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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

******* NEW! *******

Red Bubble is holding a 15% of Stocking Stuffers Sale!  Use promo code STOCKING15 to get 15% off all stocking stuffers until 11:59pm PST on Friday, November 21 2014

I have also released my 2015 calendar, featuring 12 of my most popular images from the previous year!  I put out a new calendar every year making each one different and unique, as well as being a great value in getting 12 images to display.  Snap up this collector’s item and add a little magic and beauty to every day of 2015!

My 2015 Calendar!

My 2015 calendar!

The calendar features the beautiful models, actors and actresses Katie Johnson, Dedeker Winston, Dan Donohue, Travis Weinand and Aly Darling.  Images span many of my series’ such as DreamWorld, Enchanted Sleep, Glass Walls, Orphans Of The Mother Road and self portraits!

My Red Bubble store carries calendars, tshirts, hoodies, stickers, blank greeting cards, post cards, phone and tablet cases, laptop skin, throw pillows, tote bags, mugs (travel and regular) and even a few duvet covers, all covered in my images!  Every item they produce is extremely high quality and will last forever.  You can knock out all your holiday shopping in one stop, so come on by!  🙂

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It’s been a very crazy couple of weeks since my last post!  My sinus surgery is over, including an odd complication I had which caused an artery near the back of my sinuses to burst unexpectedly.  This led to me losing 2-3 pints of blood and having to have an emergency surgery last Tuesday to correct it.  I’m happy to say I seem to be all done bleeding and nothing else strange has happened since then!  I’ll tell you more about my adventure in another post; it’s a rather long story.  I’ve regained most of my strength but I’m still recovering a bit.  So let me tell you about today’s self portrait for now!

This image has been in my mind for a long time, ever since I this post.  I had discovered, in the course of looking through my blog’s stats, that someone had found my blog by searching “I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I want to give up.”  My heart still breaks for this person.  I wrote a post at the time replying to them but I’ll probably never know if they saw it or what happened to them.

I’d wanted to create an image for my Enchanted Sleep series based on the idea of being beaten down by chronic illness yet getting up, but it took a while.  My first attempt was unsuccessful and I had to think for quite a while about what wasn’t working and then find time to reshoot it.  Eventually though, I had created the image I wanted to make.

While I had physical, chronic illness in mind when I was creating this, the image is certainly not limited to being interpreted just in that light.  Mental illness, for example, is another example of something you have to rise from again and again.  And it happens that I’m in a bout of depression myself right now.  The reasons are long and complicated so I won’t get into them now, but every day recently, I’ve felt like this just trying to get out of bed… never mind how I might feel physically.

Chronic illness, mental illness… they are not something you can beat in a day.  You’ll have good days and bad days.  You may have entire days, or even weeks or months where you don’t struggle with whatever it is that knocks you down.  But when it comes, you have to get back up.

Every time.

Every time.

Every time.

It can be exhausting, and you might not have anyone in your life who knows that you’re even battling like this.  Those who have a strong support system in place are fortunate; it helps, a lot.  But whether it’s something others know about or not, it’s a demon which must be faced and conquered every time it arises.

I hope that everyone reading this has their own support system to keep them going.  Friends and family, online or off, who can cheer them on.  Who can give them the push or pull they need.  We all need help from each other; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for or receiving help.

Asking for help can seem more daunting than fighting the beast holding you down.  But do it.  No matter who is reading this, you have people in your life who love you, who care about you, who want you to succeed, who will extend the hand you need to get you through this.

Whether it’s an internal struggle no one else will ever see or you have countless loving people help guide you through your troubles, we must rise every time we get knocked down.

Every time.

We Rise Again - © Sarah Allegra

We Rise Again – © Sarah Allegra

If you need help and you don’t feel comfortable approaching anyone you know, you can always talk to The Samaritans.  You can call them, email them or even text them.  They have people around 24/7 to help you through whatever you’re facing and it’s completely confidential.  They are well trained and caring.  Give them a try if you’re in need of someone to talk to!  I can personally vouch for how much they help.

