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Posts Tagged ‘therapy’

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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 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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Originally, I’d intended on posting this around Black Friday/Cyber Monday but I was prevented by forces outside my control.  The week of Thanksgiving, Los Angeles was oppressed relentlessly by Santa Ana winds which are always a challenge to my body, but especially so this time.

With my recent sinus surgery (which I still need to tell you about!) I was already at less than my usual lower-than-average health and my sinuses just about lost the will to live once the winds started.  This meant almost a week of migraines every day, but even after the worst of it had passed, I was terribly behind on everything I hadn’t been doing while I was laying in the dark with an ice pack on my head.  Things fell behind.

This really has no connection to either Black Friday or Cyber Monday now but a large percentage of my sales happen around the holidays, so I hope you’ll indulge this post anyway 🙂

sarahallegra.com

I have a perfect gift idea for anyone in your life (or perhaps you!) who is a bit artsy or introverted or just wants to develop their self-awareness.  INTROSPECTIVE: A Photographic Quest is a truly unique experience unlike anything else I’ve found.  I created this online workshop after searching for something like it, and not finding anything that resonated with me.  In the eight-week course, you will use your camera to explore your inner self, receiving a new assignment each week challenging you to delve into your secrets, fears and joys.

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

No photography experience is needed (although links to more technical information are provided for anyone who wants to learn more about it).  This is not a class about photography, it’s about you taking you exploring your inner self, making new discoveries and using art to document what you find.  It’s also an extremely therapeutic experience; I based the structure of the class on the healing I found in photography and self portraiture.

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

In a sense, you could say it’s a course about self portraiture since everything you create will be imbued with who you are, but there are no requirements to put yourself within the image, or even have any people in your images.  If you find that, say, tea leaves on a saucer express what you’re feeling, that’s just as valid as any other way of expressing yourself!

You will learn about yourself over these eight weeks and make wonderful discoveries.  The best, and most long-lasting, of these may just be discovering the profound healing power in art.  This is an eight-week adventure full of fun and joy in a safe, love-filled environment.  If you want to share your images with the world, you’re more than welcome to, but there’s no requirement to do so.  INTROSPECTIVE is about you, through and through.

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

With the new year and its resolutions quickly approaching us, I can’t think of a better gift to start the year off with!  Whether you take the class yourself or give it as a gift to someone, I can guarantee that not only will it be completely different than every other gift you or they will receive, but that it will do wonders for the soul of every participant.

To jump-start this for the holiday season, I’ve created a special promotion to receive $25 off INTROSPECTIVE That’s 30% off!  Just enter code INTROXMAS2014 when you check out, whether you’re buying for yourself or someone else 🙂

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

I’d like to point out that INTROSPECTIVE has not been hosted on Udemy for its whole existence; in the beginning, I hosted it on my site.  While Udemy shows that very few people have taken the course, the number is actually higher.  And somehow some of the reviews have gotten erased as well.  Sigh.  Luckily, I have another one I can share with you from student Aly, two of whose photos are right above and below!

I have taken part in Sarah’s Introspective course twice, not because I missed anything the first time, but because her course offers the unique quality of fresh opportunity for introspection and growth, with each round. Much like a “Choose your own Adventure” book (but with far more substance, of course), the beginning, journey and end of the Photographic Quest are what you make it, with Sarah’s guiding topics, suggestions, questions and technical encouragement, to keep the journey on track. Through her course, I created several self portraits which spoke from my heart, of which I am very proud and thankful to have been guided toward. I absolutely recommend Introspective: A Photographic Quest, for anyone interested in exploring themselves through self portraiture. I’ve come from this course with much more confidence in my ability to realize self portraits, from concept to fruition, and of course, a closer understanding of myself, through this Introspective journey.

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

Thank you, Aly!  Her review sums up what I want the class to be for everyone; something you can return to again and again, adjusting it for yourself each time.  And you can retake it at any time; the lesson outlines are downloadable, so you can go through the journey as many times as you want for the one price of admission!

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

With all that said, think about INTROSPECTIVE as a gift for yourself or a loved one.  It will certainly be a completely unique gift, unlike anything else they might receive!  And with the benefit of being able to repeat it at any point, it just keeps giving 🙂  On top of that, use code INTROXMAS2014 when you check out to get an entire 30% off!  I hope you’ll take the journey and go on an adventure!

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, both as you’re on your quest and after.  And if you upload your images to the Flickr group for INTROSPECTIVE, they just might get featured here!

Be bold!  Go on a quest and return a deeper person 🙂

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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.

*****

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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