Full disclosure, she gave me permission to say everything I'm saying in this story.
A few weeks ago, Haley texted me asking for a shoot. I normally don't just do shoots unless there's a specific purpose to it. If I'm real, I was a little hesitant to do it. I try to be careful and selective with the shoots I give away. I am trying to make a living after all. But then Haley said this:
"This sounds lame, but I've been hating on my self image lately and I think it would be a nice combative action to say "screw you" to insecurities and do a photo shoot."
After that, I had to do it. When an opportunity to spread a positive message comes along, I want to take it. That doesn't mean I'll do this every time. But I wanted to this time. I said I would do it if I could tell the story and she jumped on it. I'm so glad I did this.
Here's why. When I got there and started talking to Haley, I realized it's far more than just some body image issues. In fact, that's not really what it is at all. That's just a symptom.
The truth is, Haley suffers from multiple mental illnesses. She has multiple forms of depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, and other mental illnesses. Around December, she hit one of the worst bouts of it where she was down and out for 6 weeks. She lost friends, gained weight, and felt in many ways like she had to start over.
And here's the thing, the thing that defines Haley for me isn't her illnesses. It's her music. She's literally one of the best singers and songwriters I know. She put out an album and it's phenomenal. I'm not just saying that because I know her. Like, I'd actually listen to this stuff if I had randomly stumbled upon it and never knew who she was. She is so gifted and talented in so many ways. Haley isn't her illnesses. She's so much more.
Mental Illness is so misunderstood. It's a tragedy that we only talk about it when someone like Robin Williams commits suicide. So many people struggle with this and we write them off as just being sad or too nit-picky or too stressed, but it's a real thing.
"Just because it's not outward like cancer, diabetes, or something else doesn't mean it's not real. Just because it's in my head doesn't mean I can control it. It's not sadness. It's an illness that I can't shake."
That's what Haley told me about it. And it's true. I asked her what bugs her most about the misunderstanding of mental illness is.
"When people just throw around things like 'I'm depressed' or 'I think I'll have a panic attack' like it's no big deal. Those things are real to me and just because you're sad or stressed doesn't mean you are depressed or have anxiety. They really are illnesses that I and so many others medically struggle with."
This whole topic matters to me because it's so personal. I don't struggle with any mental illnesses beyond a minor learning disability.
But my mom did.
And I say "did" because she's not alive anymore. She lost her battle with mental illness.
The week before my sophomore year of high school ended, my mom committed suicide by intentionally ODing on heroine in a hotel room.
I hate telling that story.
I hate it.
I'm way too happy of a person. I hate killing the mood by telling people about my mom.
A few weeks ago, my counselor and I (bet you didn't think I was in counseling) were working through that story and I told her that I don't like sharing that with people. She probed and prodded for a while and then eventually told me that it's not my responsibility to protect people from the pain I've experienced. It's my job to tell my story and let other's learn from it.
That's why I'm so happy I did this shoot. It let's me talk about something that is important to me and something that people don't understand. It's real. Mental Illness is something people battle.
It reminds me of that quote that's usually attributed to Plato,
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
While you're at it, you should go buy Haley's album from iTunes. You can click the button below to do that.
I love people. I love hearing and telling their stories. You learn things about them that you never would have considered.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
If this is the first thing you've ever seen from me, know that my posts aren't always this depressing. This was an opportunity to be honest and vulnerable and I wanted to take it. As Haley said when I sent her this post to read over, "Honesty is always the best risk to take." She's right.