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Coping and loving yourself through mental illness

Apr. 11, 2018
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“It’s a full-time job f**king loving yourself.” – Junglepussy

 There is nothing I have consistently struggled with more than my self-worth. From a very young age, I felt imprisoned by my own body and obligated to please others. I coped with mental health issues in a widely accepted way: I didn’t ever talk about them and pretended they weren’t there. I let small things tear me down, and I let big things go unnoticed. I teetered between small moments of happiness and long nights of anxiety.

I struggled, and I didn’t talk about it. This is the case for many of us, especially young people. 

While my own experience has had a significant impact on my work as a photographer, I cannot pretend to have struggled in the same way others have. But even I cannot deny that we have a huge problem with the way we treat mental health, not to mention the way we treat ourselves. 

I’m still coping and healing. Something that has helped me along the way is talking, sharing my feelings and listening to others in return. One of my worst mental blocks is thinking that others can’t handle what I have to tell them. It’s true, some of them can’t. Some stories are too heavy and people don’t know how to respond. They choke up and leave my texts on read. And that’s okay—not everyone knows how to react. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share. The people who have understood me have lifted me out of dark places and given me strength. It’s worth talking about it.

As I continue on my own journey as a photographer and as a young person, I want to listen and be present. So here I am, doing that. 

Here is a story about mental health, as told through the words and photos of a friend. I hope they remind you that you aren’t alone and that you are valid.

“For as long as I can remember, anxiety (more specifically, high-functioning anxiety) has been my invisible evil twin. It’s always there in the back of my head screaming about something, making me question and doubt everything, pushing me forward, holding me back. I’ve always known it was there, even when I didn’t have a name for it—[it was] this energy that made me need to be going constantly. Even once I knew whatit was, I didn’t know why it always haunted me. In the past few years, I’ve really looked into the root of this evil twin of mine and have found that it’s likely due to a traumatic early childhood. Funny how those things never really go away.”

“I don’t suffer from what most people think of when they hear anxiety attack. My attacks are quiet. [I] zone out, shut down entirely, [and] go on autopilot. Sometimes, it’s so bad [that I] don’t even feel real. I also have incredibly intense executive dysfunction (which is linked to my anxiety and PTSD), and that’s just a blast. Imagine having a drill sergeant yelling at you to get things done (anxiety) while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson pins you down (ED). I can stare at a pile of clothes, dishes, a work email, and think over and over and over again that I need to do this thing, I want to do this thing, but I can’t. It’s the most frustrating thing to feel trapped by something so menial.”

“I think the most important health stigma we need to overcome is the idea that being ‘healthy’ makes you a good person. Health should not be a measure by which we gauge our worth as people. Someone who’s incapable of running a 5K is no less valuable than someone who can. Someone who doesn’t have to take meds to regulate their brain chemicals isn’t a better human than someone that does. We are all just trying to make it on this rock and we all have different paths, so stop assuming that someone’s health (or what you perceive as their health) tells you a damn thing about who they are.”

“My best advice is to ask for help. It’s so hard. My best friend of 15 years just told me the other day, ‘I’m bad about asking for help but not as bad as you, no one’s as bad as you.’ So yeah, this is a hypocritical piece of advice, but it’s valid nonetheless. Be honest with those around you if you’re struggling. And for the love of all that is good, take care of yourself. Drink the water, brush your teeth, eat the food, and sleep if you can. And take your meds.”

Charlotte Brown, a personal stylist based in Texas, interviewed and photographed by Francesca Blue. 

You can keep up with Francesca on Instagram, Flickr, and her website.