Coping with Stress + Anxiety Through Fashion

I realize that it’s been kind of a while since I hopped on here and shared a personal experience, and to be honest, there’s been a lot of reasons why. If you follow me on Instagram, you might’ve seen me share a bit about my struggles with mental health in 2020 due to the uncertainty of a world turned upside down by Covid-19, but that was really just the tip of the iceberg as far as what I’ve been going through as 2021 meanders on.

Going back to beginning of my battle with chronic anxiety means taking a trip back to 2018. Newly graduated from college after 5 years, recently engaged, an offer signed with my dream company, and plans to move semi-cross country to Colorado to be with my future husband; life looked like it had finally fallen into place. Well, come to realize, it was the farthest things from all figured out.

The ink on my diploma had barely dried before I found myself and my future husband whisking ourselves away on the 17 hour drive to Denver that was, in reality, my journey to adulthood. We had stopped at my parents’ house on the way to stay the night, and as we said our tearful goodbyes and drove away from the only constant home I had known for more than 20 years, the gravity of the plans we had talked about and longed for for so long finally hit me hard. Was I ready to leave it all behind? Was I ready to take a chance on love and rebuild a life together with someone else? Was this new life really what I wanted or was it what I was supposed to want?

The road to Colorado…

It all culminated in me breaking down in tears at a Noodles & Company somewhere on the edge of Colorado. I had realized that, for another two weeks until my job started, I wouldn’t be making any money. Suddenly the thought of paying $20 for lunch seemed frightening, especially after being supported by my parents as a student. The excitement of everything coming together faded into a void of fear and me questioning if I was really ready to take on the worries and struggles of true ‘adulting’ so far from home.

Looking back now, I realize how trivial some of my worries were. As a more or less established “adult”, I know how innocent and sheltered I must’ve seemed to so many people when I was finally tossed into the deep end of real life. But, to be honest, this incident was just the start of what I’ve always known to be there, but have only just started acknowledging.

Long story short, two years in Denver passed achingly. What I had thought was my dream job as an engineer turned out to be a restrictive, suffocating world devoid of creativity, expression, and a sense of community with others. I voluntarily reduced my time (and money) to half of what it was because I was crying out of desperation every night, fighting with my new husband, and looking to a never-ending stream of online orders to bring excitement to what I felt like was a life completely opposite of what I had envisioned for myself. I missed my family and my friends, and the void within grew deeper as I found myself holed up in our apartment after coming down with a Covid-19-suspected illness shortly after the pandemic broke out.

Two years of using fashion to cope with anxiety + missing home.

I felt scared of the feelings I was having. Numerous times I felt too depressed to shower, or brush my hair. Other times I slept barely 5 hours a night, and woke with nightmares. Fights with my spouse got more intense than I ever imagined. I felt like a failure, like the life of adventure and excitement I had always wanted was slipping further and further away. After a few years of being at the airport every few months to travel to our loved ones, I developed a severe anxiety of flying, having panic attacks that would leave me in tears or close to passing out any time turbulence hit. Other fears that I had carried for a lot of years intensified to the point of feeling like I couldn’t function.

In the middle of all of this, I had decided to take a leap I had always been afraid to take and start my own fashion Instagram account and blog. Despite warnings from numerous people about the dangers of the Internet and social media, I was at the point to where, if I didn’t have a creative outlet, I was afraid of what would happen. Initially, I proceeded with a lot of caution: I posted sporadically and sparsely, barely captioning photos and not allowing comments while monitoring every follow I got. In retrospect, I honestly didn’t know anything about an “Instagram Algorithm” and thought pretty pictures were enough to be successful (as I had experienced when using IG in college), and so my account didn’t grow much the first year.

My fashion blog was my only real creative outlet. This was taken our first summer in Denver.

But, as it turns out, my time of greatest struggle really became the catalyst to my road to liberation. When I was quarantined at home with possible Covid, I really started to learn more about what it takes to be a successful fashion and lifestyle blogger. I ended my self-limiting behavior when it came to my accounts, simultaneously understanding the risk while also developing a thicker skin. I officially started my own website, and realized that my true passion for creative expression through clothing was my driving force in life. I realized the path I wanted to pursue solely for my own enjoyment and no one else’s approval. I admitted, finally, that I was struggling mentally. I admitted that what I had thought was my end-all-be-all before was just not the right fit (which in reality, it never had been the right fit, but when it’s what you’re supposed to want, it’s easy to think that you do). My husband and I finally put to rest a lot of the issues we had over the past few years, and decided to work together as a team to pursue dreams that we both knew would make us happier in the long run.

