The Year Between

Spring makes everything shiny.  Am I right?  Never mind–I am.  There is this overwhelming and fulfilling sense of LIFE that just breathes energy into everything.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am also just off a round of Prednisone because my asthma was all agitated after a sinus infection, so {controlled} steroid use could be adding to this sense of joyousness, but I finished the meds last week, and I still feel shiny.  I’m choosing to believe other factors are filling me up.

I don’t want to step down from the high, but I have to warn you that this post is transparent and raw on so many levels.  I considered writing it to get it out of my system and then just not publishing it.  Who really needs to read about where I’ve been inside my head for the past year?  In the grand scheme, none of this matters to people outside of my life…or even to most people IN my life.  But I am a big fan of transparency.  I think we live in a world where so much of what we see is a façade — parenting perfection, home perfection, physical perfection, LIFE perfection.  Everyone is striving to put forth perfection…or at least the perception of perfection.  With social media infiltrating everything, we see these images of perfection and believe they are real and right, and when our own lives aren’t lining up perfectly, we feel like we’ve failed on some level.  Or maybe that’s just me.

And then I find something out that blows a hole in some image of perfection in someone else’s life and I think, why in the world are we trying to hide real life?  OUR real lives?

Life is messy and fulfilling and stressful and satisfying and hard and emotional…and it is all completely beautiful in its imperfection.  The ugly moments help us appreciate the sweet moments, and they all meld together to make us human.  Why are we pretending that perfection is what it’s all about?  Or that some fabricated image of perfection is even what we want?  Why aren’t we more honest with each other?  I have walked the career walk, working above and beyond at every step to try to advance a minuscule bit in my career and hating and resenting all the effort for so little recognition.  I have struggled to skip indulging in my vice–F-O-O-D…seems innocent enough until my pants don’t want to button–because sometimes that tasty reward at the end of the day is all that keeps me going.  I am DAILY utterly and completely exhausted from engaging my chatty and busy children.  Why am I hiding these truths from you?  Why are we all hiding the truths of the messy parts of our lives from one another?

Admitting that I hit the couch with my mug of tea (or my mug of ice cream) and just twitch for half an hour after the kids are asleep doesn’t make me a bad parent.  It’s not that I don’t love them to the ends of the earth or appreciate their chatty wildness (although sometimes I totally don’t appreciate it–I just want quiet).  It’s just tiring, and some days, my brain is exploding long before bedtime because I just need a reprieve from all the engagement.  I knew this life as a work-from-home mom would be more intense, and it is.  In so many ways, parenting is harder for me when I am immersed in it all day every day.  It’s why many of us work outside the home–because the balance creates a healthier family environment for some of us.

Anyway, I digress (it’s my thing; have you heard?). I have been recognizing the lack of transparency all around me for quite awhile, and so I’m going to post this because I think it’s important to remind one another that we all hit points of struggle and that this is okay.  For some of us, this is normal.  THIS is living.

So back to feeling shiny and then on to the raw and real.  Feeling amazing has me thinking about the time before…before, I hadn’t felt amazing for quite awhile.  I have lived with, around, and through moderate depression for my entire adult life.  I know blue periods.  My husband and kids know my blue periods.  Mine are fairly minor, but they are there and we all live with, around, and through them.  I know a lot about the nature of my own depression, and I have learned to recognize it and work through it with some fluidity.  We went through a LOT of crushing experiences early on in our marriage…not with the marriage, thankfully, but with other stuff.  Family issues, struggles with friends during that transition from being young adults to actual adults, watching cancer slowly take someone we loved, redefining in what ways we were accountable to others versus to one another, losing loved one after loved one after loved one in a cruel onslaught, including both of our dads.  During that time, I began to understand my depression and how to cope with it–how to live with, around, and through it, and through all of that learning, I figured out how to recognize a depressive mood and how to pull myself out of that depressive mood almost right away.  I think that’s why I struggled so much this past year because I wasn’t ever really fully out of the funk.  None of my normal tactics worked, and while I have medicated my depression in the past, I’m super stubborn and know that I’m pretty good at handling depression without meds…and I’m honestly just not a fan of being tied to daily doses of anything if I can avoid it.  I probably won’t avoid it forever because when it is a daily and sometimes hourly struggle and when it consumes that much energy, the benefit of being med-free pales.  Digression.

