Tyler is 29 years old. He’s a senior designer working in Bellevue in Washington, Seattle, and when he’s not busy with his UI-based design work, you’ll most likely find him with a guitar in his arms.
Creative through and through, from touring with bands to finding inspiration from Walt Disney himself, here Tyler tells us a little about his lifestyle:
“I’m a bit of a homebody. I like to be at my home relaxing. I love watching movies, listening to music and podcasts and of late, making cookies.
“I’m also a bit of nerd. I love Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Studio Ghibli films. As you might guess, being from Seattle, I love coffee and I have worked at a Starbucks in my life. I love traveling, but don’t do it as much as I would like.
Tyler’s also familiar with the effect mental health issues can have on your life, and likewise the effect life can have on your mental health.
“This year, my wife of four years and I got a divorce.
“This has been a tremendous hardship on me, but I am trying to have it shape me into a different and better person. I can’t explain the feeling of emptiness that accompanies getting a divorce and it is a pain that I wish on no one. Getting through this has been the hardest test of my life. Currently I am fighting like hell to just be me, but I question who I am everyday.
“April 17th, 2016 I lost one of the most important heroes in my life, my grandfather. He was a great man, a US Air Force Colonel, teacher, story teller, museum founder, and someone who I aspire to be like every day. Losing him changed me. It was the first family member that I have lost, but it was also someone who had such a large impact on me. I fought to stay normal, to have a semblance of strength, to be human. That loss took a tremendous toll on me, and even today, as I read through a facebook post on the Titan Missile Museum (the one he founded) I was brought to tears reading what people had to say about this great man. He has been, and will continue to be, my hero.”
As it does for so many, the starting line for Tyler’s experiences with mental health is a blurred one – something that’s lead him to question whether this has been something he’s always experienced.
“I struggle with social anxiety and depression. Talking with people who I am not comfortable with scares me beyond belief. I pour over social situations long after they are over for no other reason than to try to understand why I said something or did something, or why the person has distanced themselves from me (which I think is only perceived by me).
“I’ve struggled with depression as long as I can remember. Things have just always hit me differently than other people. The best way I’ve been able to describe it is something that may feel like a pebble to someone else, weighs on me like I’m Atlas under the earth.
“In high school I struggled with realizing what it was because I kept myself so busy that I didn’t allow myself to feel. Between sports, music, church, friends, girlfriends and anything else I could do, I never gave myself the time to address how I was actually feeling.
“But all this time, I had been running away from, trying to hide behind all of the sadness I was truly feeling. I wanted to be Jack Johnson, when actually I was Radiohead.
“This all came to a head when I was 19 and I realized I didn’t know who I was. I had faked my way through everything and never addressed the demons sitting in row one of my life. That’s when the depression I was hiding from really took form. I became extremely emotional, distanced myself from many people, and only came up for air if I was playing music. I had no faith in people, love, life, or myself. I felt I truly had nothing.
“Suicidal and unmotivated, I drifted listlessly through my life, pretending to have a vision and drive.”
Thankfully for Tyler, it was around this stage in his life that he discovered his love for graphic design. Speaking on how this avenue affected his life, Tyler continues:
“Working in the creative industry has had a huge impact on my life, both positive and negative.
“Negative first: I worked in the religious industry for over 6 years. In that time, I felt creatively battered and bruised, not for the negative comments, but for the lack of investment into my creative self. As creatives, we put so much of ourselves into every piece that we create, that for some of us the worst thing we can hear is “that is fine.” or worse yet, nothing at all. That was what it was like for the duration of my time at this job.
“I was then let go because, as I was told, I was moving at a different pace than the church and I would see more growth somewhere else. Later on, I found out that it was because something wasn’t finished when I took vacation and I was the only one who could have finished it. To be lied to like that took an incredible jab at my mental health. I doubted everything I had done, all the progress I had made in those 6 years, myself, and even what I was doing. I again felt like I didn’t know who I was.”
Speaking more generally, Tyler goes on to talk about how big an influence the creative environment can have on the individual, and at times, just how vulnerable the creative process can be.
