Cotton

I’ve developed a tradition of vulnerability and sharing every year, in celebration of registering as a business. This year, the tradition continued with a 6-part post series on Instagram, and my opening up about my struggles with mental health. I have internally debated for months whether being open about my state is good for business or not. For a long time I chose not to talk about it because I didn’t want to use it as an excuse, or a crutch, I was not allowing it to affect my work and didn’t see the need for anyone to know. I was very ashamed. The reality is, it did start to affect my work and I was tired of being ashamed. There is a catharsis in sharing, a release that allows you to move forward, lighter.

1.

I’ve been on a journey to be more human, more real, which means more emotional, all of which do not typically belong in the world of business where things are more logical, professional and to be honest, boring. Most days, I think I’m making a huge mistake and will regret this decision but I don’t know how to be any other way. I am Ayrïd. A graphic designer, a daughter, a mentor, a student, a creative, an artist (as much as I deny it), a black, Caribbean woman and an entrepreneur. And it’s scary.

I feel like there aren’t enough stories about the shitty days. About the days you can’t get out of bed, the days the client didn’t approve the artwork, the days you messed up…the realities of life. So on this mini journey to TWO, I’ll once again be vulnerable with you and say the things we’re not supposed to say. I do not have it all together, but I’m working on it.

2.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (in Trinidad), I was in limbo. On March 13th, when we got our first confirmed case, I was on the phone cancelling my first travel plans for the year. I use travel, not so much as vacation (since some of you know that I go everywhere with my laptop and have worked on your projects while outside the country), I use travel as a giant reset. As an empath and creative, I feed off of my environment and surroundings, and travel helps reset my creative juices, my mood, my perspective on life…everything. I had been struggling (more than usual) with my mental health for about 7 months, I was in-between therapists and I really needed this trip. The plan was to find a new therapist when I returned, refreshed and reenergised. Instead, the world was slowly sinking and I was out of all of my life saving apparatus. No vacation, no therapist, no outdoors. 

But design. Work did not stop for me. While some projects got cancelled and put on hold, I was still getting emails and calls weekly. And everyone I spoke to would say “That’s great! Especially in these times.”

*cue my feeling guilty for not feeling grateful for the opportunities being presented to me.

I was burnt out. Not the trending, fashionably acceptable version, but the straight up, I no longer want to live in this world burnt out. The crippling kind. The kind that holds you captive in your bed when all you want to do is go respond to an email. The kind that tells you not to bathe for days. The kind that watches the phone ring and won’t let you reach your arm out to answer. The kind that keeps up appearances, even virtually on social media, while also grasping for a reason to keep living. I suffer daily with depressive disorder and at the start of COVID-19, I had one of my biggest episodes.

3.

It took me 2 months to find a doctor. Everyone was focused on the pandemic, understandably, and as a result, was only taking on emergency cases. I wasn’t considered an emergency. Meanwhile, my inbox was filled with unread emails from clients and potential clients, my to-do list remained undone and the additional anxiety of the #ronas did not help one bit. I was unable to work. I was unable to open my laptop and be productive. And you may be tempted to think “You were just tired” or “You were being lazy AF.” The only way I can describe it, is my brain was shutting down completely and crippling my body, preventing me from doing anything that was remotely helpful or productive.

So what did I do? Well, thank goodness I had an assistant, Fabiola (the ever amazing @fgartistryy). Having someone else to worry about how you were going to pay them is a powerful motivator. I honestly would not have made it through those months without her! And I signed up for a virtual Unsettled Mastermind connecting with over 200 people from all over the world talking about Managing Uncertainty and setting goals daily. Baby steps.

4.

After talking to or trying to see 3 different doctors, I finally found someone I connected with who could officially diagnose me (again) and provide solutions.

Introducing:
Antidepressants!
(Goodbye alcohol!)

