014. The Mental-Health Behind The Photographs
My Mom had been going through old boxes of Gran’s. She found this picture along with several letters she had written. Gran is third from the left, looking away from the camera. I see so much life bursting forth from her heart. She’s positively radiant.
This picture was taken in 1950 at her Kappa Kappa Gamma formal at the University of Minnesota. She was almost ten years younger than I am today. I look at this picture and I am entranced. I want to know what was making her laugh so much, I want to know who that handsome fella on the left is (seriously those dimples and his tux are quite dapper together!) and I want to know made her tick, what she was passionate about.
History, time, and my Mom give me some of those answers. Still, I have more questions. I know the trajectory of her life didn’t always match the festive beauty this photo captured.
And I wonder if the hidden moments of your life always match your best photos?
All families have addictions and mental illnesses tethering themselves in and out of their DNA, whether we like to face the fact or not. It’s a reality of our world.
Gran struggled with Bipolar Disorder. There were hospitalizations and heartbreaks and stories that are still too tender for much of my family to share publicly. You wouldn’t know that looking at her fresh, radiant face or her fancy formal attire.
You can’t see the skeletons inside any of us from a glancing at the finely crafted exterior.
We found a handwritten letter she wrote about falling in love with her late husband Charles. She mentioned that she couldn’t sleep at night because she was so excited. She was nervous to tell this to her psychiatrist. And although, apprehensive, Gran had just finished reading Erroneous Zones by Wayne Dyer upon the psychiatrists recommendation and found it rather helpful. One, I love that she was reading Wayne Dyer!!!!
But two, I have so many questions!
What was mental health like back in the fifties and sixties and seventies?
What were psychiatric stays like back then? Was she met with kindness by the treatment team or was she cast off and treated as less than because of her diagnosis?
What were the side effects of the medications she was on? Did they “sedate” her personality and make her lethargic or were they truly helpful?
What was it like growing up with a Mom who had Bipolar Disorder? I can and have asked my Mom this.
When she was scared or worried or anxious, did Gran have a safe person or friend to talk to? Or was telling that kind of truth totally taboo?
So many people in my family have struggled with mental illness. Myself included. We’ve got addictions and eating disorders and depression and anxiety and codependency.
I look at many pictures taken of me during the time my eating disorder was the most severe a quick glance does not allow you access into the perils of my addiction. You couldn’t see the crumbled pieces of paper that filled my pockets where I kept “files” of how many calories I’d consumed in a day. You couldn’t see the shame I carried on my shoulders, that even in my eating disorder, I wasn’t “good enough” at it. I remember one doctor telling me my weight did not classify me as anorexic because I still had more than 15% of my body fat.
That was a deeply sad and dark time of my life. But honestly, its much easier to talk about the really bad things over the everyday struggles.
Mental-Health issues don’t purely exist during the climax of our addictions and illnesses. The majority of it comes up in the daily nuances of our life.
I would hear the sentiment often talked about in my counseling sessions: ”It’s really not that bad, other people have it so much worse. Here I am talking about how I’m heartbroken over a friendship ending.”
Even as someone who works in mental-health and wellness spaces, I still find it difficult to be transparent about what I’m struggling with.
Will clients come to me if they know that I struggle with some of the same things they are talking about?
Will I lose clients if I’m too open about how fear and perfection and not getting in trouble keep me up at night?
Well, I suppose there is no time like the present to try a little experiment and find out.
I’ll share some of my most well-liked photographs I’ve posted on instagram this past year to give us all a snapshot of what was going on mental-health wise behind the scenes…
I offer my truth as a way to connect to you and let you know that even though I am considered a professional in my field, that in no way supersedes my deep, deep humanness.
I’d just had a very, very hard day at work. I was yelled at and treated really poorly. The whole incident left my body shaking in fear. I called Jordan right after and he helped to calm me down. I remember going home to take a bath at three in the afternoon because I was so upset. I had so much hurt and sadness about how I’d been treated. This night was a practice in me trying not to let it ruin a fun night Jordan and I had planned. I sort of succeeded. I sort of drank too much champagne.
Jordan and I found out that working and collaborating together proved to be very challenging. Transitioning from married best friends to more business collaborators was tough. We found ourselves in a huge argument during this “work session” where I was sour and sharp. I couldn’t believe what I heard coming out of my mouth because it was so rude and void of compassion. Underneath my rudeness was some very tender hurt that I didn’t feel heard and neither did Jordan.
Oh wow. I felt so deeply insecure at this party. Clothes have been a consistent point of insecurity for most of my life. The themes of being less than, not being cool enough, and feeling terribly uncomfortable in my skin come out frequently around what I wear.
When we moved to LA, I was flooded with insecurities about my clothes and the notion that “everyone else had cooler, better looking clothes than me.” I also believed I needed to get rid of all that I owned and completely start over. I felt like I was in middle school at this party looking around at all of the posh moms in their cool leather jackets and perfectly styled outfits, pushing their $2K baby strollers around. I definitely felt unworthy and wanted to go home and change the moment we walked through those doors.
So what does this all have to do with 2019?
Nothing really. It’s just another year. But it’s a new year, where I’d like to tell the truth with more courage and vulnerability.
I call myself a Mental-Health and Self-Care Educator. I created that title all on my own! And I want to practice first hand how our titles and the spaces we work in do not need to pigeon-hole us into what we can and cannot say.
I’ve long stayed in the dark and shied away from boldness because I didn’t want to disqualify myself with the truth that while I’ve “recovered” from all sorts of matters and addictions, I still struggle regularly with the implications of my traumas with insecurities and low self-worth.
So I have a new thought for this year…
I am going to openly disqualify myself being perfect and hiding behind my title.
I can smile and tell the truth.
I can be an advocate and educator for self-care and mental-health because I am in need of that education first hand.
I can help women find their voice while I am also finding mine.
I can create techniques and modalities that support your healing and mine.
I can not have it all figured out and still do great work with women.
A few weeks ago, I had a moment where I got chill-bumps over my entire body because I realized the great privilege I have in doing what I get to do today. I am literally creating a business out of thin air using my personal experiences, my narrative, and my education.
That option certainly wasn’t available for my grandmother and likely wasn’t for yours.
So I will show up boldly and tell the truth in honor of the women whose shoulders I stand on. We may not have a well-known last name or come from royal lineage, but we have grit and tenacity, strength and resilience. We have beauty and smarts and mental illnesses.
And today, I have my voice. I will use it for good to invite women, including myself, to be fully alive, whole-hearted, and free through a practice of self-care and mental-health education.
Join me this year?
I’m rooting for us all this year. It’s going to be good and messy and real. I can just feel it!