It never ceases to amaze me how time can dull an ache in your heart. Just 6 weeks ago I couldn't even THINK about typing this post without tears welling up. If you've been following me for a while you probably noticed I went completely AWOL around August. I'm not always the best at posting very frequently on social media but I completely disappeared from planet earth.
This is a personal post, and I want to share with you a lesson I am learning through great sadness. I think you can all relate in some way. The catalyst for this crisis I saw coming from miles away, only I stopped short of recognizing the level of brokenness and despair I would experience when this pivotal moment finally occurred. The way I fell down, emotionally speaking, and the way those who loved me picked me up, and even forced me to carry on, have inspired a journey much deeper than I ever anticipated.
To set the stage: I have three kids. They were all born within a span of about 2 1/2 years. Their proximity in age puts them in consecutive grades in school. I've been home with my kids from the birth of my oldest. They've been my full time job, my life, for the past seven years. For each of the past three years, I have sent one child off to Kindergarten. I knew this last one would be difficult. I barely held it together through preschool graduation, but as summer wore on I became excited for school to start. I was ready to focus on my business, to capture more beautiful portraits for you all. So school started, I cried my tears on the first day. The emptiness and deafening silence in my house seemed to echo the state of my heart. But I had work to do, a business to run. My phone overflowed with texts and emails from dear friends checking in on me, knowing that sending off my last baby was exceedingly difficult for me. "I'm doing great," I remember replying to so many. And I really was doing great for the first two weeks.
Then something shifted. I gradually started wanting to go back to bed nearly every day after the kids were off to school. I ate crappy food and couldn't have cared less about exercise. Before I knew it, melancholy and apathy crept into my life unnoticed and completely took over. I know what you're thinking..."HELLOOOO - it's called depression," but I still failed to see it. The point of realization came one day when I ran into our old preschool director in the grocery store. She of course asked about the kids and then, being a mom of four herself, pointedly asked how I was doing. I had to run to the car before I was completely overtaken by my emotions. The tears wouldn't stop and I didn't know why. Clearly I wasn't doing "great" anymore. For a while I just sat there in the parking lot and let myself cry. I sat alone in my spacious minivan that used to be constantly teeming with activity, laughter, and bickering, but now more often than not I was driving it around empty. And I was empty too. At some point that day it occurred to me. My day job was gone. I was needed much less. Though I certainly had my own interests and aspirations, I'd allowed motherhood, an occupation that once consumed every waking moment, to completely define me. And now, I faced an identity crisis.
Though I'd identified the cause of my emotional downfall, the days didn't really get any easier. So my husband and my hair and makeup artist (who has become a very dear friend) decided to force me in front of the camera. After eating crap and not exercising for several weeks, you can imagine how I felt about that idea. They wouldn't hear "no" though, and the day came when I was pushed into a chair to have my hair and makeup done. I posed myself while they took the shots. We laughed a lot. On some level I think the shoot itself was therapeutic, even though I'd been determined to remain apathetic about it.
When I sat down to edit these images I had another meltdown. It's hard to stare eye to eye with a woman you feel is lost - a woman who looks in the mirror and sees a big question mark over her head. I do love these portraits. They're the best I think I've had taken so far, but what's important - what I think is share-worthy about this story - is the way my view of these portraits has changed in the past few months. I feel sadness for the state of my heart when these images were taken, but I am also proud that I existed in these photographs (even if nearly forced). I look at these portraits with love for myself. I have hope for this journey to recreating who I am, now that there is room in my life to be something, someone other than "mommy". Though some transitions are far bigger than others, I will always be evolving. I will never stay the same.
Someday, when I am even further down this road of self discovery, I will look back with joy at these images. Even in times of brokenness, it is still incredibly important to let yourself be seen, to be vulnerable, to be captured in photographs. Even when all you see in the mirror is a question mark or a version of yourself you wish didn't exist - even then, you are worthy, you are beautiful. You are a work in progress.
I leave you with a lyric from a country song I used to love when I was a kid...(yes, back in my glorious Reba days)