I talk a lot about mental health on Instagram, as evidenced here, here, and here, just to point out a few examples. With 16+ years of diagnosed anxiety and depression under my belt, I’d like to think I have enough credibility to speak to it. But sometimes I wonder if people really know my history and why I’m so vocal about it. Or if they even care. Or if I just sound like another millennial advocating for #selfcare. (That’s definitely the anxiety talking.)
In any case, I want to share my story because it’s an important part of who I am and has inevitably become part of my business. Instagram has been a great platform for talking about mental illness, but it’s only part of a bigger picture.
I guess you could say I’m lucky; I can’t point to any trauma or abuse as a catalyst to my weekly panic attacks. They just happened.
Each breath wasn’t deep enough. I shook uncontrollably. Nauseated, my comforter tight against my closed mouth, I tried not to vomit. My mom and dad framed my twin bed, trying to comfort me. The world was closing in. I was only 11.
And that’s how I got to know anxiety.
By the time I was 15 I became deeply depressed, crying a lot, completely unprovoked. I felt a sadness so overwhelming it made my bones ache. Everything hurt and I felt a heaviness that made the simplest to-dos feel like impossible feats.. Although I never attempted it, I thought about suicide and understood the physical pain and mental anguish of people who do take their lives.
My mom took notice and called my doctor. Soon after, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and prescribed Zoloft. After a few weeks the anti-depressants made a difference; I no longer felt hopeless or miserable, but there were still underlying anxiety issues to work through.
In my early 20s I navigated life in college and grappled with self-worth. Those 4 years flew by and soon life came at me hard and fast with new challenges: adulthood, finances, careers, relationships. I wondered why I couldn’t function like my co-workers or friends who all seemed perfectly content—maybe even happy—going through the motions. I knew I wasn’t cut out for a corporate job; I needed freedom and flexibility to do my best work, and stingy office buildings and beige cubicles were suffocating, to say the least.
Enter: calligraphy. My interest in lettering and design quickly became another form of income. At first it was a manageable amount of work, little projects here and there. But soon I started networking, taking on more clients, doing bigger and better things.
It all came to a head last summer. I’d been working in advertising. I had a long commute and the work was demanding. It was difficult to balance my business with my career; I’d often stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning, addressing envelopes or designing stationery. I realized I was becoming the worst version of myself, unable to devote myself to the work I actually loved.
Then I had a full-blown meltdown. That was the day I realized I needed to make a change. I needed to slow down, breathe deep and really start to put myself first. So after a lot of thinking, I quit my job, started working part-time as a freelance writer and now have the time and flexibility to focus on Loose Leaf. And myself.
I wish I could tell you that life has been sunshine and rainbows since then. But I still deal with a lot, including days when I can’t get out of bed. Or days when I feel hopeless. Just like in life, there are ebbs and flows to mental illness, and how I feel in any particular season of my life often parallels any big shifts and changes.
But I’ve found ways to make my anxiety and depression manageable. Thanks to therapy, meds, and other various tools in my anxiety-fighting arsenal (lookin’ at you, CBD oil), I’m in a good place.
I’m just one of the 43.8 million Americans diagnosed with mental health issues. Chances are you know someone who struggles with anxiety, depression, OCD, or PTSD. Maybe you’re one of them.
I share my history with it because maybe there’s someone out there who feels like I did—stuck in a cycle of sameness, feeling like an imposter, wishing you could feel normal. This isn’t me rallying for everyone to ditch the 9-to-5 and start a business. It’s me telling you that you deserve to feel whatever your “normal” is, whether that’s in your job, your relationship, or your interests.
If there’s anything I want you to take away from all this, it’s that mental illness is real and operates differently in each person who deals with it. Sometimes you need to accommodate it, give it its own space apart from where you live and work and sleep and eat. Because it’s always going to be there, but it doesn’t need to have power over you.
Find a therapist in your area: www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255