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Everything is Energy

Steven Ricard: Team Atlanta

Team led by Stan Kaady

Project Essay: So It Goes

On May 11, 2011, Traci Binford was diagnosed with a relatively unknown disease called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). It was one of her happiest days in recent memory. I know this because I sat next to her as she lay on a hospital bed and cried, tears of suffering and relief, while the doctor explained the disease that would be with her for the rest of her life.

The first signs of the disease presented themselves more than a year earlier when Traci gave birth to our second child in late February 2010. The delivery was not especially difficult, but several seemingly minor complications would eventually lead her to a place where she would be thanking a doctor for telling her that she has a chronically debilitating disease.

In the 15 months between those two dates, she made visits to both primary and urgent care doctors, as well as saw specialists ranging from allergists to phlebologists. She can remember details of at least six emergency room visits. While several tests showed abnormalities, taken individually these tests offered little reason for anyone, other than Traci, to be concerned.

Most medical professionals wrote her off almost immediately as either a hypochondriac or as having anxiety issues. One doctor refused to see her; another referred her to a psychiatrist. Throughout it all, Traci knew something was seriously wrong, and the first acknowledgement of that fact came on that morning in mid-May.

Initially, I wanted to show the physical energy that Traci puts into understanding and coping with her diagnosis. As the project progressed, however, it became more about the emotional energy that it takes for her to deal with doctors too busy to really look into understanding her disease, as well as all of the people along the way who can’t “see” anything physically wrong with her. This project is for each of them, and for others like Traci, who might be struggling to find their own answers.

Creative Brief:

For the theme of Energy is Everything, I have chosen to address a rare disease called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which affects less than 0.06% of the United States population. POTS is a debilitating disease which affects the body’s autonomic nervous system — the system that regulates the body’s heart rate, digestion and respiration.

The purpose of this project is to show what life is like for someone with the disease, and the emotional energy that this person goes through to cope with it. This particular topic plays a role in the daily life of my own family, as my wife Traci was recently diagnosed with this disease in May 2011. This project is both an opportunity for me to get a better understanding of what she is constantly feeling that may not always be visible, and also an opportunity for her to demonstrate feelings that may be difficult to put completely into words.

With that in mind, it is easy to assume that this project is beneficial for us alone, but my goal is for this project to raise awareness among the general public about rare diseases like this, as well as for other individuals who may be struggling to find the cause of their own medical conditions.

I plan to demonstrate this subject through a series of portraits of Traci, each of which will address a particular emotion associated with her life as a “potsie.” Those ideas are weakness, fear and confusion. In addition to the images themselves, Traci will provide a sentence or two about each emotion.

“My body feels like death, like it’s slowly dying and no one else has any idea why. Every moment is a struggle and the next moment, I just pray to get through. I feel like I’m lost within myself.”
All images in this article © Steven Ricard

“I love my family so much and it scares me to feel so ill. I want my kids to know me. Sometimes I feel so sick that I feel I could die at any moment and I’m afraid they will forget me. I’m scared of being replaced.”

“Sometimes I think I could sleep for days. My body is so weak, I force myself to move and do things. I go to bed tired, I wake up tired, it’s just like doing laundry; it’s a vicious, never-ending cycle.”

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