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.
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