I'm 25 and I Don't Know!
Anxiety, depression, healing, and getting back to sunshine.
On the day before my birthday, I cried. I cry often, so this was not special. I sat on a bench in our dining room eating cinnamon chips when tears started to roll and Connor found me. He asked what was wrong, and I exclaimed, “I’m 25 and I don’t know!”
It may be a little quarter-life crisis, or just the sentimentality catching up with me surrounding cake and presents. But a birthday sure makes you reflective. And I came here to reflect.
One of the things I have always done naturally is write about my feelings. I’ve been writing about my feelings and posting them online since I was 17.
And it’s been a while since I’ve done it.
Substack is my own space, and I’d love to use it to share personal stories and feelings, in hopes my vulnerability will help someone else (as so many vulnerable people have helped me).
I’m 25 now. And the last three years have been transformative and hard. I think I have stories to tell that may encourage you or lighten your load. And I just feel really strongly that it’s now specifically time to start sharing again.
If you ever feel:
Like you will never be capable of moving past deep pains & wounds
Like you have already burned out and peaked in your career
Ashamed, panicked, paralyzed by your past and future
Or if you relate to the lyrics of “This is Me Trying” by Taylor Swift lol
…then I wrote this specifically for you. :) You are cared for and loved.
Things actually do get better — and I am here to share hope is worth having. I’ve also made a list of ideas for maintaining sunshine on rainy days.
Let me catch you up to speed with some bullet points. Cliff notes of the last few years.
When I was 18, anxiety and depression had taken deep root and were starting to show pretty obviously. I went to a counselor and I was diagnosed with PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder) and it explained a lot. Like why certain weeks I feel totally normal, and other times I feel completely out of control. (More on PMDD soon in other articles).
That summer I went to college. Mixing those low serotonin levels, high anxiety levels, and completely uprooting and individuating all in the same month.
I tried different medications and journeyed through the ups and downs of side effects while trying to find a balance of therapy and anti-depressants where I was functional.
I took up art to distract myself at night when I got most anxious. I started selling prints. It went really well. I started having a lot of fun. A few years later I was opening my own storefront after graduation. I was still battling a lot of anxiety, but feeling excited about my future. My dream was coming true.
I got accepted to be a vendor at Silobration (with Chip & Jo) and it was one of my biggest dreams realized for my business.
Uh-oh, it’s 2020:
In Waco, TX on March 15, 2020 — all vendors were told to go home quickly because something called COVID-19 was out there. Then the state shut down street fair permits.
I left Texas and then my nervous system lived in panic for a year and 3 months straight (I counted).
Aforementioned Nervous System Panic:
I lost a lot of money from the event cancellation and had to keep my brand-new store closed for 6 months while paying rent, employees, etc.
I began to have severe and frequent panic attacks. I’d often be out getting supplies for the store or at work and leave to go home and sob for hours. I’d call Connor to come home from work so he could lay on top of me while I was having a panic attack and make it stop (the Connor blanket does the trick).
When you only focus on survival, you can’t be very creative. When I’m not creative, I’m disconnected from myself. And then I get depressed. I mean, the whole 2020 environment and isolation were depressing. Everyone felt it. And my blues got very dark blue. Hopelessness became my baseline.
I persisted and re-opened, and on the first major Saturday back open, I caught eyes with my mom across the store who had a phone to her ear and pain in her blue eyes I will never forget. I felt detached from my own body as I held her crying outside the store when she told me my 20-year-old cousin (really more of a brother) had died. I left the store to go see my family and cry on my Granna’s pink and blue couch (finally tears came).
I then was thrust into grieving. That was new. I called his phone on his birthday and told him I missed him and sobbed. The next time I tried to call, it was disconnected. I sobbed. I associated the building my store was in with the tragic death — and started finding myself unable to be in there for more than 20 minutes in fear I’d get a call that someone else I loved died.
I was giving everything I could to the store, but I was broken. And it wasn’t a nice climate during COVID. Foot traffic was decimated, the boost of online orders simmered down, and I could hardly physically be in the space for any time because grief and panic started screaming in my ear. I would work for 12 or more hours, and come home to Connor, the person I care about the most, in either a puddle of tears or a silent-exhausted-dissociated state. I wasn’t really myself. And I didn’t like how my days felt or what I was even working on.
I decided to close the store. It was my identity, really. So it was excruciating to kill it. I loved it. Words will always fail to describe how badly I wanted it to work. Everyone would think I failed. Everyone would think I wasn’t savvy enough to survive the pandemic and that I’m a bad business owner.
Then commenced feelings of shame and failure knotting themselves into my stomach. I threw my leftover art in the dumpster one day.
Months passed, and I got a creative gig (in interior decorating) I was excited about, and felt like I was getting back on my feet. Wrong. Pummeled again! The client changed their demeanor drastically in the final 24 hours and told me (to my trying-not-to-let-a-tear-fall face) that my paintings looked like a child made them. Some more trauma in the very fresh failure wound. I was leaving for a trip a few days after that encounter and couldn't stop crying on the plane (in front of people — I never cry in front of people).
Okay, I’ve caught you up to speed. After that whirlwind of pain, I had some intense leftovers. I wasn’t okay for a long time.
I’ve been in recovery mode for a while. Trying to heal and getting stuck a lot.
