I've struggled with depression and mental health issues my whole life. I remember being a 14 y/o sassy teenage girl reading "14,000 Things To Be Happy About". I had just rubbed tanning oil all over my body and was lounging in my ex stepdad's backyard as the sun beamed down on my already overly tan skin (shout out to Jergen's for keeping us 2000s girls orange).
I had fake Chanel sunglasses on and an Abercrombie bikini. I had bought the book with some chore money after glancing through the self-help section of Barnes & Noble. High school is hard for everyone, no matter how cool or athletic or smart you are. I think we can all agree on that. For me, it was a lot harder than I had expected. I went to a private Baptist high school. We had to wear uniforms and attend a daily Bible class- which wasn't so bad in itself. However, it was really difficult to fit in unless your parent's had at least a half a million dollar home and/or you already had a ridiculously good education and brain to back it up. I had neither but thankfully I seemed "normal" enough to fly under the radar from constant bullying.
I came from a divorced family, was raised by a single mom with the help of my grandparents. My ex stepdad came into my life in elementary school and was around to co-parent with my mom for roughly 10 years. It was normal enough yet far from the "stable" upbringing majority of my friends had. My stepdad was a very negative person and growing up surrounded by him definitely has affected my adult outlook on life. He didn't believe in being silly, childish, or anything "fun" for that matter. I was an only child so I stuck to myself most of the time. I grew up surrounded by his mindset that life is hard, having fun means being immature, and there's no reason to lighten up because adulthood is a dark place.
Anyways, back to my first self-help book experience. I remember scanning over the pages and thinking "Yes, these things would make me happy". Sushi, sunsets, perfume from Paris - the book listed everything you could imagine and more. Plenty of things to be happy about... even if I couldn't experience them all the time. It's not that I felt sad- necessarily. I had good friends in and outside of school. I was good enough at cross country and track to hang with the older crowd and make the school morning announcements on occasion for hitting a new PR. Despite wearing a uniform, my love for shoes started young so I was always getting complimented on them by the "popular" girls. It wasn't a rough upbringing by any means. Yet, I did still struggle to feel "happy" on a daily basis. Most days just felt "eh". Not good, not bad, but definitely not happy. It wasn't something I wanted to verbalize because everyone else around me seemed to feel "happy".
Fast forward 10+ years, and here I am. Still not always beaming with happiness, but definitely stable. I have my own wedding photography business. I blog. I'm finally in a healthy, trusting adult relationship - something I've never experienced previously. I've had a lot of ups and downs. Moved from Austin to NYC to San Antonio to Chicago. Lived in a different apartment every year for the past 7 years. My best friend committed suicide almost 3 years ago and I've since lost a few other friends to suicide or sketchy lifestyles. Despite the hard events in my life, I think that as I've reached my mid-twenties I've come to learn that happiness is a choice and choosing to live a fulfilling life is what will bring us the most joy.
It's been a whirlwind of events and even though I'm only 26, I often feel like I've already lived several different lives. I've made traveling a priority, often as a way to escape sadness or stresses that affect me on a daily basis. I've started a Meetup group, which has taught me that I am, in fact, a pretty social person and something about me seems to bring people together. I'm not sure if that's always a good thing but it is what it is. I've learned a lot about myself, people, and human nature in general.
There have been ups and downs, positives and negatives. I still struggle with my mental outlook and what I'm not sure is depression or just a normal reaction to dealing with deaths, divorces, and frequent life changes within a short amount of time. I think it's so great that our society is starting to be more open about mental health and the stigma of having to act like everything is ok is beginning to fade away. People are embracing being honest about their feelings and struggles in a healthy way.
However, I don't think this vulnerable stance has translated into our work environments and I feel like not enough people talk about it. My best friend was fresh out of college when she committed suicide. She was looking for a job or career path. She went to interviews all the time and was constantly expressing her wants and desires to find a job and feel self-reliant. Unfortunately, she didn't end up waiting long enough to gain either one. I think it's a core desire to want to succeed and be independent. I know many of us feel that being honest about depression or anxiety in a professional setting could result in a halt moving up the ladder. None of us want to be judged by a colleague, boss, manager, competitor, or client for being incompetent due to our frame of mind.
