Lately, I have had more thoughts than I have space for. The ideas and questions pour out of me. These thoughts lead me down a road filled with wonder and learning. I feel I am in a good place. This didn’t happen by chance but instead is the result of years made up of deep intention.
This state of good came from countless “No.”s in response to anything that was not serving me and my family. This state came from saying yes to things that made me whole even if they didn’t quite make sense. I pushed to build a life where those sparks of happiness fit instead of staying in a place where my happiness seemed foreign.
At the start of building what my life looks like today, I felt lost and indecisive. Every day I worked toward change which felt more and more like discomfort rather than joy. I got vulnerable with myself and had to seek the truth. The truth felt hot and sticky at times like something I wanted to toss out quickly but I sat with it. I sat with the judgments I had about myself that I wouldn’t want anyone else to hear. Then I began challenging it and discarding the fear around it. I began telling people about these judgments which released the power they had over me.
I learned to speak my truth. A painful truth that challenged my willingness to change concerned my dog. Hoss is such a big part of my story and an even larger part of our story as husband and wife. Jake and I adopted hoss as a puppy the week we got engaged. Together, we trained Hoss. As an eight-year-old dog and a huge part of our family, I came to Jake with the tender truth that I wanted to rehome our dog. I was scared of judgment.
If you had asked me then I would have named friends and family pointing at their judgment that I feared. Now, I can see it was really my own. I feared people around me, who loved Hoss, would see me as a heartless b*%#@ who chose herself over her dog. I guess that’s how I interpreted this moment. In the book, The Weight We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang she tells of a story her grandmother told of a woman crossing a river holding her baby. In this account, only one of them makes it across the river. This story was so powerful to me in asking myself what would I choose. Does the mother make it across or her baby? The idea is that it is an impossible situation of which should not be met with judgment.
I loved my dog, he is wonderful. The way he cuddled me after a long day or wagged his tail when I cooked. But something wasn’t right. We were both wadding in a rover and it become clear only one of us was going to make it to the other side. Clarity is a luxury and at this moment it was present.
As a new mother, I battled overwhelm daily. I still struggle to take deep breaths and let the little things go. So to have a dog who needed attention, time, and a walk at the end of each day didn’t fit into my new lifestyle. For two years it all got done, but the price was high. The dog had regular baths even when he got sprayed by a skunk. The baby was fed on demand. The house stayed clean and the pantry full. But, I was absolutely bursting at the seams. Something had to give and I felt it every moment.
I read a few books. Had a few deep conversations with friends and my lovely therapist. And I began searching for a different way. Not so much a different place as a different direction. I had too much pressure and not enough ease. I am one who finds comfort in control and cleanliness and I felt I had lost it all in motherhood. A state I fought hard to get to with infertility doctors as my primary resource.
The truth was, my whole life had changed …so with it, my whole life needed to rearrange. It was a hard process to even admit that I couldn’t do things as I had always done them but if I continued something was going to come off its hinges.
Slowly I began speaking openly about postpartum depression and unpacking the shame I felt around it. Surprisingly, I found a community of mothers and a few dads that could relate. There is relief in shared vulnerability.
Then with inspiration from books like Educated and Untamed, I began shifting my schedule and social network. I gave myself permission to rebuild my life in a way that worked for who I was. Nothing was free of reexamination and change. I was loyal to none other than my heart and my household and some cuts were extreme but wholly necessary.
I unpacked my life in every category bordering on obsessive. I sought only joy in choice and structure. I looked at religion, family boundaries, long-standing friendships, and my daily schedule with new eyes. Giving myself permission, I reorganized this puzzle with no predetermined limits on how it needed to look. Nothing was given a free pass on readmittance.
As a result of this intentional rebirth, I made a series of decisions that opened me up for more joy and less weight.
Jake and I, after long talks, decided to rehome our sweet boy Hoss. It wasn’t an easy step to make but just six weeks before our second child entered the world we knew it was the right time. I have only ever felt peace about this choice and know it was right for all of us at this time. Being open-minded was the greatest step I could have made toward a life filled with deeper breaths.
I realized living in the country on a quiet farm was offering isolation more than joy in my days of early motherhood. I longed for playdates and short drives to the store instead of land to care for. Jake and I moved closer to town. I am thankful to have a partner who listens and is open to change. I recognize that this process is so much harder when it isn’t met with full support and unconditional love.
The changes I began making led me on a path of an incredible discovery. The freedom I gave myself in building a life that better served me hasn’t ended up being a self-serving errand. Instead, this journey has sparked universal freedom for others to build a life driven by passion rather than tradition.
I have had conversation after conversation connecting with people about ideas for changes small and large that result in more joy and less unnecessary struggle.
Life is such a precious thing. Time is finite but our choices are infinite. I want to be sure that I lead with passion and heart even if it means I need to shift direction often.
Steering with your heart is certainly more work. Most days I go to bed exhausted from thinking outside of the box more often than doing what is traditional. It was deeply sad to end friendships that once served me. Seeing people I cared about to be hurt by my new boundaries was painful. However, I learned that my duty is to my heart and family. If I want to teach my children anything it is to build a life that brings them joy.
Children soak in learning but what sticks is what they see modeled. What I want most for my kids I know I need to show them and not teach them. In Glennon Doyle’s memoir Untamed she writes “My children do not need me to save them. My children need to watch me save myself.”
In 2018, I was aching inside. I was sleep-deprived, neurotic, in a constant state of overwhelm, and being swallowed up with depression that I didn’t look forward to the sun coming up. When everything changed for me in motherhood I thought I lost myself but I had to watch a version of myself die. It was painful. I needed to grieve. Now, I am rebuilding a stronger version of myself. I like what I see. Coming up from the ashes is taking longer than I predicted but each day I like myself more than the last.
Each step I take feels more like the individual I always hoped I could be. Along this journey, I have typed up these words a dozen times and given countless titles but shied away from publishing because I was waiting for a final destination of self or exceptional wisdom for its worthiness to share.
Now I am confident in the neverending -ness of this process. Now I am sure that I will never have the perfect words so I will do away with the limiting thought of perfection.
I choose to be vulnerable instead of sure. I choose to share the middle of this instead of the ‘ah-ha” ending that commands applause. I woke up overwhelmed and a little depressed. Opening up, I spoke with my brother. We had a deep and meaningful conversation about darkness, how it feels and when it shows up. At this moment it was very clear that darkness, when shared, can lead to some pretty bright light.
I hope when reading this you feel your ‘darkness’ and your ‘hard’ a little lighter. We are all carrying a very heavy load. Your load is yours but it can be lifted by more than one.
The ‘Hard’ becomes purposeful when shared as it brings connection. Let your darkness bring you the light it was intended to spark. Share with a friend your truth. Know that your truth can lead to joyful changes. Even if that change feels like a different life. If that life will make you happy, build it!
Photography by Shelley Foster