Sunday, 3 May 2015

Capturing memories...reminder of achievement

Image source: Tumblr via Google images  

Since my early teens I have had a huge fear. I often hate having my photo taken, it sounds quite silly because I know nobody else will physically see anything other than just another blonde girl in a photograph. However, to me when I see photos of myself from the age of 13 to present day, I just see a girl with a consuming illness. I see all that the blonde girl had to put on hold, all of her health issues, the countless times spent isolated and all that she has been through in a short time.

 It's the same for anyone, we all have a story to tell that we would never be able to get across in a still image, but when it's yourself it's easier to spot and critique the negatives of what is getting you down in life. I often feel like photographs are a blatant, timeless reminder of the way my life has turned out and how during this time, how I lost that sense of normality which consisted of being a young carefree teenager before I even had the chance to be one. I lost the ability of transitioning into the next chapter of life because of my health issues. Instead, I became an unhappy shadow of my former self living a life in chronic pain, severe depression and anxiety, social isolation, limited friends and activities, plummeted self esteem and everything I didn't want to be as a young girl, so I simply started to avoid them for a very long time. I was living a life that I was ashamed to be apart of and wanted no reminder of my existence.

However, last year when I was asked by a magazine to share an article about my blog they also wanted me to send photographs of myself on holiday 'having fun', I instantly panicked. I had no photos because I had refused to be involved in them. The reason behind this was because I felt so depressed, consumed and sick of living with my pain. I didn't want to capture the moment because I didn't want to be reminded of how ill I was constantly feeling in myself, even though still to this day pain and illness make up my daily life just like at the time of avoiding photos for many years. It didn't sink in to me that I was allowing my depression from illness to stop me capturing memories that I rarely participated in.

Everything seemed to relate back to illness and I couldn't stand it. Within illness comes side effects, some physical, some not. I didn't want photograph evidence that showed off my my fragile Ehlers Danlos skin, or the blood pooling in my legs from Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. I didn't want to give myself a reason to focus on things like the swelling under my top of my internal organs, my swollen eyes or swollen legs. I didn't want to see 17 year old Nancy sitting on holiday in her wheelchair with splints on, I know looking back, a lot of this was to do with confidence issues, self esteem, depression and acceptance of my chronic illness.

My mum used to say to me in years to come, it would seem like I never existed for my teenage years because I just didn't want the reminder of the sadness that made up this important time in someone's life. Sometimes it's hard to accept the fact I've missed out on many years of my life. I felt like if things got better, I could just forget that period of tribulation happened however then I found out my illness was incurable. I still couldn't quite accept this fact and held onto hope that it was a mistake. I knew full well how my body felt, that I was disabled, however I just couldn't accept the fact that incurable was a part of the equation.

Since that day in 2014, I now make a conscious effort to take a photograph if I am making a memory, despite the pain, my low mood or how I may feel that day. Despite fighting the urge, I do this to remind myself that my existence is important for my sanity, my family and because I am here for a reason. I'm slowly becoming more accepting of the fact that my pain will never be cured and that I just need to live life when I can, as I can and really search for aspects of life that will bring me happiness. Although I still see a girl who has an illness, I now try to force myself to take part in the photograph even if I don't want too. I also don't want to be left with zero photo's to look back on in decades to come, because realistically I will probably always be the girl who has a chronic illness. 

Being virtually housebound, going out is often a rare occasion, although doing so also gives me a good reminder that even on days where pain is still highly consistent, you can sometimes try your best to not let illness steal another day from you. I also started a memory scrapbook/box for the year 2015, with a quote to remind me of what I have participated in to read at the end of the year to remind myself of any achievements, big or small. I even write the things I would like to achieve in months or years to come, fold them into tiny bits of paper and will open them a few years down the line.

I recently had a lot of photos taken on holiday, sometimes I slipped back into my old habits and avoided participating because of how I felt in my self and other times I took on the challenge with my new perspective. Initially I looked for the physical attributes that were incredibly obvious to myself. The unwanted swelling of my body, physical splints or bandages or whether I looked as horrific as I felt that day. However, I was quickly reminded all that it took for me to get out, participate in the day and push through despite all of my pain or my thoughts on wanting to give up and stay in bed. It's incredibly difficult to give yourself credit, however so much is involved on a daily basis with chronic illness, it takes a lot of self reflection to realise just how well you are doing.

Instead of now looking at a photograph and making a mental list of the the aspects that make up my disabilities, I try to recall the memory I created that day, what I laughed at that day, if I like my hairstyle or the make up I made an effort to wear, but most of all I tell myself how good it is that I pushed through the pain to do something.

Photographs tell a story, hopefully many years from now you can look back, remembering how you overcame whatever is going on in your life right now and be proud of what you've achieved. Maybe the photo will represent both your pain but also your power in which you pushed through your barriers to enjoy a special occasion. Possibly in the future, you will be having more better days, maybe you will feel proud of how far you've come, maybe your life will be worlds apart from what it is now, maybe your hopes and dreams will have come true.

For those who are chronically ill, it's a certainty that we are unable to participate fully in life to make happy memories frequently. This is just a reminder for you all to remember to capture your "more able" days in a photo (I don't like the term 'good days' as I feel it personally dismisses chronic daily pain). This is for proof to yourself that despite chronic pain and illness, these kind of moments can give you something to feel proud about. Despite all that it took for you to make a memory, in return it can give you a glimmer of hope in reminding you to keep trying and that some form of happiness can even exist during incredibly painful days.

Use your time out doors as a positive step, although it is a strenuous and draining participation and others may be unaware of just how difficult it is, seek the positivity. Take a photograph, play your favourite new song to correspond with the memory (I love doing this), use your energy to go to your favourite place and most importantly give yourself credit every step of the way for what you have achieved.

For those of you in chronic pain and doing a similar thing to myself in avoiding photo's so you don't have to physically remember your illness so blatantly or feeling that you want to block out this low period in your life, it's hard to remember that all that you are going through right now or all that you have been through will be the making of who you are. Positive or negative, it is having an important impact. It's not all that you are, although sometimes it may feel that way, but it is moulding and shaping you into the person you are becoming. Even though the sad or negative emotions may be present when seeing a physical photograph, you did it and as those of us with chronic illness know, that is the greatest form of momentous success for people like us


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  2. I love this post, Nancy. You remind me a lot of myself and I hope you don't take offence to that, I mean it as a positive; as I was and still am trying to accept that I'll always be the 'sick girl'. I was diagnosed at 19 (now 28) and it's so hard to motivate myself to get up and enjoy life when there seems like there's nothing to enjoy. I love that you're keeping a memory box and taking photos. I always say to myself - 'if I didn't go out every time I was in pain, I'd never go out.' Sometimes you just need to push through. I hope we both look back on pictures and ignore the disability but fondly recall the memory. Take care, Sarah x