I was lost. I mean pit of despair, locked in a prison of my own making lost. I don’t remember when I spiraled or how I let it happen. All I understood was my parents were disappointed in me and I had given up. I felt hopeless.
I can’t sugarcoat this story for you. If you really want to know how I became this happy-go-lucky lady with the stars in her eyes, the grit must be shared. This is not my fairytale. This is a story of one girl becoming her own hero and paving her own way.
But before I share the beginnings of Dream On Youth, I have to introduce you to someone. Me.
Hello, my name is Cydney Irby. I am a six foot, one inch tall lady in her mid-20s. I am happy where I stand now. I am a poetic soul crafting her own brand of freedom. I am a kindness hustler changing hardened hearts and spreading light. I am everything I’ve ever really wanted and someone I’m very proud of. But I wasn’t always this way.
I was once a lanky teenager nicknamed “skinny mini” and “toothpick.” I was once a girl who could fake happiness so well that her family didn’t see the struggle most times. I was once called “fake” by a best friend as I struggled through depression and trying to find out who I was. I was called “emo” for sitting alone because the pressure was too much for me to handle. I was nerdy, confused, and self destructive.
This isn’t where I want you to pity me. This next paragraph is heart wrenching enough. This is where I need you to stay with me. This is where I bare one of the darkest nights of my life.
Please read the rest at your own and get help if you are self harming.
My grandmother was visiting. My whole family was home. I had come home from school, which wasn’t terrible, and I just felt done. I had written a letter to my best friend while she was at camp about what I was going through, about wanting to take my own life. What did anyone need me for? I didn’t bring anything to the table. I wasn’t worth any tears or fighting over. Nobody was ever going to really love all of me. I was a mess and I didn’t deserve it.
Yes, those were the thoughts that ran through my head that night as I stood by my desk glancing at a pair of manicure scissors. These scissors had been staring me in the face for months. Sometimes it felt like they were even calling for my wrists, even though I’d never actually cut. I stared at them a little while longer and then placed them in my right hand. I curled my fingers around them and went to touch the cold metal to my wrist. I froze.
I couldn’t do it. My whole body started to shake as I let out the quietest, most fearsome, heartbreaking tears. I dropped the scissors and fell to my knees. “I can’t do this. I don’t know why but I can’t. “
The next day as I tried not to relive the moment, I came home from school and walked into my room with horror stricken across my face. See, a letter had come in the mail, a letter from my best friend. My grandmother and parents had opened it. My parents were crying.
Needless to say, there was a long talk, lots of ugly tears, and thus began the healing.
I finished out high school with a great GPA. I had a lot of friends. I was truly smiling and having the time of my life. I was off to Auburn University to live my life and become a vet. I was excited about everything.
Fast forward to my sophomore year in college where another spiral would occur and I would question everything I was doing and who I was. The second semester, I realized I didn’t want to become a vet anymore. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working with animals in a hospital. I don’t know what I wanted to do but it wasn’t that. I also couldn’t find a job. I didn’t have much money. I hated my classes and stayed locked up in my room.
To put this in perspective, I stopped going to two of my classes. I spent more time sleeping than anything else. I rarely saw anyone except the girl I was living with, in this beautiful apartment. I didn’t drink to numb the pain, or party too hard. It was just like I was absent from life. I had given up in the biggest sense of the word. I had stopped living without dying.
This is where my parents' disappointment in me shows up. This is where that summer of worry and fear comes in. This is where the tides shift and Dream On Youth starts to take shape.
Fast forward eight months from that summer, from a pit to an overdose of what I’d like to call “acting” to a mental breakdown. I couldn’t put on a show anymore. Yeah, I had a part-time job where I saw animals every day. Yes, I had friends and family who loved me. But you know what? I didn’t love me. I couldn’t stand to be around me.
Nights were the worst for me, as I'm sure you can imagine. On one particular night, I was lying in bed, with my heart breaking, and my spirit is crushed. I was so angry with myself, my ugly crying was proof. I had done this. I had let circumstances get to me. I had become a shell of a person. But, I didn’t know how to save myself. That’s when I did the only thing a girl in my position could do, I prayed.
I can’t lie to you, in 2012, I was far from God. Yet, somehow I didn’t let that stop me. I choked out that I would do better if He gave me a sign. If He let me in on my purpose, I would follow Him blindly. I begged, pleaded. I let go and let God. And as cliché as it may sound, He answered me with an idea, a fresh start. A crazy little thing I’d deemed Dream On Youth.
It’s March 27th, the next day, and I decide to jump onto Twitter reluctantly. I start a new account with a quirky username, @supportdoyou. I didn’t tell my best friends or family. I didn’t even tell the world who was behind it. For the first few months, I would remain anonymous. I would uplift people and their dreams. I would retweet, follow, and befriend. I’d do everything I was scared to do publicly. See, DOY was my little secret, one that could brighten the world while I was stuck in a sea of darkness.
I wondered how many others felt like me and how much we could change if we looked for the positive, together. Boom, another idea hit me. I could make a community, a family, of dreamers who wanted to make a difference. Cue emails and tweets to people who shared this passion. I would contact bands, musicians, organizations, and others just like me. Did I know what I was doing? That deserves a scoff and a laugh. Of course not but everything in me loved it. Networking was becoming my best friend and boy, were we going places.
