Self portraits are strange animals. For most photographers being at the wrong end of the lens is not our first choice. Besides wasn’t it Narcissus who was so mesmerized by his own reflection in the pond that he forgot to eat and pined away and died? Too much self-absorption can be dangerous.
But there can come a time when the only person who can tell your story is yourself.
That’s where I was when I started this self portrait project six months ago. I call this essay “Falling Into Place” because, in some strange way, I feel this IS my place, to see the world waist-high rather than face-to-face. Besides, it all started with a fall, a knee-buckling ankle-spraining fall onto an unyielding sidewalk one cold January day.
After the fifth unexplained fall in six months, I saw a neurologist who put me through a series of tests. Two months later he gave me a “75% certain” diagnosis of chronic progressive multiple sclerosis. Within the year he’d changed it to 100%.
Twenty years later I wonder who I’d be and what I’d be doing were it not for this unexpected assault on my body. I’m not going to say I’m glad it happened. Sure I’d love to be able to run another marathon, or bike another 200-mile weekend tour, or even open a flip-top can by myself. It’s a real pain to take a half hour to change into my swimsuit, to wet my dress because I couldn’t make it to the toilet in time, to ask for help opening every door that pulls rather than pushes. And more. Much more. Being disabled can really suck.
And it can teach too. Patience, humility, determination, even gratitude. How much I appreciate small things like being able to pick up my camera’s memory card when I drop it (again and again) on the floor. How proud I was last August when I drove by myself the 1300 miles to and from New York City. How pleased I am that my claw-like fingers can still hit the shutter release button.
So much of what I show in these portraits is private, the side of my life that no one sees. Until now, that is. And the strange thing about opening my bedroom, my bathroom, my nakedness to view is that my former sense of shame and embarrassment is gone.
I now see my life as a disabled woman is normal in its own way.