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How Embracing Emotions Helps Me Live Happily Despite Navigating Losses & Depression

“Just because I’m mourning, doesn’t mean that I’m not happy in life. Being happy to me means accepting all of the emotions as they come without judgment. I still experience anxiety and depression but I no longer beat myself up about feeling those things.”

Hello! Who are you?

I’m Katie, a digital nomad living mostly between Redondo Beach, CA, and Buffalo, NY. I know, two completely different climates. I bounce around with my partner, Michael, as we both love to travel–obviously.

I work for a leading boutique publishing company, helping thought leaders build their authority through a book. I can truly say that I love my job. I enjoy helping people live out a lifelong dream by publishing a book. 

After I’m done with that for the day, you can usually find me hanging out with some dogs that I help take care of or researching the latest deathcare trend (yes, you read that right).

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life but now, I consider myself an overall happy and joyful human, taking in all of the experiences and lessons that life has to give. It’s hard to not find happiness when you finally choose to prioritize yourself and your legacy–more on that later, I promise.  

In 2023, I founded Grief Is Good, which is a collective that will house my future death doula services, advocacy work, and end-of-life planning services. I’m very passionate about having a good death and healthy mourning because I spent so much of my life grieving in unhealthy ways. 

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I have struggled with anxiety, depression, and a very mild case of Borderline Personality Disorder since I was a teen. My dad got sick with encephalitis of the brain when I was 13 years old and he stopped being my dad.

I went from a child to a caretaker in a matter of weeks and celebrated my 14th birthday in the hospital, holding his hand and praying he would come out of a coma.

When he finally woke up from the coma, he was a completely different person. All of a sudden, he was mean, agitated, demanding, and rude. My father had always been kind to people, especially strangers, and this change came as quite a shock to my teenage self. 

Ultimately, my Dad died when I was 15 years old. I lost a family member, friend, or pet every year after that until I was 21. So, I’ve dealt with my fair share of grief. 

After my dad died, I found myself not expressing my grief or talking about him. It wasn’t until 5 years later that I awoke–literally–to the fact that I had been avoiding my grief. It all came to light with a grief dream. 

In the dream, I was playing a concert at my old high school when I looked out over the crowd and spotted my dad. I dropped my instrument and sprinted across the room until I was in his arms. When I woke up from the dream, I realized that I hadn’t been talking about my dad for 5 years since his death, and that needed to change. 

This dream also came shortly after a conversation with my best friend that changed my whole perspective on talking about the deceased. We were in my dorm room and I was rifling through clothes, blabbering on about something, when I accidentally mentioned my dad.

I immediately backed up, apologized, and changed the subject. She paused, letting my reaction marinate, and decided to tell me, “You know, you can talk about him.” What she did at that moment was give me permission to grieve. And it has had a tremendous impact on me. 

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Anyone who has anxiety or depression knows the depths that it can take you in the most intimate and gut-wrenching ways. If you are lucky enough to not have these struggles, imagine that you’re on one side of a set of train tracks.

On the other side, you see that thing you really want: a promotion, joy, fulfillment, a family, a partner, etc. You know it’s attainable but unfortunately, your feet are cemented in concrete.

While you’re stuck there, a train is whizzing by, making the most awful of noises, screeching and screaming as it trucks by. You can see glimpses of that thing you want most, reminding you that it’s right there for the taking but you can’t seem to break free to grasp it. That’s what it has felt like being in the depths of anxiety and depression.

The Borderline Personality Disorder is a whole different monster on top of everything else. It has affected my relationships with almost every partner, friend, boss, and family member. Unable to truly trust my emotions and motives, it has made it difficult to keep a relationship in a healthy condition and maintain boundaries

I don’t think people around me unless they were in my tight-knit circle, knew that I was struggling with these things. I’m lucky to be very functional in the eyes of most people, appearing strong, capable, motivated, and successful.

However, on the inside I always used to feel like a fraud. I also had access to therapy, psychiatrists, and helpful mentors who often pushed me in the right direction. I’m still in therapy to this day and recommend it for everyone but I understand that many people cannot access the same services I had the privilege to. 

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

I was thinking about my death! No, seriously! I was taking this course, the Best 3 Months with Gabby Jimenez, which prepares you for the last three months of your life.

We often practiced rituals and exercises to help clear our minds, remove any stored emotional baggage, and mend relationships. One of these exercises I call the deathbed experience. 

