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***Want to win a free print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon?  Read on to find out how you can enter!!***

As ME Awareness Week continues, I feel it’s time to share my personal history with this disease.  Catch up on the story with the first and second posts!

Most of you will have heard my own story about ME.  To briefly recap for anyone new to the blog, on May 27th 2008, I came down with what I thought was food poisoning.  It wasn’t fun, but I thought it would surely pass quickly.  It did not.  Everything got worse.  Looking bad, I can see signs of ME showing up as early as my teens, but it was May 27th when it really exploded.

I have not been the same since; I have not had a pain-free day in all that time.  I had three brief, beautiful days at the beginning of 2011.  I was on steroids for an infected cat bite and for those three days, I wasn’t constantly dragged down by the muddy, boggy, wet-wool, bone-deep exhaustion of ME, which I commemorated with a self portrait.  Outside of that, there has been no relief.

3 Good Days

3 Good Days – a self portrait

Though there is much controversy over the subject, and I make no claims to be any kind of expert (except about my own experiences) I believe that ME, CFS and fibro are really all the same thing.  Or, at the very least, they’re all branches of a “mother disease” which we have yet to identify.  Either way, they all seem intrinsically connected.  However, the United State’s intentionally wishy-washy definitions of CFS and fibro have led me to setting their names aside and using ME as much as possible.

ME has excellent, testable, finite guideline, though getting your doctor to agree to those tests is another matter.  ME has the most scientifically sound definition, and it’s the one I connect with most of all, since it is so specificHowever, since almost no one in the United States has heard of ME, including all of my doctors, I tend to use the names interchangeably depending on whom I’m talking to, to make it easiest for them to understand.

The hallmarks of ME include unreasonable fatigue that is disproportionate to how much you’ve exerted yourself.  For instance, I might go to the grocery store and come home feeling like a healthy person would after running a marathon.  You experience post-exertional malaise, typically worst 24 to 48 hours after said exertion.  Muscle pain is key.  Headaches and migraines common.  Neurological symptoms begin, often in the form of tripping, falling, sudden “brain fog” where it seems like your brain has turned into oatmeal, the inability to remember words, or even your own name.  Light, sound, scent, noise and touch are all heavily amplified; it’s like the volume in our brains in constantly set to 11.  Every now and then this proves useful, like when I could smell the very faint gas leak at my neighbor’s house that no one else could.  Usually it just means there are more things to avoid which would trigger pain and migraines.  My husband Geoff and I joke that I can smell things only dogs and I can detect, but there’s a truth behind the laughter.

The Fog Rolls In - a self portrait about "brain fog"

The Fog Rolls In – a self portrait about “brain fog”

And, ah yes, pain.  Pain blends into your existence like spilled ink, no matter how you try to resist.  The areas of pain vary from patient to patient, and even from day to day for each patient.  I have a mystery flank pain with no identifiable cause for which I receive nerve-blocking injections a few times a year, including the latest round just this morning.  The recovery period from them is usually brutal, but it’s better than not being able to have it done.  If I clean the toilet too vigorously, my arm and shoulder might ache for a month.  Sometimes longer.  I am also extremely susceptible to every bug that comes around; I cannot get through a cold and flu season unscathed.

There is currently no cure for ME, nor many good ways to even manage the symptoms.  Nor is there a clear idea of what the cause is.  There are good arguments to be made for it having a neurological cause, or it could be an auto-immune disease, something viral, something bacterial, something sent by the gods to people who were very naughty as children in previous lives… it’s all up for debate.

Unjust - model, Aly Darling

Unjust – model: Aly Darling

Back to my image, The Blue Ribbon. It’s the latest in my photographic series called Enchanted Sleep, which visually portrays what living with ME is like.

Most illnesses and many causes have their own color ribbons these days; pink for breast cancer, fibro is purple, red for AIDS, etc.  (And yes, certain colors are shared by numerous diseases and causes; purple is also used for lupus and Alzheimer’s along with quite a few others.)  ME’s ribbon is blue.  I photographed this image several months ago during an underwater shoot with Katie.  It took me longer to get to editing it than I had planned, and by the time it was done, it was so close to May 12th, I decided to just wait to release it now.

Katie is my honorary ME-er; she’s quite the opposite of someone with ME, being full of energy and vitality all the time.  But she’s been around me and other friends who do have similar illnesses that she seems to understand our struggle as much as anyone could.  I have great trust in her modeling instincts, so when we shot this, I gave her a long strip of blue ribbon and just told her to do something with it.  What she came up with so clearly encapsulated the physical fight you’re forced to be in every day, I knew it was the perfect visual metaphor.  Thank you, Katie, for taking on our cause and helping me portray it in my images!!

The Blue Ribbon - detail

The Blue Ribbon – detail

To do my part, for the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted.  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography

Also, in honor of this day of raising awareness, I’m holding a contest to win a beautiful, 10″ x 15″, museum-quality print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon; an underwater representation of the struggle that living with ME can be.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper.  And all you have to do is tweet!

The Blue Ribbon

The Blue Ribbon, model: Katie Johnson – enter the giveaway to win a print of this image!

Ready to tweet?  Use any of the following!

Curing baldness gets 4x more funding than ME/CFS, but no one ever died of baldness    

*****

ME/CFS knows no social or economic boundaries; it affects all equally w/out mercy.    
*****
ME/CFS in not in our heads & cannot be cured with exercise & a better attitude.    
*****
ME/CFS is not a “female” disease; 20% of sufferers are male.    
*****
ME/CFS isn’t just about being “tired,” it ravages every single part of the body.    
*****

ME/CFS can be just as deadly as MS, HIV and AIDS, yet it is largely ignored.    

*****

More exercise and a better attitude will not cure ME/CFS.    

*****

We’re not chronically fatigued, @CDCgov. We have myalgic encephalomyelitis.    

Tweeting multiple statements will count as extra entries, so enter as many times as you like.  However, tweeting the same statement multiple times will not count.  And that will probably just annoy the people reading your feed, so don’t do it. 😉  I will choose a random winner from all entries on May 20th and announce the winner here!

Catch up on the story with the first and second posts this week about ME, and keep an eye out tomorrow for more about this glass mountain!

Thank you to everyone for reading and participating!  If you have had your own experiences with ME, CFS, fibro or any other chronic illness and you’d like to share your story, please leave it in a comment!

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