Today’s post is definitely a harder one to make but one that I thought was also incredibly important. Some of you who have been following me for a while will know more of this story than others but I wanted to take some time to lay out my entire business history for you because it will probably explain a lot about why I left and why I came back. If you’re uninterested in this or just want to see pretty pictures, there are a lot of other blog posts for that.
Warning: this post contains talk about disease, mental illness, and other potentially triggering material. Please do not read if this may be, in any way, damaging to your mental or physical wellbeing. For those of you still here, let’s start at the beginning.
2013 – I graduated high school with plans of attending UMass Amherst. I moved in and immediately felt isolated, scared and my depression hit its peak. I was only there a few weeks but I felt unsafe in my roommate situation, there was nobody I knew from home, and I began the semester failing my classes. I ended up withdrawing from the University and moving back home. About a month later, I met a man named Ryan and instantly fell head-over-heels in love for the very first time. Some of you might’ve realized…this man is now my husband (but we’ll get there).
2014 – I made plans to return to college in the fall, this time attending Bay Path University. It was where my sister attended college and it was the complete opposite of UMass. It was quite small, had an entirely female undergraduate program, and was much more manageable for me in all aspects. In June of this year, I witnessed Ryan’s sister and brother-in-law get married and witnessed professional photographers for the very first time. Seeing photographers that weren’t taking photos in a dance studio or a school gymnasium was a very new concept to me. I began college at BPU in the fall as planned and did wonderfully. I met some great people and finished with a 4.0 for my first completed semester. This is also when I made plans to transfer to Eastern Connecticut State University. BPU was great for me to start my collegiate journey but I knew I needed a change to find that perfect fit.
2015 – I began spring semester at Eastern and instantly felt at home. I was a history major and loved my coursework as well as joining activities that made me excited to be on campus. I was also only about 40 minutes from home and the close proximity helped me feel much less isolated. Ryan attended Eastern as well and seeing him all the time kept me motivated to succeed but also got me thinking a lot about the future. I had no idea what it would look like. July would bring his family’s annual vacation to Maine and the most amazing day of my life thus far. Ryan proposed to me on the beach and his sister photographed it for us. This instance got me thinking… What is photography could be a career instead of a hobby. Is that even possible?? So in September of this year, I made a Facebook post about starting to pursue photography and got a couple people who paid dirt-cheap prices. I started with a little Canon Rebel T5i and zero knowledge about professional photography or running a business. I thought that having a DSLR was enough and would quickly be proven wrong…
2016 – This was a year with maybe three paid shoots but a lot of freebies to “build my portfolio”. Everybody and anybody was reaching out because they knew I was new and doing shoots for free. This was a huge mistake looking back. Add in all of the stress of being a full time college student and starting to also work with a local Color Guard program and I was a busy little bee. I tried to do it all and I got burnt out very quickly.
2017 – I photographed a roomate’s senior pictures and some wedding portraits for my sister. That was it. I had become so incredibly burnt out from everything that I was doing and I just couldn’t handle it any more. So I just stopped posting or promoting and my page eventually dwindled to nothing. But I knew this was where I was meant to be.
2018 – Again, I decided to pursue photography. The difference this time was I had discovered education that I didn’t know existed. I had begun following my wedding photographer and they resulted in being recommended other photographers. Many of whom offered information and education on how to successfully run a business. This was a rebirth of this idea and the passion I had and I actually did a lot this year. A lot happened in my life as well! I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Eastern with a BA in History in May. I got married in June which was the most incredible day. I got hired full time at a local elementary school in October. All while working towards building this dream of mine. And it was working!!
2019 – Then the worst year of my life hit. Work was tough but manageable and I had a relatively full schedule. I was networking and booked six weddings in this year with only two budget weddings and some styled shoots under my belt. Things were looking great. Then a family member got into two car accidents that shook up the family in a major way. Then another family member found a tumor in their kidney and had to undergo surgery to have it removed. That tumor, by the way, was cancerous, so thank goodness it was completely removed. I lost my closest friend. And my mental health had completely plummeted to a point it had never been before. My anxiety got to a point that I was having panic attacks from hearing the door to our apartment building open. My depression got so bad that I refused to leave our bed except for the bathroom. I couldn’t function anymore and I saw no hope for improvement. Through a lot of help, I was able to get through all of it…but I blamed photography for everything negative I had felt despite it being the only freedom I actually had in my life.
So I announced I was leaving at the end of October and deleted my entire photography existence from the internet. Chelsea Eliza Photography was taken off Instagram, Facebook, my website was taken down…I just wanted it all gone. I thought that, somehow, if I made the choice to get rid of it all then I could choose normalcy. I would work a normal 9-5 job and take back control of my life. This, of course, was not the case and I began to feel less in control than ever before. Photography had always been a creative outlet for me and now I had nothing. I didn’t have anything to look forward to or feel proud of. I started to spiral downwards again.
After a loooongggg talk with Ryan and a few others, I realized what I had done and that I needed this back. I needed my creative outlet back. I needed my passion back. I needed to pursue this dream again…but this time give it all I’ve got. Which leads us too…
2020 – I announced my return to photography in February and instantely felt that spark light up in me again. I was making plans on how to grow and launched an entirely new brand. Chelsea Lavallee Photography was a fresh start to these dreams without the stigma I had attached around my previous branding. Then March happened and the entire world shut down.
But it was okay!
I knew that this was a setback for sure but I was grateful because it really did give me extra time to plan for my future and make strong and steady goals. I can honestly say that my mental health took a hit during the start of quarantine but I’ve been working hard to put my health first and have been steadily getting better. Ryan and I moved in with his parents in June to aid in his own career transition (from teaching to law enforcement) and that has helped a lot.
There are still a lot of battles I am facing but I am in a much better place mentally, physically, psychologically, etc. than I was when I close CEP. I’m so incredibly overjoyed to be back pursuing these dreams and doing what I love. While I know this may seem strange to share as apart of my business, I believe in transparency and honesty. I also believe in erasing the stigma around mental health…especially when it comes to small business owners. It is okay to not be okay sometimes and that is probably the biggest lesson that I learned throughout my hiatus.
To those of you who are still here, thank you. To those of you who have supported my business through hiring me or even just liking my posts, thank you. I am so happy to have you in my corner and can’t wait to show you all I have planned for this little business of mine. I sincerely love and am grateful to have the support I’ve received.
I’ll be back soon with my regular upbeat posts and pretty pictures.