Mental illness is intricately woven into Lauren Matysik’s life. The low points of her mental health helped her experience some of the highs. She’s open about those struggles, hoping her story can help others going through trying times.
But she wasn’t always so forthcoming.
Matysik showed signs of anxiety at an early age. She was in the sixth grade when she had her first panic attack. Matysik kept this to herself throughout her high school years. The adults in her life thought she was an angry person who was just prone to lashing out. Matysik said much of that stemmed from her mental health insecurities and learning issues due to dyslexia.
She never sought professional help, and rarely talked about it around family and friends due to stigma.
“I come from a very traditional Midwest family, and it was like you buck up and move on,” Matysik said. “That was a pretty common experience.”
Things took a steep downturn in 2011 and 2012, during her freshman and sophomore years of college. Matysik was in an abusive relationship, and she rarely left her bedroom. There were moments of reprieve, like when her friends pulled her out of her room to go on hikes and talk, but for the most part, Matysik was in a dark place.
“I’ve had some bad experiences, but I’m fortunate that I’ve learned from them."
Her friends and family took notice. One day during her sophomore year, her father called, hurt and heartbroken. “He was crying, and he said he didn’t know his daughter anymore,” Matysik said. “That was really hard to hear.”
The conversation prompted Matysik to seek help. She began seeing a therapist to treat her anxiety and depression, broke off the abusive relationship and immediately noticed her mood picking up. Just a few weeks later, an acquaintance of hers said she was glowing.
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“That’s when I realized that things were really that bad at one point,” Matysik said. “I didn’t even know it.”
Matysik, now 27, lives in Des Moines. She’s a graphic designer and operates a wedding photography business. She draws on her experience with mental illness to help others. Negative thoughts still linger, but Matysik found the perfect remedy: a dog. Her Golden Retriever, named Alfredo, is “the best thing I’ve ever done for my mental health.”
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He’s a constant motivation to get up on those tough mornings, and he’s given her a vehicle to meet new people. Matysik is also an avid biker and part of Des Moines Bicycle Collective. She has weekly, sometimes daily, conversations with close friends about the joys and struggles of life.
Matysik occasionally chuckles at her younger self, only because that person is so different from who she is today. Matysik is outgoing and vivacious, a far cry from the closeted and angry person she was at one point.
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“I’ve had some bad experiences, but I’m fortunate that I’ve learned from them,” Matysik said. “I’ve been told by friends and family that I’m very emotionally aware. I’m obviously very super open, but that’s been something I’ve learned over my life. I wasn’t always like that, and I still struggle. But I do it with much more grace than I used to.”
Make It OK is community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Start by learning what a mental illness really is. Then, find out what to say and not to say when someone opens up to you. You can also help others by sharing your own story to help people know they aren’t alone. Learn more about how you can get involved at MakeItOK.org/Iowa.