If you’ve never heard of HowAmIFeeling.org then you’re missing out. It’s a community you are encouraged to use your creativity to tell your story. It’s a place where for artwork that showcases unique perspective on mental health, emotions, connection, and everyday life and where you can take the audience on a journey. I first encountered HowAmIFeeling on Instagram last year. I loved the project and wanted to be part of it. Last year I did an interview with them, my first interview ever actually. And this year I did an art submission with them as well. Below is an interview with the creator, Julia.
I never quite know what to say about myself….so I guess I’ll start with this, my name is Julia, I’m 27, I live in Southern California. By day I am an office assistant and by night I work on my art or write. I grew up painting and drawing and I even used to make pictures using bits of my fruit loops as a little kid. Nowadays I dabble in animation and I’m trying to revive my love for film photography. In my free time I do yoga, I binge watch/listen to TedTalks, podcasts about storytelling, paranormal stuff, and mental health. I’m also 500% obsessed with my dog, she’s a lab/pitbull mix and is the greatest thing on this planet, hands down. I graduated community college with an AA in social and behavioral sciences, which is just a fancy title for general ed. Oh, and of course, I created the mental health project called “How Am I Feeling?”.
I had to think about this a for a while, how I wanted to personally define anxiety. Eventually, I looked up the definition and it said something along the lines of nervousness and worrying associated with an unsure outcome. It seemed pretty good but I want to add in that the unsure outcome can be real or imagined. For example, I have really long and annoying hypothetical situations/conversations in my head and will fall into the trap of triggering my anxiety. But I’ll rewind a bit to when it first began. I used to experience anxiety a lot more when I was younger when it didn’t have a name and it was just a thing that my body/mind did. As a kid, I got triggered by what felt like really random things until I got older and it all started to make sense. The situations that made me lose my breath were the ones that borderlined what would be considered normal. I was also quiet and very introverted so the thought of that kind of kid freaking out about these things didn’t exactly cross anyones radar. But I went through a few different things such as having anxiety attacks when I was asleep, freaking out about being away from home (even if it was across the street), being extremely nervous in groups of people to the extent that I couldn’t breathe, etc. Then during my teenage years things got a little bit worse because I still didn’t know what my mind or body were doing so I just kept living my life despite it. I went through a lot of stuff I wish I didn’t as a teen, including a car accident and a traumatic relationship. From what I can remember, the majority of these things happened between ages 14-18. I knew at 15 I needed to see a therapist, and I tried to do it but I never saw it through. I saw my first one at 18 after my car accident when I felt like I had what I considered a “real” reason to go. She diagnosed me with PTSD and later on through my current therapists I discovered I was also experiencing symptoms of derealization & intrusive thoughts. I saw that first therapist off and on for about a year until I hit a point where I wasn’t making any real progress. Then it took me until late 2015 when I found a therapist that fit and I’ve been seeing him since then. I also use Talkspace when I feel like I need to fix an immediate issue. So yeah, I have two therapists to help me manage things, and at first it felt weird to admit that, but it helps!
In regards to the stigma I experience, it isn’t necessarily a lot, but it’s enough where if I’m in a vulnerable mindset it will send me straight into a panic attack. If I’m trying to explain something to someone from a place of genuinely wanting to be understood, then it’s a very unstable spot for me to be in. If they respond the wrong way (which has happened more than I’ve wanted) then it’s game over. It instantly makes me feel invisible and then I shut down and I usually ugly cry and then go straight into a panic attack. So as much as I would love to educate people on the things that I experience, I normally can’t unless there have been strong boundaries set in place and/or they already have experience with mental illness. And other times when I do open up about what I experience it comes from a place that lacks a lot of emotional expression because I tend to rehearse what I want to say so I don’t end up getting triggered. Either way, some of the responses I’ve gotten were, “but everyone experiences that…” or “but everyone has mental health issues…” or “everyone has anxiety…” I don’t think I can put into words how heartbreaking it is for someone to respond that way or to visually see the gears beginning to turn in their head as I’m explaining something. It hurts a lot when those kinds of things happen, but afterwards, I honestly have no qualms with not opening up to them anymore. My mental well being is more important than having to cross my own boundaries to prove something to someone.
