Alexa | Bar Harbor, ME
Images by Kate Crabtree
"It was from my body's faltering that I came to discover my own resilience, and from this same faltering that I learned to always seek out and find meaning and purpose in the world."
I have no memory of ever looking in a mirror and being contented with the reflection that faced me in its glass. As far back as I can recall being conscious of my body, my thoughts were always unkind and I wished my body were different. Although that wish was not always overwhelming, it grew in time to be an ever-flowing undercurrent in my everyday world.
I fell severely ill when I was in high school, and the limitations of this illness completely altered my life and challenged the identity I had maintained up until that point. I no longer had the energy to do the things I loved, or even to function on a most fundamental human level. I was passed from specialist to specialist over the course of a year before ultimately being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, an unsatisfying diagnosis that provided me with a label for my symptoms but no clear path to better health. My days were mostly confined to my bed, more hours spent in sleep than in consciousness. When not in sleep, I was dulled by a constant state of exhaustion. I saw my body first as a disappointment, and later as an enemy: it had betrayed me and robbed me of my adolescence, my education, my friendships, and my ability to read books and play the violin. I could not trust or appreciate the body that had so drastically altered my very existence, and so I came to see my body only from behind the warped lens of bitter resentment. I hated my body, in the most deep and unbridled sense of the word “hate.” Although my health is much better than it used to be and my life much more full, that resentment has continued to dictate my relationship with my body, and I approached this project still seeing my body as something I wish I could change.
I want my new story to be one of appreciation. Of happiness. Of interconnectedness, in the best way. I want to feel like my body is not some separate entity I am constantly distinguishing from my personhood, and I want it to be a source of confidence. Ultimately, I want my body story to be one of peace, and of gratitude.
Over the past several years, I have done some intensive and fruitful work on my relationship with my body, but there is still so much work to do. This project allowed me to take a step back from my normal thoughts, decisions, and circumstances to gain some much needed perspective. In looking at my body as a narrative rather than a material thing, I suddenly recognized all the lessons that my body has taught me from turmoil--it was from my body's faltering that I came to discover my own resilience, and from this same faltering that I learned to always seek out and find meaning and purpose in the world. My body's story has often been a painful one, but that pain has also held tremendous value in my personal growth. I realize now that I must think not think of what my body has taken from me, but instead embrace all that it gives.
Portraits of Alexa by Kate Crabtree.