Once Upon A Time...
Updated: Aug 21, 2019
I was just an 7 year old nerdy girl from Apopka, Florida when I made the biggest career decision of my life. I was going to model.
Now, I know what you're thinking. That's not exactly a huge deal. As children, we set multiple high goals for ourselves. Like a child dreaming of becoming a veterinarian astronaut super-heroine, but this was different. The moment I walked into Victoria's Secret with my mother and looked up at the sizable photo of Adriana Lima owning the catwalk, my life had a new purpose. Her powerful yet sexy presence gave me motivation. That was going to be me; it NEEDED to be me, and I was prepared to do anything and everything I needed to do to make sure that it happened.
A little bit of a backstory here for you. I wasn't exactly the "cool kid". I was about as far from popular as I could be. I had a small group of friends, and yes they were mostly boys. Girls were mean, girls were petty. Boys didn't care what shoes you wore or what your glasses looked like. They just cared if you were funny, and that is one thing I was. For damn sure. So as a young, funny, tomboy girl, my parents didn't exactly take me seriously when I said I wanted to model. From then on, I kept it a secret. It was to be my secret dream. I would allocate myself an hour in bed to daydream before I fell asleep for the night. I was a bad-ass Bond girl one night, and a flirty famous model the next. The daydreams all had the same theme, however. I was revered. Powerful, sexy, and revered.
Fast forward a few years to high school. As a freshman, my wardrobe consisted only of skinny jeans, hoodies, and a nice pair of Converse. As much as I loved fashion and spent multiple hours on Polyvore creating my dream outfits in my free time, I didn't exactly act on it just yet. Sophomore year came, and everything slowly started changing. I had a crush on a boy, so naturally, I started trying a little bit more. The flat iron was used on the daily, the eyeliner was forever flicked, and my skinny jeans, SKINNY. It was then that people started taking a fancy to me. I started getting compliments and attention that I had not previously received. I wont lie to you, it was great for my self confidence. Then, friends started coming up to me with their cameras and saying, "...hey, mind if I take your photo?"
"It's happening," I thought to myself. "My dream. It's happening."
I thought that it would be easy from here. I thought, people think you're pretty, (even though I myself had never truly believed that), this will snowball and you'll be moving to New York City in no time. Watch out, Adriana! But, my life had other plans.
In 2010, I went to an Owl City concert with a few of my best friends. They were family, really. It was such a great night, full of good music and good company. It was about halfway through the show when I collapsed. The room was spinning, my heart was racing, and I had the strongest urge to run. "I'm dying. This is it.", I thought. I told my friends not to worry, trying my best to hide the sheer fear on my face, and that I would be fine enjoying the show from the steps in the back. When the show was over, I ran outside and fell to the base of the nearest light pole. My friends were so concerned and attentive. I called my mother as they went next door to get me a drink from Starbucks. Just a little treat to make me happy. My mom was clearly concerned, and we made a doctors appointment for the following week. I didn't know what I expected my doctor to say. I have always been the healthy active girl, so why would I be morphing into something else? My doctor asked me what my symptoms were, so I told her.
-Difficulty breathing -Pounding heart / chest pain -Shortness of breath -Sensation of choking or smothering -Constant dizziness / feeling faint -Trembling / shaking -Cold sweats -Nausea or stomachache -Tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes -Chills and above all -The constant feeling that I was about to die
Every Wednesday, my mother took me to the hospital for more blood work and more tests. Another day, another ultrasound. Every single test I took came back negative. Every. Single. God. Damn. Test. What was this ghost disease haunting my every day life? I had goals. I had an industry to take over. I had a teenage life to live, but while friends were having out pool parties, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room. While my friends had sleepovers, I lay restless in a ball of my own sweat and tears gasping for breath, trying to find a way to stay positive. I needed answers. The fear of not knowing was almost as scary as the symptoms themselves. One day, I finally got some. After numerous negative tests and pints blood removed from my chilled veins, my doctor had a verdict.
"Severe Panic Disorder."
