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The Struggle is REAL.

It feels kind of weird to write this, but I'm hoping it will be freeing for someone so I'm going to push past my fear and risk a serious vulnerability hangover tomorrow.

Hi! My name is Megan Witt and I'm 36 years old, twice divorced (because I go all in for love and it's not always with people who are all in for ME), a mother of a 6 year old, a college graduate (who finished her degree just 3 short years ago) and a small business owner. I used to teach yoga and most of my background is in retail management. I'm a photographer. I'm a writer. I'm also someone who struggles with mental illness. Unfortunately there's still a ton of stigma attached to that sentence but I want to be part of changing that for the people around me and it starts by normalizing the conversation.

I've had this struggle for as long as I can remember. My first memory of a panic attack happened when I was around 10-12 years old. I had no idea what was happening. It was terrifying. I had many as a teenager as well and, thank god, I had friends who supported me through them. My parents knew something was off and they talked to the doctor, but I actually didn't even know about that until very recently. I was never taken to a therapist and I didn't medicate until I was in my twenties - for 1 year - and then I went off my meds until I was 30 years old and had my son. He was the reason I decided to get actual, real, consistent help. 

In other words, I've spent most of my life unmedicated for a series of illnesses that are (mostly) properly managed with medications & counseling. 

Some days it's really hard for me to accomplish stuff that I assume is pretty simple for others.

That includes taking care of my pets, keeping my house clean, doing my laundry, filling my tank with gas, and washing my hair. Does that sound insane? I also frequently get wiped out by only one or two client appointments or calls with my team. It doesn't take much for me to feel like I put in a full day's work and then the rest of the day is me pushing past that feeling. I get up, I take care of myself, and I push past the hard stuff the best that I can. Sometimes the "hard stuff" is responding to all of my emails or updating my website or connecting with my peeps on social media. As a result of this commitment, I've spent my adult life hearing from boss after boss and client after client, "You do so much! You are a powerhouse!" and I think to myself every.time, "If only you knew what it took..."

I'm someone who has only ever known a life that has extra layers of mental and emotional struggle connected to the everyday, so I'm not sure what it would be like to not live that way.

Recently I said to my boyfriend, Charlie (who manages severe depression), "How strange is it that the neighbor is always happy?" He replied, "Do you think it means he's happy simply because he's pleasant all the time?" We stared at each other in silence, not knowing what to make of it. "Well..." I stammered. "I think there probably ARE people who are genuinely happy most of the time. Right?" He gave me a blank stare, "I'm not sure. I guess. I really have no understanding of what that must be like."

Because I'm committed to living as whole a life as possible, I take a medication that makes me really tired, gives me horrific nightmares, and also causes me to struggle with word placement. I can't find common words like, "towel" or "lemonade". They live perpetually on the tip of my tongue and I rely a lot on the people around me to fill in the blanks. It has also caused me to gain quite a bit of weight and, though it does take the edge off of my chronic anxiety, it also takes the edge off my ecstasy. It levels me out. The problem is: who wants to be leveled out all the time?

Sometimes I think to myself that I could accomplish so much if I didn't have these things standing in my way. It's hard for me to not judge others who I perceive to be wasting their time or not being efficient. I remind myself almost daily that I don't know what their story is and that we all have our silent struggles. I'm only responsible for my own self and I am learning to be kinder, more patient, and forgiving with each year that passes.

The more familiar I become with myself, the more familiar I become with my mental illnesses. I understand how they work, what triggers them, how to get as much done as I can with the energy I have, and also how to take care of myself so that I'm as peaceful as I can be.

People love to say, "Meg, you do so much! You're so fast at getting things done. You have so many different interests and skills. You're so efficient. You're so organized. etc." It's incredibly meaningful to me when I hear and feel this support, but I also understand what they don't. I understand the struggle I have to achieve my goals when it feels like my brain is full of fog or my body feels like it's 3am when in reality it's only noon. They don't see the anxiety that lives so vibrantly just below the surface that is constantly threatening to consume me. They don't see the immense amount of work it sometimes takes me just to brush my teeth and put on jeans at 2 in the afternoon. They don't see the scary thoughts that I've grown comfortable with over the years. They're the shadows that stand behind me.

I once had a very dear friend tell me, "I don't think your anxiety is that bad. I don't even think of you as an anxious person." Like she knows me really, really well and has for many years and she felt confidant telling me that. I couldn't decide whether to feel accomplished that I had been hiding it so well or mortified that she doesn't know me as well as I thought she did. Just because a person is adept at caring for their mental illness does not mean that it's gone. In fact, I feel that needs repeating:

Just because a person is adept at caring for their mental illness does not mean that it's gone.

