How Photography Helps Me

Bald Eagle

My friend the eagle

I’m not a professional photographer.  I’m a person, with a camera who happens to love taking photos of the things in my life that bring me joy or things I want to have to look at in the future.  Being ill with chronic illnesses is a full-time job. Swirling around me are doctor appointments, managing the phone calls reminding me of doctor appointments, invasive tests, pain, questions, medical bills, hospital visits, anger, wrong diagnosis, right diagnosis, trips to the pharmacy, insurance problems, explaining… lots and lots of explaining. This is along with living life as a wife, mother and grandparent trying to act like I’m just fine because everyone has an opinion, if you just keep your struggles or problems to yourself then you don’t have to listen to the well meaning loved ones constant suggestions or, sometimes their anger at you.  I don’t blame them, I understand that they love me, maybe they’re scared but trying to not act it, their life is affected too.  I know when they’re using my illness as a way to not take responsibility for bad or rude behavior or saying hurtful things as well.  I don’t care if I’m sick or 100% healthy, I have learned that if someone sees your weakness, and they know you don’t have the energy to fight, they will do and say things they’d probably never do or say if I wasn’t just too sick to take action. So, I take responsibility and suggest counseling for us.  But back to photography.

Bald Eagles

Working together

All that comes with being ill with “diagnosed conditions” which is somehow a must have for the majority of people to treat you with respect and honor your less than perfect ability to meet everyone’s needs, I found I needed something to quiet my mind and release this anger.  I’m not an angry person, I thought, but I sure have a lot stored up.  However, by getting my camera and disappearing to my favorite places to take a photo or two or 500 I regain a calm that allows me to forget the pain and all that I must handle and instead, enjoy my life. The only person I should look to, to save me or to help me is ME.  My attitude towards all I deal with is going to either make me an angry sick person with a pessimistic outlook on everything which I never liked being around, or is going to help me see that I’m not totally gone, useless, broken, hopeless and numb.  Rarely am I well enough lately to take these photo opportunities.  But, if ever I get the chance, I fight to do it because it reminds me of all the beauty around me.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle hunting for food

It’s during the quiet, when watching these two eagles whom I’ve watched for three years now, fly and work together to feed their new chicks each year.  Hearing them communicate with each other, how they protect the nest.  It’s so beautiful to me.  I’m very protective of these two eagles. I think, what if one of them were to die? What would the other do? Where do the chicks go when I no longer see them in the nest? Do they ever feel sick? Tired?  If they did, they wouldn’t be able to provide the nest and the food for themselves and their chick(s). I sit on the edge of the 400 foot gorge which I used to be afraid of and watch in total awe of how things work for this family.

I’ve been trying to capture these eagles in photographs for three years, but just couldn’t get close enough and didn’t know enough about photography to get good photos.  This year I had a better camera with a extra zoom lens.  I researched for hours on Google on how to take photos correctly.  But, all the training and the equipment you have doesn’t ensure you will be at the right place at the right time.

On this day, it was cold out.  With Systemic Lupus, I ached everywhere.  It was hard to breathe.  I was also suffering from malnutrition at the time from the Achalasia and not being able to eat food, I was extra weak.  I felt horrible, but I looked out the window and saw one of the eagles fly by as if to say, “we’re out and about! This wind is awesome!” Yes it WAS awesome, but made the temperature feel like 10 degrees colder.  Plus, standing on a gorge with high winds, weighing in at 95 lbs., it probably wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do, stand on the edge to get the best angles.  But I did it, I got my camera and walked to the gorge, climbed through the barbed wire fence and started snapping photos.  Hundreds of photos of these two eagles taking advantage of the high winds which allowed them to catch wind and glide.  They were dancing together.  The first time I’d seen both out of the nest and flying together.  As they flew and communicated with each other, it was like they took a brief vacation from one having to stay behind in the nest and the other had to go fly around to find food.  They flew closer than they ever had to me and I was able to finally capture their flights and especially their eyes.

For the frigid 45 minutes I spent taking these photos, I paid a price physically. However, it’s a price I will always be willing to pay because it’s in these times I feel normal.  I feel free of any malady I have.  I’m out of bed or off the couch, breathing in cold, but fresh air.  I had to make myself stop and go back inside. It was one of the best days I can think of in the last eight years.  I was so tired and hurting after, but I excitedly looked through all my photos on the camera and downloaded them.  Eventually posting on social media.

