Kyira: “So I know we talked a bit about the interview piece and again, feel free to take this in whatever direction feels important to you but I also start by asking people about what made this project feel important for them to be a part of. So, what was it for you?”

Ryan: “For me, I thought it was important to join because, as of lately, I have not felt beautiful myself. I suffer from anxiety and depression and um, one of the medications i was on actually made me gain a lot of weight. I mean a lot more than like 40 or 50 lbs. And so, when I look in the mirror sometimes, it is hard of me to actually feel beautiful. And so, when I saw this on Facebook and saw that one of my friends was interested I was like, ‘Oh wow, this looks cool, I should be a part of it’…especially because I have been so down on myself lately for something that is both out of my control but something that has made me feel pretty bad about myself. And so, I thought diving into this project and actually coming here today might give me an even bigger boost to keep fighting.”

Kyira: “Yeah, absolutely. I was talking about that with several other people as well who suffer from a variety of different mental illnesses and I too, suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and how, for people to decide to work on their recovery or are able to work more towards their recovery, medication is often a big part of the mix. And, I feel like depression especially is one where a lot of the medications have major weight gain as a side effect…”

Ryan: “Mmhmm.”

Kyira: “And so, you decide to make a decision for your mental health by taking these medications and then look at how quickly it tears apart these other pieces. And then you’re stuck because you want to feel good in your skin and allow for the opportunity to believe you are inherently beautiful but then you also have to make choices that challenge that. And while you can know why you are making certain decisions or feel grounded in them, it tends to pull you in very different directions. And ultimately, the pressure is tied back into this societal piece of valuing thinness over health - mental and physical and also valuing it over…well over any other weight…normal weight, overweight…anyone that does not weigh in in this tiny bucket.”

Ryan: “Right. And yeah, it certainly has been hard for me. Well just having mental health issues in general and then having all of that added on and all of these side effects from the medications and all of that. And so, it was hard before but it is even harder now that I am trying to get help for it and then it makes, like you said, other aspects of me and my confidence weak or broken.”

Kyira: “So, in thinking about that a little deeper, how do you think the culture that we, or you specifically live in - family, society at large, etc - effects your ability to feel beautiful?”

Ryan: “Um, with that weight gain it’s…it’s…I mean I know that living in this culture, I worry about being unwanted or that society might reject the way I look now as opposed to the way I looked before. Um, because generally, it seems like society just values the thin person or the supermodel and you know, the look of people on TV or whatever and kind of throws to the side everyone else. The ‘actually normal’ people. Because not everyone looks like a supermodel, you know? And…I don’t know I feel like I went on a tangent. What was the question again?”

Kyira: “No, no.” (both laugh) “You were going in a great direction!”

Ryan: “Okay.”

Kyira: “But I mean, so thinking about that, what has been the hardest part of you in this journey? I mean it takes so much courage to come here and not only be a part of this project but to talk about the battle you have faced with mental illness too and putting that on the table, I mean, because as I am sure you know, we definitely don't talk about that in our culture either.”

Ryan: “Right. Right. Um, yeah, I um, like you said, mental health issues….like with me, right now, its both physical and mental health. And, I have OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder] as my primary diagnosis and I was actually in a residential program for 4 months this year in Oconomowoc to try and deal with that, or manage that. And so, this year has been a really big struggle and so…I struggle with that and um…I am getting caught up on my words here…”

Kyira: “That's okay, it’s a hard thing to talk about. Take whatever time you need.”

Ryan: “I struggle with that and the stigma around it as well. Because there are so many people who just don't understand mental health issues and just laugh it off or write it off as not a big thing but your brain is one of the most important organs in your body and it’s just like, if you broke your leg you would go to the doctor and do what you could to get that back to healthy and so it is the same thing with the brain. But yet, society seems to see that as something we can push to the side because it is not that important. And so, because of that I also wanted to push myself to be a part of this because, because of that I have also not felt beautiful. And that is a really big issue I think so many people face.”

Kyira: “And so how did you find the courage to talk so openly about this and push yourself to do this?”

Ryan: “Um, I’m just, I’m not, uh, I’m trying not to hide that part of me anymore. I know that a long time ago I wouldn’t want to tell anybody that I had OCD or anything because I was afraid of how they would look at me or treat me from that. But, I know that in these past couple of years, I have gotten to the point where I see that it is a part of me but does not have to define who I am. But it is something I am struggling with and if I can share that in a space like this then maybe friends or family or anyone who reads this can feel comfortable to say, ‘Oh I am struggling with that too’ or something like that and we can create a more expansive support system for each other. And we can end the stigma of ‘That person is crazy’ or ‘that person doesn’t belong because they have a mental illness’. Because ultimately, they belong even more because of they deserve to be supported in their struggles.”

Kyira: “Yeah. Wow that speaks to me so much. And just the piece about mental illness being a part of you but not all of you. I think so many people get lost between the two and lose themselves in their diagnosis. And by pushing past the stigma and shame to come out into the light and share your story, I mean at least for me, I found myself freed in so many ways and no longer felt like I had to hide. My illness didn’t control me like it used to.”

Ryan: “Right, exactly.”

Kyira: “So, how do you nurture that? Because, I mean it sounds like you have made some pretty intentional choices to get yourself to this point and to keep pushing past different barriers. How do you celebrate and nurture that growth and perseverance?”

Ryan: “It’s always…it’s hard to nurture it sometimes…especially some days are a lot harder than others to get through. I mean I know some days depression definitely gets the better of me. But, I know that being with those I love and care about really helps give me the will to move forward and fight on with my life, I guess. Because I have some really support friends and a great support system around me in Madison. And, I mean, my family lives in Michigan but I talk to my mom every day and talk to other family members and they are all really understanding of what I have to deal with and really supportive so, just having someone I can call at any time of the day when I need to, I mean even when I am not feeling down but just want to share something good with, really helps.”

Kyira: “Absolutely. And I think that highlights really two pieces. One building that support system for yourself but also, the second, is letting people in and letting people see those more vulnerable pieces of you. Because that feeds back into itself too of reminding you that you have these people who love and support you for who you are entirely and that you can have this relationship that is not defined by but can include this key piece of you so that when you are struggling and mental illness needs to be at the forefront of the discussion, they don’t shy away from it.”

Ryan: “Right. I feel so lucky to have that.”

Kyira: “And through conversations like this, you are helping open the door for so many other people to have that too. What message do you have for other people who might be struggling out there?”

Ryan: “Well, it um, as a message for other people, it might sound cliche but I just want people to know that they are not alone. Because, I mean even I still feel that way sometimes that I am fighting this alone or that no one could understand. And so I spend a lot of time stuck in my mind all by myself and I just want everyone to know that if you search for it or can open yourself to that possibility, then you will find people that will and want to be here with you on your road to recovery.”

Kyira: “What a great place for us to end and let me just say again, thank you so much for being here with me and taking the time to talk so intimately about your journey.”

Ryan: “No, thank you!”