I am going to be extremely open here because I think it’s important. A session with my doctor cost $800TTD per hour and I had to try 3 antidepressants before finding one that worked. I’m saying this because I think it’s important to note that even when you decide to finally get help, it’s not always easy. Sometimes, personalities clash, or sometimes the medication that’s supposed to make you better, makes you suicidal (true story bro!). And while I wish desperately that the medication available for free via CDAP worked for me, the reality is the one that finally worked costs $27-29 for ONE tablet. This one tablet that I have to take daily. This is probably a good time to mention that I did not have health insurance. I could not afford to be sick let alone have a mental illness that required expensive treatment. Let’s recap. I am sick, so sick that I can’t get out of bed to work to make money. I need money in order to get treatment and get better so I can get out of bed to work to make money.

This year has taught me that accepting help from others is the only way to survive in this world. This year, independent woman me, had to stop and acknowledge that I cannot in fact do it all alone. I needed help and I had to learn very quickly how to 1. Ask for help, 2. Accept a “no” when someone cannot help, and even more importantly, 3. Accept the help I needed.

5.

Rituals. Wendell Manwarren once advised me on the importance of a morning routine. I have never been a morning person, ever. But in this time I found comfort in the mornings, the control, the ability to have time set aside to do things. Every morning I would get out of bed (no alarm), shower, play with my dog, water the plants and wash down the “yard”, sweep, make coffee, drink said coffee and write in my journal, all before looking at my phone. Having that dedicated time to do things outside of work, and take care of myself was CRUCIAL.

I started working outside so I can have a “change in environment” since being able to relocate and work from different places has always been a part of my process and what helps keep me inspired. I started exercising with @bodybybentt, I started eating more regularly and somehow I managed to do enough work to cover the meds and therapy and food and rent and bills and salaries (barely). A friend helped me to get health insurance! I got an intern! @aliyah.emmanuel was a godsend and helped tremendously. Things eventually started to get better, one day at a time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not now magically healed and free of depression and back to my efficient communicating self. I’m back to checking my phone as soon as I wake up in the morning. There are still unanswered emails. The to-do list is still long and growing weekly. And now I’m doing it all alone: My assistant got a job in her field, my intern went back to school and my roommate moved forward to her new home. There is no happy ending because nothing has ended…I’m just continuing, one day at a time.

6.

So what now? What the hell does this all have to do with 2 years as Ayrïd by Design? Well…everything. Do I close my business until I’m better equipped mentally to do it well? Do I set up an automated reply: “Thank you for your email. Please note there may be a delay in response from 2 days to 2 months depending on my current state. No, not COVID, just good old fashioned depression. Thanks for understanding.” What does running a business look like during a pandemic, in a time of #BlackLivesMatter, while dealing with mental illness, in a country that is not equipped for any of the realities we are currently facing? How do we hopefully move ahead?

The second anniversary gift is cotton, and it’s meant to symbolise comfort and the strength you’ve developed. And while I feel extremely uncomfortable, I do feel better equipped to do things I would not have been able to handle two years ago. So how to move forward? By continuing to reinvent, change/shake things up and with clichés of course, tried and tested:

Together. Collaborate. Share. Communicate. Try. Do. Daily. Keep at it. One day at a time. Be patient. Be real. Be realistic. Communicate. Get help. Figure shit out. No excuses. Keep going. Keep planning. Reorganize. Recreate. Restart. Push forward. Fight. Do not give up ever. Just keep swimming. Be the change. Do the thing. Just keep at it. Never stop. Never settle. Continue. Pause and continue. We got this!

How Do You Choose to Live?

I think I’ve always been the type of person who, when told I have to do something, especially in a specific way, asked why? This was often perceived as my being rude and even disrespectful, but I simply wanted to understand the reasoning behind things. This is probably why I like history so much, it clearly answers the “why”. This has led to my designing the life I want to live, at least the parts I have control over.

