How I Started a Magazine While Overcoming Mental Illness

by | June 29, 2015
filed under My Reality

Amanda Van Slyke. Photo: Demetri Gianni

Amanda Van Slyke. Photo: Demetri Gianni

I grew up in middle class suburbia to white parents, who financially supported me but otherwise emotionally and physically abused me. Because of this, my struggles such as mental illness and learning disabilities went under the radar in school and I grew up with a multitude of issues that I later had to work on in order to become a contributing member of society.

As a 25-year-old woman, I now understand the hardships that my parents experienced, and that they tried their best in the circumstances they were in – but with a brother who committed suicide and a family history of depression, I have a higher chance of taking my life than becoming successful.

In my early twenties I dropped out of university to focus on my health. My unmanageable anxiety, lingering depression and constant fatigue made it impossible to concentrate on school and work, and as I lost job after job, I went on welfare to try to support myself and pay back my student loans. This was a difficult adjustment because my career plans had switched from getting a four-year degree and making a steady income to not even completing my two-year diploma, and constantly losing jobs.

I transitioned from having my own apartment and a summer internship to bouncing around basement suites and trying to make ends meet. After deciding to use freelancing as an opportunity to work around my symptoms, it took me years before I began to start to feel better and see any money from writing.

During this time, I constantly worked on FLURT – the blog-turned-magazine I started in university. For five years, I built it from the ground up while acquiring volunteers who also believed in my dream: A socially-conscious women’s magazine that would become a healthier replacement for those currently on mainstream stands. I wanted to create a publication that built people up rather than tore them down, that promoted real bodies instead of Photoshop, real issues instead of gossip, and ethical and inexpensive products instead of having big corporations influencing how we live. This goal kept me going as I worked on my health, and as more and more contributors from around the world contacted me I became increasingly motivated to see a better future for young people.

But the pressure I was putting on myself was too much. I desperately wanted to feel better so that I could see the magazine – this child that I’d reared with the help of my community – grow and reach its full potential. This space for young people that I had inspired also inspired me when I felt my worst, and it gave me a purpose for working on my health – but after burnout after burnout, I came to realize that I needed to first focus on my stability before I was able to launch the magazine into success.

I was moving from place to place due to financial instability – and at one point I was living in a homeless shelter. More than once I had a phone meeting while my stomach growled from hunger. I watched as my magazine’s growth fluctuated every time mine did as well, and I knew that even though I couldn’t change my circumstances, I could change the way I was working.

So like every smart entrepreneur, I started looking for people to take over the areas that I needed help with. This doesn’t just work for people who are struggling with their health – no entrepreneur can do everything themselves. At first I felt guilty for asking people to volunteer their time without pay, but I wasn’t making any money either, and at some point something was going to give if I kept doing everything myself. It was difficult finding the right people to fill the right roles – especially because they needed to work around their schooling or careers – but this taught me a lot about what to look for in employees. If someone is passionate and driven enough to dedicate their time to a cause they love without pay, they’re going to stick with you in the long run.

Because my anxiety made it difficult to communicate with people, I found a communications director who was more consistently prepared to take calls and interviews. I also found a managing editor who had awesome ideas and helped me free up some of my time by taking charge. I started including more people in my decision-making processes – writers, editors, vloggers, photographers and designers – so that I wasn’t responsible for every decision and didn’t have so much pressure to be everything for everyone.

Reducing stress from my tasks helped me take a more positive and enthusiastic approach towards running the magazine, and it allowed me to send these vibes towards people I worked with through my emails, phone calls and texts. I become more friendly and more open in my communicating, and by improving the working environment for myself I actually improved it for everyone else – many of whom I would learn struggled with mental health issues as well. By allowing others to help me I had finally created the type of supportive community I set out to build in the first place.

These days I work just as hard on the magazine as when I started, but I feel more excited about the future than stressed. I spend more time meditating rather than working myself to the bone. I spend more time eating healthy foods rather than junk food that’s quick. I spend more time exercising regularly rather than sitting all day on my computer. I make an effort to get to know my volunteers instead of just trying to keep up with my emails – watching their vlogs, reading their articles or talking to them online about how their day’s been. And as I take the time to look around at how much being a part of FLURT impacts other young people, it makes me realize that my dream is every bit as much their dream as well.

For more information on FLURT and the kickstarter to get it into print and on stands go to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/amandavanslyke/get-flurt-in-print/description

Photo Credit: Demetri Gianni – demetrigianni.com


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