Back to this journey.  I am coming off a year I would describe as grey and flat on a personal front.  It wasn’t really blue–but I didn’t feel filled up and excited to be alive.  I was just living.  Plodding through the must-dos of each day.  I reveled in the love my marriage is filled with, and I enjoyed momma time with my boys, but a big part of me felt robotic through the past year.  There is a reason for this…or many reasons actually, and as with all things, I’m understanding it all better on the other side of the year than I did when I was in the middle of it.  I left my day job a little over a year ago and began a new life chapter as wife, mom, and photographer.  This was an insanely exciting step, and if I’m being honest, it was past time for a change even if I hadn’t realized that at the time.  I was beyond excited about this change.  I was so proud of us that we had worked ourselves to a financial position where we could almost afford for me to be home.  I was overjoyed to be able to focus on my wee photography business and continue to grow it.  I was relieved to be able to give our boys a bit more stability in their schedule.

I knew there would be a transition period.  I expected some ups and downs.  I had been working since I was 11 and began babysitting in my neighborhood.  I was used to earning money, and I knew the photog income would not match what I was walking away from for quite awhile.  I had always envisioned myself as having a career, and for whatever reason, owning and running my own business didn’t feel like a career in the same way at the time.  My steady (albeit not huge) income–gone.  My professional career–gone.  But much chaos was also gone.  There wasn’t the same struggle when one of the boys was home sick.  No big deal if I didn’t finish my photog to-do list during the day–I could just pick back up after evening activities and finish up on my time or adjust the following day’s schedule.  I was the master of my days.  There was relief on many levels, but grey and flat was still where I found myself.

I think I envisioned a couple of months of adjusting and then the angels would begin singing from the clouds over the euphoric state of our family’s life now that I was able to focus more on US.  My house would be picked up and clean (I would CLEAN it! Like regularly!).  I would have an answer when someone asked me, “What’s for dinner?”  We wouldn’t miss something needed for or going on at school because I would have time to look more carefully at the 214 papers that pass through my hands each week.

And then, the house was only a little more organized and clean.  There was only sometimes a plan for dinner.  And we definitely still had “oops” moments with school.  Each of these misses piled onto the one before until I was stifled and crushed under the weight of what I saw as my misses.  Stupid, I know, but whatevs.  This is how my off-center mind works.  This is where I was.  Grey and flat.

I was struggling within myself with so many things, and I understood where it was coming from and why I was feeling that way and that it was just going to take time to adjust, but recognizing the why wasn’t doing much to lighten anything.  I felt many things during the year interim…inadequacy, frustration, uncertainty.  More than all of that, though, I felt guilty.  I felt incredibly guilty.  All the time.  ALL the time.  Every day when Beau left for work, I felt guilty.  Every time I didn’t have a plan for dinner, I felt guilty.  Any time we missed some detail or reminder or signature or book order for school, I felt guilty.  Whenever I donned my new uniform of yoga pants and one of my favorite Guide Series shirts from Gander Mountain, I felt guilty.  Whenever there was a financial struggle, I felt guilty.  Like crawl-in-a-hole-and-hide guilty.  How could I have done this to my family?  THINK of where we’d be if I had continued working.  Just when we were about to be able to afford to live without holding our breaths for the next money bomb to drop, I threw my income away.  I knew in my brain that I shouldn’t feel guilty about any of this, but I felt guilty anyway.  I knew my days were overfilled with activity.  I. Never. Stopped.  In so many ways, I’m way busier and more exhausted than I ever was as a working-outside-the-home mom because now I feel accountable for my moments at home, since they span hours.  I feel that I need to have something to show for the hours I was alone here with only the geriatric dog who slept most of the day.  I needed to prove that this choice to remove my income and replace it with my presence was more than a good move for my family.  It had to be LIFE CHANGING and MONUMENTAL.  Nothing less was going to make me feel valuable.

