As you probably know, my primary medium to of choice is photography. I work with light. You can't make a photograph without it. (I mean, it's in the word itself.)
But here's the thing: I'm allergic to it.
That's right--I'm a photographer who's allergic to light. (Get the joke?) Specifically, UV radiation, which is required for the chemical reaction in my favorite (preferred) historic process, cyanotype.
I wasn't always allergic to my artistic medium, however. Years ago, I got sick with the flu (or so I thought). I rested up, but never got better. I was a mystery to doctors (and myself) for a long while. For a season, I lived in a state of unknowing, in and out of the hospital, feeling my body turn against me.
As it turns out, I had developed an autoimmune disorder.
That disorder leaves me susceptible to UV light, among other things. With overexposure comes joint pain, fatigue, headaches, and more. Most of the time, it's completely invisible: the blood count comes back a little off, or I feel a fog rolling in, across my brain, and body.
But sometimes, the signs are visible. My joints can swell painfully, and occasionally spots make their way across my arms and legs, up and down, growing, itching, fading, receding. And then, like the tide, it departs in waves, and I slowly roll up to standing. Upright, I walk, and I am clear again.
So it's a challenge and a struggle, both mentally and physically. And while I'm UV sensitive, my body still *needs* the sun. (Vitamin D, anyone?) And being outside is spiritually restorative, which is necessary to lower stress and help cope with my illness. And I've always loved the outdoors; hiking, gardening, being barefoot in the grass...
So I press on, taking what measures I can to protect myself. I limit my time outdoors when the sun's rays are most intense. I wear long sleeves, a giant hat, and lather on tons of sunscreen (even in the winter). I've learned that self-care isn't what you think it looks like, and to make sure that I'm taking the time I need to put my health first.
The seasons come when my disorder rears its ugly head, and I adjust. I rest. I work in ways that are less taxing, and in shorter spurts. I've created larger amounts of buffer in my lifestyle and schedule-- being careful to take on only what I know I can in order to meet my personal and professional commitments.
And I know I'm not the only one making art alongside the challenge of a chronic condition. There are so many other artists and everyday people out there courageously waking up every day to live their lives with conditions more severe than mine.
So when I'm gifted with a season of well-being and productivity, it's then that I give thanks. It's not always easy to exercise the gratitude muscle--there's plenty out there to make me jealous. And even though I have an "invisible illness," practicing gratitude makes me see the invisible things that support my creative practice. And anything that disturbs my peace isn't worth my time. I remember that things always change, and that adaptability and grace are the means of perseverance.