‘I support Simone Biles. Why? Because I was where she is.’: Woman shares importance of choosing mental health after quitting ‘dream job’

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“I support Simone Biles. Why? Because I was where she is. No, not on the worldwide level; and no, I have no inside info on exactly what caused Simone’s situation; but I absolutely know the feeling of walking away from something for my mental and physical wellbeing and being accused of quitting.

In my case, I had the ‘dream’ job: making hats for a famous Rockstar, having my work on national TV and at big events, admired by millions, and being able to go backstage and hang with the Rockstars whenever I wanted to. And don’t get me wrong, I loved designing the hats, I loved seeing Bret wearing them all over the world. At the beginning, I loved the attention. All the new ‘friends‘ on social media, the free concerts and being backstage. And that’s what I’ve always shown the public on social media – all the good times, the pretty hats, the happy backstage pics.

Woman who made hats for Bret Michaels smiles in front of dozens of hats she made
Courtesy of Kara Branstrom
Woman who made hats for Bret Michaels takes a photo with him while he wears one of her hats
Courtesy of Kara Branstrom

But, what no one saw was that behind the scenes, the dream job was becoming a nightmare. I was dealing with crippling anxiety, I was dealing with (past) physical and mental abuse I believed was my fault because I let it happen, I was being brutally harassed and stalked by ‘fans’ who thought I didn’t deserve what I had or thought I was stealing their ‘soulmates’ (for the record, I earned the job because Bret liked my work, not because of any physical thing). After those amazing free concerts and backstage ‘fun,’ I’d end up in the hospital. Not because I was doing anything ‘wrong,’ but turns out I had a medical condition that made driving long distances and standing for hours at the concerts very dangerous.

Woman takes photos of V.I.P backstage concert passes for Bret Michaels along with her hospital band
Courtesy of Kara Branstrom

But I pushed through it all. Why? Because I felt like I had no other option. Friends, family, and fans couldn’t understand why I would want to give up the dream job (to be fair, I hid how I really felt). Bret’s people pushed me to continue. Bret needed my hats, I couldn’t let him down; they’d make sure things were dealt with better. So, I kept making hundreds of hats, sometimes on one day’s notice. I kept going to the shows because Bret wanted to see me, and his crew would make sure I was ‘taken care of’ and protected from the crazies. And I still thought the things that were going bad were my fault – I should be working harder, making better hats, I should have dealt better with Bret’s people, I could have said no, I could have stopped texting or posting on Facebook. But I brought all this on myself and I had to deal with it myself; I couldn’t ‘quit‘ and let everyone down.

Woman who made hats for Bret Michaels takes photo with her Bret Michaels shrine in her work office
Courtesy of Kara Branstrom

Then one day, on the drive home from yet another disaster of a concert, I just shut down. No matter how much I wanted to, I physically and mentally could not bring myself to make another hat. I couldn’t force myself to get in the car and go to another concert. I tried; I’d sit there staring at boxes of hats for hours, frozen with fear and anxiety. And that’s when I walked away from the dream job. I had no other option. For the sake of my health, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t just push through this time. If I had kept going, I was going to end up killing myself, or at best hospitalized and totally broken.

Sure, I let people down. I ‘quit.’ But I had to do what was best for myself mentally and physically; I had to convince myself it wasn’t worth dying over sparkly hats and backstage concerts. And I got a ton of s–t for it. I was a ‘lowly nobody.’ I can’t even imagine how much worse it would have been with the weight of the world on me, all of the media asking why, social media morons accusing me of letting the country down. And that’s why I support Simone. She has gracefully dealt with a horrible situation and hopefully brought to light the fact that sometimes you can’t just push through it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a regular day or the Olympics; when you don’t feel safe doing something, you should put your health (whether physical, mental, or both) first. Doing so doesn’t make you a selfish person.

Woman who made hats for Bret Michaels takes a photo with him while they wear matching shirts and he wears her hat
Courtesy of Kara Branstrom

Anyways, I did live through walking away. I got through it with the support of my parents, who I finally told the real story to, and plenty of therapy. I don’t regret what I did. I’m still not perfect, no one is. I still deal with anxiety, a chronic illness, and my autism. I miss making the hats everyday; I miss the rush of being backstage at a concert; I miss tour bus conversations with Bret. Some days I even wish I could go back and knowing what I do now do things differently. But I know I made the right decision for myself, and though it’s not the fame and fortune of the rock and roll world, I’ve found happiness in my little candle business, and am learning to accept that no matter what I’m doing, I am enough. And I hope Simone realizes that whether or not she ever competes again, she is still a champion. And her experience is empowering so many people in the world who need to know it is okay to not be okay, it is okay to put your physical and mental health first, and it is okay to walk away from a situation where you feel unsafe.

Woman takes photo in front of her homemade candles for her candle business "Sparkle and Shine"
Courtesy of Kara Branstrom

I’m sure there are people who still hate me for what happened with Bret and who will be mad at this. The rumors of why I quit will always be out there. And it’s okay. I know my truth, and I don’t need to defend my decision to people who don’t even know me. Those who matter will support me, and those who don’t, don’t matter. And, because I feel like someone will make this into something it wasn’t – Bret Michaels was wonderful to me. He didn’t know any of this was going on and most certainly did not abuse me in any way. The abuser is serving a nice long jail sentence and is not someone I’ve ever mentioned.”

Woman takes a photo with some of her homemade products for her business "Sparkle and Shine"
Courtesy of Kara Branstrom

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kara Branstrom. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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