top of page
  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Lagnese

Looks Can Be Deceiving

The year was 2011. I had put on my best peplum top and tight jeans. I had my hair and makeup done, ready to meet my cool new friend for dinner. I was on a mission to impress being a professional people-pleaser and all. This new friend looked good on paper. She was smart and sassy. She was gorgeous and fit. She had perfectly straight blonde hair and painted her face with only the most expensive makeup Sephora carries. She was always down for a spontaneous adventure and according to her she was the life of every party. Simply put, she was the complete opposite of me. Perhaps that's why I found her so appealing.

I was nervous as hell sitting across from her. I kept assuring myself I had my shit together as this chick went on and on about how much money she had and her dislike for knock off purses and shoes. She complained about the "smelly Indian girl" in her class and how crazy her best friend was, who mind you was just diagnosed with bipolar days earlier. “She’s crazy,” she exclaimed! “You should see her now. She really let herself go, gained a bunch of weight. Now she's fat, crazy, and lazy." She said all this while twirling her pretty blonde hair. I was sweating bullets at this point. I didn't belong here. I could feel any and all coolness being sucked from my soul. The whole dinner was absolutely ludicrous.

But did I leave early? No.

Did I speak up about my mental health struggles? Hell no.

Did I comment on how awful this conversation was? Of course not.

Did I nervously laugh and utter the words, “Ugh, she sounds awful?” Yep.

Did I instantly regret the words spewing out of my mouth? You bet.

But the damage was done. After spending only a few hours with her, it was clear she was a miserable woman who would tear anyone down to make herself look and feel better. Plain and simple, she was a mean girl.

I was 22. I was sick, actively drowning in PTSD (undiagnosed at this point) and depression. I was binge eating Taco Bell and Mcdonalds daily to cope, hiding the evidence under my bed like a child. My OCD was becoming unmanageable and I could not keep a therapist to save my life. My mental state was fragile to say the least. I was supposed to have just graduated college. I was supposed to be planning my future and starting a career but that's not quite where I was. I was working at Panera Bread while finishing up school. That is where I meant said friend. She was finishing up her undergrad at Baldwin Wallace and would come in occasionally for a cinnamon crunch bagel and frozen mocha. We ended up exchanging numbers one day and planned a dinner out. Fortunately she stopped coming in after our dinner date. I was probably too lame and boring for her. Or perhaps too crazy? I guess we will never know.

By 23 I graduated from college, had a steady 9-5 job, was engaged to my college sweetheart, and was gearing up to move into my new home, my forever home! It appeared as though I had gotten it together but looks can be deceiving. In reality, I was in a constant state of fight or flight, losing my grip on reality as each day passed. At one point my fiancée and I weren’t sure we would even make it down the aisle, mainly because I kept pushing him away for reasons he didn’t yet know. And while some family and friends expressed concern, I lied and said THEY were crazy. I wasn’t a good liar but I was a liar nonetheless. I would go to any length to trick others into thinking I had it all together. But the truth is, I was far from put together. I was broken, badly broken and somewhere along the way I completely lost myself.

I spent years looking for myself, believing wholeheartedly that I’d find her someday. Surprisingly I did stumble upon her one chilly fall day. She was unrecognizable. She was near death. I mourned her and said goodbye. I left behind my old life that day and began making the long trek back to reality. Having the strength to strip myself down to the studs and rebuild my entire life was a process. And while in some ways I am still rebuilding I can say with full confidence that I no longer hurt myself. I no longer make bad decisions to compensate for my poor mental health. I no longer beat myself up over the past. I no longer make myself small in fear of being told my feelings are too big or worse, that I am too much. Also, no longer do I surround myself with fake and materialistic people.

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” – Hafiz of Shiraz

Truth be told my mental struggles really helped form this new life of mine. You see, the OCD I have had since a child that stemmed from religious trauma ended up being what brought me back to God decades later. My obsessive worry over the afterlife and never ending questions about God's existence led me to a Catholic MOMS group. These women met me exactly where I was and gave me reassurance that I belonged there, even if I wasn't really your standard catholic gal. I ended up getting baptized at that Catholic church at age 28. I'll never forget losing my left contact in the baptismal font because I could not control my weeping. My OCD, while super annoying at times, has also been a huge blessing. I live in a very organized and minimal environment. I now get to help others organize their lives and help them find freedom from all the stuff weighing them down.