I started a project called ‘How Am I Feeling?’ in April-ish of 2015. Thankfully I took notes of when I started everything. The concept materialized in April but I didn’t quite officially start it until May, but I just say April because it feels right. It first began as an idea for a mental health themed webzine. I wanted to make different issues of it, covering different topics, etc. And I remember beginning to research how to create a webzine and it all just felt way too difficult and confusing so I opted for a website instead. Around the same time or just a little bit before that, I found an Instagram project called @wearealluncool. Unfortunately, they’re no longer operating, it was such a cool project. People submitted selfies and in the caption they wrote 3 things that were “uncool” about themselves. It was a campaign that focused on bringing people together through imperfections and whatnot. I felt really inspired after discovering it. I’ve always had a deep love for projects like this that brought people together in a unique way. I’ve been a long time fan of PostSecret as well and this other project called FOUND magazine where they collect notes and things that people find. And within the past couple years I’ve also fallen in love with the art of storytelling. I think that came sometime after discovering Casey Neistat, Brene Brown, Liz Gilbert, TedTalks, The Moth, and Mortified.
I started this project for a couple of reasons. The first being that I was definitely wanting to create something to fulfill the dark stuff I was feeling within myself. I wanted to be a part of a community and I also wanted to feel comfortable discussing all the things I kept buried for so long. However, I didn’t want to create a project based on my own personal story because: 1) I hate being vulnerable and 2) It wasn’t a clear cut story as most mental health advocates have and it just felt messy and still too raw for me to even discuss. So, like the true introvert that I am, I started with a blog and asked people to submit their stories. It started off slow and I soon found it to be very uncomfortable to approach people and essentially be like, “hey can you tell me about your mental illness so I can post about it on my blog?”. I hate prying into other peoples lives, especially when it involves such sensitive material. And then one night something happened… It was like I was hit by a lightning bolt and I instantly knew I had to start an art campaign on Instagram. I think it originally was going to be a short term thing by asking people, “What do you wish other people understood about your mental illness?” But they seemed to love that topic so much that it’s been a permanent one ever since then.
I think the idea of having art submissions has worked so well because it’s somehow easier to show how things look than it is to describe a feeling. Words also tend to strip things of their true meanings and shrink them down about 10 sizes. As time went on, I found it ironic that I was so excited to start this art thing that I wasn’t even making my own art. (Truthfully, I only just started creating again within the past few months!). But now that I am creating again, I feel like I’m able to look at the art submissions in a way that I wasn’t able to before. I couldn’t put my feelings onto paper like they did, but now when I look at their work I’m even more blown away than I was before. Being able to put an emotion on paper is definitely therapeutic and it makes pain or sadness an external thing and its almost like you finally have a little bit of control over it.
In addition to the artwork submissions, there is also an opportunity for artists to be interviewed about their work/how they are and how their experiences have influenced their art/etc. The series is called “Behind The Art”, and if people are interested in that option they can contact me directly through the general contact page. People can submit their artwork by heading to our website, www.howamifeeling.org. On the homepage they will find three ways to contribute (video, writing, and art), and only two are working at the moment. The video option is under construction. You can also follow us on Social Media: Instagram: @howamifeelingg. Facebook: facebook.com/howamifeeling.
What’s Next For HowAmIFeeling.org?
As much as I would love to spill some details, I can’t give away much, but a few things are in the works. I’m hoping to add another interview series at some point to explore more aspects of creativity and it’s relationship with mental health. A few collabs are currently happening behind the scenes and hopefully a few more will be coming up later this year. I just want to add that I hope this project really encourages people to explore their own mental health from a place of curiosity and exploration. When I was a teenager, we didn’t have as many resources or open conversations about mental health. And I understand that no matter what time period we’re in, the idea of making that first step forward is terrifying, but it’s worth it. And even if you aren’t ready, reach out to someone within the community if you notice that you resonate with someone else’s experience. I’ve watched a few conversations happen via Instagram between an artist and someone who was asking about how to get help. It was a heartwarming moment to see the project in action and to fulfill its purpose of bringing people together.
Notable Articles on HowAmIFeeling.org: