I started my magazine when I was 21, in 2010. I was extremely ambitious — and just as mentally ill. I was trying to finish my writing degree when I realized that a degree wouldn’t make much of a difference if I couldn’t keep a job. Every position I had I either got fired from or quit because I couldn’t quite follow directions. And even though I was going to school for something I wanted to do, I barely made it to class or retained information. I’d stay home to drink and cry and write — and somewhere out of there came a blog that talked about a lot of issues other people could relate to.
The blog soon turned into a website, where my classmates started writing for it as well — and then a magazine, where people around the world contributed to. I called it FLURT — where people could flirt with the idea of changing the narrative. And yes, I spelled it wrong because the domain I wanted wasn’t available. FLURT seemed to be the one thing I was good at — so I dropped out of school, fought to get on welfare and figured if I had any chance of supporting myself this was it.
For 8 years, I ran my magazine — despite bouts of being homeless, hungry and sick. I may have been terrible at working for other people, but I was great at delegating volunteers. I taught myself how to edit articles, navigate WordPress, run social media, manage a YouTube channel and organize live events. I worked around the clock for hardly any pay except the odd advertisement or donation that I put back into the magazine, and I’m extremely proud of what I’ve come up with today.
Throughout the years my magazine took many forms — just as I grew up with it. But eventually, it molded into a conscious magazine for millennials that was professional enough to be on mainstream stands but had inclusivity in its images, hard-hitting topics in its content and ethical and affordable products in its advertising. I saw a future with magazine issues and live events in different countries, where university students and young business professionals could come together to talk about what mattered to them, make friends and create one big international community. It was an immense dream — and my therapist alluded to it being grandiose — but like I said, I was ambitious.
Between bouts of being unable to get out of bed and episodes where I worked non stop without eating, FLURT was the only thing keeping me going when my life didn’t make sense. I once took a Skype call when I was starving and dizzy because my food bank hamper had run out. I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow things progressed. I found a public relations person. I put my own money into advertising. I edited the magazine even when my eyesight started to deteriorate. I published daily content and never missed an issue. I had lots of help that I’m incredibly grateful for — but I constantly felt like I was trying to swim to the top of a pool with a brick attached to me. My lack of mental health kept me from doing all the things I wanted to, but when I got approved for disability, I thought it would finally help me make it a success.
Instead, I felt paralyzed by fear. Having more money didn’t magically make me able to get the magazine off the ground like I thought it would. In fact, with less time worrying about how I was going to survive, I realized that I didn’t know how to take care of myself no matter get a magazine off the ground. I still had terrible anxiety and brain fog that kept me from talking to people. I still had trouble getting out of bed, making meals and leaving my apartment. I had been using my magazine as a crutch to isolate myself and ignore these issues for so long that I didn’t know what to do next.
As I began focusing on my health, volunteers and views started to decline. Each time I posted on social media, I’d wonder what it would be like to be off the grid. I fantasized about being in the mountains without my phone and any responsibility. The thing is, my schedule wasn’t even that hectic. Because I was on disability, I worked from home. Because it was volunteer-run, I didn’t need money to keep it going. Yet I thought about all the things I had to do to get money to pay staff, get the magazine on stands and advertise it to readers. Even though a lot of people said they believed in my vision, frankly, not even my own mother was buying it. It was constantly a choice of being able to take care of myself or work on FLURT. How would I pitch it to investors when my anxiety kept me from taking a phone call? Yes, I could find other people to help me do these things like I had delegated before — but I knew from experience that finding them and training them and following up with them was just as much work, and I had trouble just making breakfast.
This summer I was diagnosed with ADHD. I also suspect I have autism. I’m waiting on eye surgery. I started dog sitting. My life is constantly a work in progress, and trying to start a successful business is stressful for anyone. I had it in my head that because I’ve persevered through university and welfare and homelessness and disability, running FLURT is what I’m supposed to do — that not continuing to work on it would be a failure. I knew that people had the idea that disabled people were lazy and just living off the system. If I quit FLURT, what would I have to show for my life?
Today I took an energetic puppy for a walk in the woods. The thing I like about dogs is that they force me outside of my hyperfocus to go outside and breathe. I looked around at the autumn leaves and realized I haven’t felt this stress-free since I started the magazine. I thought about wanting to feel that free all the time — not having to wake up with anxiety about how I’m going to try to make the magazine successful today, while navigating my fatigue and mood swings. I’ve put other projects to the side — a sex column, a documentary, a novel — but FLURT affected other people: my volunteers, those who cheered my on for years, those who were currently working on pieces for the next issue. I didn’t want to let anybody down. But more importantly, I didn’t know who I was without my magazine.
It’s terrifying to do something different than you’ve been doing for so long. For almost a decade I was certain that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. When I look at magazines at drug stores or the airport, I think about the kind of magazine people need to have. But that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself when you have mental health issues — especially when people say the magazine industry is a bust. I’ve always had so many plans for my life, and to be completely honest, I looked down on those who wanted a simple one. I couldn’t fathom not wanting to do anything big with my life. But what I’ve been realizing is that success is subjective. Even if my magazine blew up, I’d still have the same issues that I have now. They say you can do anything you set your mind to — but at what cost? Is making your mental health worse worth a successful career?
My older neighbour recently told me something that stuck with me. We chatted about politics, and seeing how terrified I was about the state of the world, he said, “You’re young. You should enjoy your life.” At the time, I felt like he was downplaying the importance of these issues, and that they obviously were more important than me having fun. I was young — but I wanted to change the world. How dare he say something like that to me? But after some time, I’ve realized he’s right. I’ve been so caught up in posting about human rights, and retweeting about Trump and worrying about ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ that I’ve forgotten to look up from my computer and just breathe. I need a reset — and I don’t know where it’ll take me.
If you find yourself in a crossroads rights now, where you don’t know if you should quit school or find a new career or move into your parents’ basement to figure out your life — know that whatever you’re doing, you’re not worthless. You don’t need to have a big social media presence or a world-changing career to have a life that’s worth something. Some of us will do things that make a big impact on the world — but that shouldn’t be the measure for success. Maybe success is just getting up every day. Maybe walking in the woods and feeling the breeze on your face is enough. Maybe it’s creating, laughing and playing with a dog. That sounds like a pretty rad life to me.