“How do you start a conversation?” is a question I get asked frequently from people who have a story to tell but are keeping it inside.
One of the reasons I created my blog years ago was as a way to start conversations in a form other than talking. The process of opening up and being vulnerable with others can be scary. There is the fear associated with being judged and the stigma related to mental health issues.
As an entrepreneur and a mental health professional, I know how hard it can be for people to start seeking help because they don’t want to be labeled. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “60% of people with a mental health problem or illness won’t seek help for fear of being labeled.”
So when one of my blogging friends, Amelia, posted an article on Facebook about two passionate Canadian entrepreneurs, Kyle MacNevin (22) and Kayley Reed (21), who are creating a conversation on mental health through fashion, I was curious to hear their stories and learn more about their company, Wear Your Label.
Kyle lives with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Kayley is recovering from Anorexia Nervosa. They are incredible people, dealing with the labels of their mental health issues in an amazingly positive way.
“In December 2013, the two met while working on youth engagement workshops for a provincial mental health organization. Only a few weeks after working together, and sharing their personal mental health journeys with each other, the idea for Wear Your Label came about. They realized there was a gap in the industry, and they were passionate to fill it. They spent the next few months researching, designing, and pitching to anyone who would listen. Soon after, they were accepted to The Summer Institute, and the rest is history.” I really encourage you to check out their website.
Today, I’m excited that Kayley is speaking from her heart and sharing with us all how starting conversations around mental health has really impacted her life. Connect with her @kayley.e on instagram & twitter.
Why do you believe self-expression (speaking from the heart) is important?
In a society that perpetuates half-truths in media, photoshopped models in fashion, modified ingredients in food, it can be hard to find authenticity. I think it's up to us to live and breathe our humanity; self-expression is just one aspect of that. It's just plain good for your soul to be unapologetically alive and express your thoughts and emotions, no matter if they fit the mold of what you "should" be.
How can conversations change lives?
When I was at my lowest, battling my eating disorder, I felt completely isolated. It was as if the world had diminished to this small bubble that limited me from seeing beyond my mental illness. I went to a support group as part of my "recovery" process and for the first time in my life, realized I wasn't alone; that I was going to be okay. Just talking with other people who understood was massively important to me, and helped give me the courage to reach out to more people and begin to share my story.
It was something as simple as a few conversations that really helped change my own life. From that experience I truly believe that continuing to create those conversations about mental health can cause a domino effect and change more lives.
How do you motivate yourself to persist despite setbacks?
It can be really difficult some days. Recovery is definitely not a simple, step-by-step process; there's a lot of twists, turns, loopholes, steps backwards, and starting over. Also - running a company is HARD. When I'm facing a challenge, I try to surround myself with positive, ambitious people who can give me a new perspective on things. I'm also a big believer in self-care.
How do you practice self-care in your daily life?
For me, taking a bath, listening to old jazz music, pouring my heart out on paper, going for a run, and doing nice things for myself (like painting my nails) are ways I'll reset and refresh my mind to get over a setback. #selfcareisntselfish
How did you develop the courage to stand tall (i.e., get the courage to share your story)?
I've always enjoyed public speaking and advocacy work; I was involved with organizations like Free the Children as a teenager, and was the VP of my university's Rotaract club. But when I faced my mental illness, it was a different ball game. For some reason, it's so difficult to talk about mental illness. The stigma in society is obvious, but the personal stigma was even more real. It took a LOT for me to get where I am now. I think after many, many nights feeling so alone - and a few key conversations about mental health with strangers and close friends - I realized that there was so much more, and that if I could get healthy and happy again, I could be one of those people helping others again, but this time on a much more personal level because it's something I've experienced. It took months and months before I was in a place where I could truly feel comfortable standing tall and sharing my story, but it's amazing what happens when you put yourself out there. I've met incredibly strong people, heard amazing stories, and built a sustainable brand from the bottom up with my best friend and business partner, Kyle.
How important is social support in overcoming obstacles?
Definitely really important, and sometimes it can be the driving force to recovery. For me, it was at the forefront of me realizing that I had to - and could - get better. But it was secondary, in the sense that until I made that personal realization that I wanted to recover, no amount of social support could have convinced me otherwise. I really believe that you have to take ownership over your mental health in order to overcome obstacles. It's incredibly difficult, but once you do, you're unstoppable.
How did you find your support group?
I was very lucky in that my university had free support services, so I was able to tap into that. I know that resources otherwise can be very limited, and even expensive, so I'm always grateful for my experience.
What is a role model?
We call our models Role Models, and they're a really big part of our brand. Not too long ago, we decided that it wasn't enough to cast fashion models based on comp cards and height. Instead, we wanted to showcase the stories of real people, who are brave enough to wear their label. They model our clothing, but they also share their personal mental health stories on our blog and to our followers.
How important is mentorship in terms of your success?
Mentorship has been a pretty big part of our success. We got our start at a business accelerator, called The Summer Institute, where we received mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and designers. As two young entrepreneurs with no formal background in business, we’ve found it to be huge for us to have access to that kind of support. We're also lucky to be based in Fredericton, New Brunswick, which is a small Canadian city with a thriving start-up culture. There's a tight-knit community of people always willing to help.
Thank you so much, Kayley, for this powerful conversation! You and Kyle are creating such positive change in this world by helping people talk openly and safely about their mental health. You and Kyle are leading by example. You are showing that opening up and being vulnerable isn’t scary: it can change your life as well as those around you!
Standing tall & speaking from the heart has really changed my personal and professional life. In fact, this blog was created by starting a conversation. If you are looking for a safe space to open up and share your story – write a comment below (it can be anonymous) or email me.
Thank you all for reading and for your presence at the beach retreat.You rock! Did you learn something special from reading this article? Feel free to share in the Comments section. We can all learn from hearing your stories and advice.
See you at the beach!