When I first met Stacy a year ago, I knew that she was someone special. She was the Art Director of the Campus Magazine at our college, and was infamous amongst many of my peers for her quirkiness and fiercely independent personality.
But I also knew there was a lot about her I did not know.
I knew that she radiated the type of happiness that only people who have been through a substantial amount of pain are capable of radiating. I did not know why, and I did not want to ask when it wasn’t my place.
I just knew I wanted to be her friend, but due to the circumstances of my academic career taking a wild turn, I didn’t get that chance at the time. I did get to know Stacy through her presence on social media, and the connection lasted thanks to a few (yet equally as brilliant) mutual friends.
So when I posted about doing a Mental Health Awareness portrait series, I was ecstatic that Stacy was one of the first people to volunteer!
Last year, Stacy was faced with the challenge of creating an advertising campaign to destigmatize mental health for a school project. Her team had students take a moment to share a story of their experiences with mental health, and then take a Polaroid to match. Not only was the task daunting in terms of getting other students to participate, it also opened up her eyes to her own awareness.
“I hated it,” she said with the same precision in her voice as she would have if spotting an unsatisfactory font choice. She isn’t alone in that opinion either, considering that many young adults who find themselves researching mental health only end up with pages of statistics, left to wonder if their problems only add to the numbers. “How do college students destigmatize something psychologists and doctors can’t fix themselves?”
Despite this trial, Stacy did what she did best and outlined the silver lining where it was hard to find one: “It [the project] strengthened me and gave people a voice they didn’t want to use for a long time, because they thought it made them look weak.”
Stacy struggles with depression and anxiety.
She attributes much of her struggles to past experiences with overt comparisons and broken relationships.
“For this guy, I had to dim myself down — I had to shine less everytime I was with him. I shouldn’t have to hold myself back in order to cater to someone’s comfort zone.”
“It took me a long time to know what my value was and my self-worth.”
There have been points where, admittedly, these insecurities have affected her work. When she was working on The Campus, Stacy found herself fighting to do what she loved most.
“It’s so hard to create art when you feel like you can’t do it. But at the same time, you HAVE to do it because that’s all you have to hang onto right then and there.”
But in the same breath, she smiles, and proudly tells me, “The Campus saved my life.”
“Designing this [magazine] made me feel like I had something else to hold onto other than this person, because that person was my home. But home changes, and sometimes you outgrow it.” With a sip of cold brew to emphasize her point, she adds, “If it doesn’t feel like home, you have to leave.”
These words may seem harsh to some, but they are telling of a huge issue many young adults still struggle with: when your self-esteem lies in the hands of someone else, it grows increasingly easier to lose yourself.
I started this project so that I can show you the beauty behind mental illness. It has a face, and that face could be the face of a friend, family member, or neighbor. I started this project to show you that it’s okay to have this conversation. Depression and anxiety is not a one-time occurence; rather, it is an uphill battle between your happiness and your fears. But the most important thing to remember is that each step (whether forward or backward) is meaningful to that person’s story.
Stacy lives a life that embodies following her heart, and mental health has since become her motivator rather than an obstacle on the road to success.
“Being able to show any kind of emotion is a HUGE strength. Talking about it [mental health] doesn’t make you a loser, and there’s nothing wrong with you — if anything there’s something RIGHT with you for talking about it. “