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How Chronic Pain Helped Me Reconnect With My Passion for Art

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Art, especially photography, was my escape and my safe place while growing up. As soon as I owned a camera (which at the time was a simple point-and-shoot) I was in love. Specifically, I was in love with the control it gave me over my own narrative and I developed a forte for self-portraiture. Photography was my home, the only constant in my life, and the only way I was able to openly (or cryptically) tell my story. I trusted my photos and they were always a part of the real me, even when I felt the least like myself.

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I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember and was diagnosed with PTSD a handful of years ago for related and unresolved trauma. In the middle of my therapy, I lost touch with my passion in photography. I was happier than I’d ever been and made the choice to do photo work as a means to an end. While I was putting in my own work on my therapist’s couch, I gave that innate and special part of myself away. I was shooting engagement photos, weddings, babies, families, senior portraits and everything under the sun except what made me love photography in the first place: my connection to myself and my own world, when at times I felt disconnected from everything.

I had fallen into the patterns and habits of a creative person who thought real art only came from misery. Had I peaked already? Had I just lost my talent and drive? I was a sell-out in my own mind but I also didn’t have the patience for my own artwork on top of my jobs. I wrestled constantly with how I could have so easily given up something that for years had meant everything to me. I was happy, happier than ever and unlocking other parts of myself… so, what else was there to do? Photography was just a job then and nothing more.

Then I started getting sick.

Since my teens, I had been struggling with a lot of lingering pain issues and confusion about the mechanisms of my body always seeming a bit “off.” I was extremely flexible, party trick-level flexible, so I knew this much about myself. However, my symptoms I had for so long been able to ignore or dismiss for myself started getting worse and worse. Wasn’t everyone an insomniac, tossing and turning throughout the night, sometimes unable to sleep at all? Didn’t everyone in their 20s have issues with being in one position for over 10 minutes? Other people cried when they felt the cold, rainy weather was coming to assault their body and make them fatigued, right? Did everyone experience partial dislocations and painful shifts in their body? Was my constant radiating pain from every joint just a thing to accept? Didn’t other people curl up into a ball after a long day, sick, nauseous and barely able to function? This was normal, right? I had to just deal, right?

In the mix of my overall happiness in life and disconnect with art-as-a-job, I was getting sicker and sicker. My jobs were harder and harder to do, both during the events and after, and I can remember shooting six weddings in succession where I spent 15-20 minutes violently ill in a restroom during the reception. It was scary not being able to perform my job with confidence, even though it made me miserable. I had to stop working as a photographer and had to put so much of my life on hold. I was relieved to not have to return to a job that sucked the soul out of me and depleted my health, but I was terrified. When you are sick and don’t know why, it’s as if every dream is a nightmare of what ifs. Sure, I was mentally healthier, but it felt like my body was betraying me, and I finally had the kind of life I didn’t want to lose.

Looking back, I try not to think of this as my body betraying me anymore; I try to see it as one of those in-hindsight-only gifts. Having to switch gears in my life from an anxiety– and pain-ridden mess to a slow stop and a lot of doctor appointments only made me miss my connection to myself. If I couldn’t have my best form physically, in the now, couldn’t I at least get to relearn myself, the person I’ve always wanted to grow into? The person I was growing into, despite my pain? Therapy was crucial in helping me to see I could do this again, on my own terms.

I was diagnosed with the genetic connective tissue disorder Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and my life seemed to start anew once again. I was so relieved having answers for why my body wasn’t keeping up with my improving mental state that I felt inspired. Deeply inspired, ignited by the whisper that it was my right to reclaim my home, my artwork and my passion. Feeling less connected to my body only made me want to push myself to feel connected in the way I knew best.

This year, I started taking self-portraits again. I made goals, started projects and have been working hard to reacquaint myself with photography as the true vessel of myself. There’s no pressure, deadlines or worries about being too sick to fulfill contracts or get anything done. Some days, I struggle to get out of bed, but the dread that I cannot do my job as a photographer no longer haunts me. My photography is my own again, and the pressure release is palpable.

photo of woman with red hair and sunglasses

I am creating to heal and live through self-expression, to accept my chronically ill body as it is. I rediscovered my artistic passion and the benefits of that by getting sick, managing chronic pain and by finding true happiness with the help of consistent therapy.

Originally published: August 16, 2017
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