Jump In! Honorable Mention, 21st Annual Essay Contest

by Mike Gothard

I am a photographer. I photograph along the Crystal Coast, a few steps from the sea. I capture moments in time others will want to remember for a lifetime.

I was diagnosed with PKD when I was eighteen. Doctors told me my kidneys would fail about age forty. They lasted twelve years beyond forty. I began peritoneal home dialysis four times a day the summer of 2017, and on February 15, 2022, I received a kidney transplant.

They say a photograph is worth a thousand words. However, I only have 750 words to tell you the story of how creativity has helped me cope with kidney disease. (Actually, only 640 words now)

I still marvel how until I went on dialysis, I didn’t realize how poorly I felt prior. And until I received a transplant, I didn’t realize how poorly I felt the five years I was on dialysis. But a year-and-a-half removed from my transplant, I still shake my head in amazement how I made it to this point. And while there is not a single answer, creativity certainly played and still plays one of the major roles in my story.

The truth is kidney disease is hard. Kidney failure is hard. Dialysis is hard. Waiting for a transplant is hard. Getting a transplant is hard. Wondering if the new kidney will eventually fail also is hard. I could go on and on, but if you’re at any one of those stages you more than know.

While on dialysis, I was determined to maintain as many of my routines as possible. One of those necessary routines was continuing to run my photography business, which was no easy task, even while healthy. But I learned decades ago that a creative outlet was essential for my survival. Though photography has been part of my life since I received my first camera as a kid, the past decade it has been life-preserving.

Regardless of which chapter you’re on in your story, seriously consider embracing your creative side for the remainder of your journey. Whether writing, drawing, planting, crafting, singing, storytelling, painting, sculpting, knitting, woodworking, scrapbooking, photographing, or any one of a thousand other creative pursuits, it’s never too late to jump in! You don’t have to be experienced or good or marketable or profound or the best, you just have to express your feelings, your vision, your dreams, your hurts, your joys, your soul, and yourself through some creative outlet. It’s at once terrifying and exhilarating!

Truth is, your story is not just about your kidneys; they’re merely a chapter or two or ten. And while those chapters are crucial to your story as a whole, there is so much more to you and to your story. Being creative – listening to that quiet voice inside you, allowing your feelings, imagination, thoughts, and dreams to make their way outside you, outwardly expressing the world as only you can see it – will color your entire story. To permit a secret, hidden part of YOU to morph into life on paper or wood, through film, in clay, via lyrics, or whenever using your voice, hands, mind, eyes, experience, or soul, is almost otherworldly.

I recently photographed a wedding on a small sandbar in the middle of the sea. We all arrived by boat and were marooned for three hours as a special couple said, “I do.” And then what happened next was not only unexpected, but was also invigoratingly creative!

After the couple said, “I do,” were pronounced husband and wife, kissed a nice, long ten-Mississippi kiss, then, with laughter and gratitude and hope and abandon, the entire bridal party ran straight into the sea – wedding clothes, bouquets, rings, and all!

Talk about creative! When you’re on a 100-meter long, 25-meter-wide sandbar in the middle of the sea for three hours in the July sun, nothing is as welcoming as a heavy dose of creativity (except maybe a bottle of cold water)!

This couple decided to write the next chapter of their story rather than allow their circumstances to write that chapter. They swam, laughed, searched for sand dollars, reminisced, splashed, collected shells, kept an eye out for sharks, and made memories – life-giving memories. I, on the other hand, took 1,200 photos and just tried to keep my cameras dry.

Jump in! Begin running into the sea every chance you get! Let the inside “YOU” come outside and play. Spark your creativity such that it colors every chapter, until The End.

Mike Gothard had PKD for 40 years and received a kidney transplant in February 2022 after being on peritoneal dialysis for five years. He is a photographer and owns/operates Beaufort Photography Co. on the Crystal Coast of NC. He is also an aviation geek, collects PlaneTags and aviation memorabilia, and takes to the skies for any reason, sometimes just to visit a new airport and plane spot.



More Essays by Mike Gothard:

Surviving CKD and the Hundred Acre Wood, Honorable Mention, 20th Annual Essay Contest

Ode to Nurse Mary the Pirate, 2nd Place Winner, 19th Annual Essay Contest

So Long, Mrs. Freshley’s, President’s Pick, 18th Annual Essay Contest

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