I describe my photography as raw and real so for me it is important that I be raw and real with my blog readers. While most people advised me to not share what I am about to share, to me it is essential for people to understand my story and how photography has always been the light in my life. I have made a career out of telling others' stories with photographs and since I am still documenting my own story through my lens, I wanted to share my written story.
"After my freshman year at Providence I was 1000% dedicated to making a life for myself on the east coast after graduation. I wanted to have a fast-paced lifestyle and become a financially successful business woman in Boston. I had tunnel vision going towards this goal until the summer before my senior year. Many thought meeting my boyfriend pushed me away from the idea of living in Boston, which is somewhat true. However, not many know that my anxiety was the main reason that my life plans had changed, and have continued to change.
Since I was young I have struggled with anxiety. I can vividly remember getting the same anxious feelings and symptoms in 4th grade, that I still feel today. However, I refused to acknowledge the fact until I was 20 years old. I grew up watching a mother and sister severally suffer from anxiety. So during my time of denial - I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was also suffering from the same thing that caused my mother and sister so much pain. It wasn’t until college that I started to realize that mental health issues aren’t a stigma. Rather, they are common adversities that more people than I ever thought face every day.
After 7 doctors appointments and 1 ER visit, I was finally diagnosed with a stress and anxiety induced chronic illness. Still, I refused to believe that I had anxiety. I just thought my illness was brought on by the sheer demands of being a division I student-athlete. Following my painful diagnosis I sat in a hospital bed, hopped up on steroids and other new meds that made me want to crawl out of my skin. I was having feelings of withdraw from being taken off of all my daily medications, and couldn’t get out of my bed without calling a nurse. The physical and mental pain drove me to my first recognizable anxiety attack. It was one of the scariest moments of my life at the time. I had no idea what to do to end it.
Following my first anxiety attack, I FINALLY had my, “Oh shit- I need to do something about this” moment. It was time I swallow my pride and seek help. Even though I addressed my disorder with doctors, started new medications, and began weekly therapy sessions, things still didn’t feel right. I started to have severely anxious thoughts before and during practice, during social situations, and even before bed. I would conjure up delirious thoughts, cry myself to exhaustion, and have terrible mood swings. I knew my thoughts were getting out of control when teammates started to tell me I was unpleasant to be around.
Before I could explore more aggressive treatments, I broke my leg during my senior season. At first, I was beside myself. I couldn’t believe that my senior season was thrown out the window right after medically red-shirting during my junior year. After a few weeks I finally accepted my situation. The fact that one of the biggest contributors to my anxiety was put on hold, put a positive spin on things. Sure I still had my sad and stressed bouts, but the amount of weight that was taken off my shoulders made my anxiety noticeably better. No matter how less anxious I felt during this time, I truly regret not taking the extra time to seek new ways to treat my anxiety. I thought because I was feeling better, I didn’t need medications, therapy, yoga, or meditation. I just thought I needed hockey season to end, and all would be good.
As soon as I graduated, and the stress of post-grad life hit me like a bus, my anxiety was back. And stronger than ever. The smallest things were starting to irritate, and I was crying more than ever. I felt as if my thoughts were one enormous rat’s nest of tangled and knotted string. I was forming negative thoughts about anything and everything I did or said at a million miles an hour. And before I knew it, I started to have anxiety attacks about once a month. Every anxious thought, whether it was socially, financially, or work-related, resulted in uncontrollable tears and shortness of breathe. I would feel like there was a weight on my chest, similar to the weighted cover dentists’ lay over patients when taking x-rays. Near the end of my breakdowns I would feel as if my neck wasn’t strong enough to hold my head back, and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and fall backwards.
When I moved to Denver, I learned to handle these attacks with help from my boyfriend. By handle, I mean my boyfriend would gently grab me by the face and talk me off the edge. If that didn’t work, he would hold me extremely close and tight to his chest until I slowed down my breathing and my tears. Facing such aggressive anxiety once a month, or whenever something bad happened, began to feel manageable. However, I wasn't the one doing the managing - my boyfriend was. So again, I avoided seeking more aggressive treatments for the outrageous and irrational thoughts that constantly filled my mind.
