2023 Photography Rewind - Focus On Health
Why do I like this ritual of reviewing and then sharing my favorite photos of the year? Most of all it's a chance to see in one place where I was fortunate enough to visit and the work I processed. Even though my definition of favs for the year includes work I newly processed, not necessarily taken, the majority are taken within the last year. It's a reminder how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do, the places I get to see, and the people I get to experience them with. I never take that for granted, none of us should.
This year started off joining Out of Chicago for their annual LIVE conference where I had speaking events in January and early February. By mid-February I was off with my local photog friend Michael Bollino to Death Valley National Park for my first photo trip to the park which did not disappoint including the last stretch to get home from the airport as a record 10" of snow unexpectedly hit Portland causing gridlock on the roads. Shortly after that David Cobb and I got 32nd year of Best of the Northwest Photography Workshops underway starting out on the Southern Oregon Coast. Mixed into the workshops in the first half of the year was teaching at Out of Chicago's Olympic National Park conference paired up with Eric Bennett, we had a great time working together along with a few quality craft beers. After spring workshops I spent time with family during the summer and multiple home projects including sanding and repainting our kitchen cabinets (projects like these are never as quick as we think). By late summer we were back into workshop mode again which included a lucky few minutes during our Covered Bridges workshop to see the annular eclipse. The last field workshop of the season was up in the North Cascades, and by last it was more than just last for the season. It was David's final BNPW as I take it over and he starts his slide into retirement from workshops. In early November I wrapped up workshops for the year with Zack Schnepf as we held the Create Better Prints workshop.
Let me take a moment to say if you aren't interested in the personal story I am about to tell and are only here for the photos then don't feel bad to scroll on to through. This is choose your own adventure. While my public journaling mostly focuses on photography I try to be authentic and share other important aspects of my life. In some cases there are indirect advantages, or obstacles, to photography.
"Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life." - Robin Sharma
When I left my corporate job in 2022 I said it was to pursue photography full time. While that is true, and continues today, it was only half the story. The other half was focusing on what was going on with my health to try to stop what was going on too often that was continuing a decline in my quality of life. I touched on this with my 2022 Photo Rewind journal entry, this post goes into the details. While some artists have talked about having a disability or condition has resulted in being more engaged and greater connection with their art resulting in the creation of meaningful artwork, what I was dealing with doesn't fall into this category.
I had pursued what could make life better for years, the issue had been going on since the late 2000’s and only seemed to get worse as the years went by. When I would get a burst of motivation and bandwidth to try and figure out what was wrong I would go down a new path and invariably hit a dead end. Then because life and work was always a priority I would push it to the side until I felt another burst of motivation, many months later or as often was the case, into another year. Different doctors, varying diets, supplements, acupuncture, various well-being approaches, you name it. Nothing worked. I always had the positive mindset like my days of being a QA Test Analyst, I would tell myself what I have confirmed isn't an the issue is still a step forward.
I knew one instigator was stress. While bouts of stress are inevitable in life (and at key moments can actually be helpful to propel you forward), the amount and frequency play a large factor. I regularly fed off stress in my career during my 20's and into my 30's, sometimes it felt like fuel to keep me moving forward. But that didn't last forever. My current work environment was a stressor on a frequent basis which zapped away energy and motivation to work on my own health. Adding to all this was a number of multi-month stretches unmotivated by photography, and sometimes adventuring outdoors wasn't even appealing.
Without turning this journal entry into a book about these past challenges the issue I had was debilitating headaches. Diagnosed as migraines in early 2010's yet not typical ones and I still question if they are migraines, severe tension headaches, or something else which can be just as painful. If I was lucky I would only get 2 or 3 a month but often it was more. During bad stretches it could be a couple a week. I eventually had a naturopath after exhausting many avenues, prescribe a med that turned into a life saver. A single pill would usually get rid of a migraine in a matter of hours, instead of 12 to 24 hours for them to dissipate on their own which was my only option up until this point. OTC meds were of little help. The prescribed med helped for sure, yet it's not something you can overly rely on or it could bring about other challenges. As a more extreme example when I was teaching at a conference last year I had to take meds for 5 days straight to keep my headaches at bay, this was not a good sign. In fact the alarm bells were going off. I noticed that as the years went on I was more susceptible to headaches with more triggers. My wife summed it up well, I was living my life walking through a mine field, often on edge when the next "explosion" would come.