After a long discussion and thousands of questions later, I finally accepted it. Panic Disorder. That's what I have; that's what this is. Finally, face to the villain. Now, let's cure me and get this horrible nightmare of a year over...but, that's where it gets fun. Cure? There is no cure. There is no magic button, no miraculous surgery. There is medication, and possibly, time. I never liked medication, so I was hesitant to start this new regime, but, it was either start the medication, or continue this pattern of ambulances and missed school days. Sick. I was sick. I was so mentally and physical ill that the smallest tasks were enormous feats. Standing up out of bed was so hard because the vertigo was so intense that I wouldn't even know which way was up. The nausea was constant, so eating wasn't that fun. The shakes and cold sweats were just constant visual reminders of my illness. The shortness of breath, the chest pain, the racing thoughts were all I had come to know. I failed most of my classes because I either didn't show up, or ran away to the bathroom to convulse and hyperventilate in peace. In time, the medication got into my system, and while my symptoms were suppressed, they still happened often. Just, not as often, and even for that, I was thankful. This occasional comfort came at a price though. While the medication hid some of my Panic Disorder symptoms sometimes, it made me an actual walking zombie all of the time. I lost my personality, I lost my will, I lost my "funny". My parents? They lost their daughter, and I didn't know where to tell them to find her. I stumbled through life, barely getting by. Barely maintaining a job, barely maintaining friendships, and definitely not maintaining any relationships. My big modeling dream, seemingly forever halted.
Fast forward again to 2016. After years of "getting by", my panic slowly started to creep back. Sleep was becoming difficult and food was becoming hard to keep down. My gut told me something was wrong, but living with anxiety told me that I was probably just overthinking it. The littlest things sent me into a panic attack, only, these were different. Not only did I think I was dying, I actually felt it. Something just was not right. July 14th, 2016. I am rushed to the emergency room. After more tests and more blood work, I was diagnosed with Serotonin Syndrome. My medication was poisoning me, attempting to slowly kill me...and if I waited, it probably would've. My new doctor had me on so many different drugs at such high doses, she caused my medication, which was supposed to help me, turn against me. It was poisoning my blood stream and eating away at my stomach lining. I was withering away.
It took me a few days to get out of bed. I stumbled, but I put one foot in front of the other and made my feet take me to my destination. My new doctor weaned me off of one medication completely, cut one by a quarter and only to be used as needed, and cut my main medicine in half. I was a physical wreck for a couple of months, but I was hopeful. Your mindset changes when you are threatened with the possibility of death. I was going to change my whole life around. Make it a life worth living, full of adventure and new memories, and most of all, making my dreams a reality. I had been so sick for so long, it had been a while since I had been in front of the camera, but I knew I had to get back out there.
I started shooting a bit more as I recovered. It felt so good, I think it aided in my recovery, to be honest. The poison was leaving my veins, and the motivation to succeed replaced it. I changed my diet, and while I never ate unhealthy to begin with, it gave me a plan to follow. Something to focus on. I tried the dating game once or twice, but found that boys were just a distraction more than anything, so I spent my nights at gyms instead of bars. THIS. This was the hardest. Physical activity sent me into instant panic. Anything that raised my heart rate substantially and I was on the floor. But with my veins full of the will to succeed, I managed. I made a plan that worked for me. First, it was just light weights and no cardio, then moderate weights, and then minimal cardio added on top. No night was ever easy. Never did I have an evening where I walked out of the gym saying, "Wow, I feel great." Most of my nights, I walked to my car thinking, "I hope I can even make it to my car without collapsing tonight." but I didn't give up. I was talking to a boy who held me accountable. He ate healthy and worked out too, so it made my struggle a bit easier. He understood, but pushed me, and I'm thankful.
It is June, 2017 now. I am in better shape mentally and physically than I have ever been. The gym is my friend, and my low dose of medication is all I need. I eat healthy, and I try my hardest to remain positive while constantly looking forward. My dear friend, Panic visits me frequently still. Some nights I don't sleep, and some nights my runs are cut short, but the important things is that I still get up and try it all again the next day. Sometimes I thank, Panic. He's made me stronger, more resilient, more understanding. If we're being honest, I don't think I would have the level of success I have attained today if it wasn't for every setback he gave me. I would never wish Panic Disorder on my worst enemy. My days and nights were miserable, and my future seemed weary. Somehow, in all of the fog, I found my way. How, I will never entirely know. What I do know is that while not everything happens for a reason, shit happened, and I gave it a reason. Everyone has their own cross to bear; their own struggles to deal with, and it's our job to turn that into something good. I hope that my story can motivate some, and maybe help others not to feel so alone. I always say, "If I can do it, you can do it", and it's true. I lost the will to go on more often than not. The will to live was often absent, but somehow, I pulled the motivation out of me.
I turned a weed into a beautiful flower, and soon, it will be a prosperous garden.
All my love Lauren