The media still portrays people with depression, panic attacks, bipolar disorder and other illnesses as slightly unhinged. They're viewed as individuals who need others to help take care of them and remind them to take their meds or not make terrible decisions etc. In reality, the majority of us are people with families and homes and jobs who are doing all of the things that the rest of the world is doing: walking the dog, making dinner, checking things off our 'to do' list, trying to drink less diet coke, and getting our oil changed. We just have an additional thing to handle: taking medication and going to therapy... and those additional things can sometimes complicate our world a little bit.

Instagram may have you thinking:

+ wow, she's in a super romantic relationship

+ she has a precocious, adorable 6 year old

+ she really doesn't care what people think about her and is so brave to share her struggles with vulnerability

+ she has a cute house in Shaker Heights

+ she has cute Madewell clothes

+ she has an adorable english bulldog 

+ she travels to beautiful places

+ she has a dream job

+ her friends seem so cool and interesting!

+ i bet she doesn't stress about money

While it's true that the above things are true to some degree, it's equally true that:

+ Charlie and I have had to fight through hell for the relationship we have and it meant we both went through divorces AT THE SAME TIME. This has made the past 2 and a half years the hardest of our lives and we lost everything in the process - everything except our love.

+ My son IS adorable and precocious but that also makes him a shit ton of work to parent. He's not a laid back kid. He's a demanding, smart, sensitive, creative, masterpiece of a human who's also very dramatic and opinionated and bossy. In addition, I share custody with his father so I struggle constantly with not having him around all of the time. It's the constant heartbreak of my life.

+ I care a lot what people think about me. Everyone does, I think. I care that people think I'm kind and generous and loving and it KILLS ME DEAD when I fear they don't. 

+ Our house is not cute. In fact, the shutters are actually hanging off of it. The driveway hasn't been paved in two decades, the garage door is off the track, the landscaping is a hot mess, the basement has water damage from when Charlie's ex-wife accidentally overfilled the boiler and then left the house for the afternoon. The kitchen and bathrooms need to be gutted and re-done. On and on it goes. It's actually a total albatross tbh, but we have a roof over our heads and we're doing the work to get ready to sell soon, so I'm trying to keep my eye on the prize. This was Charlie's home for 18 years and I'm exercising every patience muscle in my being to see this project through.

+ The Madewell clothes are mostly from the sale rack. If you go on certain days they have that "extra 40% off" sale and I live for that sale. The fancier items were likely birthday gifts from Charlie. Let's be real.

+ My english bulldog is adorable but he's also a mess. He slobbers all over me as I'm leaving for a client meeting and sheds like a 150 pound Bernese Mountain Dog. He also has constant (and expensive) health issues because english bulldogs are notoriously deformed. Get yourself a mutt, peeps. Get yourself a mutt. 

+ I do occasionally travel to beautiful places for a few days at a time, but it's often to stay with family (like when Moses and I went to Florida) or because Charlie's work paid for the trip (like when we went to San Francisco earlier this year). I love to travel, but we have a major budget so don't think anything fancy is happening over here, cuz it ain't.

+ I DO have my dream job. This is super true. I also spent the past 20 years working very NON dream jobs like being a secretary at a chiropractor's office and working for various sexist photographers. I also slung coffee for many moons and literally lived off those tips. This dream job has been hard won for me and I created it myself. No one gave it to me. I've worked my ass off to get to the point where I have a skill set that people are interested in paying for. I DID NOT go to a fancy college, get an MBA, and then waltz into my dream career at the ripe age of 24. Nossir. 

+ My friend are amazing. There's not much more to say about that.

+ Money. HAHAHAH. That's what I have to say about the money thing. I feel VERY blessed to be in a place where my debt is super minimal and I make more money than I ever did working for other people, BUT I also have the constant fear that it will go away tomorrow. Like, "Sure! People are hiring me now, but what if they don't in DECEMBER???" I think this is very normal for entrepreneurs, especially new ones. As I mentioned above, I've been divorced not once, but TWICE and both of them happened before I turned 35. Do you know what divorce does to you if you're a woman? A lot of not-so-great-things, but one is that it makes you poor. It wipes you out and you have to recover for years afterward. You have to start over. You probs lost your kitchen-aid mixer or favorite couch. Maybe you didn't get the nice car. Instead you ended up with the 2004 Honda Civic (clears throat). You don't get alimony. You don't get child support. You don't get anything. You walked away with, "Let's split it all. Anything we have two of - you can take the better one." and that was your bum deal. I'm in recovery mode, folks. I am building my future one brick at a time... just like everyone else.

My goal this year is to show it all - not just the shmancy stuff that makes people sigh. Also the shitty stuff. The real stuff. The struggle. I don't want to show up for the world as someone who has great images that inspire. I want to show up for the world as a flawed human who says, "Hey... wanna hold hands while we head up this big hill here???" THAT is the leader and woman I want to become.

Over the winter I bought candles from my very favorite candle maker, Sweet Dish & Darling and, at the time, she was giving away matchboxes that said,

"May the bridges I burn, light the way."

I love that so much. None of us are perfect. Let's head forward together.

xo

Meg

Meg Witt