Where you started doesn’t dictate where you’re going. You get to decide every day what kind of person you want to be, how you want to change the world.
My entire childhood was filled with hardships. My parents both loved me very much but both were incredibly unhealthy and unstable people. Both struggled with drug addiction and alcohol abuse as well as mental illness.
My father died when I was 8 years old, leaving me and my brother in the care of our overwhelmed mother.
My brother, a couple of years older than myself, was physically abusive towards me, and my mom was stretched too thin to really see the extent of the abuse. Her addictions to methamphetamines and alcohol were her coping mechanisms from surviving a childhood filled with abuse and several marriages that mimicked her upbringing.
We often relied on the kindness of local churches for meals and I recall my mother pawning things like our vacuum cleaner to pay the electric bill. We often survived solely on the Social Security check we collected due to the death of my dad. She attracted abusive men, and while none ever hurt me, I had to see her endure mistreatment at the hands of men who claimed to love us.
Throughout all of this, I remained laser-focused on being a good student and staying out of trouble in order to avoid creating more stress on for my mom. I dedicated myself to becoming the first person in my family, including extended family, to attend college. Through the help of scholarships and grants, and with no financial support from my family, I enrolled in college at the age of 17.
I achieved my goal only to have my hopes of graduating put on hold when I developed a crippling anxiety disorder. It didn’t take a therapist to see where my anxiety came from.
One particular memory I have from my freshman year of college was getting a phone call while I was on my way to a midterm exam telling me that my mom had been hospitalized after getting high on meth and trying to hang herself. My anxiety symptoms were physical, including uncontrollable vomiting and heart palpitations, and would manifest nearly anytime I tried to leave my apartment. I eventually was too mentally ill to attend classes and failed out of college entirely.
My mental health deteriorated and in a cry for help and a desperate effort to alleviate my pain, I tried to kill myself and woke up to a 4 day stay in the ICU. I remember when I woke up thinking to myself, “Ok. I’m done with this. I’m ready to fix myself, whatever it takes.” I spent the next few years fixing myself by doing whatever it took (within reason) to bring myself happiness. I couch-surfed at the houses of friends all across the state of Texas, I dyed my hair funky colors, I sold my car, I moved across the country to meet a boy from the internet, I took odd jobs to make money, I fell in love, I got my heart broken, I never touched drugs or alcohol, and I had adventures. I did all this while learning to manage my anxiety disorder, how to remove myself from situations that made me uncomfortable, and how to endure my discomfort when removal was not an option. I took control over my own life and stopped letting my tumultuous childhood dictate who I had become as an adult.
In 2018, I graduated from college – 14 years after I’d first enrolled. Still, the first in my family to ever even attend a college class. Beyond being a college graduate, I have found success in my career and in my personal life.
My mom passed away in 2011 before I graduated and before I became a full-time photographer. But she did get to see me succeeding in my previous job and generally happy. I know she would be proud of me today knowing that what happened in my childhood didn’t stop me from becoming a healthy, prosperous adult.
Where you started doesn’t dictate where you’re going. You get to decide every day what kind of person you want to be, how you want to change the world. If you want to be an entirely different person tomorrow, all you have to do is start.
Don’t let what happened yesterday prevent you from getting where you want to go.
Jesi Cason is a portrait photographer specializing in commercial and personal brand photography based in South Florida. She believes in the importance of running a profitable photography business and sharing her knowledge with others to help them grow. Volunteerism and giving back to the community are just as important to her and she gives her time to several organizations. She lives with her boyfriend, Peter, and their dog, Miles.