Wallace's open letter
Dear mental health,
I’ve always wanted to be superwoman. As a female entrepreneur and artist manager, I want people to associate me with my strengths - not my weaknesses. In interviews, meetings, and on social media I want to put my best foot forward. But discussing mental health on a public platform requires vulnerability. And vulnerability is messy. It implies an exposure - a weakness. I don’t like those. But this year I had a sort of revelation about superpower. Empathy is the key, not self-sufficient brut strength. Through admitting and accepting my weaknesses I started accessing a different kind of strength - peace. And peace changed everything.
Since age five I can remember an insatiable need to achieve. I’d be inspired by someone or something and immediately want to emulate it at the highest level. I saw the Nutcracker at age four and left begging my mom for dance lessons so I could train to be a professional ballerina. At five I saw Mia Hamm play and immediately joined the peewee soccer team with dreams of playing in the World Cup. While on a family trip to Paris at age six, I was awestruck by Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Latte painting at the Louvre. When I got home, I begged my mom for acrylic paints and tried to copy the exact image, determined to master the art of pointillism. LOL.
I went through phases but was always in hot pursuit of excellence. Over time the passion to learn turned into a need for validation. I became a people pleaser and an affirmation seeker. By middle school, I was consumed by to-do lists and other’s opinions of me. Subconsciously, my goals were - make straight As, score the winning goal, build the best resume humanly possible, make everyone like you in the process, fall in love and live happily ever after. HA.
On the outside, things were going pretty well in high school. I had a 4.0 and was homecoming queen my senior year.
But along the way, perfectionism started manipulating my mind and distorting my outlook. I became obsessive about my body and starved myself seeking attention, control, and - perfection. I was consumed by comparison. I was hungry for love and looking for it in all the wrong places. I struggled with that for about two years before having a spiritual encounter that lead me to a place of healing in this area. I was regaining control over my mind and body and felt stronger than ever until a few surprises sort of slapped me in the face. To keep it brief, I experienced a series of emotional and physical traumas/micro traumas - toxic relationships, various heartbreaks, a few health emergencies, rejection, failure, and a lot of disappointment (also known as life). But I felt trapped in a cycle where every time I’d reach a peak of happiness, the shoe dropped. Like whiplash I was jolted - over and over again. So I made resilience my forte. “I’d bounce back! I was strong, right?!” Busy. Social. Confident. Driven. I’d keep myself distracted and keep pushing forward.
For years, I never stopped.
Along the way anxiety crept in and made a nice little home inside my body. On the outside, I was healthy. But chronic migraines, stomach issues, a clenched jaw and grinding teeth, shallow breath, racing heartbeat, shaky hands, chest pain and insomnia told a different story. I started having panic attacks and fainted on a few occasions (including during both the Alt-j and Greta Van Fleet concert … smh).
Over time anxiety went from being a sign of stress to being part of me. It was winning. And I felt it stealing my life away out from under me. It started to define me. And I grew weirdly attached to it. It was controlling me. And then one day my overall homeostasis seemed to change - everything just felt heavy. I was beyond overwhelmed. I was buried in it. “I don’t have TIME to feel this sad,” I thought. “I have people to please! I have things to accomplish! I have places to be! I have an image to keep!”
But this time I tried something different. I stopped.
I admitted that I couldn’t do it alone. I asked for help. I finally got myself in therapy. I dragged myself to church. I let myself accept where I was and named it. I leaned in and didn’t run away. And I won’t lie, it sucked. There’s a few months that just feel like one big zombie commute on a cold subway train to midtown Manhattan where I saw a therapist twice a week. The train ride took just as long as the session. It was survival. During that season of my life I felt accomplished just for getting through the day.
But then something happened after I made some BIG changes and a bunch of little ones. It was terribly uncomfortable but I kept this truth top of mind along the way - “the light is coming.” And one day, it did. Life got lighter. Gray turned back to color. I started to breathe deeper. The chronic physical symptoms became manageable and in some cases nonexistent. I started experiencing moments of joy. I felt calmer. And I found peace.
I still struggle with anxiety and have a lot more work to do on myself. But I’m so thankful to have found a community of like-minded people who value mental wellness and are willing to engage in constructive conversation on the topic. So before I sign off, I’d love to share a few practical things that have helped me manage anxiety.
First, healing starts with awareness and acceptance. I had to make my mental health a priority and get painfully honest before I could begin positive growth. Then I had to do the work (and am still doing it). I needed to recognize cycles, admit my failures and shortcomings, start making hard choices to move in a different direction, and have faith for new outcomes. Therapy and journaling helped me a lot with this bit which in turn helped me discover that my mental health is co-dependent on both my physical and spiritual wellbeing. I found that things like breathe work meditation, stretching, daily movement (yoga, running/walking, dancing, skating, literally whatever gets the blood flowing and is FUN/restorative/energizing), eating food that makes me feel good (food is FUEL, eat it!!), avoiding food that makes me feel bad (dairy, excessive sugar or gluten, red meat, processed snacks), and drinking MORE WATER were improving my physical health and in turn helping my mental state. In the same way, prioritizing my spiritual health through prayer, meditation, and time alone in quiet solitude became a refuge of sorts. On a more philosophical note, I started adopting a ‘less but better’ mentality with the hope of simplifying my life where possible to allow more space. A lot of these changes require a focus on self care, which in my opinion is not an Instagram trend - it’s a discipline. For me, self care has required setting tough boundaries, learning to say no, and making intentional choices with my time. Self care can also be super practical like choosing to take a bath, go for a walk, cook a healthy meal, read a book or write poetry instead of binging Netflix or scrolling through Instagram.
Changes big or small are hard, and I’m not always up for the challenge. But when I create a healthier more disciplined environment, I do see a distinct shift in myself and my relationships that I want more of. I’m a work-in-progress. I’m unlearning so much, healing from a lot, and learning a ton. Mental wellness is a journey and everyone’s looks different. I don’t have it figured out. But I do want someone out there struggling or hurting to hear this - I truly believe the light is coming.
Books: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown
IG Accounts: @theholisticphysologist @girlboss @rupikaur
Apps: Headspace, Co-Star, Jesus Calling, Clue
Newsletters: Wake Up Wednesday by Live Better
Meditative Music: Grandbrothers, Hillsong (United, Young & Free, Worship), Bon Iver
HOLISTIC VIBES I LOVE:
Lavender Essential Oils
Essential Oil Infused Candles
Turmeric Frothed Oat Milk Latte