Trust me when I say Breanna’s story will have an impact on you. I believe this is something very relatable, whether you have battled depression or not. Many of us, ourselves included, need to stop hiding behind scrolling screens and start living life. After you read her story, you’ll feel inspired to put your phone down and take care of yourself.
“When I first wrote to Carly about participating in this project, it was with tears in my eyes, and a heavy weight on my heart. It felt like I was drowning. Depression hit me out of nowhere last August, and it held on hard. I had experienced what I thought was depression before, but this was a completely unique experience. Every. single. thing. was difficult. The weight of basic tasks like getting out of bed, taking a shower, feeding myself, etc. was so enormous, it was all I could do not to cry all day long. I’m still not 100% sure why this happened to me, and I probably never will be. I can say with certainty that I’m incredibly grateful for the experience, for two big reasons. One, I now have a much more compassionate and understanding perspective of the human experience and mental health as a whole. I now understand that it can and will happen to anyone. It feels like your brain is revolting against yourself. You can’t rationalize your way out of it. Trust me, I tried. I would tell myself “I am a happy person. I have a wonderful life. I love living.” And yet, I didn’t *feel* that way. It is an illness. It can, but often doesn’t result from sadness. It’s not your fault, it’s not something to be ashamed of, and it is okay and almost always necessary to ask for help. The more I held it in and kept it private, the more I hurt. The turning point for me was when I stopped suffering silently, and let people in to my struggle. Putting it into words and letting them out into the world was enough to start climbing out of the hole I had dug for myself. The second reason is that my depression caused me to take a long, hard look at my life, and from that resulted a new passion for living, and a determination to find a way to define myself outside of my relationships and my career.
Here’s a little background, that may resonate with many of you. Even if you aren’t a business owner or a wedding professional, I think many of us are guilty of the things that I did that I believe had a big role in getting me to this place. I am a wedding photographer in the Baltimore area. A little over three years ago, I quit my full time job, and pursued this crazy business full time. It has been amazing. I’ve made lasting friendships with both vendors and clients, I’ve felt more fulfilled than ever in my work. I genuinely love what I do. For these last three years I’ve lived and breathed my business. Every moment of every day, it was on my mind. I would work on and off from the moment I’d wake up to the moment I’d fall asleep at the end of the night. My mental breaks from work were spent mindlessly scrolling on social media.I was terrible at setting boundaries, taking days off, even taking parts of a day off. Clients would ask for my availability, and I would find the little pockets of free time in my calendar—scheduling every moment of every day in the week. Leaving no time for the “life” part of work-life balance. I would work on the couch next to my husband, Steve, while he watched TV or played video games. Lying to myself, pretending that being near each other while I was working was the same as actively spending time together. When we’d go out to dinner, I would be glued to my phone, answering emails as soon as they came in. As much as I missed spending quality time with my husband, my friends and my family, work was necessary and I love what I do so it didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice. That is, until this winter came.For the last three years, the off season would hit, I would fall into a bit of a depression… but after a week or two of catch-up rest I was fine. At first I embraced the time off, got a lot of rest, and enjoyed the time to unwind. This time it came early and hung on hard. Instead of getting better with time, it just kept getting worse. I felt lost. Weeks turned into months. I had lost any sense of self outside of my business. I worked with a branding company to rebrand my business and redo my website this winter. When I was writing the new bio for this website, I remember struggling to answer the question “what do you do when you’re not working?” I thought to myself, I like traveling, but that’s only 2-3 weeks out of the year. I like snowboarding, but with the winters we get, I only get to go a handful of times a season. What DO I do with my free time? I realized I didn’t have an answer to that. I take naps. I watch Netflix. I take naps while “watching” Netflix. No wonder when work slows, my mental and emotional state suffers. I’m just biding time, wishing away the months until I can have purpose again. This winter, I decided it was time to start changing things. It was time to get my life back. There is no work-life balance, when you’ve forgotten how to have a life.
So this winter, that was my big project. Me. I found a hobby that I absolutely love – glass blowing. It’s challenging, it’s dangerous, it’s so fulfilling, and it’s something I do for myself and no one else. It’s a very ‘zen’ process, in that you have to focus 100% on the piece you’re working on from the very first gather until completion. Unlike painting or knitting or most other visual arts, you can’t put it away and come back to it later, and that’s one of the things I like the most about it. I’ve also stopped putting my physical fitness on the back burner and found a physical activity that I really enjoyed – which is rock climbing. Not only is it a great work out, but it’s also a really great social activity too. And finally, this winter I also took a huge leap and put myself out there in the most professionally and personally vulnerable way I’ve ever done, by taking a grueling photography workshop. This workshop pushed me in ways I’ve never been pushed before, and I’m better for it. It helped reignite my passion for my art again.Challenging myself physically, mentally, professionally, and pulling myself out of my funk has been the theme of the off season. The thing that I’ve noticed is that not only am I happier now that I’ve taken the time to find myself again – but I’m also more creative. I’m more in tune to the emotions on a wedding day, and I’m capturing them with a new eye. I’m a better photographer because I’m a happier person. By investing in myself, I’m investing in a better experience for my clients.
I’m still a work in progress. I still have my moments and my bad days, but they’re a lot less frequent now. I’m still far too addicted to the mindless scrolling on social media. I’m working on being more present in my daily life. And there are still some days where everything is overwhelming. But I’ve found things that I love to do to keep me sharp and active. I’m working on nurturing the relationships with the people that have supported me in pursuing this dream and letting them know I don’t take them for granted. And most importantly, I’m no longer ignoring me. I am more than just a business. I’m a daughter, a wife, a friend, a glass blower, a climber, a photographer, and a kick ass entrepreneur. I have a life worth living. This business is a huge part of what makes me who I am, but I am so much more.”
Breanna Shaw is the owner of Photography by Brea, LLC. Breanna lives in Maryland with her husband Steve.