Learning to Love & Rediscover Myself: My Struggle with Positivity & Mental Illness

Mental health is something many of us don’t talk about. There is this unspoken code of discomfort, fear, and stigma surrounding it. I, myself, have been guilty of this. I realized recently that I’ve been putting off this post for almost a year. I’ve been wanting to write about my experience. However, it’s been difficult to find both the words and the courage to be so open and vulnerable. I think that it’s about time for me to finish it now 🙂 This isn’t a typical beauty post or review and it’s going to be a long read. If you are up for it, I’m now ready to share my experiences from over the past two years. (CW: frank discussion of depression and anxiety)

Wondering and Waywardness

This all started in the Spring/Summer of 2014. It was the year that I was set to graduate from college. My major had been Fashion and Retail Studies and I was excited but nervous to start looking for work in the fashion industry, a field which combined my love of art and creativity with the more structured nuance of the business world. After graduation, I planned to work for 1-2 years before heading to graduate school.

Only one thing stood between me and my undergrad degree: a mandatory internship. Now don’t get me wrong internships aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Today, though, a growing majority of internships especially those in fashion are unpaid. My family and I simply couldn’t afford to send me to a larger different city to complete an internship, a reality which kept me from applying for many of the positions I really wanted (I attended a relatively small university in a small southern city). After much consideration and being convinced to forgo an alternative that would send me to Italy (a lifelong dream), I accepted an internship near where I worked as a Retail Management Trainee.

Retail store management wasn’t something that I was interested in. I wanted to be on the side of fashion that was more creative. I had been assured that I could work my way up through the company, so I tried to be positive and was honestly a bit excited to start. My days were spent mostly on the sales floor as a commissioned sales associate. Now, I had worked retail before but never in a commission based environment. Such an environment proved incompatible with my personality and my mental well-being…

Every insecurity I had about my social skills was exasperated. Social situations always registered somewhere between awkward and mortifying for me. It was a struggle I had experienced since middle school. The first few good weeks I had quickly eroded due to rude customers, returns, and fatigue. Still, I completed the internship. My initial goal of obtaining my degree was achieved.

By the end of the summer, I wanted nothing more than to get out of this job though. Here my insecurity flared again. What if I wasn’t cut out for the fashion industry at all? What if I had spent the last four years of my life striving for a foot in the door to a career I was doomed to fail at?

Mental Free Fall

By October, I started experiencing health issues. I missed work due to migraines. Nausea became a near constant struggle. Headaches made driving to and from work difficult. Then things turned for worse. I started struggling with balance. I would wake up and be unable to walk without feeling as though I would fall. Imagine how an extremely drunk person moves. That’s how standing or walking felt for me. This feeling typically lasted for around 36 hours. By December, I experienced muscle weakness and loss of balance so great that I would fall and be unable to move for several hours: not move my fingers or even wiggle my toes. I would be completely immobile aside from my face.

In the end of January, my stress reached its peak. Holiday returns had obliterated my already sub-par sales. My manager was under pressure to act. I knew what was inevitable. The idea of being fired terrified me. The job market was already so terrible. I had constantly failed at finding any other work. Being fired would only make it worse. I caved. The first week of February, EMTs rolled me out of work on a stretcher in front of my co-workers. I never went back.

After being discharged from the hospital, my balance was worse than ever. This time the feeling didn’t go away after a day or two. My declining health and pessimistic mental state launched me into a major depressive episode. I didn’t eat. I barely slept. I rarely left the confines of my room. I had no hope, no happiness; I wanted to die. Thankfully, my story doesn’t end there.

Improvements and New Challenges

With support from my family and friends, I started to return to a healthier place. I sought out counseling. This coupled with reading some new books taught me a lot about myself. It turns out I had been living with undiagnosed depression and anxiety for some time. I also learned more about my personality. Being introverted means I need to be more careful to maintain a balance between social and alone time. This was something my job hadn’t allowed me adequate time to do. My psychologist helped me with learning to change my thought processes. Learning to see what had happened as a temporary setback and not the ultimate failure was challenging but rewarding. I also started taking anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medicine. That coupled with several months of physical therapy enabled me to walk normally again. It was around that time, midsummer of last year, that I started this blog! That brings me to the seemingly random photos interspersed throughout this post.

When I had first planned this blog, I intended it to be a beauty and fashion blog. I even staged an amateur photo-shoot shot by one of my best friends. This introduced a new difficulty. After seeing the pictures, I immediately dismissed the idea of blogging about fashion. My friend did a great job shooting; it was me that I had the problem with. Months of stress, anti-depressants, and sedentary living had contributed to me gaining weight. I had been quite muscular but thin (5’4″ and 125-130 lbs) since puberty. I had played volleyball, done gymnastics, and ridden horses competitively. So when I saw how I looked in the photos after gaining around 30 lbs, I felt horrible. Learning to love my body as it is in the present was a new goal. That is why I wanted to share them now. Please don’t judge too harshly my hair that was bleached within an inch of its life!

Why It’s Important for Me to Share My Experience

I’m sharing all of this because talking about mental health is important. I want people to know they aren’t alone. I hid what I was going through from even my closest friends for weeks because I was embarrassed. I thought having a mental health crisis reflected poorly on me as a person. That’s not true for me or anyone else though. It’s okay to break down; it’s okay to need help. No matter what society says mental health is not something to be mocked or dismissed. It also doesn’t matter how big or how small your struggle leading up to/through your journey is either. I was hesitant about writing this because my experience almost felt like the #firstworldproblems of mental health. That doesn’t matter either. Everyone’s experiences with depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. are all different. The same way that we are all different as people. Just because someone’s struggle is different doesn’t make it any less valid.

Today, I’m glad to be in a much better place. I still have relapses sometimes. My physical health also seems intent on finding new ways to slow me down. I’m in a much better frame of mind though. I’ve learned to hope again. I’m doing yoga to start getting my strength back and quiet my mind. My body is no longer my enemy and I’m learning to love my changed body while striving to get back to as close to my athletic self as possible. I’m planning to start my own business soon. My life isn’t perfect but I still have so much left to look forward to. It’s a process and I intend to keep pushing forward while always remembering it’s okay if I need help again in the future.

I don’t have any questions for you all this time, but if you’d like to share something in the comments please feel free. Thank you for reading. I’ve linked to some resources below for mental health in case anyone needs them or would like to learn more. Just remember if you feel you need help, the best first step you can take is talking to your doctor. Until next time bisous! 🙂 <3<3<3

Mental Health Resources:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Explaining Depression to Others

 

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