my cheese and crackers. i’d prefer brie.
All of my life I have been introverted, isolated, ridden with anxiety and a slew of things I never understood until I was older and was lucky enough to find and communicate with a small number of people who could relate to me and my mental state.
I’ve always told myself that I have to “fake it to make it”. I do hate that, but it is a fact of life. So to attempt to “fix” myself through my youth, I would force myself into situations that were the last thing on earth I’d ever want to be a part of. Being as I am uncomfortable in groups or social situations, I decided having my first job as being a hostess would help me to adapt to such situations, as it required being social, speaking to strangers, being in crowded restaurants for countless hours, and always being friendly and accommodating.
That was a good idea, in theory. I hated it, would have to hide my panic attacks by excusing myself for short breaks to be alone behind the restaurants, and even sometimes in the fridges- To breathe, stop shaking and sweating, wait until I could stand without being dizzy enough to faint, and then dry my tears, suck it up, and go back to work. Waitressing was next. Same deal, more social.
I figured I needed more. I was helping raise my niece full time, as she had no father around and my sister needed someone to help pay the majority of her bills. Once my darling niece would be put to bed after my stories and kisses, I’d go to night school. Community college. Non-degree, just to try to adapt to the world in another incredibly uncomfortable way. I took public speaking, among many other courses of interest which also, unfortunately, would require presentations in front of rooms full of people. I was known as the girl who would cry. I always wanted to quit, but I didn’t. Even when my hands shook so hard I couldn’t even see a word on my note cards as I’d sweat bullets and stutter before losing my breath, I’d ask as best as I could to try again in a few minutes to finish my presentations.
I don’t want to bore you with the many things I have done in my life to try to “fix” myself, but I worked hard and did all I could.
When I turned 21 my niece was 5 and my sister was finally able to support her and her daughter, so I finally packed up my stuff and drove to Boston (from South Florida). I was ready to start my life. I got jobs in retail, as to keep forcing myself to be in social situations. I moved many times, both before and after Boston, with complete strangers as roommates.
My initial plans for college dreams were shattered since I graduated highschool, more than once. One lucky day I found my answer on a bad day in the subway and enrolled in a wonderful and incredibly intense Photography school. I knew what I wanted to do and become but I didn’t want to wait years and years to learn what I had been so passionate about since a life altering experience at 13 years old (my first time using a camera, film of course).
I asked all of my instructors to be as critical and verbose as possible with my work. This was a rare thing for them, I think, because many people are quite attached to their work and if they get a bad critique, they feel as if they had somehow failed. I, on the other hand, would take notes about everyone’s thoughts on my photographs, but mostly for the technical details which needed improvement that my teachers would point out. I learned from scrutiny, not how to shoot or what to shoot, as that is any photographers preference, but for failing to get the results I wanted. I wanted to know, how can I do better?
College was a bitch. Tons of people around (albeit nice people), and the commute is just god awful… jam packed claustrophobic sardine can subways. My perfect nightmare. Being trapped, surrounded and squished by strangers every day of my life… But again, I was trying to “fix” myself. To help pay student loans I’d assist photographers, lug their gear, set up their lights, do their menial tasks, post-process their work and help them with anything they needed. New people aren’t easy for me, and that was a constant.
After college (aside from forcing myself to be a teaching assistant as to try to be comfortable around people, and keep working on “fixing” myself (no pay of course)), I instantly promoted myself and my work as an architectural photographer and did everything on my own. My dream come true. But Boston is quite conservative and being a new girl in the industry isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I got a few bites, then some bigger ones… then word of mouth was somehow my biggest promoter and I was doing very well, financially (for the first time, not a menial minimum wage job!). Yet this meant meeting with new clients regularly, large firms, always new people, always new places, and as happy as I was to finally be accomplishing what I’d wanted to do for so long I was still the same girl.
I was never able to “fix” myself despite my lifelong efforts. I’d rehearse even simple smalltalk for my meetings with clients. “What do I say? How can I appear to be “normal”?”. I couldn’t sleep for days or sometimes a week before a job. I was living my dream, proud of my accomplishments, yet suffering.
Aside from the panic/anxiety, I have always been very depressed. Photography was the one thing that could hold my interest, hence me chasing my dream. Nothing else mattered, what was the point?
After six intense months straight out of college I started to notice that my depression was worsening. Also, something that would be joked about as “night crazies” for so many years were more than at night.
I booked less jobs, to try to “fix” myself again. I just wanted anxiety to go away. I wanted to be functional. I wanted to be able to sleep at night and not cry for no reason, constantly. That worked for a few more months, but when a job came up and I hadn’t slept for days I could no longer make myself get up and make myself practice smalltalk. On the subways I’d suffer from anxiety, as usual. But now I lost my ability to “fake it to make it”.
The word of mouth which gave me such great success and pride in all of New England made a drastic turn, in a very short amount of time it became clear that no one would hire me, as I had called a few clients on the mornings of our planned shoots to cancel because I was unable to physically or mentally work. As word spread, I was known as a flake because of these instances. I realized I had destroyed everything I had worked so hard for.
Although I never believed in this, I started seeing doctors. Again, trying to “fix” myself. For years I had tried natural herbal pills for depression and concentration and sleep and even silly things like calming teas. I always told myself it was mind over matter. After all, that is the way I was raised; to never be weak and never complain. If you feel “bad”, just “get over it”.
Get over it…
To this day I still hear that.
I tried to make myself better. I faked it. I’d be suffering inside, but just trying so damn hard to get my job that I LOVED back. Understandably, clients don’t want a charity case. Even if the way I shoot is wonderful for them, they shouldn’t have to worry about if I will be “okay” when the day of the photo shoots come up. I understand this completely. I did try to explain to a handful of clients that I am okay now, I apologized for the past mistakes (flaking) I have made, and would love to make it up to them.
Incredibly, despite always being a great assistant in the past, no one will even hire me for that. I find that to be interesting, because before, I was the one paying people to assist ME.
I am not “fixed” of course. I have mental illnesses and I have reached a point with medication and therapy in which I can live with it. And I mean that literally. I am able to live now, when before I’d give anything to die (and being institutionalized for a short while doesn’t look good for my career..). I am pushing myself, I am inspired, I know what I want and it pains me to not have it back. I am always searching, hoping, for someone to give me a chance. I feel as if one person believing in me again, seeing my work and saying to themselves “I want to hire this girl”, would start the cycle again. Something that simple would boost my confidence and my drive.