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How My Battle Against Eating Disorders Shaped My Career

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How My Battle Against Eating Disorders Shaped My Career
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Like most search engine optimization professionals, I never set out to do this.

In fact, one could argue that accidentally falling into the specialization I love was only made possible through heartache, struggles, and uncertainty about my identity.

Now, I know myself better than I ever have before.

I’m a wife, a mom, an animal rescuer, recovered disordered eater, an individual managing anxiety and depression, an artist, a runner (or I have been in the past…postpartum life has made it hard to get back into it) and in the midst of all that, a professional who happens to love one of the most ambiguous, ever-shifting and “gray” specializations in the digital world.

I’m a deeply multifaceted person, and while my career is just a piece of that colorful puzzle, it’s undeniable the way this specific trade has woven into my life and led me right exactly where I’ve needed to be.

Let’s back up.

How It Started

Ten years ago, I was a college student. I was dating my high school sweetheart long-distance while we attended different schools. I was balancing multiple internships.

I was also in the throes of bulimia, binge eating disorder, anorexic tendencies, and repeatedly misdiagnosed mental illness. I was getting by and to a lot of people, it looked like I was thriving.

My career was already off to a strong start, I was on track to marry that longtime boyfriend of mine, and I had an active social life.

If you looked closer than surface level, you’d see the spiderweb cracks spreading through that façade.

Then, in the fall of 2010, that high school boyfriend called it quits, and I took that as a cue to think about myself, and only myself, for the first time ever.

I doubled down on therapy, self-care, and adventures. I took a digital strategy internship in California, which led to an after-college job offer in Kansas City.

I’d be doing digital with an emphasis on social media and I was ready to take the world by storm.

And, 14 months later, the company that moved me to Kansas City laid me off. I was far from my family back in Illinois and unemployed.

I did, however, already have the best cheerleader of my life by my side. My then-boyfriend, Josh, had been in my life for maybe 6 months. We’d gotten pretty serious.

I wanted to stay in Kansas City and see where our future together led, so when he pointed out an opening on an SEO team at the agency he used to work at, prior to being poached to another company, it seemed like a way to put down more roots in KC.

I’d done SEO on blog posts, was handy with data analysis and had done keyword research.

When I walked into my interviews and dazzled them with my ability to say the alphabet backward in addition to having some digital background and a bubbly personality, I had no idea how much my life would change.

Once again, heartbreak led to what I really needed. My first agency breaking up with me, like my high school boyfriend, led me to something better.

How Everything Changed

SEO became “my thing.” Adding definition to an amorphous specialty with very few hard and fast rules began to feel like some extended metaphor for life in general. SEO allowed me to better understand the “gray” area.

Where my brain wanted to switch between the pitch black of depression and the glaring white of anxiety, SEO forced me to widen the in-between areas.

Some of my greatest lightbulb moments about life were found in the depths of a thousand-line spreadsheet, because of SEO’s ability to pull me back into the real details I can touch and out of the chaos of my own brain chemistry.

Through therapy, I’ve been able to broaden my understanding of the colors of life.

If depression is deep black, and anxiety is a stark, jarring white, and the forced vagueness of SEO is gray, my perspective can now see a broad range of colors.

Those colors brightened the day I married Josh. They struck startling new level of vividness the day we welcomed Jameson, our son, into the world.

Statistically speaking, according to postpartumdepression.org:

  • 70-80% of women will experience some level of hormone-driven emotional difficulties after giving birth.
  • An estimated 600,000 women receive a postpartum depression diagnosis in the U.S. each year.
  • Including  postpartum depression following miscarriages and stillbirths, it’s 900,000.
  • An estimated 10% of fathers experience postpartum depression.
  • That paternal postpartum depression number jumps to approximately 50% if their partner has PPD.

It’s incredibly common, even if we don’t talk about it enough. And if you have a history of anxiety, depression or other mood disorders, you’re 30-35% more likely to develop postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety.

We can all see where this is going, right?

Jameson is my greatest joy and he and his father are the loves of my life. I am the happiest I have ever been, doing life with these two every day. That doesn’t mean I’m not still actively managing depression and anxiety.

Postpartum depression and anxiety feel different than the chronic conditions I’d lived with for my entire adult life.

While the sharp edges of those conditions have worn down thanks to antidepressants, time, and hormone levels stabilizing, there were days that I wasn’t sure how I’d do it.

Jameson and Josh (and our 24 pets) gave me the drive to get out of bed, to get through the day. While these two amazing humans filled my life with so much color and light, there was still a lot of that looming black and alarming bright white usurping them.

Thriving as a Working Mom

Thankfully, my medical teams knew exactly what was going on and I was willing to ask for help. I’m doing great now, mostly because of the self-awareness to prioritize my mental health.

Jamie deserves a happy, healthy mom and while I haven’t gotten back to running yet, I arguably feel like my relationship with my own mental illnesses is the healthiest it’s ever been.

After 3 months, I went back to work. I went back to SEO. And suddenly, it started feeling like the spectrum of colors were realigned.

I had my rainbow of joy, laughter, fun, and love with my family, and adding that gray section back in brought things back into balance.

Being a working mom – especially in a demanding field like SEO – is hard. But it’s who I am.

It’s a life I would never trade. The colors of my life are best-aligned when I have all the shades in between the black and white, and SEO is a material, vital part of that spectrum.

I never set out to do this, but I am unspeakably grateful that life’s disappointments and setbacks led me to precisely where I was meant to be.

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Kelly Stanze

Search Strategist at Hallmark

Kelly has seen some stuff. With a digital career spanning agriculture, higher education, retail, small businesses and non-profits, she's gotten ... [Read full bio]

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