Inspire 2016 Speaker: Sharona Jacobs

In this series of blog posts we are introducing people who are speaking at and attending Inspire 2016. Today we’d like to introduce you to Sharona Jacobs of Sharona Jacobs Photography.  Sharona will be speaking on THE MENTAL HEALTH TOOLKIT: COPING TOOLS FOR STRESSED‑OUT PHOTOGRAPHERS




Your Body is Your Business

One night last May, I was practicing karate, something I've done intermittently and safely since I was sixteen. Leading my young daughter through throws and takedowns, I over-exaggerated my movement so she could kinesthetically feel the proper technique. A few moments in, focusing on her learning rather than my own safety, I strongly swung backwards, landing on the back of my head with my full weight. It was a mistake of just an instant that caused brain trauma affecting my business for months. It was also my clarion call to respect and listen to my body and prioritize self-care if I wanted to continue to run a viable studio. I hope reading my experience will help you prepare for that rainy day for yourself - minus the concussion, ideally.

As an independent business owner/artist, you don't get paid sick time. The buck stops with you, as you balance your work, your family, and your life. It's so easy to focus on everyone else you support until something happens, and you realize you have to put your own oxygen mask on first, as flight attendants wisely say in every airplane safety lecture. 

It was a tough time, honestly. I struggled with my ego - words had never failed me before, and I felt vulnerable taking vastly increased amounts of time to organize my thoughts both verbally and in writing. Anxiety reared its head, both as a result of the fallout of the situation as well as a normal symptom of concussion. I was worried about canceling early shoots in my recovery, my lack of cognitive ability to goad my business forward through marketing and planning. And of course, about money and the survival of the studio when I was told by my neurologist that healing could take up to a year.

Out of necessity, I learned to listen to my body in order to heal as quickly as I could. I bracketed activity with rest, talked to other creatives who'd dealt with concussions, and avoided crowds until my brain could process simultaneous stimuli without becoming overwhelmed. I asked for help - from my husband, my neighbors, my colleagues - which initially felt foreign and uncomfortable, but necessary in order to keep both family and studio together. Some of the folks I've met through Inspire were the people who gave me rides to industry events, brought me treats, and helped me laugh when I was scared. Don't underestimate the value of photographer friendship and community - we help each other though the tough spots!  As a family, we also coped through the liberal use of gallows humor - not long after the accident, my daughter approached me after a verbal stumble and handed me a single beautiful blue-green marble, adding, "Here, mama, I think you're missing a couple of these." Ha.

During my early shoots while recovering, I carefully planned self-care before and after a shoot in order to be at maximum mental capacity for a few hours. When a commissioned portrait project celebrating Pride Month at BNY Mellon came up (see below images) shortly after my accident, I super-charged my functioning brain cells with combination of a huge amount of rest before and after, and the strategic use of caffeine. As my clients arrived in my studio, I held my breath, wondering how I would mentally balance camera settings, client direction, and multiple lights. My brain stuttered occasionally, and I had to direct with simpler words than I'd have preferred, but my work held up, and I delivered images that were emotionally and technically sound and true. However, I could not have managed to continue to shoot without caring for myself, and being cared for by family and my community of friends and colleagues. Please take care of yourself, too, and prepare and foster the supports you have in your community and career. 

P.S. Get disability insurance. Really.