Having my own wedding photography business has been amazing and each year I have built up more clients and a larger portfolio than the previous. It's not always easy though- i'm sure anyone with depression and trust issues can probably relate. It's hard enough somedays to even get out of bed let alone market, e-mail, call, network, and book myself from 8am-6pm. Somedays I work for 18+ hours at a time, going on an editing spree and trying to book new clients. Other days I don't accomplish anything. It's these days that make me feel unproductive and worry that I'm going to lose everything I've built. It makes me look at my friends who work for someone else or corporate America and wish that maybe I had considered a similar path. Not because it's easier or less stressful, but because it means having a support system and a more structured lifestyle in many cases.
Recently, I almost threw the towel in. With some of the major life changes I've faced in previous years, it's been hard to feel motivated. For awhile there I lost all sense of direction for my life. I started getting a few bad reviews. I always justified my behavior because it wasn't entirely my fault. One client didn't receive their package on time because their address was a PO box, another client threw a fit over not receiving 5 posed photos we took despite my contract clearly stating all photos received are up to my discretion. None of these things were "my fault", that is true. Yet I can now admit that I didn't handle these situations properly. My mental state sometimes makes me lack self confidence and I feel like people are taking advantage of me. This has, of course, made being the face of my own business very difficult.
I made excuses, it made me feel better. Deep down I felt terrible. One bad review in this day and age can make or break a business permanently. & here I was getting multiple ones at once. I felt like I had messed up- yet again! I felt like people were taking advantage of my lower priced packages or my "too nice" personality. I stopped marketing myself for future clients. I decided to rebrand - which I'm still working on. It's hard to be the backbone for a business when you feel like your own backbone is collapsing from stress and the downfalls of life.
I almost called it quits last winter. I was crying in my bathtub. I felt like I was losing everything I had been working towards the past few years. I thought that if I just started over and had a "normal" job that maybe I would feel more stable. I told myself that someone with my mental health state shouldn't and couldn't run their own business. It would be better for me to take directions and have a clear schedule. The stresses and instability of my job was making me feel more unstable. I told myself it was time to move on and leave the dream of capturing the world on film to a more secure occupation.
That's when I realized that I'm not that person. Somedays I might feel weak, but it doesn't mean I'm weak. If anything, I'm stronger than most. Just because I don't always feel secure in myself doesn't mean I can't be secure in my own business. Maybe I can be a voice for those who are overwhelmed by their mental health struggles. Maybe it will take more effort than it would for someone in a "happy" frame of mind but that doesn't mean it's impossible. I've let people down, but I've also been let down by others. & even if it means that through all of my recent decisions I've let myself down, it also means I can lift myself back up.
In the last two weeks I've booked 6 weddings and have done better than I have in a LONG time. Feeling productive & successful in my work life also makes me feel better about other areas of my life. It can be so hard to get out of a funk once you're in it, but it also can be hard to get out of accomplishments once you're in it - which is a good thing! It can be so easy to focus on the negatives in our lives. I think if we can try to focus on what we want to achieve and the steps we need to take to do so then we can feel productive and experience a happier version of ourselves.
I've found that trying to set a daily routine/schedule helps so much! Also using tools to post on all of my social media accounts at once is such a time saver and makes me feel productive in itself. The first day of every month I go on Facebook and schedule the entire month's daily posts so it's one less thing to have to think about! There are so many tools and resources for us in this day and age. Templates, email scheduling, etc, etc! I think learning to balance our mental health with our daily necessities is so important to feeling productive and not letting our minds create havoc that feels too hard to climb out of.
So I just want to say to all you business owners, freelancers, programmers, bosses, managers, and anyone who works from home that is struggling with mental health issues - you can do it. It might take more effort somedays but go easier on yourself. Take a break if you need to. Make a to-do list that you can tackle at once. Be honest even if you're worried it might impact how others view you- I think honesty and vulnerability are traits few have but many admire. Schedule an appointment to vent with your therapist. Talk to a friend. Sleep in on your day off. Make time to work out, read, cook, or do something calming. Whatever you do, don't give up. If you really feel like you've found your purpose then don't let your mental state mess up your future state. It's hard, but it's worth it and you deserve it- trust me.
& I JUST FEEL LIKE EVERYONE SHOULD SEE THEM OKAY?!
I know that getting engaged is not like the biggest accomplishment ever but for me getting engaged kinda was! I always thought when I grew up I wanted to be a wife & mom. Sure, wedding photography definitely has its perks. However, it's not the dream. Call me old fashioned but I think getting to take care of my home, shoot the occasional wedding/photo session, cook dinner, & spend time with my children + husband is the ultimate #lifegoals. So meeting & falling in love with this amazing man I get to now call my fiancé is something I'm incredibly excited about!
