Last year, around this time, I was in a very dark place. I was broke, financially, spiritually, mentally and emotionally, but auto pilot kicked in and somehow I was able to keep pressing forward, even adding a second job to my full-time load. I kept telling myself that I was doing what I needed to do to keep myself afloat but, truth be told, it was probably the instinct of my self-destructive nature wrapped up in the guise of strength. When I’ve fallen that far, I self harm. I told myself that I’d given that up, and just because I’d stopped cutting myself for many years, doesn’t mean that I wasn’t self-harming. I was isolating, sabotaging my relationships with others, not eating, barely sleeping and purposely depriving myself of self care because I didn’t think that I deserved it. It seemed more noble to seemingly put others before me but really, I didn’t know how to be selfish when I needed to be; it’s easier to just ignore myself. It was a strange form of suicide, killing myself everyday by depriving myself of the things I desperately needed only to force myself through the same hell the next day and the next.
On the outside, I was doing a great job of keeping myself together. I was going to therapy. I was paying my bills. I was caring for my dog. I never missed a day at work. I worked 6-7 days a week. On the inside, everything was locked away in a safe, just to keep it contained. It festered. It fermented. It went from being just pain, hopelessness, and grief to a toxic resentment. I lost my smile. I lost my laugh. I lost myself. Depression is an invisible illness, one that will always be such a strange and twisted part of me. The one thing I couldn’t lose.
Looking back at the pictures from my Atlantic Fashion Week Debut, I can’t remember smiling harder. It was radiating off of me. I’d just been through hell and I’d used my designs to slay those ugly demons. It was a dream come true. It was magical. It was my Cinderella moment. Yet despite a glowing smile, if you look closely enough at the pictures, my skirt is too short to conceal the still healing cuts lacing up my thighs. I might bleed glitter, but I still bleed. Unicorns may cry crystals, but they still cry.
I don’t like people to see me cry.
So I didn’t. I kept to myself, hiding away in my little loft apartment. But there was something fighting to get out of me. And that is how my second Atlantic Fashion Week collection “Pieces of Me” was born.
“I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”
– Leonard Cohen
I had no money for all the pretty things of daydreams and pintrest so I started repurposing things I had around the house. The first thing to go was my pillowfort/reading nook. The mesh curtains came down and with the help of some silk flowers and a little bit of paint, became the finale piece “Letting Go”; a waterfall washing everything away, almost naked yet delicately concealed by blossoming hope.
Bedsheets were the next thing that I attacked. I painted them, bleached them, ripped them, burned them and embroidered them into the winged, orange creation that I called “Burn”. I wasn’t just setting pieces of fabric or loose threads aflame, I was lighting the fire to the bits of my soul that needed to be cauterized.
The dresses I made were nights of tears and days alone, a constant, invisible struggle behind a brave face. My therapist at the Avalon Centre wanted me to reflect on my hyperarousal responses: fight, flight, submit and attach. I’m not always the greatest with words, especially when it comes down to emotional explanations so she asked me to show her. She probably figured I would paint it out but what I had to show and tell needed to be embodied – the other pieces of me.
Fighter was fierce and graceful. Exposed yet raw strength. Refined and primal. She is my protector. She leads my herd as she is my first instinct. The fur bringing out that survival mode made from the scraps of the unicorn plushies that I used to sew and held up by a spiked, braided chain of gold, studded with crystals that used to be one of my favourite boutiquey necklaces. It may be barely held together by threads but it’s hanging on, ragged yet elegant.
Flight. My Monarch Butterfly Queen. Layers upon layers of butterfly wings that just seems to float effortlessly about the form as the wind would as she flies away. Her shoes have no heels, lifting her that much closer to flight. I’m not the best person with dealing with emotions or even confrontation so I hide behind something beautiful and run away. A monarch butterfly’s wings and colours are warning sign to predators, just as I have always been upfront with how skittish I am. Flight has it’s own strength carefully concealed behind vibrancy and delicacy. It’s not always not being able to fight, sometimes it’s the strength to know when to walk away.
