The first time I saw a therapist was the summer after high school. My friend Maureen died in a car accident, and just weeks after, my friend PJ, who was also an on-again, off-again beau for a couple of years, also died in a car accident. My mom found me a psychologist and I found it really helped not only work through their deaths, but the transition from high school to college, living at home to in the dorms, and my dad's health issues.
I again saw a therapist my senior year of college. I broke up with my boyfriend, dated a very toxic person, made some very bad decisions, and ended up dropping out and moving home. This therapist and I didn't have as good of a connection, but she still helped me get through a very difficult period of time.
2014 was by far one of the most difficult times in my life. I slipped on black ice Valentine's Day weekend and shattered my radius. It didn't heal properly and required a year of casts, splints, bone stimulators, plates, and surgeries. It was my right arm, so I couldn't write, could barely type, and felt useless at work and unable to do what had given me so much solace and joy over the years – journaling and blogging.
And then I became a thread on a blogging hate site. Doped up on pain pills, lying on my couch during short term disability unable to do much other than scroll through my phone with my left hand, I visited that thread every day, reading strangers' opinions on my fashion, my body, my marriage, my child, my personality. Feeling useless, worthless, and hopeless affected every aspect of my life and every relationship.
On short-term disability and unable to drive, I tried out Talkspace, a relatively new app at the time to meet virtually with a therapist. I found a female therapist in my state and we had what felt like a texting relationship. She would send me a message with questions and a prompt, I'd mull over them and reply. It worked until it didn't. Being an online person who loves to write, I found it hard to be raw through texts to my therapist. I caught myself focusing instead on flow and sentence structure, concluding sentences, and telling a story. But it was a start.
A reader suggested Brené Brown and I watched her TED Talk about the power of vulnerability. I bought one of her books on Audible and as I took early morning walks around my neighborhood, I listened to it, often crying to myself. I ended up listening to every single book she had available at the time, and it helped. But I think if I had a proper therapist at the time, I would have been able to better navigate everything.
The pandemic was tough for me; I was in a panic two weeks into Lockdown. I am the sole breadwinner for my family, and who the heck is going to be reading fashion blogs looking for work attire advice when in lockdown? I reached out to my old Corporate America colleagues, brushed up my resume, and looked to see if I could secure some contract work in my previous field.
However, I pivoted my content and used the time at home to work on my physical self. I changed my diet, got a Peloton bike, began regularly meditating, gardening, taking vitamins and supplements, and finding ways to improve my sleep and performance. The year had some seriously rough spots, but in general, I did well mentally, physically, and surprisingly ended up making more from Wardrobe Oxygen than I did the year prior.
2021 was a whole different ballgame, and from speaking to many of my fellow influencer and small business friends, they agree. The compassion for small businesses ended as we “went back to normal.” But nothing was normal, nothing could be planned, things were always in flux. I felt more panicked than I did the year before, my business more unstable, brands more unstable, and my audience as stressed and overwhelmed and angry as I.
2020 was a year when we as a family were finding our footing. We, like the rest of our community, were forced to work from home, our daughter was forced to do virtual learning. I commiserated with other entrepreneurs, parents, and influencers through social media platforms and scheduled FaceTimes and Zooms. It sucked, but we all dealt with the suck together.
But in 2021 we were no longer together. The year started with an attack on the U.S. Capitol that had my husband dribbling Equilibria CBD drops into my gaping open mouth as I flipped between CNN and MSNBC. As the year progressed, I saw how disconnected, angry, overwhelmed, and separate we all were. Whether it was politics, social justice, vaccines, masks, or just what we considered moving forward, it seemed like every situation became divisive.
The division was even felt in my household. My husband and I saw things slightly differently, as did we compared to close family and friends. Vacations, school, and social life were all affected and every little thing felt really tense, emotional, and overwhelming. In 2020 I was mostly thriving at home; in 2021 I was a houseplant in too small a pot placed too far from the sunny window.
And work… work suuuuuucked in 2021. Almost every single contact I had at a brand, contacts I had come to see as friends after years of working together, either switched companies to brands not a good fit for Wardrobe Oxygen or got promoted out of influencer relations. I had to start over with individuals who didn't know me from Adam and judged me by my number of Instagram followers instead of my whole business. Reels came on the Instagram scene, changing the whole game. Who cared about photos or words, it was now all about videos. I came to hate a job that I had loved for over 15 years.
At the end of 2020, I injured myself, unable to ride the Peloton bike or do most any kind of fitness for six weeks. I healed, and then had back issues which required another six-week break from the bike and a return that my chiropractor said could be a max of 50% of what I did prior. I didn't realize how much that activity was helping me mentally until I took these forced breaks and fell into a depression I hadn't felt since I was lying on my couch reading about my smug expression and waterlogged feet.