In the exercise, Gabby walked us through being on our deathbed. One of the first questions she asked us was, “How does it feel knowing you’re dying?” I had such a visceral reaction to that question. My body tensed up as I thought, “I can’t be dying. I have so much to do.”

I thought about all of the goals I hadn’t achieved, including traveling to Asia or publishing a book. That next month I started looking for a different job and started to prioritize the things that really mattered to me. 

Fast-forward to now: I’m working my dream job and I’ve just published my first book, I’ll See You in Your Dreams Tonight: A Book of Hope for Grieving Kids. I’m still working on that trip to Asia but I’m motivated to start achieving these dreams I’ve held in for so long. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I started to align my daily actions with what I wanted my legacy to be. For example, I want to be a beacon of hope and love for those who are grieving. I believe that it’s my purpose in life to assist the world in this way.

So, I–slowly–-researched certification programs to become an end-of-life doula. It took me about 9 months full of little milestones (like take a look at this one, or contact this other one) to decide on a program and apply. But I did it! That’s the key: don’t rush yourself. Build slowly. 

The other thing I did was stop trying to control my happiness or force myself to only have good days. For example, I’m in raw grief while I’m doing this interview. I’m overwhelmed by sorrow because I lost my dog just this morning, even though she was very young.

But just because I’m mourning, doesn’t mean that I’m not happy in life. Being happy to me means accepting all of the emotions as they come without judgment. I still experience anxiety and depression but I no longer beat myself up about feeling those things.

I just recognize that I’m having a bad day or week, and make a plan of what I need in order to cope with that. Sometimes that looks like a long cry in a hot shower or picking up meal-prepped dinners to eliminate a task off my plate.

Lastly, I found joy in helping other people. For me, that looks like volunteering at a dog shelter or walking dogs with behavioral needs. This has actually turned into a part-time job for me as I am a dog-sitter for dogs with special needs now. This brings me a lot of peace knowing that I’m contributing positive things back to the world. What can you do to give back? 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

It’s difficult to share my mental health struggles with people because of the stigma that society holds around these types of struggles. I have always been scared of being told that it could be worse because I have always felt guilty for having these conditions, knowing that people do go through far worse. 

I’m very fortunate to have a boss that is understanding so I feel comfortable sharing with her and taking mental health days when I need it. I also have a close circle of friends who I can rely on when I need to. And of course, my partner. He is truly supportive, which is incredible given the fact that he doesn’t have any mental health struggles.

A lot of people who don’t deal with these same struggles can be very insensitive or not understanding because they’ve never experienced the depths of these issues. But he is not like that, thankfully. 

Recently, I had to find a new psychiatrist because almost every time I talked to my old one, he’d comment “Well, you don’t look depressed.” That comment was so invalidating and hurtful because I want my practitioners to see me for who I really am so that they can effectively help me.

That’s one lesson I’ve learned: you need to trust your mental health professionals. I’ve “fired” more therapists than I can count until I found one that I love and that can read me easily. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

That change starts with tiny, incremental adjustments. I have always heard this advice but didn’t believe it until I started rock collecting. My therapist recommended that every day I complete the action of my new habit, that I collect a tiny pebble.

Slowly, as I progressed in that habit I could pick up a larger stone and eventually a good-sized rock. What I ended up with was an incredible pile of rocks that meant so much to me and a polished habit that I was proud of. 

So, start small. If you’re trying to get into therapy, just plan to research 3 therapists a week. If you’re looking to drink more water, start by finding a water bottle you like and bringing that with you to bed. When we try to uproot our lives and change everything, we get overwhelmed and often end up feeling as though we failed. 

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • The book, The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts, helped me realize that our pain is not outside of us. Once we accept that our pain, mental or physical, is part of us and that we own it, we can start to heal in a more holistic and natural way. 
  • Another book, From Here to Eternity, by Caitlin Doughty, completely changed my view on grief and life. It opened my eyes to the fact that there are other cultures that could teach us healthier ways to grieve and process tough emotions. This book put the idea of deathcare as a profession into my sight. 
  • The Write Method Journal, by Anna David and Josh Lichtman, helped me outline my daily habits and dreams so that I could achieve things in a more tangible and inspiring way. Plus, who doesn’t love a good journal? 
  • The podcast, Life Kit, by NPR, has always helped me in life. They touch on all different topics but I’ve found great, helpful advice that’s not only improved my life but is interesting to listen to.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can read more about me at my website, Grief Is Good, or on Instagram, LinkedIn or TikTok. I also have a monthly newsletter that is all about healthy grieving. You can sign up for that here and I welcome you to email me your grief story!

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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