The job change working myself gave me control over my schedule which gave me an opportunity to pursue getting to root of it once and for all. I finally met a surgeon that listened to me, had empathy experiencing similar issues, and believed a sinus surgery could help. No doctor can ever guarantee an outcome, still I had much optimism. Having a bad sinus infection shortly before the surgery and the post-op recovery time being longer than anticipated, resulted in almost a month straight of facial pain / headache, in most cases needing meds to half-way function. BUT... after the first few weeks post surgery the world changed immensely for the better, much better! While the headaches are not eliminated they occur much less frequently and often with less severity. Saying it has been life changing is right on point. I lead a different life, in a good way, since the surgery.
Why would I share this personal story? Bringing this up in casual conversations since my surgery in spring 2023, I have heard a number of responses from people that said they have challenges relating to breathing, sleeping, etc that they wonder if it's related to sinuses. Maybe you don't have, I mean hopefully you don't have, as extreme of a case as I did whatever your ailment is. Don't give up hope! There is likely an answer, and hopefully a solution, once you get to the bottom of it. This took me over a decade to connect the dots and get the right physician that also listened to me and my full history.
Once my daily fear of painful headaches was behind me I could start focusing on living a healthier life again. While those on the outside might have seen a healthy physically fit person, that wasn't the case. Sure, I did push myself where you might have seen me complete a backpack trip, long hike, my first cycling century ride, and more but they were frequently met with debilitating headaches which dampened my enthusiasm more each year. Here are some key areas I changed for my physical and mental health in 2023, in no specific order, that have paid off should any of these be of interest to others.
- Sauna + Cold Plunge: Unlike some stories I have read I won't spout out some over the top claim that it led to work and entrepreneurial success, those successes come mostly from other factors. What I will say is this is something I started doing in fall 2022 from mid-fall to mid-spring each year, multiple times a week, and it's simply fantastic for my overall wellbeing. More than just unwinding, it improves sleep and has been noted to provide a number of health benefits. Even if you can't or don't want to set one up at home, a sauna and cold shower at your local gym will provide a similar benefit. Something I did in the past albeit not on the same frequency as my current regime. Don't waste those first 15 to 30 seconds of cold shower water, most days I go right in and enjoy the cold water before the heat kicks in.
- Gym Workouts: Speaking of the gym. This is area I have faltered many times in the recent past. Part of it related to my headaches. Spend more than a nominal amount of time or moderate intensity and I was likely to pay the price later. And while I love the outdoors, resistance and strength training are essential and not as easy to do as cardio outdoors. 2023 was the most consistent I have been going to the gym in more years than I can remember. I won't say this came easy. The last time I needed to get back into shape and lose a few pounds was in my early 20's. It is laughable now thinking how easy that was back then. This time around, some days I really enjoy the gym, other days I loath it. Yet I pushed myself to go, and pushed myself when I was there. If you think you can do it without strain, sweat, and fatigue then you will be a lot less likely to meet your goals. The result for me is that I have lost 75% of the weight I need to lose. Almost there!
- Social Media: About mid-year I removed all except one social media app (Instagram) from my phone. This means a half dozen were removed. While I wasn't a social media addict (of course addicts rarely admit they are addicts) and some I didn't use regularly, it was something I felt was going in an undesirable direction. There certainly are benefits to social media yet it's hard to get those without the negative sides thanks to algorithms that decide what is important for me to view so I have chosen to reduce my time and how I access some platforms. Sure I still access other platforms like Facebook but when it's only on my computer it gets less attention now. On this topic did you know some social media apps provide a setting to remind you after X amount of time that you might want to take a break? I have Instagram set to 10 minutes and if that message comes up I get off and move on to something else, typically not on my phone.
- Meditation: My younger self would get a laugh from this. I have never been one to meditate or focus on relaxed breathing, despite a decade working in health & wellness. It simply wasn't something that fit the way I operated my life nor did I feel was beneficial for me. That was then, now I see the value in it. While I am by no means someone that meditates on a regular basis, I did find myself doing it sporadically in 2023. Even a few minutes of taking a break to refocus the mind and breathing can be all that is needed. If you find yourself challenged with high stress, hurried pace, anxiety, or many other similar circumstances it's worth giving it a try. I have taken time for it outside in the wilderness as well as sitting on my couch at home. Other than a temporary mostly quiet surrounding you don't need a specific setup to meditate.
As I finish typing this it's New Years Day 2024. I am excited for the year ahead with all that is already planned, and the additional opportunities and adventures that have yet to come to light. If you will be at one or more of the many workshops or tour this year I am grateful for your support and look forward to seeing you in the months ahead!
"You can't give your life more time, so give the time you have left more life." - Unknown
The 2024 annular eclipse, also known as the ring of fire, seen in the Willamette Valley of Oregon as the clouds barely cleared enough to see it before clouding the sun again.