Things would continue like this for a while. I reached out to those having bad days and battling mental illness. I would start crafting projects and even consider touring with one band, The Off Motive, at high schools. Yeah, DOY was rough around the edges with no website, no team, no funds, but it was thriving. It was something people believed in.
In fact, February 6th, 2013 would mark my first in-person meeting and collaboration with an acquaintance. Taylor Young, creator of the newly revived Fortitude Harbor, would meet up with me at a local bookstore that afternoon. We would talk about everything from the name of the project (Redemption Writers) to promotional ideas to the benefits. We bought the supplies with our own money and waited to make our next move. Who knew FH, then deemed Safe Haven, would fall through due to unfortunate circumstances? Or that Taylor would be working beside me at DOY six months later? But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Summer came around again and while on the outside everything looked grand, I was drowning. I felt unmotivated as if I was doing this for nothing. I had failed at so many other start-ups and potential blogs. Why would this be any different? I second guessed what I was doing, why people would care. I went from this beautiful natural high to a new low.
That’s the problem with trying to be perfect and hiding who you are. I was a type-A perfectionist. One who had battled depression, suicidal thoughts, and could outshine the “emo” crowd at self-loathing. I was a ticking time bomb and I felt the final seconds counting down. I would be my own demise if I didn’t keep pushing forward.
So that’s exactly what I did during the summer. I graced the world with the bare minimum. Tweeting a little each day and trying to piece together a website. I would create a blog for DOY where I would write about what I knew, what I lived through, and how I felt. I contemplated quitting this journey every single day but I wouldn’t let myself give up. Not again.
I’ve made it to August of 2013 and I’m overwhelmed in a great way. I’m finally on my way back to college after nearly two years of being gone. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to juggle classes, getting my GPA up so I can get off of academic probation, and keep running Dream On Youth. I don’t want to quit but I can’t do this alone anymore. I finally have to admit that I need help and, on this whim, put up an application on the blog for interns.
Look, I was expecting one or two girls to apply max in this timeframe. I get six. Six girls have sent in emails wanting to work with me and do something bigger than all of us. I could jump for joy. It’s so insane that I decide I’ll one up this occurrence and accept every single one of them. I designate who blogs about what, a group chat to keep us all in touch, and what happens is more than I could have ever imagined. Within my movement, my legacy, I have created a sisterhood where we are real and we fight for good.
I can tell you right now, those first few months with those girls blew my mind. They were so enthusiastic about everything. They would freak out, send videos, send hilarious pictures, and more often than not we’d have some seriously deep discussions. There was nothing that was off bounds and it felt like home.
I went through a few more times of hiring interns. Nothing would ever match that first time because it was brand new to me. But each time I learned something new. Each time I put more of my energy into these girls and less of it into my needs. Each time I gained lifelong friends and got to invite more people into a feeling of home. They taught me how to love on other people, how to be confident, and how to be vulnerable with a dismissive world.
Skip ahead through thirteen interns on the main team and four on our, recently dissolved, sister movement Youth Atlas. Go through the countless blog posts full of interviews, honesty, and optimism. Laugh at the freak out tweets and motivational Instagram posts. Search for our next move and you’ll find me sitting at my laptop, smiling.
Yes, I’ve had a few more times of being like “why am I doing this to myself?!?” I’ve had face-to-palm moments where I’ve laughed and just shook my head. I’ve questioned who I was doing it for and where we were going. I’m human. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a creative. This comes with the territory. But, the reward is far too great and my soul is far too free in this community to just quit.
See, every day I get to make people smile and rethink how they look at themselves. I get to watch people chase their wildest dreams and find love, in themselves and with others. I get to hear “I love you” and “you inspired me” and “you changed my perspective.” And I know the isn’t meant just for me, it’s for all of us here at Dream On Youth. It is for complete strangers who came together and wanted to make a difference. It is for girls who wanted to pave a new way to be heard and see the world.
Yes, I get to live my purpose out but my legacy has always been about including others. That’s the one constant in my life. That whatever I do, I want to share it with people and whoever I become, I want people to know they can come to me.
I started out as a girl who thought her future was bleak and barren. I had no hope and cried myself to sleep most nights. I fought tooth and nail with my demon, depression. By the grace of God, I am blessed. Dream On Youth found its way to my heart and I am forever grateful. I will never regret creating this community. I will never regret sharing my story and baring my soul with new people every single day. Life still gets hard at times, business gets slow, but it’s okay. I finally understand that I am living proof. You can be your own hero and a d*mn good one at that.
So what's your story? What piece of this resonated with you? Better yet, who are YOU?
Let us know in the comments below!
I am a self starter extraordinaire with a knack for empowering people to cultivate their best lives. Cooking is therapeutic for my sanity. I'd rather spend my day on a spontaneous road trip with my best friends than shopping, but Target has my heart. If I'm not at the bookstore with my mom, taking a nap, or on the couch binge watching something with my cat and my boyfriend, I'm probably at the dining room table working.