With the sad passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain this week, there have been a lot of posts about depression and suicide. It's hard for people to understand how those who "have it all" could take their own life. But I totally understand how they could. So I want to share.
Lots of posts about "if you're struggling, reach out" and also great posts about "since depression prevents people from reaching out, check in on your friends, cuz you never know what they're going through."
Yes to all of the discussion. Yes to #BellLetsTalk yes to #MeToo and #beenrapedneverreported and all the good discussion over the years on speaking out loud what shames us.
I'm in a fabulous coaching group that consists of 45 women. Within that, I have a small mastermind group of 8 brilliant minds who support and brainstorm and cheerlead one another every single Wednesday at 10am. Recently one of these dear friends told me, "Shame has NOTHING except secrecy. Silence is its ONLY power. When you take away the secrecy and silence, shame has nothing left to hold over you." This is and has always been true for me. Maybe that's why I love all the Brené Brown I can get. Every time, it's impossibly hard to speak up. And in turn, every time I speak up, the shame and fear and resistance and self-abuse disappears like opening a box of smoke and watching it blow away into the wind.
Where am I going with this?
Years ago, I was depressed. Luckily, it wasn't suicidal depression. It was numbing depression. Some people asked me later, "Why – what happened!?" Nothing "happened". Or, I should just say LIFE happened, you know? Depression occurred in my family, I went through it as a teen, and then over a period of more than 10 years, I slid slowly down down down.
Until one summer – the first summer that my wedding photography business really blew up – shooting every week, lots of happy, great, lovely, fabulous clients, I was fucking depressed.
I would go out and shoot, and feel awesome and fine, full of social energy, in the flow of doing what I do best. Then I'd come home, and download all my cards, back them up, go to bed. ...And stay in bed.
Until my next shoot.
I didn't quite realize I was depressed. I felt tired. I felt exhausted actually.
Specifically in the mornings. And I was addicted to my phone (a habit I still struggle with to this day). I would wake up and feel too exhausted to move or get out of bed. I also felt overwhelmed with work. For those of you who don't know... A wedding may take 8 hours to photograph, but for me, it takes about 40 hours to edit. So lying in bed all day, all week, meant jobs were piling up like crazy. I was in a vicious cycle. Being behind on my editing meant working late nights at the computer, and declining social events. Staying up late = sleeping in. Saying no to friends & family turned into being alone all the time, except when I was shooting.
And here is the craziest part: when I was shooting, I was perfectly fine. Better than fine, I was legitimately happy, cheerful, leading the way for my clients to feel comfortable. We laughed and connected and had a genuine time and it was real. And then when I got home... back to bed.
I worked out a lot. Similar to shooting, while pumping my body full of endorphins at Barreworks, I felt FINE. Until the time I got home and locked up my bike, and went straight back to the place I loved to hate and hated myself for loving: bed.
Under the covers.
Mornings were dreaded.
I'd wake up late and pre-feel shame for what I was about to do: lie in bed for 4-6 hours, numbing out, scrolling social media on my phone, snoozing, looking at emails & feeling overwhelmed, daydreaming, etc., etc., etc.
So what does depression look like? For me, a happy loving successful person who secretly feels totally fucked up, tired, and overwhelmed. For other people – who knows?
All my life, I've been surrounded by the most loving family and friends. They didn't know. I told them - I'm busy - I have too much work - I can't come, tonight, but have funnn! How would they ever know? Especially if I myself didn't really understand.
That fall, I went to a lovely conference. "Adventure Always" a magical, beautiful, dreamy, luxurious event at the Parker Palm Springs, surrounded by some of the most inspirational, creative entrepreneurs you can imagine.
Luckily, I was with a good friend who was also my mentor. We shared a room, and spent 4 days together in the desert. I think, spending 4 days and nights in the same room, she could really see that I was suffering. And by that point, even I knew that shit was getting real. I was irritable and anxious, and couldn't see beyond my pain to enjoy the conference.
She looked at me one day and said, "there's this thing that I think could help." It was an 8-day 'personal development workshop' that I now have learned consisted of somatics, CBT, meditation, and a whole combination of interventions focused mainly on neuroplasticity – basically 2 years of therapy in a week. We didn't talk about it in detail, but I took heed. I trusted her and didn't need much more than her recommendation. That was October. In December I went to the process. It isn't for everyone, but it worked wonders for me. That was the beginning of healing. My journey back to myself.
Why am I telling you this very personal story of my depression? Because it might interest you to know – it may give you hope to learn – that depression was the greatest thing that's ever happened to me.
Let me repeat: my experience with depression has been the most valuable experience of my life. I am not exaggerating.
In my healing, I became the most resilient, strong, loving, genuinely compassionate version of myself.
I got to know who I really am.
I began my spiritual practice.
I forgave my old hurts and moved on.
I became stable and grounded. And in grounding I was able to grow.
Not everyone has to go through this shit to grow and "get there". Sometimes I look at folks who seem happy and uncomplicated, and think, "I have no idea how it is for them. But even if they're truly happy and uncomplicated, that is their path, with its own gifts."
My path has given me the greatest gifts of my life – all the qualities and skills and super powers that bring me success in my business and relationships. I don't know who I'd be had I any other path. Over the years since then, I have gained the tools, skills, and understanding needed to believe in myself and make things happen. I live with intention. I cry tears of joy. My relationships are deeply intimate and safe. I feel genuine love for my clients. I marvel at the beauty of nature and the city and humans and coffee and music. I feel alive. It took years of work. And it was worth every minute.
I am grateful for every single crack and scar on my sensitive, loving heart.
The tagline for my business is "mindful authentic photography". And this story is why. While I was depressed, the circumstances of my job allowed me be in a flow of happy energy several times per week (weddings & engagement shoots). I have no idea what life would look like, if I didn't have those breaks in the dense, grey cloud of depression. When I began my healing, I meditated every single day, and wrote a list of 10 gratitudes every single night, for more than a year. I learned to be honest with myself about my "negative" emotions. Honesty and compassion allows you to let go. The need for honesty and compassion is so so important, that I have literally made it my business tagline, but I want it to be our LIFE tagline.
I'm still human. I still have hard days of course, and normal horrible PMS, like everyone else. But I'm well, is the difference. I work at my wellness just like getting groceries and going to the gym.
I want us to develop a culture of emotional health.
Imagine if checking in and understanding feelings were as important and normal as brushing your teeth twice a day, eating healthy, or looking fit. Imagine the compassion, open-mindedness, and mental space we would have, in our work, family, politics, and our hearts. I do think it's possible.
This letter is my public vow to work towards this culture. If you have thoughts, comments, questions, or experiences you'd like to share, please do: email me, or reach out on social media. I am here, another human, just like you.