The time I was sexually assaulted in college and decided to hide it for years led to a full breakdown in 2017. This breakdown led me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed my PTSD and helped me find proper treatment, quite literally saving my life. Yeah that same breakdown led me to therapy too where I healed parts of me I didn’t realize were broken. Years of therapy led me to become a better wife, mom, and person. Funny how breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar ll and wanted desperately to hide it in fear of judgment, I remembered that awful dinner from years ago. I questioned a lot. Will my friends talk about me like that? What will my family think? Oh gosh, what would my husband’s family think? I reflected on all that I had learned thus far on my mental health journey and knew I could not stay silent. That diagnosis, while hard to add to my ever-growing list of mental illnesses:

OCD ✔️

Clinical Depression ✔️


PPD ✔️

Manic Depression ✔️

was the diagnosis that changed me the most. You see most of my life I hid things due to paralyzing fear of what others would think. But oddly enough my bipolar diagnosis ended up being the biggest catalyst in coming forward and finally speaking my truth. Guess who still loved me? Guess who was rooting for me the entire time? Guess who forgave me and helped build the woman I am today? Yep, those very friends and family members I was so worried about. Turns out the company you keep really is important. Their love, grace, and forgiveness transformed me. That includes my amazing husband's family who stood right beside me. AND this very blog came about after finding out about my manic depression. Yeah, it wasn’t the ending babes, it was just the beginning.

My old life and ways seem so far behind me but really, it wasn’t that long ago that I was struggling to stay afloat. I think it’s important to never forget where you come from. As much as I’d like to erase parts of my past, it was the past that made me into the woman I am today. Below are a few pictures that further prove my point that looks can be deceiving.

Just look at these two pics. I had been sexually assaulted just a week or two prior. I was 22 and doing my best to paint that happy face on, to go to the parties and fake that everything was normal. No one had a clue.

Ah, talk about cringe worthy. I put on this cap and gown knowing full well my diploma wasn’t coming. I was sick to my stomach but knew how much money my parents had spent on my college education so I smiled and pretended to graduate. Thankfully I did graduate a year later thanks to my parents and advisor who fought hard for me.

You see this picture? My wedding day. Yeah, it was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life but it wasn’t. I kept having flashbacks of being assaulted that day but I sure as heck wasn't going to let that show. I pretended I felt beautiful but truly I felt like a fraud, an ugly fraud.

I had just been diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar ll weeks before this picture was taken at Christmas. I was raw and incredibly vulnerable but I think I hid it well.

I could easily delete these pictures, these memories. But why do that? I love looking at my wedding pictures. I love laughing at all the ridiculous pictures I took in college. And one of my favorite things to do with my hubby is look through baby/toddler pics of our kids. Erasing these pictures would be erasing chapters of my story, my life.

I hope no matter where you are in life right now friend, you are practicing kindness. We never really know what a person is going through behind closed doors or like me, behind that smile. Ya know, I think back to that mean girl and her supposed friend from time to time. I wonder if that woman ever changed or if she’s still wasting away in gossip and judgment. I wonder if her friend ever woke up and found better friends. I sure hope so. That flawless woman you see on the internet who seems to have all the answers, all the money, the looks, the power, the time, the fame, the status. Yeah, it’s fabricated. And that’s not to say every woman who has it together is like that, of course not. I am referring more to the mean girl hidden behind her computer screen; the mean girl who will say one thing to your face only to turn around and shred your name to pieces in another. I truly feel a deep sadness for them. 9 times out of 10 those women are falling apart and crumbling on the inside. Their heart, mind, and spirit are slowly rotting away and the decay will eventually show. Hurt people, hurt people.

This is me today with my hubby and kiddos. 35 and thriving. I'm still very much a work in progress but this is by far the happiest I’ve ever been, the most honest and healthiest I’ve ever been. That smile you see on my face, I assure you it’s genuine. How could it not be? I have the most incredible people doing life alongside me. These people you see in this picture are my ride or die. They are my safe place, they are home! This kinda happiness you see right here, this is what I hope for everyone, even those mean girls.

Xoxo, Caitlin

bottom of page