Sophie Pellegrini

“…Just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. In you, dear Mr. Kappus, so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like some one who is recovering; for perhaps you are both.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet #8


When facing chronic illness, we’re often challenged to fight for the health of our body, despite simultaneously feeling betrayed by it. This dissonance is exacerbated when the illness remains undiagnosed, forcing us to have faith in healing when we don’t even know what it is exactly that we’re trying to heal. 

People try to make sense of their pain and their struggles in an abundance of ways. One way I have always turned to has been art, particularly photography. And yet, when I became sick with a mysterious gastroenterological illness a quarter of the way through my Master’s Studies, I shied away from involving it in my art. I resisted the idea of letting my illness interfere with my artistic practice and education. However, the more I resisted integrating the painful experience of my physical illness into my art (and my life), the more my mental health suffered. The result was a trigger of my major depressive disorder.  

As I learned (or relearned, in the case of my depression) to live with these two encumbering, invisible chronic illnesses simultaneously, I eventually found myself drawn to explore the potential of art to make meaning of my struggles, and ultimately, to catalyze healing. These works, divided into four different chapters representing different facets of my experience, reflect upon the pain that comes with losing control of your body and feeling disempowered in your own skin; the ways many external observers offer well-meaning but misguided advice in regards to mental illness; and the internal dialogues that narrate our lives and struggles every minute of every day.