Everything is relative…I count my blessings…big time. This has been a wild ride in Florida. I was preparing and using all my life skills to accept that I might lose my home and belongings as we were in line for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. Fortunately, only cat 1 wind gusts…so far no power or Internet but that’s a godsend for us but sadly tragedy for others. My heart aches for all of humanity…so many are experiencing great loss and fear without the means to rebuild. Once again…I count my blessings…that is not the case for me. I have had my share of pain. Sometimes I photograph people going through unbearable loss. It has always been apparent to me that we should all count our blessings daily for our family, friends and health…even when it’s tenuous. This is self-help tool 101 but catastrophic disasters and grave illness sure give us a swift kick in the consciousness butt.
The Hard Days Will Come.
Those are the words tattooed on Mia’s arm. We met at a gay pride parade recently. I photographed them and knew they had a story to tell (they identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns). She is wise beyond her years…which comes with being “Broken Open”…the title of a book I love by Elizabeth Lesser. We the world need to remind our collective self of this regularly. Hard times are here…and this too shall pass…and more will come…and this too shall pass…and more will come….and this too shall pass…
In Mia’s words:
I’m still learning that my voice is important. Being so young, I’ve always had this feeling that things that have happened to me aren’t half as bad as what has happened to everyone else. I always felt like my problems weren’t big enough to be real, and I’m still working on validating the trauma I’ve experienced. It really is a process of self-love.
I’ve dealt with mental illness since I was about twelve years old, and as I celebrated my twenty first birthday last month, I realized how proud I should be of myself. I was put on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication during my early adolescence due to wicked panic attacks and suicidal ideation that I experienced. At the end of my 2017 summer, I was beyond proud to announce that it was officially the first time in five years that I was completely off of all my medications. The two tattoos that I have so far are my daily reminders that you can overcome your mental illnesses and that they don’t have to control your entire life. My semicolon reminds me that I could have ended my life, and every day I chose not to in spite of what my mind wanted me to do. My other tattoo – “the hard days will come” – reminds me that I can’t expect every day of my life to be perfect just because I’m doing better. The hard days will never disappear; they can come, they will come, and they may come often. What I have learned, and what I have taught myself, is that I am strong enough to face the hard days and strong enough to get through them.
I got involved in this project by running into Lisa (a complete stranger at the time) at Fort Lauderdale Pride. I guess my rainbow suspenders made me a target for the camera lens! The biggest part of my identity that I’ve struggled with aside from mental illness is my gender identity. When I came out as a gay woman, I experienced hardly any trauma during that process and it went relatively well for me. But as I started to question my gender identity, the world became an entirely different place. Since I identify as a non-binary/gender non-conforming individual, my existence is confusing to almost everyone I encounter. They can’t peg me as male or female, which racks their brains so intensely that they decide the best course of action is to be disrespectful or aggressive towards me. It can be incredibly scary for me in certain situations, but discovering my true identity and really understanding how I can become my happiest self is so rewarding for me. It outweighs any of the negative energy I’ve received.
On the inside, we’re all just bones; we’re all just human. That being said, holding onto certain labels has given me a sense of community that I deeply need. I would feel so alone in this process of discovery if I couldn’t see anyone else walking around openly identifying as trans, queer, living with mental illness, etc. Seeing people live visibly and proudly within their own identities makes me feel strong, brave, and more connected with humanity than I’ve ever felt before.