My dad dealt with depression. I knew firsthand how mental health didn't just affect the individual but those closest to them as well as their job and community. I knew I needed professional help not just for me but for those I loved most.
But unlike Beforetimes (AKA before lockdown), I was unable to find professional help. I called 30 different psychologists, social workers, counselors, and therapists and none of them were taking on new clients. I tried Talkspace again but after two separate counselors' intro videos, got ghosted. Tried Better Help, and the only counselors they had available were faith-focused. I even tried one of them, desperate for help and they started the session wanting to pray and ended by assigning readings from The Bible. It wasn't a good fit, I tried again and yet again was ghosted, waiting an hour for a therapist who never showed up.
By this time, I felt I needed therapy to get over my experience trying to access therapy. I really wanted to give up, but I didn't because I knew it wasn't just for me but for those around me.
I reached out to my insurance provider to see if I had missed any options for mental health counseling. They offered 100% covered telehealth therapy with select professionals and had one therapist with openings. He was a retired Marine in Georgia who was a Baptist minister, father of 8, and grandfather of 12. I didn't even make an appointment, knowing it just wasn't the right fit for me.
I tried to get by with self-care. Struggling with my old meditation practice, I tried Peloton guided meditations and when the weather allowed, took after-work walks outside. I took a few vacations thinking a change of scenery would help. I tried journaling but as someone who always has something to say struggled to find the words. My nightstand filled up with dog-eared self-help books I never finished. I even returned to Brené Brown but didn't find the relief I did years before. Everything felt more like another task on my never-ending to-do list.
And then at the end of the summer, a practice I reached out to in January let me know they had an opening for a therapist that offered virtual appointments. I began weekly sessions with this therapist and almost instantly felt better. However, this practice didn't accept insurance and sessions were costly (about $150 a session). Also, as time went on I didn't feel I was getting what I needed out of this therapist. When our refrigerator broke down I stopped therapy because I knew getting into debt for a kitchen appliance was also not good for my mental health.
But I thought, if this practice now had openings, maybe others would as well. I again went through the list of practices and individual practitioners I had researched a year prior and called each of them up to see if they had availability. One practice said they likely would within the next couple of months, and once I hit my deductible, sessions would be covered by insurance. Within a few weeks, they had an opening for a therapist and I have been seeing her since the end of last year.
When I was notified that my sessions were now out of pocket because of the turnover to a new year with my insurance, I felt confident enough with this therapist that it was worth the cost. My family and I made some lifestyle adjustments to accommodate the cost without having to dip into savings or whip out the credit card.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because I am in a position of privilege yet mental health counseling was practically impossible for me. And because if I am experiencing such feelings while being in a place where I can afford and have access to medical and mental health, think of the millions of Americans who do not have such access.
This experience has given me so much stress but also so much compassion and empathy. Whether or not mask mandates are lifted, offices are reopened, and vaccines are administered, this life is changed and we are changed. We have lost so much and so many.
We have cracked open fissures in our country that we cannot and should not try to seal. This time has affected our personal and global economy, how we work, how we shop, how we communicate, how we navigate the everyday. And we lack the resources to know how to deal with it all.
These past two years have made those who hardly spent time online into social media and internet phenoms. I gained over 2,000 Instagram followers, 5,000 newsletter subscribers, and increased my site traffic exponentially over the pandemic. Business-wise this has been great, but it has given me a peek into how folks are handling this “new normal” and like me, most aren't handling it well.
The bitterness, the short tempers, the need to share every grievance, to make snap judgments… I feel I have a pretty tough skin doing this for over 16 years but the past year has been extremely tough. I write, just KNOWING what kind of responses I am going to get, and often don't hit “publish” just because I just don't have the capability to deal with the emails and comments.
I can deal with trolls, I can ignore the snark, but when it's people like me, who are hurting and not knowing how to deal with it. Who don't have the resources to navigate it all and it comes out in their social interactions, even though I know it's not about me, it still really really hurts. It hurts because I can't help, no blog or influencer or podcast or self-help book can really help and it just makes this existence that much more bleak.
In 2019, I would end this post by offering some bullets on how I deal with my mental health, feeling like I truly had some answers. In 2020 I would tell you to contact your representatives, get involved, make some noise, and fight for mental health. In 2021… I was the one seeking such advice. And in 2022 I fully realize I don't have the answers and am really not sure how to create a concluding paragraph when there is no pretty bow to tie up this national mental health crisis.
Though contacting your representatives will do a bit more good than another glass of wine, an Amazon dress, or a new pair of shoes.