I decided to shoot my own engagement photos because I've always been into self portraits. Pictures & self portraits are how I've expressed myself over the years. I remember being an artsy, somewhat anti-social teenager and thinking capturing myself sitting in a window would express the emotions I felt 🤷🏼♀️Ever since high school I've captured almost every vacation, milestone, and adventure through the lens of my camera. I figured what better way to capture my love story & engagement then shooting it myself?!
So here are all of my favorite photos from our engagement session. Shout out to my fiancé, Ryan, on adventuring around the city of Chicago with (& dodging the rain all day, I might add!) for hours on a Sunday so I can get "the perfect shot".
*P.S. If I can take all of these amazing shots ON MY OWN then imagine what I can do for you ;) For wedding + portrait photography sessions visit my website shoot312.com & let me capture your big moment!
I'VE LEARNED A THING OR TWO...
26 years on this Earth is far from a world record and for many of us our lives are just beginning. The truth is that I don't have much advice to give. I've made plenty of mistakes and errors in recent years that have made me feel like I have NO idea what I'm doing in life. However, I think it's the mistakes in life that provide us with insight worth sharing with others. If there's anything I hate it's perfection. I don't think anyone has grown from a perfect life that has no bruises, scars, or blemishes. In my last six years I've gone through two of my mom's divorces, two close friend suicides, two of my own long term relationship breakups, moving from Austin to NYC to San Antonio to Chicago, 8+ apartments, multiple jobs/internships, starting my own photography business, and visiting multiple cities/states/countries. It's been a journey. Through that journey I've learned & witnessed a lot. Here are just a few of many great tips, lessons, & words of wisdom I'm accumulated:
26 THINGS I'VE LEARNED...
Raise your hand if fast fashion is the worst... 🙋🏼🙄
I love shopping as much as anybody & have always heeded Kate Sander's advice after acknowledging that Lizzie Mcguire was an outfit repeater. That being said, i'm kinda sick of fast fashion! & honestly, I blame all of the "influencers" everywhere. Constantly trotting around in new fashions, never repeating as much as a pair of shoes, spouting off about the newest and trendiest clothing + accessories that we "need". It's true that I too have a LikeToKnowIt account & that I also market my own wardrobe - BUT I'M PUTTING MY FOOT DOWN.
I don't think this concept even has to do with liking to shop or wearing a new outfit on a new outing. Many of us girls have been shopping 24/7 since the day we were born! I think it's more the idea of constantly buying bulk clothing at cheap prices, wearing said item one time for a cute photo, and then stashing more junk in your closet for the next 5 years until it finally gets sold on eBay for $3 or gets donated to your local Goodwill shop. It's a waste of time, money, and space.
What happened to buying nice articles of clothing? What happened to being excited to wear a new outfit instead of purchasing for the sake of a photo or caption? I'm just as guilty as anyone but I think it's time I change my ways. Let's make an effort to buy because we love something - not because our favorite Instagram influencer recommends it, not because it's a bargain (unless it truly is... then girl get it!), and not because we feel the need to share it with the world of social media.
Over the course of this month I'm going to purge through the endless amount of clothing, shoes, & accessories I've collected. Less truly is more. Maybe I can get some extra cash by selling my higher end items & I can definitely help out others with my bags and bags of donations. Not only is fast fashion bad for the environment but I think it's bad for our mental wellbeing. I mean, here we are, thinking that items we spend money on have no purpose to our lives besides giving us a few likes & comments. Is that truly how low we think of ourselves? Everything we choose to have in our lives should bring us confidence & happiness. We have become so shallow to allow ourselves to drown in our collection of fast fashion fabric.
A wise person once said: "Everything in moderation". Including Fashion Nova, Forever 21, & Amazon Prime. I will update y'all on my fashion status at the end of the month - wish me luck!
So it's already July & summer is basically already over and it's barely even started.
Ok, I'm being dramatic... but still! If you live in Chicago then you know that summer is not only the best time of year but also incredibly fleeting. It's already July and I've yet to sunbathe on a yacht off Navy Pier or close down Trader Todd's Monday night karaoke or blackout at Beauty Bar. Like who am I?!