Add to that the fact that the people in my world suddenly saw me as utterly and completely available.  What could I possibly have going on now that I was a stay-at-home mom??  (Never mind that I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom–I was a work-from-home mom.  BIG difference.)  But come on–I must have sooooo much free time!  I was so LUCKY!  The result?  There was a constant barrage on my time.  And I felt guilty saying no to anyone (there’s that guilt again–it was everywhere!).  So I fell into an old pattern Beau and I had dubbed the “yes woman” years back.  Where the hell did she come from?  I thought I had severed her head ages ago!  Then–wait for it–I felt guilty for saying yes to anyone who wasn’t my little family.  Because then I was taking time away from them that they had only just gotten and had sacrificed for.  BAH.  Grey.  And.  Flat.

In amongst all this angst, I had a waning interest in social media.  In our house, we call Facebook “Timesuck” because we’d get in there and not reemerge for an hour and really have little meaningful to show for that hour.  I still popped on a few times a week, mostly to read Cracked articles, but I almost never posted anything and rarely engaged with others’ posts.  This spilled over to my business page on Facebook.  I just stopped posting.  Since this is the only advertising I do for the business, this wasn’t my best move, but business was still about double the previous year despite my lack of social media engagement.  Still, it was another area of guilt, especially because one of the opportunities I was most excited about with more time home was time to grow my business further.  This started to become another area of perceived failure, but then I began looking at it a little differently.  My boys are still small-ish.  I’m still needed as mommy regularly…and then there is the running.  We have sports and play dates and school events and birthday parties and … I could go on for days.  Their schedules become busier every year, and that is just going to keep increasing.  Last year, I was okay with just keeping up with the jobs that came my way and not pushing for more.  I gave myself permission to leave the social media stuff alone until I figured myself out.

The saddest part of this whole grey, flat year is that I was the only person who was feeling this way.  Beau was overjoyed to have me home.  We were so grateful that the boys could get on the bus at home every morning, and Beau was excited to be able to just get up and head to work without having to get the boys up and dressed and out the door to Grandma’s.  We both saw a change in the boys with the new consistency.  I was sleeping over 6 hours most nights (up from 4-5 when working outside the home).  I was putting all of this pressure on myself to succeed, and I don’t even think I knew what success looked like anymore.  If we had a rough morning, I felt like I had failed.  Whenever anything didn’t go right, I felt like I had failed.  It sucked.  And I was annoying myself as much as my poor husband, who was really the only sounding board I shared any of this with.  Because on top of all that guilt about all that crap, I felt guilty that I wasn’t happy.  Like I owed that to everyone who wanted what I was getting and didn’t have it.  I owed it to all of them to love every minute of my perfect life.

I feel like I’m finally–exuberantly–emerging from my own personal grey, flat cocoon.  It could just be that it’s spring, but we had spring last year.  I’m positive that we did.  Every year, winter comes to an end, the snow melts, things become green.  Spring comes.  I did not emerge from a cocoon last spring.  What did happen last spring is that the few months had ended during which I thought I would get used to my new normal, and I didn’t have a new normal.  I couldn’t even envision my new normal let alone get to it.  That’s why I’m calling this the year between even though it has been a year and some months since I left my day job.  Those months of adjusting were expected.  It was the year of adjusting following those months that I was not in any way prepared for.  I felt like I was never going to be out of grey and flat, but here I am.  Excited.  Curious.  Alive.  Alive!

So what does any of this have to do with my (still) budding photography business?  Really, nothing.  And everything.  Life is a journey.  This business has been a journey.  And much like life, Sarahndipity has been a messy and fulfilling and stressful and satisfying and hard and emotional journey.  The photography was such an integral part of the vision we saw off in the distance when we made the decision to submit my voluntary-separation paperwork all those many months ago that I suppose all of this transitioning has become a part of the business’s journey as much as my life journey.  This didn’t need to be a business post, but it is part of my story, and I think it’s important to talk about this stuff.  To be honest.  To show real and raw.  To love the ugly moments as much as the shiny ones because they all build us up to who we are each day and because THIS life is beautiful.


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