 

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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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Most who know me know that I love me some TED Talks.  My Netflix queue is FULL of them.  I love them all, but this is the best one I have ever, ever seen.  In fact, it’s pretty much the best thing I’ve ever seen, period.

Andrew Solomon speaks candidly about depression; his own experiences with it and others’ as well.  It is so eloquent, truthful, poignant and has just the right amount of humor sprinkled in.

This is an absolutely must-see video for anyone who has ever suffered from depression, anyone who’s ever known anyone who suffered with it, or anyone who just wants to understand it better.  You will come away with a much better understanding of what depression is, and why you aren’t completely doomed to fight it forever.

There’s not enough good I can say about this.  Just watch it.  I promise you will be very glad you did.  Spread this around to everyone who needs to hear it!

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It has come to my attention that there is a new drug being tested in Norway that has shown great promise so far in treating ME/CFS.  To my knowledge, this is the first drug that has shown persistent, repeatable improvement in patients – even going so far as to sending some patients into full remission.  It seems like even the most successful cases eventually needed to have the drug re-administered, by my god, even if it were something we had to have injected a few times a year, to have anything that would help, even fractionally, let alone full remission, would be an absolute miracle.

There is a fundraiser going on to try and crowd-source funding for the next phase of drug trials.  If you can at all help, please do.  Even it’s a few years before the drug trickles down to actually reaching patients, just having that in our future would make such a difference.  I’ll have a bit more to say about this in the next few days, but for now, please join me in giving what you can.   And thank you so very much!

MEpress_image1

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I’ve noticed more and more flowers creeping into my work recently, and I’m not entirely sure why that is… or if it even matters.  Some of it certainly has a great deal to do with particular DreamWorld characters you will meet in the future, but they are cropping up in non-DreamWorld images too.  I could spend a long time analyzing why that is, but I’m not sure I need to.  Sometimes you just have to let things grow as they will.

I gave an interview recently and stated that I never shoot an image simply for the sake of taking a pretty picture.  They always have meaning to me.  This last photo was the closest I have ever come to taking a photo simply for the sake of beauty, although I knew there was some underlying meaning… I just had to figure out what my subconscious was trying to tell me.  Artists need to have faith in themselves and their visions; if they don’t, who will?

I’d had a vision of a girl holding an umbrella filled with flowers pouring down on her, so I set out to make such an umbrella.  As usual, I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I got started.  I had a good umbrella, and I had flowers left over from a few other projects, including this one.  Even though I almost always manage to buy them on some kind of sale, fake flowers are one of the most expensive props I buy, so I try and mitigate the cost by using them as many times and ways as possible.

In my vision, I very, very clearly saw wisteria hanging down, perhaps because I had recently been to the garden center where I lusted after a very expensive wisteria plant.  But I did not have any fake wisteria.  It seems to grow quite rampantly around here, and I toyed with the idea of simply asking an owner of an overly enthusiastic plant if I could cut some off… but ugh.  Talking to strangers.  Talking to strangers and asking them immediately for favors.  No.  I couldn’t do it.  Have I mentioned recently how shy and introverted I am in real life?  So I buckled down and found some reasonably-priced, realistic looking fake wisteria online and ordered it.

I’d had a shoot planned already with a model who would be new to me, although I knew her a bit through other photographers she’s worked with, Katie Johnson.  (Katie is amazing, by the way.  A charming, fascinating person, an absolutely natural and dedicated model… I would highly recommend her to anyone.)   Katie had recently approached me about shooting together sometime, which I was very keen to do!  I planned a number of concepts for her, including the wisteria umbrella, we picked a day and all was set… until somehow the wisteria was delayed, and it didn’t arrive until the day after our shoot.  Oops.  We still had a great time at that first shoot, and since it had gone so well, we decided to plan another shoot soon after, and bring the umbrella concept to life then.

The cats help the only way they know how; by sleeping on things.

The cats help the only way they know how; by sleeping on things.

After my wisteria arrived, I set about attaching it to the umbrella.  I ended up sewing some directly to either the frame of he umbrella or he fabric itself, and broke out my trusty glue gun to attach the flowers along the edge.

Hanging bunches of hydrangea from he umbrella to help fill it out.

Hanging bunches of hydrangea from the umbrella to help fill it out.

