Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Guest Blog: "My days of losing words" - a photo book about chronic migraine by Rachael Jablo

I have a guilty secret. I don't like going to Museums. In my defence - they make me feel car sick. Someone should insist on more sofas and popcorn, I'm sure that would help. What I'm really trying to say is that my sister, the Art Historian, got the art appreciation genes. I'm the ideas person, the musical person. OK, what I'm really trying to say is that Migraine Art often freaks me out. Maybe it's supposed to, maybe that's the art doing it's job - but often I just can't relate.

Until now. Until, I saw the work of American Photographer Rachael Jablo and I had one of those gut reactions; similar to when I was sitting in the front row hearing Pattie LuPone singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses". She actually spat on me. It was a moment I'll never forget. When I first stumbled across Rachael's photographs, from her upcoming book** "My days of losing words", I stopped in my tracks and thought "Oh shit, I think I'm going to cry." And, I think that's art doing it's job.

Don't worry - you probably wont cry, I cry when I'm watching Home & Away, but I bet you a bag of popcorn you'll be able to relate to these incredible photographs which chronicle  her journey with chronic migraine, in a manner you wont expect. Over to Rachel.

My first experience with migraines was when I was 15. I developed a low-grade headache that lasted a couple of months. For whatever reason it never occurred to my parents to take me to a neurologist, but we went to my allergist and an eye doctor and they said I was fine and by the end of all that it had gone away, so I was never diagnosed properly. Which, in hindsight, I'm actually kind of glad about, because if I'd known what I'd be in for in the future, I think I might have gotten really depressed. It happened again in college, and then when I was in my early twenties, and that's when I was finally diagnosed in '08, when this particular cycle of migraine started and never stopped.

"Birthday" by Rachael Jablo

My mother was a photographer when I was little, and my earliest memories are of being in the darkroom in her closet with her. I got my first camera when I was about six, and once I started doing my own darkroom work in high school, I knew that that's what I wanted to do. Ironically, the darkroom is now a trigger for me. Between the crouching and the going back and forth between complete darkness and the bright viewing lights, not to mention the chemical fumes, I am almost always in pain after I print. It's worth it, though, because I love the meditative aspect of it, and so I work around it by spending only 3-4 hours at a time printing (as opposed to the marathon all night printing sessions of my college years), and making sure I eat and drink during and after.

In terms of other major triggers: strobe lights, gluten, alcohol, and sleep disturbances. If I change my sleep pattern, things also get ugly. My main comforts these days are ice packs (wrapped in an infinity scarf! my newest hack!) to the back of the head followed by a hot shower or bath. That will often make things better when drugs won't.

"Trigger" by Rachael Jablo

My days of losing words came out of necessity, for me. As an artist, I can't stop making work, even if I'm sick, and I wasn't able to make the the kind of work I was doing before. I think it's hard when you're in the midst of something to see where it's going to go, and who it's going to be for, and I'm so incredibly grateful to Alexa Becker at Kehrer Verlag for seeing what I wasn't able to see yet: that there are millions of people out there like me, whose stories aren't being told, and who might feel empowered by a book of photographs telling their story. 

"Untitled Education" by Rachael Jablo 
Rachael, thank you so much for sharing some of your amazingly powerful photographs with us, and the story behind them. In "Birthday" the cluster of medication bottles (lurking in the background) is all too familiar to me, and I'm sure to many others. I think they perfectly capture the loneliness and isolation of living with migraine, amongst other things. But as Rachel talks about in this article, the way she shot the rest of the photographs - also shows hope in recovery. They're beautiful.

**Rachael has a publisher for her book "My days of losing words" and is incredibly close to meeting her Kickstarter target - but she must reach it by May 28th!! So PLEASE let's support her. 

Click on the video below to learn more. 



  1. What a beautiful relaxing voice you have. Unfortunately I also have no Art Appreciation genes either.Good luck

  2. Rachael - you explained Migraine so beautifully...not that it is a beautiful subject...but no doubt your artwork within the book will be a delight to all alongside telling others how Migraine is 'Not just a Headache'!

    I wish you well with your venture...I write handwritten journals and many pages contain details of migraine...I've been a sufferer since September 1985 - one never forgets that first attack!

    Thank you - Jill

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