One of the most difficult things to portray was “Submit”. This was not something that I even wanted to look at within myself. It was not something I ever wanted to admit to or even get close to. Even thinking about it now, is bringing a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. This is my survival mode. This is the “why didn’t you say anything?” “why didn’t you just leave?” “why didn’t you say no?” mode. This is my mindlessly agreeing to anything if it means that specific people wouldn’t get mad at me. This is me drinking and taking drugs to make me complicit and compliant so that life could just go on. This is me letting people do whatever they want to me because I don’t have any fight left in me and I didn’t place any value on myself.
So I give in. I submit.
This dress began as white. It was bleached, stained, dyed and painted to the chaotic sea that rages about the body. There are the ghost hands prints, holding her back, taking possession of her body. The body chains are just that, chains.The choker was designed to be similar to a bondage collar and it drips chains that surround the ribcage (repurposed from old necklaces). The butterfly wing is held captive in the centre, dangling a pearl teardrop because at this stage, flight isn’t an option. It’s just a pretty decoration that once symbolized hope. Although probably the simplest design of the collection, it was probably the most difficult for me to display.
I adored my Attach piece created from a vintage wedding gown and sari, a floating cloud of fabrics to make the model look and feel like a princess. It’s a mixture of a little girl’s joy, her hopes and dreams of being a fairytale princess, wrapped up in the security blanket of something beautiful life has created for her. I was lost in a sea of uncertainty, so I attached myself to the things that I thought were safe; things that society told me I should be. I clung to toxic relationships and situations. I couldn’t let go when I should have to the things that did me more harm than good but at least they were familiar. And somehow, that was comforting, that was my security blanket and in my own mind, I could make that beautiful somehow. I clung to fairytales, fantasies and pipe dreams. I would just accept things at face value because it was easier and in my head I could spin that tale into something more because that’s what I wanted for myself.
I love how Katie is barefoot on the runway. There’s something so pure and innocent about it. Something so naive that is the Attach piece of me.
So there you have it. The fragmented, upcycled, resewn pieces of me. Covered in glitter and fortified with crystal. A textile diary, my emotions brought to life.
Using Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” added an unexpected emotional power to my showcase that could not have been more fitting. It really brought everything to life.
“Take your broken heart and make it into art.” – Carrie Fisher
It’s taken me months to write this post. What a lot of people don’t realize is that when my final model left the stage and the final walk began, I broke down in tears. Chest heaving, gasping, sobs. I couldn’t even move. If Sarah hadn’t grabbed my hand and pulled me out from behind the curtain, I wouldn’t have had the strength to do so on my own accord. I smiled through the sobs as brilliantly as I could. Don’t get me wrong, I was overwhelmed and extremely proud of what was taking place, but I was also being consumed by the demons in my head. I had never been more vulnerable in front of all those people and all those cameras who had just seen the deepest parts of me and what’s more, they now could see me cry. Something inside me broke, and finally, everything that had been building, shoved away and ignored, came pouring out. And there, in front of my friends, my colleagues and strangers, I had a complete mental breakdown.
I kept a smile on for as long as I could. I fought back tears with all that I had. I laughed and celebrated with the excited people running around frantically backstage. I left as soon as humanly possibly. I cried all night. I got put off work and practically couldn’t get get out of bed for a month. I still cry when I have to go out in public and can’t always complete the errands that I have set out to do. I still lay in bed in the morning and give myself pep talks to get up.
I have a very bubbly reputation, one of childlike joy and naive glee. I’m that unicorn girl whose answer to everything seems to be “sprinkles” or “more glitter”. Atlantic Fashion Week gave me an incredible platform to share with everyone else how I could create my own Cinderella story; how I could take rags and abuse and turn them into something beautiful. It gave me a voice, when I thought I had none.
Depression isn’t always dark and ugly. It’s a way of life for me. It’s how I deal with it, that matters.
I’m extremely grateful to the models who formed my beautiful herd of unicorns. You ladies were exquisite and your enthusiasm meant the world to me. You ladies were my driving force forward and without even knowing it, you carried me through that night. From the bottom of my heart; thank you.