It's Mental Health Awareness Month!
If you don't know me, let me introduce myself:
I'm Katie Joy, named for the pure joy I brought my mother. I'm not going to lie to you, most days it feels like a funny joke to be carrying the name "pure joy" because most days don't feel so joyful. That's the reality of living with chronic depression and anxiety. 3 years ago, yesterday, I had a show for my work My Anxious Heart. It was a culmination of a semester's work depicting how living with depression and anxiety had left me. I never intended for others to see it beyond those invited to my thesis exhibition. I never thought it would resonate with anyone else. My entire journey was for self-reflection, coping, and working through all the little demons I had battled in my life... and if I'm being totally truthful, a way to graduate [I needed subject matter and I knew this one really well].
Long story short, that work got out. I posted it to a sub-reddit for anxiety telling them thank you for being a community as I worked through my project when someone from a photography blog caught wind of it. Next thing I knew, I was being contacted by USA Today, shared by Zooey Deschanel (I was more excited by this one than the other... sorry USA Today), and retweeted by bigger names than I was prepared for; specifically Honey BooBoo.
I wasn't prepared for the attention it got. I had no real website or contact information. I wasn't a blogger or an influencer. I hadn't been aspiring my whole life to create this body of work that left me with a surplus of previous artwork and photographs to share. I had never needed copyrights or photo releases. I was just an anxious mess that had her work go viral.
The nights after my work went viral, I answered emails to people for hours. In between panic attacks of my own, I let people know I was there. Some wanted to know if they could buy my work (thank you to all of you that have!), some wanted to let me know that I was the only person they felt connected to. There were a few that were suicidal and asked for help (which I am not qualified for and will always respond with the resources at the bottom of this blog), there were a few with daughters that they finally were able to understand thanks to my work. They all had the same thing in common. They wanted to be seen and they felt as though I had seen them.
I was going to write this long paragraph at how hard it was to read the awful comments some people decided to share, but we all know the moral of that: don't read the comments. People are broken. People are hurting. People feel shame and project shame. Those comments were never about me and I learned that.
Here's what I want to share with you: I'm having a really hard day. I went six months without having a hard day, but lately, a lot of days are hard. That doesn't mean that the progress I've made in 3 years (not to mention the last 20) doesn't count. I thought that I was short changed because my work went viral when I wasn't ready. I thought I was letting people down when I wasn't set up to be an influence or support system. I wasn't.
I could choose to only share how I went from living at home with zero job prospects and dropping out of college to having a degree, being married with a house and owning my own business. Those wonderful things happened, yes, but that's not the whole story. Between all of those milestones I've had to fight, give up, fall, get up, and fight again. That fight was within myself, against myself, against my own mind. Sometimes I still lay in my bed until 2:30pm crying about how miserable I feel. Sometimes I don't. I have lived life and experienced things that I never thought I would. I have experienced joy, pain, and celebration. Every single time I feel less than, like I'm letting others down, like I'm not doing everything I can, I remind myself, "Look at where you are. Only compare yourself to your past. DO NOT compare your middle with someone else's end. You are worthy, you are loved, and you are strong." (Sometimes I throw in a, "You are hilarious and fine as hell" too. Just for a little boost)
In celebration of this month, I will continue my plan of doing not nothing. I invite you to do not nothing with me. I want to celebrate with you!
As always: HEALING IS NOT LINEAR.