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Suicidal Self-Portraits

A Multi-disciplinary Exhibit about PTSD and Suicide. 

Have you or someone you know been affected by suicide or thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts? My name is Sheila Ferguson and I have Complex PTSD, or C-PTSD. I experience thoughts about suicide. I am a survivor. Nevertheless, my trauma timeline has changed me. There are times when my brain function is so "off"- my apologies for lack of a better word- it feels so off that it can even affect my balance. I have had stress induced seizures. Mood swings. Inability to concentrate. I have had to have heart surgery to control what my heart does during panic attacks. My heart rate was documented at 268 beats per minute. Nobody wanted to believe me. I have severe fibromyalgia, which is directly connected to and a side effect of my C-PTSD. My body has been so affected by the stress and my response to the traumas. I have to take medications for my night terrors. I wake drenched in sweat and those dreams can affect my well-being for hours or even days. I cannot work a full time job. I struggle. I really struggle to want to live. Sometimes, it is all so much bigger than me, I feel unable to win against the part of me that wants to die.


I am conducting interviews, as well as sharing my first person account to accompany a collection of self-portraiture I am developing that is truly unlike anything else I have done to-date.  I am considering opening this project up to include more participants for a larger impact to help fight the stigmas and break the silence with an even larger impact. 

Boudoir & Body Image 

I am a female photographer who offers boudoir photography to (usually but not exclusively) female clients. I market my boudoir photography as “for a woman, by a woman.” I offer a female only staff, which most of my clients prefer.

I have had clients approach me privately about wanting to do a boudoir photo session but they have concerns about their “imperfections”, or they talk about having a negative body image and confidence issues, fantasizing about losing weight first, or someday this or that…

I can give several examples of women who had similar reservations and afterward had written me to tell me how happy they were that they had decided to do the boudoir photo session.

Some of the other participants answered, when asked why they decided to do a boudoir photo shoot:


“I feel very sexually confident now that I have put the abuse in the past:”

“It is my sincere hope that allowing my body type to be put on display will not contribute to or help perpetuate the elevation of one body type over another, but rather be just one example of the many different body shapes and sizes in the world that should all be celebrated and that are all just as beautiful and unique as the souls that inhabit them.”

“If I don’t feel confident and beautiful, I don’t feel sexy. This is why I’ve never gone on a date without shaving first. I’ve even made sure to shave when it was cold outside and I knew they weren’t going to be able to tell if my legs were shaved or not. I did it because I would know if they were shaved. And it was just mentally hard for me to feel confident and sexy without doing it.”

“I am intrigued by an artist’s creative process. By volunteering for this shoot, I am able to gain a better perspective by posing as the subject.”

I think for myself, I never have felt truly beautiful and any image I’ve seen of myself that I actually liked, was just that, an image. Not me. I’ve never liked what I saw in the mirror. I’ve chased that feeling of self acceptance, of positive self esteem, and in turn, positive body image. I’m glad I chose to do a few boudoir photo shoots back when I was in my late teens and early 20’s. I’m glad that I have those images to look back on, and feel good about now, even if I hated the way I looked back then. That recurring theme keeps rearing its ugly destructive head, and I want to fight it. I want to create boudoir photography as an artistic gift to my clients. I want them to love themselves and the way they look in the images I capture of them. I want them to see themselves for the beauty I find in them. In a wrist. In an ankle. A tendril of relaxed curls. I want to believe we are all beautiful, even if we cannot see it for ourselves.

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