Welcome.

In this blog, I help people to tell the positive stories in their lives.

Kaitlin Gladney

Kaitlin Gladney

Having two ‘invisible illnesses’ really drives home the point that everyone has something they’re struggling with, even if you can’t see it. Like Plato said: ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’
 

Who are you and what do you do? Tell me about how you ended up there.

Hi! My name is Kaitlin. I'm passionate about music, art, and mental health advocacy.

I founded a company called Parallax Creative a couple of years ago, and I work on a bunch of different projects through that. I am an artist manager for an indie-folk band called Skout, and I do creative consulting with singer/songwriter/producer/man-of-many-talents Eric Hutchinson. I am also a photographer, videographer, and writer, and I do business strategy and communications for a wealth management firm.

How I ended up here? Good question. It's been anything but linear. I knew I wanted to go into music, and interned with music management companies for a year after college, during which time I also started working with Skout. I got offered a job at one of the music management companies, but they wouldn't let me keep managing Skout, so I turned down the offer – I wouldn't be working with Skout if I didn't believe in them. Then I ended up in wealth management because I wanted to acquire more finance skills, and also because I needed to pay rent. And eat. Eating is important.

I’ve been simultaneously excited and terrified pretty much the entire time. But I think that feeling is important. It means I care about what I’m doing, and it means I’m pushing the edges of my comfort zone.

After that, there has been a lot of hard (but fun) work helping with Skout's recording, touring, and photo/video content, and that led to some cool and unexpected opportunities for both the band and myself, including working with Eric.

I've been simultaneously excited and terrified pretty much the entire time. I didn't – and still don't – have any idea where everything is headed. But I think that excited/terrified feeling is important. It means I care about what I'm doing, and it means I'm pushing the edges of my comfort zone. So I've learned to embrace it as a good thing, even if it means my roommates sometimes have to listen to me ramble while I have an existential crisis.

Often we can only understand in retrospect how the dots in our path connected. Looking backward, can you talk about a time you failed or you were struggling? What did you think it meant at the time and what do you think it means now? Was there a silver lining, or did it influence your path forward unexpectedly?

I'd say my two biggest struggles are still ongoing, but they've also been positive in ways I never anticipated. I have two chronic health conditions (chronic = stuck with them for life). I have a rare connective tissue condition called mixed connective tissue disease, or MCTD, and I also have bipolar ii disorder and anxiety. I actually didn't know I had bipolar ii until a few months ago – it had been initially diagnosed as depression when I was 18. The updated diagnosis has been helpful – my treatment regimen is better suited to my symptoms now.

Both things take up a lot of brain space. And life space. There's a section in the back of my brain that's constantly monitoring my mind and body for any warning signs that I might be approaching a symptom flare in either condition. Each condition comes with a list of guidelines to help me maintain my health, which is both helpful and frustrating; they can feel restrictive at times, even though I know they're important. I've had to give up some passions, like competitive taekwondo fighting, which was really hard to accept. I also have learned that sometimes I need to say no to things I want to do, because I need to put my health first.

I am not good at asking for help, but I was reluctantly forced into it due to both conditions. I worried that I was a burden to the people I was asking for help from, but I’ve found that’s not the case. They’re willing to help me the same way I’d want to help my friend. I’ve found that this willingness to be vulnerable has made my friendships stronger and deeper.

It's tough when I'm struggling with symptoms from either. MCTD can land me in bed for a few days if I'm having a bad flare, and managing the highs and lows of bipolar ii can be exhausting.

However – there have been amazing positives that have emerged from both. I've discovered new passions. It was during the 8 month period when doctors still didn't know what was happening with my muscles and joints that I started to pursue photography seriously – and that's part of my career now! And also a source of happiness and fulfillment. I'm much better at practicing gratitude. Before MCTD, I took my athleticism and my able body for granted. When they were still working on my diagnosis after I got sick, I couldn't go up stairs without help. Now, when I do things like walk or climb the subway stairs, I'm thankful for the doctors that were able to diagnose me and provide treatment, and for the miracle that is movement.

I've also gotten better at asking for help. I am not good at asking for help, but I was reluctantly forced into it due to both conditions. I worried that I was a burden to the people I was asking for help from, but I've found that's not the case. They're willing to help me the same way I'd want to help my friend. Now I'm more comfortable being honest with people about how I'm doing – letting my roommates know if my anxiety is high or if I think I'm entering a mood episode, asking a friend if they don't mind postponing something because I'm too sore and achy to venture out of my apartment. And I've found that this honesty, this willingness to be vulnerable, has made my friendships stronger and deeper.

I think both conditions have also made me a more empathetic and compassionate person. I'm more attentive to practicing kindness and not making assumptions about others. Having two "invisible illnesses" really drives home the point that everyone has something they're struggling with, even if you can't see it. Like Plato said: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

When are you happiest? If happiness is something that can be practiced in our lives, what are the ways in which you create happiness in your life?

I'm happiest when I'm with people I feel connected to. All my happiest memories are moments shared with other people. There's a quote in the book If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski that reads, "true intimacy, the exchange of affection between two people who are not lying, is transforming." I believe that. Sharing the real stuff with the people you love, the honest and raw and difficult stuff (and the silly stuff too) – it matters. Experiencing unconditional friendship and love from the people who know the difficult parts of my story – and having them trust me with their stories in return – has been one of the most transformative experiences in my life.

I'm also happiest when I'm creating, which for me usually means photography, videography, writing, or playing music. It's especially wonderful when I'm creating something with someone else who's just as excited about whatever we're making as I am.

Experiencing unconditional friendship and love from the people who know the difficult parts of my story – and having them trust me with their stories in return – has been one of the most transformative experiences in my life.

As far as practicing happiness in my life, I try to be intentional about making time for the things that make me happy, because I have a tendency to let those things fall to the wayside in the name of "productivity." It's a strange habit, really, because I'm more productive when I take care of myself (obviously...like I said, strange habit). I try to keep in mind something a friend once said – "small things add up to a full life." The small things – taking a walk, getting that morning coffee, pausing to appreciate a perfect weather day, buying flowers for your desk, getting dinner with a friend – they make a huge difference.

Have you taken inspiration for happiness or resiliency from another person's story or other culture?

Gosh, I realize I've written really lengthy answers for everything so far, but I could really write a long answer for this one. A short summary: there are so many people in my life (and people I don't know personally as well) who have overcome extreme adversity and provided incredible examples of resiliency and finding purpose and even joy in dark moments. I'm inspired by them. I'm inspired by people who demonstrate the courage to be honest, open, and vulnerable, in spite of the things they've been through.

I try to be intentional about making time for the things that make me happy, because I have a tendency to let those things fall to the wayside in the name of ‘productivity. I try to keep in mind something a friend once said – ‘small things add up to a full life.’

They've all provided me with examples of how to live, how to keep fighting in the face of adversity, how to create happiness and develop resiliency, how to find purpose in the struggle and the pain we encounter in life.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope I find myself living a life that feels purposeful, with that sense of purpose defined by my own values, rather than by something external. Vulnerability is a work in progress for me, so I hope that in the future I embrace it more readily. Also I want a puppy.

Keep up with Kaitlin: follow her on Twitter (@kglads4) or visit her website, www.parallax-creative.com.

Caroline Miller

Caroline Miller

Momo Hu

Momo Hu