At the beginning of this past May, I was hospitalized for my chronic illness. Diagnosis: Work was stressing me out to the point of intestinal inflammation, vomiting, and over exhaustion. While my co-workers were able to handle the stress of their workloads, I couldn’t, and I felt stupid because of it. So my anxiety attacks increased from once a month to twice a week. I noticed the change in my anxiety but I chose to let it be because I had a two week vacation coming up, and I thought that’s all I needed.
Before leaving for vacation, I was transferred to a different team at work. The team directors set up my transition so that I wouldn’t need to worry about work while traveling overseas. My vacation was filled with happy moments, incredible views, gourmet cuisine, and NO STRESS OVER WORK! It was the best I consistently felt for the longest period of time in a very very very long time. Thus, I thought all I really needed was a solid chunk of time off from work, so I could return refreshed and ready to go for my new team. God, was I a fucking idiot for thinking that.
When I got back from Europe I didn’t want to go back to work, because who would? I started on a new team, and thought things were going to be great. Unfortunately, things weren’t great. I was anxiety free up until my manager decided to confront me about a few issues that had occurred weeks prior to our meeting. She was in tears, so apparently I had really rattled her. When I asked, “why wasn’t this addressed earlier?”, she responded with the fact that she didn’t like having these types of conversations. Regardless of who was truly in the wrong, my anxiety was back and more aggressive than ever. I would go to work never knowing if I was doing something wrong or not, because my manager didn’t like to have confrontational conversations. Even though people in the office would tell me that they noticed my manager mistreating me, I still took on the anxiety as if every single little thing was my fault. My worries resulted in the inability to let go of the situation and move on.
As much frustration as I had towards my manager and how the situation was being handled, I was constantly scared that I was going to mess up and let my team down. My worries lead to anxiety and panic attacks every evening. By the end of August, I was facing attacks before work, after work, and before bed every single day. I finally broke at the beginning of September when I had the most intense, lights-out, scariest anxiety attack of my life at work. I left the office early and drove home sobbing. When I got home I tried to distract myself with cleaning. I clearly remember trying to make my bed and finally laying on the floor in my room and thinking, “I can’t keep living like this.”
The next day I quit my job, and made an appointment with my doctor. I specifically quit my job so that I could put myself through treatment for a disorder that has consumed 20 years of my life. And ya know what, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I never wanted to admit to having a “mental health disorder”, nor did I ever want to share with readers that I quit my job because I couldn’t mentally handle it. But I have now come far enough in my treatment to say, fuck those thoughts, and fuck the people who will judge me by this entry.
As I continue on this journey to improve my mental health, I will be sharing my personal solutions and experiences to relieve stress and anxiety. From DIY projects to yoga routines, redecorating to photography, I can’t wait to explore and feature new hobbies and activities that nurture balance in my life."
Last fall I wrote the blog post above on my former blog, Another 20-Something Girl's Blog. I was in a place of fear, uncertainty, and frustration. However, during all the darkness, I always had photography. I always had my love of art, adventure, capturing the moments that mattered most. No matter how bad I didn't want to get out of bed, I always had the eagerness to improve my work with a lens.
I've always believed that everything happens for a reason. But I was a half-ass believer until I decided to start my photography business. During the beginning stages of creating Shoshannah Lundeen Photography, I realized that everything I had experienced in life up until then was preparing me. Preparing me to become an entrepreneur and create Shoshannah Lundeen Photography. From meeting the right people to network with, to experience with SEO and Paid Social Media, all my experience; all my failures were setting me up for success.
So here I am now, with a smile on my face writing the first entry for a new chapter in my life. I remember sitting in treatment, thinking this day would never come, but it has. I can finally say that I am happy. Sure, I still have my tough days, but I am surrounded by the right people and I'm on the right track with the right career so I can get through the hard days. I've found a new appreciation for life and the little things that make it beautiful.