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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!