Though, year after year, we've featured her surreal photos on My Modern Met (see here and here), we had no idea that for the last 14 years of her life, photographer Brooke Shaden has been suffering from fibromyalgia. Over 5 million Americans are affected by this condition that causes chronic muscle pain, fatigue, insomnia, headaches and tender pressure points on the body.
“When I was 13, I started having pain in my left knee. I got a knee brace, but soon the pain shifted to both knees,” she said. “When I started alternating how I wore my knee brace, people at school began to wonder if I really had any pain at all. That was my first experience with this ‘invisible' disorder, and I was diagnosed a year later. It manifests itself in joint pain, fatigue, and overall sensitivity, but in the end it has taught me invaluable lessons about just how much one can overcome if given the right mindset.”
To raise awareness for the cause, Brooke has created a beautiful set of images featuring a swarm of blue butterflies. What does each image mean? “I wanted to show three different stages of pain, and the frailty, acceptance and power that can come from it,” she tells us. “The close-up image shows weakness and vulnerability. The image with butterflies coming out of my chest shows power. The image of the butterflies holding me up shows acceptance. Butterflies are an incredible universal symbol. They represent change, beauty, and grace. In a way that is what people with pain go through, and especially pain that does not manifest in any obvious way.”
What does she hope others will come to understand about this disorder? “That it does not represent one concrete set of symptoms,” she said. “It is hard to identify and hard to live with. Many people have different experiences of the disorder. If anything, it has taught me never to judge someone because you never know what their internal struggle is. I have spent half my life making sure no one knew what my experience was in suffering internally. I learned strength and power partially through dealing with pain, and so I have counted it as a life lesson.”
Brooke will be participating in the upcoming NYC Caterpillar Walk – Fibromyalgia Awareness Event help at the Hudson River Walk in New York City on May 9. You can read more about it at Crowdwise.