Getting to Know Gigi
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a New York City content creator with 10 years of photography experience. I focus my art and work on chronic illness and social media literacy – the understanding of what you put out in the world and how it might be consumed.
An interesting fact about you?
I did the polar plunge on New Year’s Day!
Gigi’s Mental Health Story
Can you talk about your chronic illness and how living with it has impacted your mental health?
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is frightening and a little deafening at the same time. It’s something that you ultimately have to live with and learn how to manage.
I got diagnosed with EDS at the age of 11, and I wasn’t really understanding the magnitude that this would affect my life. I think in a way that was detrimental to my mental health because I was a teenager going through puberty and all of a sudden, I had crutches and casts on my arms – because I would get injured from EDS – that I didn’t quite understand how to deal with.
It was really difficult. But all that to say, I didn’t start to acknowledge my chronic conditions until I was in college when I really started to struggle with managing work, school, social life, and physical health.
It’s really difficult because with a chronic illness, you’re perpetually sick. It’s not like you can wake up one day and it will go away. There are some days you wake up and you feel fine. But there’s not a day that you wake up and it doesn’t affect your life, and that is the daunting part of it.
But, I use it as fuel to make art, and it has made me stronger and in speaking out because the more people I talk to that are living with chronic illness, the more I realize that my experience is just the same story told from someone else’s perspective.
Better Me, Better Life
Living with a chronic illness takes a lot of mental energy, how do you manage your mind and emotional wellbeing? How do you find that mind-body connection?
There’s not really anything that I can say that I do to manage that mind-body connection. It just is. There’s really no skills or tools that I can offer because truthfully, my experience is going to be so much different than somebody else’s. I could tell you the things that helped me but those might not help somebody else with a chronic condition.
For me, on the days where my body decides that no, we’re not having it, I can’t fight against it, I just have to spend the day in bed and take that time to honor my chronic conditions.
Sometimes it can put me out for the whole day, and I have this guilt that I’m supposed to have all of this energy to do these daily things, but then I can’t do them and I have to ask somebody else in my family to do them.
But again, I chose to befriend my chronic conditions, at least mentally.
I also went to an occupational therapy program when I was in college, where my therapist helped me figure out and manage my energy-spending. And I think once I thought about things that way, dealing with my mental and physical health was much better.
What advice do you have for folks who don’t feel comfortable opening up about their struggles because of pressure and fear of judgment?
Back to the idea of social media literacy. I really took the time to getting uncomfortable in posting on social media about my chronic conditions, body image, and mental health.
I was dealing with issues in my personal life and thinking, if I have this platform, imagine all the people following me who can relate to my story! I’ve gotten DMs from people around the world thanking me for talking about our condition because nobody else understands or articulate it the way that I do.
So, a moment where I realized I needed to be doing this work was in the fall of 2019. I decided that I wanted to continue my work in photography and started photographing my life living with chronic conditions. That was the moment where I realized I have to handle my chronic condition and my mental health. And what I could do is use my art-making skills; I can make art about it.
I started bringing my camera to my doctor’s appointments and shooting all these different things in the hospital. It was a time where I just had to do it. And I ultimately did it. And again, that was a moment where I had this self-actualization of I really need help, and I’m going to use my art to tell my story.
And during that time in college, at 22 years old, you’re going to have friends who are not focused on your wellbeing or being a good friend, especially to somebody with a chronic condition. So, just acknowledging that is super important because it can be difficult to really foster genuine friendships where people care about you. And obviously, friendships are a huge part of mental health as well.
Gigi’s Wellbeing Recipe
What does mental health wellness mean or look like to you?
Mental health is really acknowledging that there’s problems and actively working towards a way to live life that, while honoring the condition, works to improve the situation.
Once you acknowledge that there’s a problem, you need to have conversations, whether that’s with yourself, to a therapist, or to your family and friends. You need to have that conversation about your condition because it can lead to education.
And after you’ve had dialogues around it, you can educate yourself, educate others on how to best handle and manage your condition. I truly believe that having conversations about difficult things is where we see progress happens the most.
What is your daily self-care routine? Any practice you’d recommend?
I love listening to podcast, putting my favorite music on. I know this sounds small, but I love lighting candles; they just make me feel good. I love taking care of plants as well.
And I think it’s honestly a difficult thing for me to answer because a lot of the times it’s hard for me to even fully take care of my mental health. Sometimes I really find it difficult to stray away from the work that I’m doing because I’m so motivated by the work, and the people I’m doing my work for, that I do oftentimes forget or neglect the need to take care of my mental health.
To All of You Who’re Reading
Could you offer us a final word of wisdom to our readers who are struggling with a chronic illness or mental health?
I would urge people to have those conversations, again, not only with other people, but also with yourself.
Talk to yourself five years from before. Like if I could go back, I would tell myself: you need to take care of your mental health and take the time for physical therapy. And I would tell myself five years from now the same thing: make sure that, despite all the work you’re doing, you’re taking those rest days.
Luckily, with this work from home lifestyle, I think we’ve come up with a really unique way to handle and change our working situations. And it allows you to really evaluate how much energy you can spend every day or every week on things that are most important to you while, again, honoring your mental health and leaving pockets of time for that in there.
Here’s where you can find Gigi
All social(Instagram, Tiktok, twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Clubhouse): @itsgigirobinson
Youtube: Gigi Robinson