Starting To Hang

Note the balancing-on-the-laundry basket move.  The damn umbrella was so awkward and lopsidedly heavy, poised on a curved handle, plus it kept shifting slightly as I moved around…. language was used.  More than once.

More Hung

More wisteria is hung, and the first bit glued to he edge is on.

Just about done!

Just about done!

Since I was working with a limited amount of flowers, I concentrated them on one side.  I knew Katie’s head would be blocking part of he umbrella, so I didn’t want to waste any flowers there.  And filling it out a little in post is fairly easy to do, if you need to.

The day of our reshoot came, and it was a gorgeously overcast morning, which was absolutely perfect for what I wanted.  Katie was, of course, a dream and we were able to shoot several different concepts before calling it a day.  But not before Katie twirled around with the flower-ful umbrella, flinging shoots of wisteria into every direction, which made both of us laugh pretty hard.

umbrella outtake 4 small

umbrella laugh 2 small

The umbrella took it all in stride, not seeming to mind being spun about.  🙂

After the whole thing was said and done, I finally realized what my subconscious was saying with these photos.  They portray a girl who is carrying hope and life, symbolized by the flowers, with her wherever she goes.  While the umbrella protects her physically from the sun and rain, its bigger role is to protect her soul by keeping these positive qualities with her.   There’s an implied symbiosis between her and the flowers; that each of them needs each other for its life, in a way that can be read both literally and metaphorically.

And as I edited these during a week when I was feeling particularly depressed and had been advised to exercise “self care,” this seemed like a perfect visual metaphor.  Keeping the gray world off my back with a layer of protection, under which heady armfulls of my own, beautiful flowers grow.  Not only was it a lovely metaphor, but working on the photo was cathartic in and of itself, so it worked for me on many levels.

Finished photos and detail shots below!

Perennial Parasol

Perennial Parasol

Perennial Parasol

Perennial Parasol -detail

Perennial Parasol

Perennial Parasol -detail

Perennial Parasol

Perennial Parasol -detail

Perennial Parasol -detail

Perennial Parasol -detail. Katie’s extensive dance background often shows itself in little details like this, which she did all on her own.

Efflorescence

Efflorescence

sarahallegra.com

Efflorescence – detail

sarahallegra.com

Efflorescence – detail

Efflorescence - detail

Efflorescence – detail

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I’ve been talking a lot recently about the art side of my life here recently, which is perfectly appropriate; there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I intended for this blog to also touch on other parts of my life, and especially my constant struggle with my health.

I’ll be repeating myself a bit for older readers, but it’s been nearly five years since my body started dramatically falling to pieces.  There were many months before I had any idea what was happening at all, and really, I still don’t have the answers.  Eventually it was determined that I have myalgic encephalomyelitis, aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and mystery chronic pain for which there is NO explanation, except that it may be related to the ME.  Most of you probably know all this already.

The quest over the last few years to find answers and, hopefully, cures or a least treatments, has been extremely frustrating and rarely fruitful.  I have seen nearly a dozen different specialists during this time, and of course I have done tremendous amounts of my own research and reading about anything that seemed like it even might be helpful.  The problem always boils down to the simple fact that no one knows what causes ME.  If you talk to 50 different doctors or ME sufferers, you will get 50 different opinions about what the cause is, an what treatments might help.  It seems I have tried nearly everything at this point, although I’m sure that if I did a little more digging I could learn about rarer, more exotic and expensive non-Western things to try.

In all the reading I’ve done, and in listening to my own body and seeing how it behaves and responds (or, often, doesn’t respond) to things, I’ve come to believe that ME is ultimately a neurological disease.  There are several articles which come to mind that support this idea, but one of the things that really helped convince me was the documentary Voices From The Shadows.  I will warn you, it is not a cheery piece.  You may find watching it quite upsetting, especially if one of your loved ones has ME.  But they talk quite a bit about the autopsies done of people who died of ME, and every single one of the showed brain abnormalities.  Inflammation of the central nervous system if I’m remembering right, but don’t quote me on that.  But it just seems to make sense that this really all starts somewhere in the brain from what I see in my body.

