#7D4H - Guest Blogger Cait Brogan #mentalhealth

About our Guest Blogger: Cait Brogan is an American Sign Language Interpreting student at NTID/RIT. She has known Marian Brown, the director of this project, since birth. Cait loves candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach (read: pizza and Netflix binges with boyfriend Drew and cats Paul and Tee). She is appreciative of this opportunity to speak honestly about an issue she has been conquering for many years. Comments or questions can be directed to cait.brogan@gmail.com

Title: My 25th Birthday 

Today is my twenty-fifth birthday. I know it’s not one of the milestone ones- I can already drive a car, vote and drink legally, so all I really have to look forward to this year is being able to rent a car, which isn’t really exciting when you already have one. So you’ll probably agree with me that this particular number isn’t all that spectacular. But when you wake up every day and need to will yourself out of bed when your brain and body tell you to stay, every milestone, now matter how small, is a victory.

I was born to worry. My mother tells me that the cause of my constant anxiety is the “worry gene,” a tendency to fret about the smallest things that has been passed down our family line. My father knew better; as a clinical psychologist, he was able to observe my behaviors and patterns growing up, and I was diagnosed around age ten with my own private alphabet. GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and clinical depression were added to my ever-growing medical chart. Which, to be honest, granted me reason to worry: I was born in kidney failure and received a transplant at seventeen, just one of my eighteen surgeries to date. While these medical concerns gave me legitimate things to focus my anxiety on, they are not and have never been the cause of my anxiety.

If you know one person with depression, you know one person with depression. Same with anxiety disorders. I am not sad. I am not upset. I am not scared. My brain processes reality differently than yours. And trust me, I am aware of it. I know that there is no logical reason to touch all of the cabinet doors in my kitchen if one has been left open, just to hear them all click. I know that it doesn’t matter which shoe goes on first, but that didn’t stop a cognitive behavioral therapist from working with me for months on leaving the house after putting my right shoe on before my left, and not stopping to readjust. Contrary to popular belief, I am not incredibly organized or clean. I’ve been known to leave an extraordinary amount of dishes in the sink, much to my boyfriend’s dismay (The funny contradiction is, most people think that individuals who have compulsion disorders are clean freaks. This is just one compulsion, and I don’t happen to have it. My anxiety about touching left over food on even my own plate supersedes my desire to have a clean kitchen). I know that these minute details of the day seem mundane, and that ordinarily, people would not give them a second thought. My anxiety tells me that if I do not perform these routines, something will go wrong. I am hyper aware of my own heartbeat. To keep myself steady, I perform cursory tasks.

On most days, I am able to proceed with little error. However, if something varies from my routine, it is extremely difficult for me to go on with my schedule. Recently, I lost my keychain. On it was my apartment key, car key, mailbox key, the key to my parents’ house, and the key to the home of the family I babysit. I was frantic. My parents, unaware of my status as a survivor of sexual assault, were constantly reminding me that someone could have found my keys and decided to enter my apartment. I became so anxious that performing every day tasks seemed impossible. My self-esteem spiraled, and my depression crept in to remind me that I was worthless. For three days, I barely left my house. I returned to the suicidal state that I had lived in before I started taking SSRI’s, and was once again rescued by Paul McCartney, my sweet black cat. I got my apartment locks changed, and assembled a new key chain. However, one of my compulsions has escalated- I’ve always been vigilant about locking my door and making sure it’s secure, but now I hesitate just a little longer on the doorknob, just to make sure.

I am a strong woman. I am a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend. I am a student and an employee. I am someone’s study partner, someone’s shoulder to cry on, the love of someone’s life. These are the traits that define me, not the chemical imbalance in my brain that alters my worldview.

My one request of you is this: if you meet someone with anxiety or depression, don’t judge us. We do not fit in a mold. If you have questions, ask; don’t assume. We are individuals who are doing our best to put one foot in front of the other. If you try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, chances are, they won’t fit.

Call to action: Do you have important information around one of our seven causes: HIV/AIDS, Mental Health, Nutrition, Heart Disease, Maternal Child Health, Cancer, Disability, that you want to share with a wider audience? Do you or a loved one currently live and/or struggle with one of these causes? Do you work in research, advocacy, prevention, treatment or care? We want to hear from YOU! Write to us today: 7dresses@artsconnectinternational.org to become a featured blog writer.  Another way to get involved is to wear the color of the day in solidarity. Take a picture of yourself in the color of the day and Tweet it @ArtsConnectInt, tag us on Instagram @ArtsConnectInt.  

About 7 Dresses 4 Health (7D4H): 7D4H is a year-long arts and health education campaign lead by visual artist, Marian Brown, in conjunction with Arts Connect International. The objective of the campaign is to promote inclusive community practices through adDRESSing health artistically and collaboratively. To learn more about the genesis of the project, read Marian’s New Year Blog

About today's look: All of the dresses for 7 Dresses 4 Health were designed and sewn by Kim's Fashion Design. Love the look? Visit Kim at 100 Huntington Ave, Boston MA 02116, call her at (617) 267-9299 or email her: info@kimsfashion.com. Mention 7 Dresses 4 Health for a special discount! 

Campaign Update (2017): All 7 Dresses 4 Health blogs were migrated from a former site, so the sharing analytics are inconsistent from when they were first published. We apologize to our guest bloggers, and readers, for this inconvenience. That said, the campaign garnered an average of 5K hits per blog, over 500,000 readers throughout 2015! Additionally, the average number of shares per guest blog was over 150x on social media (through Facebook and Twitter). Thank you for making this incredible campaign possible - and for all that it was for so many. With gratitude, Marian & the ACI Team