I used to think that this was normal.
I didn’t realise it was a problem until I was in my mid 20s – because I was still struggling to remember anything I was doing.
My friends would ask me, “Do you remember that time we did…”
“Can you remember the time we went to…”
Trips, nights out, conversations, and important life events – I would never remember any of them! Why couldn’t I remember anything?
I started to think that there was something wrong with me. People all around me were all recalling their own memories, their childhoods, their LIVES with smiles on their faces and it made me wonder…
Maybe this is why I struggled to feel happy?
I spent my whole childhood feeling like a sad, lost and lonely little girl, and most of my teenage years and young adult life with depression. I was ALWAYS looking for the reason why I felt this way.
And part of me I knew that deep down, this sadness, depression, the way I was living my life – it wasn’t me.
But at the same time, I didn’t really know who I was at all.
Have you ever wondered who you really are?
I knew I always felt very different to everyone around me.
– Maybe it was because I was born in Poland and lacked a true sense of belonging?
– Maybe it was because I grew up in an environment with arguments and violence, and spent a lot of time withdrawing from it all in my bedroom?
– Maybe it was because of the horrific bullying from people I thought were my school friends, leaving me unable to trust or let anyone get close to me for a really long time?
Whatever it was, I’d lost the ability to make new memories and was left feeling pain and shame along with a few fragments and flashes of quite confusing memories – that for most of my life I couldn’t even believe were really even true and I was too scared to ask anyone about them in case people thought I was insane.
I felt like the most rotten person in the whole world.
It was as if at one point I just completely shut myself down, and that’s how I continued to live for the rest of my young life – retreating off into my mind, never fully able to connect to the world around me, my feelings, my experiences.
And over the years I created an alter ego; just like the superheroes I was fascinated by as a child, and later becoming the friendly classroom weirdo and clown, presenting only the parts of myself I thought would be accepted – until I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted any more. I did what I thought I should, instead of carving my own path – because I thought it would gain me love, approval and acceptance.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt you had to do that?
I shut down and rejected who I was – so I couldn’t be rejected by anyone else. The further and further away I moved from who I really was, the more depressed and anxious I became. I had zero self-esteem but nobody knew any of this.
I was a master of wearing a mask, hiding how I felt, so as not to be a burden to anyone.
I went through the motions. I went to school, university, even landed a well-paid job. I got a brand new car, and almost even a mortgage too. I even studied 7 languages and spent time living alone in Berlin.
On the outside, I looked like I totally had my shit together. I looked like the life and soul of the party – people would always tell me I was confident, crazy, and creative too.
But on the inside, my thoughts were dark, I hated myself and my life. I was never present. I was always on high alert, looking for what was next.
My inner monologue was horrific – I thought everyone hated me, that I’d done something wrong or that I was about to get caught out for something.
I felt like I was slipping more and more into the role of an observer of life, and never the participant.
I wanted to die. This wasn’t the life I knew I should be living.
Have you ever felt like you’re living someone else’s life?
Something inside me told me that my unhappiness had something to do with my memories.
I used a bonus from my day job to buy myself a camera. I thought if I could photograph things that I was doing to remind my brain that life wasn’t as bad as it was always trying to make out, then maybe, just maybe, I could trick my brain into believing that I was actually happy and that my life wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I believed it to be
This decision was the catalyst that changed my life completely.
At first I started taking photographs on my lunch break at work – it was something that would take me out of my own head, away from my own pain and suffering, and gave me something to do with my time.
It reminded me to be a part of the world and start to look at life again – even if it was through that small rectangular frame inside the camera. It made me slow down, it made me create interrupts in my thought processes whilst looking for recurring patterns in the world around me – lines, shadows, reflections, tiny pieces of beauty we would often miss by living inside our own heads all of the time.
And when people started asking me to take photographs for them, and pay me for it too, it felt like I was finally good at something and was gaining acceptance from others.
Photography then really helped me connect with people too.
I had spent such a long time wearing a mask and second-guessing what I said and did so that people would ‘like me’ and ‘accept me’, that I lost connection with whom I really was. My camera became a bridge to not only the outside world, but also to other people too.
Over time, pushing myself past my comfort zone regularly and feeling like I was doing something people liked started to build my self-esteem. I thought to myself:
“Maybe I can leave this job and become a full time photographer???”
Fast Forward 10 years…
I was sitting at the airport in New York City when out of nowhere, I started sobbing into my cup of tea. I couldn’t understand it.
My diary was full – weddings, events, heck, I’d even just taken photographs in one of New York’s coolest nightclubs still wearing the AAA wristband.
With my dream trip of a lifetime to Thailand booked later that year, I’d still been able to just hop on a plane at the drop of a hat to follow my DJ boyfriend on tour round Canada and the USA.
What was up with me?
I’d done everything I thought I’d wanted but still I wasn’t happy.
Suddenly it clicked
The inside didn’t match the outside.
I might have always looked like I was super confident and had my shit together – in school, when I had jobs, even running my first business FlukePhotography, but inside I was always feeling like an imposter, a fraud, again rejecting myself before anyone could reject me.
I didn’t trust myself.
I didn’t believe I knew anything about running a business so I listened to what everyone else said I should do. And lost myself again in the process.
Does this sound familiar at all?
What started out as doing something I thought I wanted, I ended up making them same mistakes all over again.
Doing what others told me to do and constantly looking for approval in the process.
Doing what I wanted didn’t feel safe.
So I just shut down until I couldn’t feel anything any more.
I was used to feeling unhappy, whilst forcing out the happy façade but this time when I got back from my trip, I felt nothing.
And it wasn’t until that trip that I finally caught up with myself to notice.
I didn’t want to go home to what I had built.
I had to say out loud that THIS IS NOT WHO I AM and I had to own the fact that I was not making the impact I knew I was here for.
I had some serious work to do.
At first, I fell into a deep depression. I was so ashamed. There was this unlived life inside of me, desperate to get out but I just couldn’t reach her.
I broke, smashed up and destroyed everything – even my first business.
“What the hell was wrong with me?!” I thought to myself constantly. I was talented, I was capable, I was incredibly driven. I just couldn’t seem to do the things I wanted.
I felt hopeless, stuck and incredibly frustrated. I wallowed for a while, as I always do, but then this inner spark didn’t allow me to stay there.
I picked myself up. I knew I had to go on a journey to become the person I was meant to be; the one that everyone else could see, and that I was somehow completely blind to or incapable of being for very long at all.
It was really fucking scary.
I had to look at myself, my past, all of the stories, beliefs and thoughts; I had to own up to what I was getting wrong; I had to re-train my brain and choose to focus on my strengths, make peace with my ‘flaws’ and accept myself and everything about me. I had to get in touch with my emotions, and my god had I buried so much! I had to uncover all the conditioning I’d been subject to, learn about narcissistic abuse and how to feel safe in my body for the first time ever.
I had to learn that what happened to me wasn’t my fault – but it was my responsibility to make the change and I sure as hell wasn’t going to pass on anything that happened to me
I had to learn I had complex ptsd and had lived my whole life with undiagnosed ADHD and every time that life knocked me down, I got back up again, and again, and again.