Because I believe ME is essentially a brain malfunction, I’ve been wanting to see a neurologist for quite a while, but without any more blatantly neurologic symptoms to convince my insurance, they wouldn’t approve a visits.  But for better or worse, I’ve been tripping a lot lately.  The first couple times you can write it off as just being clumsy or not paying attention, but then it started increasing.  As the tripping increased, I also began to feel more disoriented while I was driving; mostly over longer distances and on the freeway… it just felt like everything was hurtling at me so fast I was having trouble processing it all, which was a bit alarming.  Armed with those new symptoms, my insurance finally agreed to let me see a neurologist.

The first neurologist I was sent to refused to see me for very suspicious reasons that really, truly seemed to be based solely on me having ME.  Well, I wouldn’t be the first ME patient to be discriminated against, and if the doctor was going to be such an asshole about it, I’m glad I didn’t even have to have an appointment with him.  The second one I was sent to was very different.  I loved him.  He not only believes in ME’s mere existence, but also believes that it is a physical and neurological disease.

But, as he told me in the kindest and most caring way, there was absolutely nothing he could do for me.  The only way he knows how to do any fighting against the disease is simply treating the symptoms, which he admits is woefully inadequate.  He did a neuro exam on me just to be 100% sure I don’t have MS, or a brain tumor, or anything else they might be able to actually treat, but I passed all the tests beautifully.  He made an interesting argument suggesting that fibromyalgia and ME are essentially the same thing, which was a new thought for me, and raised other interesting points and questions also.

His theory about what causes fibro and ME is that, essentially, our brains let in more stimulus than they ought to, and the amplify it even more.  Which would explain the completely disproportionate pain we feel, our sensitivity to light and noise and smell, and plain old visual stimulation.  Every time I go to the grocery store, I have to steel myself beforehand, because I know all the lights and people and noise and navigating through it all is going to suck.  Unless someone comes up with a more sound theory, I’m going to stick with this one.

The appointment was informative, the doctor was so caring and kind; he went out of his way to answer questions and took a lot of time with us.  He talked a lot about the problems fibro and ME people face with the medical community and public disbelieving us often.  It was a very valuable appoinment just for the sheer validation from the doctor.

But, oh, I had not realized how much I was hoping he would be able to help me until I knew he couldn’t.

I don’t think there are any other specialists left to see.  He was the last one on the list of anyone who even might have something to offer me.  He was also the one I was holding out the most hope for.  It felt like I’d finally reached the Wizard of Oz, and there was nothing in his black bag for me.  Truthfully, it was heartbreaking.

For most of this health journey, I’ve felt that I’ve been mostly on my own; that it’s up to me to find a cure for myself, and I feel that more than ever now.  The neurologist suggested that the medical community might have answers, and perhaps cures (or at least better treatments) within my lifetime, but that is a cold comfort right now.

This disease wears on you.  Bearing it for a day is something anyone could do; it’s the relentless suffering with no relief that breaks you.  Having only the vaguest, most nebulous hopes for it ever changing is a bitter, bitter pill.  The last few days have been very depressing.

I have not given up.  I will not give up.  But having what seemed like the best chance of change and improvement disappoint so will require some time to bounce back from.  For the time being, I need to metaphorically retreat and let my wounds heal before I can start battling again.  I need time to shed some tears and allow myself to grieve the lost hope.

And whenever I write posts like this, I always want to say that I know it can be worse.  I do not think that the things in my life are the worst things that have happened in anyone’s life ever.  I know that.  But I also know that other peoples’ pain and suffering doesn’t invalidate mine, and refusing to acknowledge them for being as painful as they are will do me no good.  You can’t heal from something you deny.

So thank you all for listening to me, and special thanks to those who have been sending well wishes and prayers.  Extra thanks to my friends and family for listening to me so patiently and lovingly.  This too will pass.  It will take time, and it may suck for a while, but it will pass.

They Lived To See The Dawn - This photo feels appropriate for this post; a girl and her dog who have made it through some very dark times, but made it out ok.

They Lived To See The Dawn – This photo feels appropriate for this post; a girl and her dog who have made it through some very dark times, but made it out ok.

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