I’m trying, desperately, daily, to combat the belief that I am a failure (and the paralysis in feeling like I’m about to fail at any moment). The feeling of “stuckness,” has been hard to move through. Creativity, my oldest friend, has felt like an enemy. And that’s been devastating.
I’ve also been grieving someone who died extremely young and moving forward without him. If you have lost a loved one, you know it’s like a surprise puzzle every season. I’m shocked at what randomly obliterates me. An empty chair at my birthday. A fish pattern. A certain road or sunset.
Healing & Hope:
Living through the last 3 years brought many times that I felt I would not turn a corner. But I did. Things got better. I always think that is the most important part of the story to share.
I learned that the grief does not disappear, but it does change. I hope it offers some peace when I share that for me, the intensity has lessened over time. The shock and panic do not come with the sadness anymore, making it a little more predictable and a little less all-encompassing. But I miss him, and I always will. New sadness will come with new realizations and milestones. But I know now what grief tastes like and can identify it well. It will pop up, I recognize the flavor, and allow it to be with me.
I am a teacher. And there are always a few students that remind me of my cousin when he was that age. When he and I were close and made imaginary worlds together all day. Every now and then, I get to have a conversation we would have had. And the student leaves and I wipe a tear from my eye. It’s a type of sadness I now see as a gift.
While I’ve never been very confident, I certainly lost any trace of it after my business closed. I maintained counseling, digging into the pains, calling trauma what it is, and identifying why things hurt so bad. And then we got to a point where I was just stuck in the hurt. I was great at talking about it, but I was not seeing any patterns change. My counselor recommended I go to EMDR (which I jokingly say is AP Counseling — I advanced out of the regular kind) and so I’ve been doing that since January.
EMDR is strange and I’ve found it incredibly helpful. It’s completely different for every situation and person, so I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience.
I have gone slowly through memories that shaped my perspective of myself with my counselor one by one by reliving them safely. With eye movement! It’s crazy!
One of the first things we did was set a clear goal. My goal was that I wanted to be confident in my calling as a designer and creative. I was miserable feeling so ashamed and incapable, and I would work as hard as I could to have a sense of confidence about my purpose.
In an early session, she asked me if I knew anyone I could “borrow” confidence from. Do I know confident women that I admire? And then can I think through situations through the lens of, “What would she do here?” And that WORKED. So simple. I have since been in painful encounters that would normally shut me down, and I channeled those women in those moments and it changed my behavior.
I’m still gaining confidence and will happily hear any advice in this area. But it’s gotten significantly better.
On moving forward:
This year, I finally started to believe I am supposed to be creating. I don’t know what did it. Connor and I talked the topic to death over three years. I’ve vocalized and explored every feeling towards making art again.
Memories of throwing art in dumpsters. Unkind words from strangers. Feeling that if I sell my art, no one will buy it. I remember giving my keys back to the landlord when I closed my shop.
Every unpleasant thought pulsed through me when I tried to make art.
And one day, a sense of hope returned. Years of counseling and talking and waiting. I wish I understood why the exact timing. But it felt like I was frozen and I finally melted.
I kept making the whole time, of course. I see that now. I found what capacity I could create in, and colors came out. Color palettes felt safe, so I have stuck with that until bigger things have started to (recently) come into view.
My advice for stuckness is do not stop showing up — do it in the smallest capacity. You will be frustrated you can’t do “xyz” like you used to. But hey, you were traumatized! Take it a little easier on yourself. Don’t lose that passion of yours if it is a meaningful part of you — but it’s also good to keep a little distance if it hurt you. Be patient. Things actually will come back to you — but matured and stretched and a little better.
On living with hope when you have anxiety and depression:
Since 2017, it has been my heartbeat to help people feel hope in the darkest of times. All my art, every room I have designed, every lesson I’ve taught is driven by that purpose.
The pain I’ve felt stretched my own belief in hope. It’s been tested. And I have recommendations for maintaining sunshine in your life. Please save for a rainy day. Here they are:
Have people (even one person) who you can speak to freely and share your pain with
Spend a few minutes in the morning making your space a little nicer. Open windows, throw trash away, play music, spray room spray.
Savor moments that mean something to you. Take a photo or video, save them all together in an album to come back to on a hard night.
Write about your feelings often. All the time.
Let music speak to you. Make playlists for when you may need them later.
Be careful of how much sad music you consume. Be careful of how much anxiety-producing television you consume.
Read fiction before bed.
Seek to place hope in something bigger than yourself.
Do something you want to learn just because YOU want to. It doesn’t have to be an empire — it can just be a thing you do.
Say yes when your friends want to see you.
Give others generous gifts and surprises when you are able.
Learn small things that make life more beautiful. How to wrap gifts really well. How to make your laundry smell good. How to do your own manicure. How to groom your dog.
Befriend a dog or cat.
Walk outside alone. Without listening to anything.
Find a new show or movie you love. Cozy up often.
Throw things away that you don’t need. Keep your shelves light.
Make schedules for yourself when you feel unbalanced and unsure.
Pay close and careful attention to how social media makes you feel. Delete it for a bit. Be drastic in taking care of yourself.
Journal, scrapbook, document life moving forward.
Do something tactile with your hands — make stuff, plant stuff, clean stuff.
I am sending love and sunshine to you at the start of my 25th year. Thank you for reading my magazine — it took a lot to make this one and I hope that it felt like a friend to you.
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