And so, after all of that commotion and chaos, I’ve ended up here: living the dream in sunny San Diego, finally living my truth, and pursuing my dream of being a fashion blogger. That means the mental health issues must’ve gotten better, right?

Well, as I’ve come to find out, that’s not really the case. When you’ve been carrying around anxious habits, depressive thoughts, and a fatalistic attitude your whole life, things don’t just go away overnight. In fact, for me, they got worse before they got better.

While driving back from a photoshoot at the Cabazon Dinosaurs late last summer, I had an out-of-the-blue out-of-body panic attack in which I couldn’t control my perception of reality. It spiraled and spiraled and scared the daylights out of me, almost literally. Nothing like this in all my years of dealing with stress, loss, or underlying anxiety had ever done something like this to me before. I had no idea why it happened, and for many months after I felt confused, vulnerable, and very afraid it would happen again.

The day I had my very first panic attack, kinda hard to believe this photo was taken only a few minutes before.

As 2020 drew to a close, the tragedy of losing our family dog who had been with us for 14 years and my mini-life crisis at turning 25 (and being officially in my mid-going-on-late twenties) really started to get to me. On a trip to celebrate my birthday, more panic attacks started to hit. I felt scared that I was getting older and still not accomplishing (or at least I thought) what I’d always wanted to do. The throes of the pandemic kept fluctuating, and I became fearful that things would never again get back to normal. Pretty soon, panic seemed all that I had. Attacks would pop up during family holiday dinners or spontaneously during long drives. I felt powerless, possessed almost, with this disease I just couldn’t understand.

The only time when I felt like myself was when I was dressing up in outlandish clothes and parading around in front of a camera. I know it sounds trivial and silly, but styling and shopping became my therapy, a way for my mind to calm down its vicious thoughts. I was scared to admit my struggles to others, and that I needed help, for fear of judgement and accusations of seeking attention.

My only real happy place was in front of the camera, wearing my clothes. My hubby snapped these no-makeup shots of me in my dressing room.

I finally made the decision to call my doctor and speak to a therapist after a long-winded panic attack during Thanksgiving. I set up an appointment, and after a lot of long discussions with my husband, decided to start on a low dose of anxiety medication. I started after the New Year (kind of a New Year, new me sort of thing) and for the next two months, rode the endless waves of horrible side effects and withdrawals as I searched for a medication that worked in harmony with my body.

Finally, a little over a month ago, I landed on one that actually has made things better, and have been able to work with my therapist to understand and redirect my thoughts. It’s not 100% better by any means, but I feel better than I have for the past few years, and I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.

Finally starting to feel like myself after several months of working with a therapist. Making it a point this year to travel and live out my dreams!

All in all, even though I’m not where I want to be in life yet (I still do want to see the world and be a fashion blogger and model and all that), I’m a lot happier with where I am now than I was. I feel like I have a clearer direction, and I can see things from the outside instead of so close to home. Throughout it all, this journey has brought me closer to my true passion in life: wearing what makes me happy and using that to (hopefully) inspire others to do the same. The creativity and expression fashion has brought me pulled me out of my lowest moments, and gave me a reason to keep on keeping on. Building this blog and this personal brand has given me confidence to keep on dreaming even if it involves sometimes being heart broken.

So, if you’ve made it this far, thank you, truly, for listening to my story. Thank you for being on this page, and thank you for supporting the dream that little by little I inch towards every day. It’s a lot of sacrifice, time, and love, but it’s worth every minute for readers like you.

And, if you’re also struggling with mental health, anxiety, or depression, know that you’re not alone. So many people struggle and don’t always show it, and if you are one of these people like I am, don’t be afraid to seek help and be vulnerable. After all, we all need a little support sometimes, and that’s 100% okay. Just because you appear fine doesn’t mean you have to be on the inside, and just because you’re struggling on the inside doesn’t mean that you can’t work towards the life you want. I’ve learned that there’s healing in listening to your true heart, and strength in finding your passion. Sometimes our darkest times are really just a diamond in the making.

Wishing you a week filled with happiness, love, and joy!

Xx Tabi

Leave a Reply