Everything happens for a reason. I’ve heard this before, and I’ll likely hear it again.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be an attorney. It was a natural fit for me, as I was definitely opinionated and willing to argue for what I believed to be right and wrong. Time not spent in class was devoted to research and memorization for my airtight arguments. I wanted to be certain I would never be caught off guard, and was insatiably curious.
After two sessions abroad, I realized experience wasn’t just talking points and fact-finding. I found myself empowered with the opportunity to make an impact via social justice, and enrolled in a program in which I visited survivors of the Bosnian genocide in Srebrenica, walked through the memorials of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and worked with teenage victims of sex-trafficking in Italy. I then entered a graduate program housed in Tulane University’s Law School, but ultimately fell in love with Columbia Law and the human rights track, and so began preparing to take the LSAT and apply to Columbia. My grades were stellar – I’d both graduated magna cum laude with Honors from undergrad and maintained a graduate school record sitting at a steady 3.8. During this time, I met my then-boyfriend and now husband Colin, a fellow political science major who at first annoyed me with his stubborn political views. He ended up becoming the person who’s challenged me the most while also supporting the dreams I’ve shared with him.
On our first night back from a vacation in St. Augustine, we were picking up dinner when the two of us were struck by the car behind us. Colin had come to a complete stop while the car in front of us was making a U-turn, and the driver who hit us wasn’t paying attention and hit us from behind going about 40mph. Although I don’t remember anything from the night of the crash, my back pain gained the attention and I was issued pain medicine which masked the more severe underlying problems. Five days later, I was diagnosed with a brain injury. On my first day back at Tulane, I stopped taking the pain medication in attempt to make it to the first day of my “final” semester of graduate school.
The months that followed were met with several reoccurring themes: pain, lying in a dark room to prevent the next migraine; fear, when I couldn’t recall memories of 5 minutes or even years prior; anger, when I tried to concentrate on any complex task with repeated failure; panic, when I attempted to engage socially in what before had been very ordinary, everyday parts of my life — things like having a conversation, jogging, or even riding in a car.
I missed a best friend’s bachelorette party because the barometric pressure of flying was off limits with the brain injury and migraines. Then, I found myself acting out of character. On impulse alone, I even adopted a dog three days after the accident. I was immediately put on pain medication for my back following the crash. For a short while that masked the pain, until I found that I needed to stop taking the medicine in order to go to my classes. The pain was unbearable. I continued to try and fail to finish those final few classes in school. I was mad because my life timeline was off now. People pointed out that physically I still looked the same — which on a personal level, added unintentional insult to injury. I was working with a new brain, and had a difficult time accepting that I could no longer process information as I had prior.
Months later, Colin and I found out we were expecting. We discovered this much later than normal because, honestly, it was the last thing in the world we were thinking about. I had to compartmentalize. I was taken off my medications altogether and told by my doctor that he was treading uncharted territory: handling a pregnant woman with a brain injury.
At this point, I realized this: when an unforeseen event comes into your radius that otherwise rocks the foundation of your life, you must change your pace and take the time you need. Emotions are like a guidance system for mental health. I allowed myself to validate these turbulent feelings and made myself commit to seeking authentic relief through self-care. I sought healthy retreats when necessary — be it a warm Epsom salt bath or freshly-baked almond croissant. I would praise myself in the mirror for just getting out of bed, saying to myself, “Happiness looks good on you.”
Through these reminders, it was possible to go back to a time where I had the freedom or the energy — the perseverance to take a breath and let life be. It is easier said than done. You have to be determined to follow through with it, like a garden that must be tended to every day. If you start giving your energy where you can, prune a little here, plant a few new seeds one by one, the garden will yield new blossoms. When I accepted that this was my new normal, something amazing occurred. This is how my business started.
The Village Anthology is a social enterprise that started as a passion project. Drawn to new visual patterns and colors, I began “planting” little physical objects throughout my life. I found a onesie inspired by a Henri Matisse painting in a Spanish children’s label; a beautiful silk robe from Bali that had hand-painted angel wings stretched across the back. It felt good to bring these pieces of the world to my door. Strangers would frequently stop me to ask where I bought these items. There was something truly magical about this unfolding; through collaborating, this idea manifested and is still growing, like a child taking its first steps — something to be thankful for and celebrated at each step. We curate a positively brilliant collection of luxe family products from all over the world, tell a story and cultivate connection through each item, a manifestation of passion and love from each artist. Every item passes a standard of inciting an emotional response through its background and must warrant endless smiles. We simultaneously work to promote mindfulness and support mental health initiatives and advocacy through our pop-ups and partnership with the Seleni Institute. In each of our pop-ups, we make an effort to create an experience that opens up the conversation surrounding mental health in an effort to normalize the topic.
Last month we were a sponsor for the St. Louis festival, The Grand Market. This month, we are co-hosting an event in the French Quarter at a champagne bar, Effervescence, in collaboration with some fabulous woman-owned businesses with the hope of drawing attention to mental health in true New Orleans fashion. We have big plans for next year and are very grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response we have received. Though many don’t realize, 1 in 4 Americans have or will suffer some form of mental disorder. Going through the healing process of my brain injury, I have been able to empathize fully with this cause. Since starting this business, I have had countless strangers share their stories with me in gratitude — further evidence of why this topic must be normalized.
Happiness isn’t what I defined it as earlier in life. And that’s fine. But remember, happiness does look good on you and it’s always in style.