While I’m no longer a practising Catholic, I’d never forget the day the concept of CHOICE sunk into my brain. The priest was talking about free will, and God not forcing us to do anything, and the fact that, at the end of the day, we all had a choice to make. This was meant, I guess, to inspire us to freely choose God or whatever but it did the opposite for me, it showed me that I did not have to be there. You can’t speak about choice without speaking about consequences, but what if you called them something else: Results. All this random babbling is to say that a couple, many years ago I realised I could make a choice with the goal of a desired outcome and get results, and I can do this with every aspect of my life.

letranger copy

One of my favourite books from studying Literature is Albert Camus’ L’Étranger (The Stranger). I was always fascinated by how much Meursault’s straying from societal norms made people so uncomfortable. He didn’t cry when his mother died so this makes him a bad person. My young mind was fascinated. Since then I’ve been on a sort of personal mission where my actions are not to be driven by what is expected of me, or what I’m supposed to do, but rather by these one or all of these 3 things:

I want to do it.
It makes sense to me and I can justify it (logical or otherwise).
It is helping someone.

I’ve since thrown in additional factors like:

Does this make me happy?
Can I live without this?
How will this improve my or someone else’s life?

These factors guide things from what I wear, to how I speak, to what I post on social media. They also guide what jobs I say yes to, which relationships I allow or maintain in my life and what I consume. Some may see this as a selfish way to live, but at the end of the day, no one else can live my life for me. When all is said and done, I have to wake up every day and not just survive, but live, and hopefully enjoy moments in life and I refuse to let the opinions of “should” and “supposed to” dictate that.

I’ve noticed how much people act and do things based on societal norms and expected behaviour (and don’t seem too happy either) and it dawned on me that how I choose to live may be a new concept to someone, which inspired me to write this post. Even if it’s a lightbulb moment for one person, or something someone just needed to be reminded of, then I’m glad to help.

How will you choose to live today?

V-DAY or D-DAY?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved love. People who know me know me, know of my obsession with hearts. People who don’t really know me may find this hard to believe but that’s life. I also really love holidays or special days to celebrate a specific thing. For my Virgo and sometimes too logical brain, it’s the world giving me permission to be extra, or focus on something fun and exciting. Valentine’s Day has always been my day to celebrate love. I remember going to Long Circular Mall to buy chocolates for my friend to give to her boyfriend…in Primary School! I have always been 100% down for the cause. In college, I met my “wifey” aka my closest friend away from home and we shared an obsession of heart-shaped things and Valentine’s Day which we fondly referred to as S.A.D. (Singles’ Awareness Day). I grew up with my mother as my Valentine. I would always wake up or come home to a greeting card and teddy bears or chocolate, some physical expression of love. I guess the day was an excuse for her in a way too. All this is my way of setting the scene before the contrasting reality that is Valentine’s day today.

Bahumbug!

I’ve become this cynical shell of a human, incapable of celebrating one of my favourite days of the year. When did this happen? When did life and all of its shittiness warp me into this version of myself? I’m selling some cards I designed 3 years ago, and I remember how I excited I was to combine Carnival and Valentine’s, how happy looking at the cards made me and thinking of how special the people receiving them would feel. Now when I look at them, I feel nothing. Is this what growing up is? The inability to enjoy things that once brought you so much joy? Is this what life is?

I am sort of heartbroken today. I was so excited when client edits came in and I had work to focus on so the day would go by a bit faster.

So in a mad attempt to redeem the last 6 hours of this day, using one of my languages of love, here’s a playlist of my top 10 favourite love songs (in this moment, because let’s be honest, this list is constantly changing).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Safe Space for Dark Thoughts

josh-nuttall-xl2piFfdzyA-unsplash
Photo by Josh Nuttall on Unsplash

On Saturday morning I woke up on my friends’ couch, very hungover, to the news that my old lady neighbour had passed away. On Sunday morning I woke up way too early on a Sunday morning to attend a workshop entitled Poetry as Ferocity which ended up taking me to some unresolved cobwebs in my otherwise not-so-horrible cupboard. This morning  I woke up and attended the funeral of “granny” as I fondly called her and maybe it was the funeral, or the fact that I couldn’t get out of bed on Monday or that I dreamt a song from a play I was in 4 months ago that sings of crossing over, or the fact that my dog was barking at “nothing” at some ungodly hour this morning, but I need a safe space to be somewhat gloomy right now. And as I type this I imagine I’m creating that space on this page not just for me but whoever reads this and needs a moment to be fucking true to the bad thoughts or emotions that you’ve been hiding with Instagram selfies and troll tweets and memes and feigned excitement in a comment under a friend’s post.

