I've been asked more times than I can count how I became a photographer. How did I end up where I am, and why? Well, here's my story. The real, raw, brutally honest, painful journey that led me to where I am now.... and why I wouldn't change a moment of it.
September marks a bittersweet month for me. This month marks the anniversary of the diagnosis that forever altered the course of my life. There are only a handful of people in the world who know the full story.... and even fewer who can fully comprehend just how devastating the years that followed were.
But for the first time ever, I've summoned the courage to tell my story. I finally decided to share my fight because I hope it reminds all of us (myself included) that everyone you meet is fighting their own battle- often unseen, unspoken, and unknown. The reason I was so hesitant to share my story for so long is that I don't care for attention (hence why I like to be behind the camera) and I certainly don't want to seem like I'm complaining! My main fear in sharing something so deeply personal is not having people know, but that people may mistakenly see it as a desire for sympathy, attention, or for validation. It's not. I wanted to share my journey to photography... but mostly, I wanted to share because so often I find we compare ourselves with what we see and know of other people's lives. It can make us feel isolated and lonely, and yet we forget that we are merely onlookers seeing a perfectly curated life that is often nowhere close to the full reality. I find myself as guilty of this as anyone, but then I remember my own fight, and how it's a fight nobody would ever know or see if I didn't choose to share. So I hope this story reminds you that you're not alone... we're just all fighting our own battles. But battles aren't meant to be fought alone.
Whenever I hear the question: "So how did you get started doing photography?", I always respond with the short and sweet version. I picked up a camera, practiced, and it spiraled from there. That's basically the truth, and if I never told the rest of the story I would never have lied. But I'd also be leaving out the most critical piece of why I do what I do, and how my journey led me to here. Bear with me... this is the first time I've ever shared this, and it's a subject that, years later, leaves me feeling raw and vulnerable. This is a long post, my friends, but I wanted to share it all at once (so forgive the novel!).
After suffering for more than a decade with unexplained symptoms, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. An illness for which there is no cure, that affects every system in the human body, and, in severe cases, can be fatal. For years, I underwent intensive treatments that were almost worse than the disease itself. But as brutal as it was, the alternative was unfathomable. I learned to swallow handfuls of medication at a time, choking them down four to six times a day. I became so ill that many days I could barely walk, instead dragging myself up stairs on my hands and knees or crawling between rooms. I began suffering systemic chronic pain that was so severe, my entire body would be racked with spasms, and most days, I could not even get out of bed. I struggled with daily tasks, many days too weak to lift my arms and get a shirt over my head. I lost so much weight my BMI was considered anorexic.
As the days, months, and eventually years dragged on, I began to feel trapped and helpless. I had been fairly athletic, but I lost my ability to participate in all of the activities that I loved. And so, my parents purchased me my first camera. They knew I was in pain, and I was struggling. I needed something to distract me from the fight that consumed my entire existence. It started out with photos snapped here and there of my sisters when I could summon the energy. Over time, that evolved to friends. And eventually, the more I practiced, the better I became. I started getting requests, and as I began to realize this could evolve into something beyond just a hobby to keep me occupied, I decided my goal was to shoot weddings. There was something about them.... on those days where I felt like all the joy had been sucked out of my life, to see that there was real, true, unadulterated joy and to be a part of that, if only for day, seemed like the best thing in the world.
Then, a few years ago, I was officially declared in remission. My symptoms had resided enough for the doctors to declare my treatment a success, and I slowly regained a normal life. I immediately made plans to go back to school and finish my degree that had been on hold while my treatment ran its course (since completed, with honors!), and I threw every moment of my spare time into developing my business. Physically I was out of the woods, but mentally, I was coping with what years of medical treatments had done to my body. I had been so busy fighting, I had never stopped to process what was happening to me. When you're fighting for the rest of your life, you just put one foot in front of the other until it's over. I've had so many people tell me that they admire my strength and how I've handled everything I've been through. And while I'm grateful for their sweet words, I don't think of myself that way. When you have no choice, you just do what you have to do, and try not to let it win.
And so began my journey towards coming to terms with the years of my life I had lost and the permanent damage that had struck my body. It's a journey that hasn't ended, and maybe never will. But my business became a desperately needed distraction in a time where I was questioning "why me?". It helped my life returned to normal, and eventually, I finally reached a sense of peace that had eluded me for years. My business has given me somewhere to channel my energy and emotions. Without my diagnosis, I would never have found photography. Or if I had, it would not have been with the same passion.... because I would not have needed it so. I would never have slowed down enough to devote so much time to developing my skills. But for years, it was the only hobby I had the energy for. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Those who knew me when I was at my sickest often ask how I'm doing now. Blessedly, I'm better. I was one of the lucky ones, and my treatment was successful in keeping my illness under control. Because I was young when I contracted the disease, my doctors told me I had youth on my side; so far, that has held true. I no longer suffer the crippling weakness or fatigue that brought my life to a screeching halt. I can walk up stairs, I can stand long enough to take a shower, and I never need help to finish daily tasks.... victories which, to many, may seem insignificant. But it's those little victories that are the sweetest, that have allowed my life to return (mostly) to normal. I never knew if I'd see the day I could run around for twelve hours taking photos on a wedding day.... but now I have, and I can do it well. That has been the biggest victory for me! That said, my life has been forever changed by my diagnosis. While I choose not to actively think of those years (this is the first time in years I've reflected on them), it's impossible not to feel the remnants of such a devastating illness on my body.
The other question I'm often asked is if I ever feel bitter about what happened to me. Honestly, I used to, and even now, more than a decade since my symptoms first appeared, I still find myself struggling with it sometimes. But thankfully, the bitterness has faded with time. Now, on my worst days, I just get tired of fighting. Wouldn't we all? And on those days, the temptation to give into the pain and give up is a very palpable emotion. But that's when I remember to hold onto the things I love most, and to keep fighting. Because there's so much in this world worth fighting for, and I would hold onto them through anything. My family, Chris, my friends, my pets, my business, and the beauty of this big, crazy world we live in... it's worth it. Every minute of it. And so when the pain starts to get the best of me, I hold onto the hope that the pain reminds me that this world is not my home. But until the day I go home and meet my Jesus face-to-face, I'm going to keep holding on to this beautiful life He's given me.
Chris has learned to sense those emotions, and on those days he draws me in a little closer and buys me chocolate and gives me more hugs than usual. His endless care, quiet strength, and steady patience (seriously, this guy has the patience of a saint) has carried me through the worst of days. And so with the inevitable passing of time and Chris holding my hand the whole way, the grief and the sense of loss has faded. But on those days where I'm still grappling with painful reminders of the past, I'm so thankful to have the love of my life by my side and a job that brings me so much joy. To all of my clients, past and present- you will never know what you have meant to me. You have all become a part of my story and a part of my life, and for that I am endlessly thankful. Without all of you, I would not have this business that means so very much to me and that has been a constant source of purpose and a labor of love in a time when I desperately needed it (and still do).