HomeAddison’s Disease – Behind the Smile

Addison’s Disease – Behind the Smile

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Self-portraiture series.

Living with Addison’s disease can be a challenge at times. The symptoms of Addison’s Disease are mostly invisible. It can feel like a lingering hangover. Sometimes, I forget I have the disease, but at other times it hits me like a ton of bricks. But to look at me you would not know. Behind my smile, I hide the truth.

Addison’s disease is a rare disorder of the endocrine system and affects approximately 1 out of 100,000 people. Addison’s disease means your adrenal glands have ceased to function. They no longer produce any cortisol, therefore, a synthetic replacement is needed (usually hydrocortisone) along with other hormones. Cortisol is essential to life and normal metabolic functioning. Cortisol helps your body respond to stress, but also helps regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, and the immune system – just to name a few.

The normal human body makes the appropriate amount of cortisol 24/7 and is changing constantly in response to what the body needs at any given point in time. Lifting your arm uses cortisol. Cortisol affects almost every major system in the body — heart rate, electrolyte balance, blood pressure, the circulatory system, the neurological system, etc. Because my body can’t make any, I have to maintain enough for a “normal” day but also constantly be adjusting things according to what my body is experiencing in order to keep from getting too low, which would cause an adrenal crisis and potentially cause me to have a heart attack, stroke, go into a coma or die. If I’m overly stressed, injured, sick, etc., — anything that causes stress to the body — my body can use all of its supply very quickly and I can have a crisis. If untreated, a crisis can result in death.

To raise awareness of the condition, I create images when I actually feel the symptoms so that the expression is genuine and not forced. The colours, confusion, and weak focus express how I feel.