As a student at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia, fashion designer Lilah James used her personal experience with and journey through complex PTSD to inspire her designs, and creative a visual narrative through textiles and fabric construction. One notable example is the Shame and Guilt collection she created while still a student, which was captured in a documentary by director Glenn Holsten. Through her design work, Lilah explored themes of anxiety, coping and recovery through the lens of creativity, specifically fashion.
Life After College
But when Lilah left college, she felt isolated, confused, alone.
Like so many graduates, she no longer had any structure in her life. There were no more deadlines. No more assignments. She didn't have to be in class at a certain time.
She says she didn't know what to do with herself.
"After you leave college, no one talks to you about this, but it’s sort of isolating," says Lilah. "You have to bring up the inspiration to motivate yourself on your own."
She isn't the only one to experience these feelings. Lack of motivation, lack of structure, the responsibilities of the real world — all of these can take their toll.
But Lilah was determined to find balance again.
Life After College
In the grand scheme of things, life after college wasn't that big of a deal. Lilah had been through worse — much worse. She has wrestled with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental condition triggered after a traumatic event. (PTSD inspired one of her fashion collections in college.)
But, for her, life after college was still a struggle. She refers to this period as "creation burnout."
Unlike many graduates, Lilah had landed a job in the fashion industry. But something didn't feel right. She questioned her motives. She reassessed her future. Was she really on the right path?
"I had to listen to my gut. I know that I needed to take a break from creating," she says. "Before, everything was just creating and viewing art. And all of sudden, it wasn’t doing that for me anymore. It was doing the opposite. Which was terrifying."
This crisis of confidence consumed her. She was fed up. She was exhausted. So she took that break from creating. It was one of the best things she ever did. It redefined her entire outlook on life.
She listened to music. She read. She wrote.
She still struggled, but things were getting better.
"I would tell myself to hang in there. But it’s like, I already knew that. I knew that it was going to eventually get better. I had to keep applying it."
Finding a New Balance
Lilah turned down that fashion job and worked in a museum instead. She's still there now, and she loves it. The job lets her view the work of others.
She feels inspired again.
Lilah still creates in her spare time, but only when she feels inspired. Why create just for the sake of it? She says there's more to life than just producing and creating.
What can Lilah share with others about her experience?
"Honestly, take a break after college. You don’t have to jump," she says. "Even though I had a job in my field, I hated it because in college you’re living and breathing this field that you’re going into. And when you get out of college, you’re exhausted.
"So if you the opportunity to take a break, take it. And if you don’t get a job right away in your field, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure."
Graduates don't have to work in a museum to feel fulfilled. Or turn down a job offer. But they should feel inspired, says Lilah.
"Keep hanging in there. Look for anything that gives you a reason to keep going."
Read more about Lilah James, her design work and the stories of others from Recovery Diaries.