I first met Virginia at a modeling workshop which I was photographing for Rocky Mountain Entertainment Agency. She was in the conference room with the other models, as I looked at everyone there, she stood out. She had porcelain skin and blazing red hair. She wore a big furry vest, had her sunglasses on, and a steampunk style cane at her side. Some would have jumped to conclusions and assumed she was eccentric, but I could see she had a story to be told and I knew that I wanted to get to know her better.
During her shoot we talked and I learned more about her. I learned that her sunglasses were to prevent migraines that were caused by artificial light. She carried her cane because on bad days she needed the assistance. Even though she was in pain she was still there. Still attending the workshop and pursuing her dreams. The workshop wasn’t the proper place to take down her whole narrative and we didn’t have the time either. So shortly afterward I reached out to set up a time to meet over lunch.
We met up at Red Tractor Pizza in Bozeman. She was accompanied by her service dog, Osiris. During lunch he was on duty to help alert her in the instance that an attack may be coming on. However, after lunch he had some time off to play when we went out to her grandparents land for a portrait session. We all had a great time soaking in the Montana summer weather and hanging out. While we were hanging out she told me her story.
“Personally shattered; that is the most accurate description of what happened to me when my future died.
Let me backup: I grew up here in Bozeman, running around outside, riding horses, climbing trees, swimming, helping with branding, and I learned how to rely on my ability to do anything at any time. My faith that I could roll with the punches became an integral part of my self-image; and when it disappeared as I got older and ill health crept up on me, I discovered that my sense of self was shattered with it. But before that happened I left Bozeman for college at a theater conservatory in Chicago- I had known I was going to be an actor since I was eight- and spent four years fighting my way through college with quietly increasing health problems and I don’t regret a second of it even though it was exquisitely painful. Little did I know it would get harder. The summer after I graduated I was fully settled in Chicago and starting on a professional career in TV/Film. I was able to pursue my true passion, stage combat, I reveled in the dichotomy of it; the way it must always look wild in emotion and be precise in action.
And then my future died. I got sick, properly sick this time, and went from working in Chicago to couch-bound in Bozeman within a month. It completely destroyed my ability to rely on my body, along with every chance I had to live the future I belonged to or enjoy the stage combat I love. I still grieve the death of the person I was intended to be and always will, but this is my story now, the story I wish I had been told when I got sick: how to carry the grief of a future destroyed and build a new life under the weight.”
I learned that Virginia’s condition is poorly diagnosed, but it is known as Autonomic Dysfunction. “The autonomic system affects all the things that are supposed to happen without us paying attention to them, breathing, digestion, muscle strengths, sleep, etc. so a problem with that system leads to a constellation of symptoms and is really hard to fully understand or explain.” This condition leaves Virginia “with shifting symptoms and slowly increasing issues and there are very few specialists in the field so it’s hard to pin down.”
However, even in facing all that she does, Virginia is resilient. She plans to go to Los Angeles this fall with Rocky Mountain Entertainment to pursue acting and modeling. She will be visiting with agencies in the hopes of signing with them. In the meantime she has been busy auditioning for Montana based films in addition to building her modeling portfolio. To say that the road ahead will be rough is an understatement, but in her determination I can’t help but feel that she has so many more pages to be written in this new future that she is rewriting for herself.