I’d like to share my experience with Argentina last Friday — and I can assure you, this is not your average testimonial because I certainly came into my boudoir experience with a particular set of special needs.
I am a young stroke survivor who is still in physical recovery. About 10 years ago, a bleed in my brain completely wiped out function of the entire left side of my body. And because I had virtually no exposure to stroke survivors until it happened (I was only 19), I’ll explain in a little more detail what this kind of change does to you and your life.
I was somewhat of an athlete growing up, having always danced in cultural performances, as a spirit squad cheerleader, and in my high school drama club musicals. I was also a former volleyball player and track runner, as well as experienced in crew. I wasn’t a tomboy by any means, but physical activity was no stranger to me as I blossomed into a young lady. As a late bloomer, when I finally came into my own, I turned into a quite self-confident girl who found enjoyment in things like fashion design. I looked and felt great, and I was so energetic you could actually find me literally climbing the walls in my dorm at U of I.
The summer after my freshman year, though, the unthinkable happened. I almost lost my life to a severe bleed in my brain, all of a sudden, one day in July. It wasn’t your typical stroke — the way many elderly folk sustain them — but one caused by a malformation in my brain I’d had all along, which had never caused any symptoms prior to that day.
When I woke up from my coma the surgeons had put me in after saving my life, the entire left side of my body was completely and utterly useless. No movement, no sensation. Limp, dead weight.
After a month, I regained a little movement, but unlike a cut or a bruise, the body doesn’t heal from brain injuries as quickly. It’s not a question of just sewing up the wound with some stitches or a scar; it’s actually throwing yourself back into what you were when you were born, except even less than that. What we forget and take for granted is the fact that we can move an arm from point A to point B is the result of a lifetime of practice, a lifetime of neurological pathways that have created such a seamless movement. When that is destroyed, you have to learn it over again, except you will struggle far more because your brain has to find completely new ways to “write that code.”
After nearly 10 years, most people can no longer tell at first glance that there is anything the matter with me. I have worked really hard to get to this point, because I wasn’t even 20 when the ability to take care of myself — to bathe, go to the restroom, to walk — was taken from me and I had to fight back to rebuild those abilities. Fortunately, I’ve had youth on my side, which brings the advantage of being able to heal faster as well as motivate you to take back what is rightfully yours because all your peers around you are living lives you thought you’d be living too, if only . . .
Unfortunately, as I said previously, every single movement we take for granted every day is far more complex than we can appreciate. Despite my huge improvements, my body still betrays its history when it comes to things like running, typing, or wearing fancy shoes. So if you’re really looking for it, you absolutely will. Regardless, I’ve never been one to stay defeated for too long, and I’ve been obsessed with boudoir photography for a little over a year now.
Luck was on my side at Argentina’s “Shoes and Schmooze” open house last fall, where I won a free shoot! I was thrilled because I’d done a couples session with one of her other photographers at the end of 2011 with my boyfriend, and ever since, I’d been hungry for the individual experience.
Funny story. I’d won the shoot as a door prize from a random drawing just for attending, but during the open house, I participated in their shoe competition. I’d brought with me a pair of fabulous red heels I’d bought not too long after my hospitalization (and therefore have never been able to wear). Every other participant of the competition threw on her heels and strutted her stuff up and down the set for judging, and in private I asked Argentina if it was all right that I simply hold mine. (I can stand, very carefully, in high heels, but cannot safely walk in them.) She was a great sport and told me I could do whatever I was comfortable with, as long as I had a good time.
So when it was my turn, I walked up in my UGGs, holding the heels in my hands and hammed it up for everyone. (Never mind what they must have been wondering.)
I nearly won the contest, coming up second, but my disappointment was short-lived when they announced I’d won the free session door prize!
“You’ll have to bring those shoes to your shoot,” Argentina said to me, so I promised her I would.
Last Friday, I redeemed my free shoot and had such an amazing time. I was a bit nervous about my physical limitations, so I reminded and warned Argentina that I’d need to switch from slippers to heels for any poses requiring the shoes, and she understood right away. (You would be surprised how rare this is. Most people see me and assume I’m exaggerating or something because I appear “normal” to them, even if I tell them otherwise.)
Throughout the shoot, Argentina assured me, “If there’s something you can’t do, let me know and I’ll change it for you.” Now — boudoir photos make modeling look easy, but my sore legs even three days later would tell you otherwise! Posing is difficult for just about everyone, but for me, I had the added element of requiring a lot more assistance.
I needed help getting certain parts of my outfits on, and of course I was switching back and forth from slippers to heels. There was NO complaint, no impatience that I’m so used to receiving. Argentina was on her knees much of the time helping me like Cinderella and giving me her shoulder or hands to hold on to if I felt wobbly.
Yes, of course some of the poses were impossible, but like a good yoga teacher, if something didn’t work, Argentina would find something that did. There were modifications as well as new experiments (I love that she tries new things!), and while the experience was challenging, I was so thankful to her for so many reasons.
When you lose reason to feel comfortable in your body because of a traumatic injury like mine, it affects you in less obvious ways other than not being able to walk or talk properly. How you see yourself physically — especially if you once took a lot of pride in your body — is so intricately tied to your self-image. When that is compromised, and suddenly you don’t recognize yourself anymore, your whole sense of identity starts to falter. Are you still good enough? Will you ever find love? (Believe me, that’s an entire other story in itself!) Will you be able to be happy? Will you be able to make or keep friends?
To anyone in that position today, the answer is a resounding yes to all those questions and more. But my hat’s off to Argentina, truly, for allowing me to celebrate my victories through her photography. What’s more amazing than her giving spirit to patiently assist me the entire time is that she says it was an honor to do so.
It was hard, but being able to have Argentina capture me in those photos allowed me to glimpse the woman inside of me I’ve wanted to uncover for nearly a decade now, and that is priceless. Even if it was just for an hour or two.
For more about my story, please visit rehabrevolution.blogspot.com.
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