I am not okay. I don’t know that I’ll ever be okay. And in this moment, on this page, I’m relieved that no one is telling me “Don’t worry.” or “What’s wrong?” or “You okay?”, that no one is trying to fix anything or say “Move on”, “Keep going”.  In this moment, I’d like to give myself permission to not be okay and not feel guilty about that.

I owe no one a smile and neither do you.

How I Feel after Ti-Jean

I’ve been struggling to process my feelings and thoughts towards my theatrical debut in Derek Walcott’s Ti-Jean and His Brothers. I am from the school of thought that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. I strongly believe that you must do the things that bring you joy and that you’re passionate about. I also believe in personal growth and challenging yourself. So what does all of that have to do with Ti-Jean?

Being a part of the production was an accident of fate. I didn’t know about the play, I didn’t know about auditions, I happened to be there at the right time and I happened to say yes. I did not intentionally go seeking it out. So why did I audition?

I just returned from a month long trip to Bali, a trip I went on to challenge myself and be uncomfortable and discover new parts of myself. I wanted to continue that journey back home, I wanted the challenge of doing something new and different in Trinidad.

And then I was chosen.

How do you accidentally show up to an audition, with no real experience and get cast for the role? I honestly don’t have an answer but I took it as a sign that this was something I had to do. And what an experience it was.

I suppose it’s easier to get along with 19 strangers from different parts of the world because you allow for cultural differences and are a bit more open and patient with them. But 16 of your own people? From the same place, with a variety of emotions, personalities, methods of communication, and energies, at different places in life? That is a real challenge! And I underestimated it drastically. I thought my challenge was going to be acting, battling my fear of being uncomfortable in my own skin and standing on a stage in front of audience. And I did deal with all of those things, but that was the easy part in comparison.

cast & school children
Backstage after our first school show, with one of the schools that thoroughly enjoyed the play.

I’ve been asked if I enjoyed my experience and if I’ll get on stage again, what’s next?

I can finally honestly answer:

I did not enjoy the experience, but that was not my intention. It was meant to be a challenge and it was meant to be uncomfortable and that is what it was. Of course, I didn’t help myself at all by also agreeing to be the designer for the production and adding social media and promotional marketing design to my to do list. But not everything in life is meant to be enjoyable. Some things need to be hard or else how do we grow? I am extremely grateful for the experience, I am extremely grateful for the growth, for the people I met, for the new energies I’ve experienced. And I truly loved it.

Acting is not my passion. And I know that now. However, this has reiterated that singing is. The parts I would say I “enjoyed” were learning the songs, singing the songs, and I’m sure the fact that this was a musical and not a regular play was no accident.

Will I get on stage again? For another musical, in a chorus rather than a lead role, definitely yes. And I will look out for other opportunities where I can keep singing, because I truly enjoy that, always have and probably always will.

The family and Bolom
On stage with my 3 sons and Bolom. Image by Abigail Hadeed

I’m coming to a place of acceptance that I experience things differently from what is expected and that it’s okay. I went through a couple of days feeling guilty for not enjoying this amazing opportunity I was given, that other people dream of. I felt that my lack of enjoyment meant ingratitude. But far from it. I completely acknowledge the privilege to be on a stage with Cacique award winners, talented and experienced actors and dancers, people I’ve watched and admired in other plays, productions and movies. The privilege to be choreographed by Abeo Jackson and directed by Wendell Manwarren. The privilege to be cast as Mother in a Derek Walcott play, a role that my History and Thespian teacher played in 1995, Ms. Mairoon Ali. The privilege to walk in her footsteps has been magical. I am so extremely grateful for this privilege. And I look forward to the next random opportunity of fate that comes my way.

the cast
The Cast of Ti-Jean and His Brothers 2019. Photos by Abigail Hadeed.