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Photo courtesy of Dale Neil
Western Australian Newspaper
Health and Medicine Section
Psoriatic Arthritis Published Date: Aug 21, 2002
"10 billion volts" is one of the many spectacular images captured by award-winning Australian master photographer Nick Djordjevic.
As a storm chaser, Mr Djordjevic goes where few other photographers dare - into the torrential downpour, crackling bolts and singed atmosphere of an electrical maelstrom happy to fry any human being reckless enough to be out in it.
His photos offer a glimpse into the cataclysmic power of nature. But they also tell a second human story - Mr Djordjevic's personal account of pain and rage at the hands of chronic disease.
"A doctor once showed me a diagram which depicted the micro structure of the nervous system in the body," recalled Mr Djordjevic.
"I was gob smacked because it looked just like one of my photographs of lightning bolts streaming in all directions."
Mr Djordjevic suffers from severe psoriatic arthritis - a condition where inflammation of the joints is accompanied by inflammation of the skin.
It came on suddenly about 20 years ago when Mr Djordjevic was 31 years old.
He was driving home from work one day when he felt an intense itching at the base of his spine. Within hours he had rashes all over his legs and by midnight his whole body was covered in them. The next morning he awoke to find himself completely blown up with swollen joints looking like "the Michelin Man".
Along with the rashes came chronic joint swelling, joint pain and extreme fatigue.
"I went overnight from being this extremely fit and healthy person who played A-grade basketball to someone who could hardly walk," Mr Djordjevic said.
Doctors were unsure what the problem was and tried one drug after another. But his rashes and joint swelling continued to flare. The pain and fatigue finally forced Mr Djordjevic to resign from his public service position.
To make matters worse, the psoriasis kept Mr Djordjevic shut indoors at home. If he went out, he got abusive comments about his skin, he said.
Mr Djordjevic became chronically depressed and at one point, attempted suicide through a drug overdose.
"I was filled with rage and self- pity thinking 'why me?" said Mr Djordjevic.
"My family really suffered as well. My wife deserves a gold medal for all the shit she had to put up with."
It took three years before Mr Djordjevic was finally diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. But his condition waxed and waned despite being put on cocktails of some of the strongest medications available.
The turning point came when Mr Djordjevic attended a workshop at the Arthritis Foundation. There he found the support of fellow sufferers and learnt relaxation, guided and vivid imagery techniques to manage his pain.
It was long and slow process but Mr Djordjevic gradually regained control of his life. His psoriatic arthritis improved with proper exercise, diet and stress management.
An important part of his recovery was taking up photography - a distraction for the pain. His photos are completely natural. He does not use any special filters or digital enhancing. Between exposures he practices his relaxation and guided visualization techniques - merging his photography and pain management into one seamless ritual.
"I started out using my images as photographic therapy, an expression my inner rage and frustration. Now I've developed my photography into an art form where it's a method of focusing and managing my pain," he said. Initially, photography was a tool for dealing with the grief and pain of arthritis. Now photography is integral to my mental well-being and sense of self. I have learnt to live with the pain. It no longer is a mental torture and I have used photography as a focus.
Mr Djordjevic said he hoped his story would help other people battling the pain and frustration of arthritis.
"I really descended into the depths of despair and looking back on it now, I'm amazed I survived," Mr Djordjevic said.
"There is life after arthritis but it's a matter of accepting the condition and making the changes. And as with any chronic condition, distraction to cope with the pain is important."