“I find the lack of accountability and investment into a creative can have a negative effect. This was certainly the case with me.
“When I wasn’t being invested in and looked after, I felt depressed and struggled with being a creative. Every piece I create has a little bit of my heart in it and when I’m just left out to dry, I start to break down.”
For those reading this story who’ve experienced the back-and-forth of client feedback, the agency set up and generally how creativity can sometimes be stunted, what Tyler goes on to discuss is sure to feel familiar.
“The lack of constructive feedback and criticism put me in a bad way. Sometimes negative feedback hits home. Clients can sometimes forget that there is a person behind the creation that you are seeing and they can be callus to how we might feel.”
But for Tyler, it’s not all negative when it comes to agency life, sometimes, it takes having the right people around you to really build you up.
“Positive now: Working at my current agency has showed me that teams exist with the fortitude and strength to build up every one of their team members. Personal investment from the leadership in my well being has taught me how to be more confident in myself and in my creativity.
“This confidence has enhanced my creativity and allowed me to be the best that I can be. Just the investment in ‘me’ has brought me to a place where I can feel comfortable and rely on myself and my team more than I ever have before.
“I used to only rely on my own creativity because I was so broken before, but now I wholeheartedly believe in the team aesthetic because of the confidence that has been given to me at my current agency.”
Outside of his work, Tyler’s interest in music has become a form of creative escapism. Helping to ease him out of depressive states, for Tyler, music is the opportunity to leave emotion on the table.
Tyler’s story is one with so many levels, and it’s not until recently that he started to seek professional help. Like so many of us, it’s something he first thought he could fix himself.
“When I was a teenager and young 20 something, I thought getting help was unchristian, or medical help was causing opioid addictions. I also didn’t want to believe I was someone who needed help. It wasn’t until I was attending marriage counseling that I realized I needed this help.
“I have been seeking professional help for around 6 months now, and it is something that helps me get through the week. My counselor has shown me ways to handle situations, find new parts of myself, and helped me begin to discover who I actually am.
“Seeing someone for help is absolutely something I would recommend to anyone fighting mental health issues.
“The “anti-depressants cause people to have pill addictions” thought was blown out of the water when I started to take an antidepressant myself 3 months ago. At a doctors appointment for stomach pain, the nurse asked me “Are you okay?” and I broke down into tears. This was the first time I really let how I was feeling with everything show to someone who wasn’t family. I took the assessment and learned what I already knew, I was suffering from depression and anxiety.
“The medication has helped give me the stability to understand why I feel the way I do and discover ways to move forward. I no longer hide behind how I’m feeling, but address it head on. I now believe that medication is, if you need it, a tool to help those fighting depression understand their own feelings and how to better address them.”
Tyler’s journey to understanding and learning to deal with his mental health has taught him plenty. Now, he’s working towards becoming a Creative Director, all while helping other creatives learn the lessons he’s come to terms with – that feeling this way is not weird or abnormal – both in and outside of work..
“I want to be the type of leader that facilitates an honest conversation about mental health with my team. This is something I believe that is not done in very many places simply because there isn’t much time for it. A goal of mine is to help creatives fighting with mental health issues feel more confident to get help, in whatever way that feels right for them.”
Tyler ends his story with a little advice for anyone experiencing a situation similar to his, and quite frankly, we couldn’t have put it better ourselves:
“For anyone to say that depression is just sadness because of an event, or just a fancy way of saying I feel bummed out, I want to say that I am proof that it is the opposite of that.
“Any advice like, believe in yourself, stay confident or strong means nothing to someone struggling with mental health issues. What advice I would give is seek help. Talk with others about what’s going on in your life. The people around you care. I am learning that too right now, having people to talk to is important. Keep your friends and family close. And if you feel you need to, seek medical help. If you need to hear it from someone hear it from me: don’t settle with your depression calling it your “lot in life” like I did. There is something better for you. There is healing. And take it from someone who is still trying to find healing; the journey is hard, but it is worth every step.”