All jokes aside, any Chicagoan (or tourist!) should take full advantage of the warm weather & try to explore all that Chicago has to offer. After surviving the -50 degree winter storm we had this last January, I am determined to check off a few Chicago bucket list items while the sun is out and my winter boots are collecting dust under my bed. I've read through every Do 312 summer item, perused Instagram, & researched more blogs then I would like to admit in order to curate this expansive, fun, & unique list of 2019's "must-do" adventures in and around Chicago. So grab a pen, take a Malort shot, get your Groupme (& wallet!) ready because we're about to make this summer one to remember!
❏ MORNING YOGA AT GALLAGHER WAY
❏ SING WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE AT TRADER TODD'S KARAOKE NIGHT
❏ CIRQUE DU SOLEI: VOLTA - UNTIL JULY 6TH
❏ SPONGE BOB POP UP BAR - REPLAY LINCOLN PARK - UNTIL JULY 14TH
❏ SEE THE STRUMBELLAS + LOVELYTHEBAND @ THE TASTE OF CHICAGO
❏ THROW IT BACK! WATCH TO CATCH A THIEF @ LOGAN THEATER 8/13/19
❏ CHECK OUT THE COOKIE DO POP UP @ NAVY PIER + WATCH THE FIREWORKS
❏ ATTEND A COMEDY SHOW AT SECOND CITY
❏ TAKE A CALLIGRAPHY COURSE AT A PAPER SOURCE LOCATION
❏ TACOS Y TAMALES FESTIVAL IN PILSEN JULY 19TH-21ST
❏ FLEETWOOD MAC POP UP AT THE ROOKERY
❏ PICNIC + LIVE MUSIC AT RAVINIA
❏ SEE EARTH, WIND, & FIRE @ THE CHICAGO THEATER JULY 14TH
❏ A COMEDY SHOW @ THE LAUGH FACTORY
❏ ENJOY SOME BBQ & COUNTRY AT WINDY CITY SMOKEOUT JULY 12TH-14TH
❏ CREATE YOUR OWN WINE AT CITYWINERY
❏ WILLIS TOWER WINE TASTING WITH CITY WINERY - MULTIPLE DATES
❏ LEARN TO SEW - TAKE A SEWING CLASS WITH ANASTASIA CHATZKA
❏ IMPROVISED SHAKESPEARE AT iO
❏ MUSIC BOX DRINK-A-LONG (FIRST WEDNESDAY OF EVERY MONTH)
❏ TAKE A CHICAGO ARCHITECT TOUR
❏ ATTEND A CUBS OR SOX GAME
❏ DONATE TOYS + PET THE PUPPIES/CATS AT PAWS CHICAGO
❏ VISIT THE CATCADE FOR GAMES + COFFEE
❏ CHECK OUT 29ROOMS
❏ TAKE A COOKING CLASS AT EATALY
❏ WATCH THE AIR & WATER SHOW
❏ GO TO A MAGIC PARLOUR SHOW
❏ BIKE THE 606
❏ STROLL THE LINCOLN PARK ZOO
❏ FRIDAY HAPPY HOUR + 50% OFF FLATBREADS AT THE RESERVOIR
❏ PICNIC AT MONTROSE BEACH
❏ ADVENTURE OUT TO SIX FLAGS
❏ GAME OF THRONES MAY BE OVER SO VISIT MEDIEVAL TIMES INSTEAD
❏ TAKE IN THE BEAUTY OF THE CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER (IT'S FREE!)
❏ MAKE PRETTY BOUQUETS AT AN ALICE'S TABLE CLASS
❏ DRINK + EAT ON THE RIVERWALK
❏ GO TO A SOFAR SHOW
❏ LAGUNITAS BEER CIRCUS - AUGUST 24TH
❏ EAT SWEET TREATS AT THE I CRAVE FESTIVAL - SUNDAY JULY 21ST
❏ SANGRIA FEST - AUGUST 17TH
❏ TANGO LESSONS + DINNER AT ARTANGO STEAKHOUSE
❏ TAKE A RELAXING SPA DAY AT AIRE
❏ SUPPORT LOCAL ARTISTS / SHOPS AT MADE IN CHICAGO MARKET
WRITER + BLOGGER
NOT AN INFLUENCER
250+ THINGS TO DO AT HOME DURING SELF DISTANCING
FROM HEELS TO HARVARD
I SHOT MY ENGAGEMENT PICS
UNDER THE IN-FLU-ENCE
220 THINGS TO DO IN 2020