There’s always the downer comments like, “you must be feeling a lot better to be able to go outside and take these,” or “doesn’t the cold weather make you really sick? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing things like this if you want to get well” also, the doubters come out; those who don’t think you’re ill.  But I’ve learned another great lesson from photography as it relates to me being ill and that is, if I didn’t care what people thought before I became so ill, I certainly don’t care what they think still.  People who question your illness or your diagnoses, who do the old “you don’t look ill” comments, who can’t say anything nice are the same people who tried to discourage me as I worked hard at my chosen career to obtain the positions I did.  They’re the same people who didn’t rejoice with me during times I won an award for something I’d worked hard to achieve, an award for someone that would be a service to others, and not the prettiest birthday cake made at the county fair (although I admire those who can make beautiful birthday cakes and think they should get a ribbon for it).  I’ve dealt with people like this my entire life because I’m a kind, respectful person who will walk over burning rocks rather than say anything hurtful or mean to someone. Before my illnesses came to visit and decided to stay, I was a sheltered woman who didn’t understand how people can hurt each other. But they do, and being ill isn’t a shield from their fiery arrows.  THAT is why I try to find good opportunities to take my mind to  positive places to stock up on positivity and memories for when the illnesses manifest themselves in horrible flares and new symptoms.


 

I honestly believe in hope and that I will get help from the specialists I’ve placed my trust in.  I am honest with myself about what won’t change, what has been lost and how to get over that and learn how to replace the void left.  If we live long enough, we’re all going to suffer some illness that pulls the rug out from under us.  Or, someone we love.  There are people far worse off than I, with conditions that I can only imagine the struggle they endure.  But, their smiling face in spite of the pain they feel makes me feel like no matter what someone is dealing with, there will be moments to smile.

My brother-in-law who passed away in late 2015 taught me a lot about the process of suffering and dying.  He was on hospice for Pulmonary Fibrosis.  He lived and loved each day to the fullest.  He talked to me about knowing where he was going, and being at peace with it but being afraid of the final days. About his faith in God and how it comforted him.  We laughed and talked for hours, he and my sister were 20 years older than I. He suffered too, suffering I never want anyone to go through and I tried my best with hospice to lessen it.  But he worried about me and my illnesses.  He helped me so much, I learned about believing in a God that I couldn’t see or touch.  I saw how faith can heal hearts and give such hope.  He told me to keep taking photos, he would look at them and tell me how great they were even though I knew they weren’t that great. He never asked me questions about why I take the medicine I have to take, he never questioned my diagnoses, he just loved me and supported me and most of all, he listened to me.  All my complaining, all my silly rants, he listened.  He’d then say, “Sue? Can I share something with you?” and I’d always say of course! He’d proceed to tell me a personal story of a situation a lot like mine I was struggling through, he’d tell me what he did or how it turned out. He just had a way of calming me down, just like going somewhere to take photos of the things I love.  I think about Lonnie every time I’m taking photos and freezing my butt off.  About how he laughed at me running outside barefooted at 6am because the sun was just coming up and I didn’t have time to miss that one minute it was the prettiest.  “Sue! Get some shoes on!!  It’s 20 degrees out there!” He understood my enthusiasm.

I share these photos, and many more, maybe to give someone hope that there is a world going on around us as we lay, suffering.  That in this world that is going on without us, there’s a message.  The message I got was there is a God, who created these beautiful eagles.  That everything has a way of working together. That somewhere, at this very hour, someone else is suffering alone and feeling as if nothing will change but only get worse and that no one cares anyway.  Believe me, someone cares.  I don’t know who or what it is for any specific person, but, you are cared about and this world of good and bad, of beauty and of ugliness, this is a world I choose to see the beauty and wonder.  I hope someday I can help someway take some of the ugliness away, but I don’t know how.  A chronic illness that hurts so bad can make a person zero in on themselves which is important, we need to love ourselves enough to fight, but sometimes I feel I want to give back to the things in this world that have brought me happiness and hope during these health struggles.  I haven’t felt like helping anything or anyone for so long because I was just so ill I felt I was being punished. But I’m not being punished, I just happen to have these illnesses that are taking a huge toll on me, but won’t for long, because I’m finding a reason to fight. For me, there will be days I will not want to do anything and will feel the dark depression. But lately there has been more days where I hope I feel well enough to take some photos for myself.  I don’t care if no one sees my photos, as long as I can see them and remember the good day it was when I was able to take them. Also, they will always be around somewhere, for years to come, I want my story to be one of hope.  I’ve a ways to go to show real hope but I’m clicking away and digging out of the dark holes of illness.  I hope whoever may see my blog today will have a wonderful weekend and take a moment to look up or look around.

Bald Eagle

Free to fly

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