’s Etsy shop, The Hopeful Spoon, full of beautiful, hand-made earrings (and other jewelry pieces coming soon!) full of lovely semi-precious stones at very reasonable prices.

One of Jessi’s many offerings!

She also has a section dedicated to raising awareness about different illnesses, which would be perfect for the spoonie in your life!

The Hopeful Spoon

Thanks to everyone for your patronage!  Artists like myself could not survive without help from people like you 🙂

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Let me start by saying that I’m sorry I can’t give you more actual details about what’s going on, but I’ve been advised to continue to keep them under wraps.  Those of you who follow me on social media have already heard that I’m going through a difficult time right now.  What I can tell you is that I am about to do something on the 14th which is absolutely terrifying to me and has incredible, life-altering implications.  For me, Geoff and the fur-kids.  And while I have lots of people (like all you dear, lovely folks reading this) who are loving and supporting me, it’s all going to come down to the words I speak and actions I take on the 14th.  I will be alone at the critical moment; the pressure feels crushing.

I feel like Louis Zamperini in the POW camp holding his wooden beam.  I feel like Aerin facing the giant dragon Mar.  I feel like the unicorn standing up to the Red Bull.  I feel like one of Leonidas’ 300.  Frodo off to Mordor.  Rosie and Pernicia.  Lissar and her father.  You get the idea.

One small, anxious girl going up against something far, far bigger than she is; ill-equipped for the job.  The higher the pressure, the more my brain feels scattered and forgets important details.  And it’s crucial that I remember everything, no notes allowed.  The outcome of this will have a huge impact on my financial state, which is currently pitiful.  I need this win.

To say this has been stressful would be a huge understatement.  This sincerely feels like one of the single hardest, most frightening thing I have ever had to do.  But there’s no getting around it, I HAVE to do it.  And I will do my best.

The stress is causing giant waves of discord through my body, mind and soul; causing mayhem and destruction.  For weeks now, every night, I either have stress dreams or I dream that I’m dying… the dying ones are the worst because, in my dream, it’s wonderful, beautiful, the most peaceful, joyful thing I’ve ever experienced.  And then I wake up and remember real life and it feels like a glorious gift has been snatched from my hands while the weight of life crushes down upon me again.

Despite numerous antacids of all kinds, I’m having persistent heartburn, often in the middle of the night.  My pain levels are all elevated.  And as you can imagine, my sleep is suffering in quantity and quality.

I’m not writing about this to simply throw myself a pity party.  I am asking for your support.  If you pray, please pray for a quick and overwhelmingly successful outcome.  If you do Reiki, please send as much as you can.  If you light candles, please light one for me.  Please send all the love, good thoughts and energy that you can spare, whatever your system of faith may or may not be.  I will gladly take it all!

I am determined to win this battle.  And while it traditionally takes a while to hear about the exact outcome from the fight, I am equally determined to get an overwhelmingly positive answer, right then and there.  I am visualizing myself being victorious.  As much as I am afraid, I am doing my best to catch myself when I start to go into a spiral of worry over what will happen if I fail.  When I notice those thoughts, I actively change my vision of the future to one that I want.  I don’t need to open myself up to attracting any negative energy!

One thing about all the metaphors I listed a few paragraphs ago; despite the odds, they all succeeded.  Thinking about others who have overcome incredible trials is deeply comforting to me.  If they could do it, I can do it too.

I can say one thing: this is not about a new turn in my health or anything else along those lines.  My health is fairly crappy right now, as is usual, but I have not taken a turn for the worse…  other than the spiked pain, non-stop migraines, constant tension in my whole body, wildly increased anxiety, panic attacks and depression as well as extreme exhaustion brought about by all of this.  It’s stressful to the point where I don’t even want to edit or create many days, which is an almost unheard-of low for me.  But these are clearly responses to the weeks and weeks of stress and worry.  I don’t want you guys to worry that I’m hiding some terrible new diagnosis from you.

I know I will get through this.  And I know that with Geoff, I will deal with the outcome, whatever it is.  But more than that, I know I will win.  I have to.  Knowing that doesn’t take all my fear and anxiety away, but it does give me hope to cling to.

I feel incredibly fragile in every way, but I will battle and I will be victorious.  Still, your prayers, well wishes and love would mean a great deal to me right now.  I can use all the help I can get.

I promise that I will try and let you guys know exactly what’s happening just as soon as I can.  I appreciate that you’re all being very understanding about that and respecting the fact that I simply can’t divulge much right now.

This self portrait felt especially appropriate for this post.  It serves as a reminder and inspiration to me to keep fighting, to get up when I’m knocked down, and most of all, never give up.  Thank you all so very, very much for all your support!  I cannot thank you enough.

With that said, please wish me a miraculous victory as I go into this battle.  Now, let me go find my suit of armor.

We Rise Again - © Sarah Allegra

We Rise Again – © Sarah Allegra

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 This is a big piece for me, not just size-wise, but for what it represents as well.
Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

I shot this self portrait a week or two ago after enduring months of worse-than-usual depression.  Some was due to outside influences, bad news, being sick and other things that any normal, healthy person would feel depressed about.  But a lot of it was that irrational, heavy, demanding, life-draining depression that is clinical depression.  This is not feeling sad about things that you should feel sad about.  This is round-the-clock, punishing joylessness, sucking the beauty out of everything, leaving all around you colorless and meaningless.  This is clinical depression.

 

I’ve battled this beast since it first started manifesting in my early teens.  It took me some time before I learned that what I was feeling was an actual condition, a potentially solvable problem, not just a bad mood that hung around for years.  I’ve also tried more remedied to it that I can recount; anti-depressants, therapy, energy work, supplements, yoga, getting more exercise (before I had ME; over-doing exercise now could do me great harm), self-help books, seminars, journaling, art therapy… on and on and on.

 

And it still clings.

 

I decided to start a series specifically addressing mental illness; clinical depression and anxiety in particular, since those are the two I fight with most.  I manage them, sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse.  Sometimes I want to just die.  I don’t know if it will ever go away completely, thus the series title Eternal Storms.

 

I identify with Eeyore from Winnie  the Pooh, with his constant dark cloud covering just him.  I’m sure that was subconsciously part of the inspiration for this piece.  When I’m going through a bout of depression, this is what it feels like to me.  A dark storm raging round my head, that only I see and feel.  It makes the idea of asking for help feel pointless; even if I break up this cloud, another will come.  And the social stigma of admitting you need help at all, let alone help with your mental health, makes it all the worse.  If I’m having a week where I have to talk myself into continuing to live each day, I can’t talk about it except for a few select, very trusted friends who have also been there, as well as my therapist.

 

I shot this self portrait as a way to work through the cloud I was under, yes, but more importantly, to directly address depression and its stigma.  Admitting you have or struggle with depression doesn’t make you weak or unworthy.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.  It doesn’t mean you’re not trying hard enough, eating right or getting enough exercise.  It just IS.  And society needs to learn to stop judging those who do manage to ask for help.

 

The alternative is that we suffer in silence with our tormentor.  And that can kill.

 

Joel Robison happened to put up an insightful blog about his own battle with depression recently, which was a happy coincidence.  I’m very glad for people like him who will stand with me and admit that yes, we have depression.  It may not make sense to you, you may not understand it, it might *gasp* make you uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it will go away.We are no less human that you.  We did not ask for this fight.  This is not an attention-seeking behavior.  This is real, this illness is out for blood.  This is just our fight.  This matters.  And it can be won.One storm at a time.

This series is dedicated to all the others who fight this battle with me every day.  You are all so strong and so brave.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – click on the image to see it full-sized on my site!

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

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