Life on plan Z.

My life, like most people’s I think, has not gone as I planned. For a season I spent so much time obsessed with the fact that things hadn’t gone my way, I was blind to the amazing life I had been given. I was so dissatisfied with everything. The loving husband, amazing kids, and comfortable lifestyle just didn’t suit me. It wasn’t what I wanted. The truth was, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted, but I knew I was completely miserable, so certainly my life circumstances were to blame. 

I spent a lot of time considering hypothetical situations in which my happiness would come. More money, more stuff, more trips, a bigger career…I spent even more time misdirecting the anger I had on my family. I blamed my income, my marriage, and my motherhood for my unhappiness. What I didn’t understand was that I was the only problem, and there wasn’t a single change in circumstance that could have ended my misery.

Accepting my life as it is has been my only way out. Frankly it doesn’t really matter if my life is what I wanted, it is what I have. My reality is actually sort of beautiful. I am grateful I am able to see that now. When I was able to replace self pity with gratitude an entire new world opened up to me. I began to feel present in my life. I like today. I like now. Tomorrow doesn’t matter so much.

Being content with today is perhaps the most powerful thing I have learned in my journey. Life is today, right now. Some tomorrow’s never come, and the ones that do are often not how we pictured them. If you wait for something to make you happy, you’ll grow old in your discontented disconnect. 

Every single day is full of a million tiny things that can take us up and throw us down. If our peace is dependent on these ever changing circumstances we end up unstable, out of control, and never at peace.

I have hopes for the future certainly. I get excited about new opportunities. I feel disappointed about plenty. I feel the stress of our tight finances, I struggle to figure out how to fit in my own life, I get sad, mad, and happy. Those are feelings. Feelings pass. Peace remains. I might go up or down, but my baseline of contentment holds strong.

If you can’t be happy regardless of your circumstances, you just can’t be happy.  For me, happiness is being able to experience a full range of emotions, accept each day as it is, and maintain that sturdy base of gratitude and peace. On paper my life is “harder” than it has been in a long time, but somehow I am the most content I have ever been. That’s the power of gratitude. 

xoxo Julie

On depression and marriage.

I like to think there isn’t much I am not willing to talk about, but there is definitely a missing piece to all my depression talk. I talk a lot about how it impacts me and my kids, but rarely do I mention my marriage. Part of this is because my marriage isn’t only mine, so out of respect to my husband I don’t go shouting things he might not like shared. The other part is plain pride. I don’t want to admit to anyone that marriage is a challenge.  This is hilarious to me now. Duh. Marriage is hard. Throw mental illness and a few kids at a marriage and you might as well stand back and watch it burn… unless you are prepared to fight for it. Thankfully, not always to my own credit, we fought.

I don’t plan on getting too personal on this topic because again, it isn’t only mine to share. However in my story I am the villain and my husband is the hero. I owe our success to his unconditional love, dedication, and support of me. Always. I thank God every day for helping him find the patience to wait for me. My husband has carried a heavy weight for most of our marriage, a weight I put on him. Our relationship now is the best it has been and because of that we are able to communicate our struggles of the past and the now. Through my healing and our talking, I have identified what I think are the three main struggles when dealing with depression in a marriage. Rather, the three things that pack the biggest punch.
1.      Isolation. I cut myself off from my own marriage. I kept things inside, and rather than ever really talking about the problem I would run away from it. This is so destructive because it builds up a wall and destroys trust. How can you trust someone who never talks to you openly or honestly? It creates a silent rift that grows bigger and bigger until you can wonder if you are even on the same side anymore. This one is interesting because it is more what you don’t do. It is the lack of openness and communication that can become the silent killer.
2.      Anger. I had two emotions. I was either numb, or I was angry. I was so angry all of the time. I was angry at all sorts of things, many of which were completely irrational but I channeled all that anger toward my husband. He could do nothing right, I made sure of it. Bad day at work? I was mad at him. Rough day with the kids? Took it out on him. I convinced myself it was justified, and he was the root of all things going bad in my life when in reality he was the only thing going right. Have you ever lived with someone who is angry all of the time? Hell. I sucked the joy out of our home, made my husband feel small, while I felt nothing.
3.       Helplessness. If you have read my other writings you have gathered that in my opinion, only you can fight your depression. My husband could have been perfect in every way, it wouldn’t have helped. He never once retaliated when I cut him down, pushed him away and hid from dealing with us. He wanted to help me more than anyone else in the world. He wanted to save me. He wanted to make me happy. He never stopped trying. But the hard truth was, he was completely powerless over my darkness. Watching someone you love suffer so greatly and not being able to do a thing about it is perhaps the biggest weapon depression has in its power. 

When I started to climb out of my hole, the realization of what my husband had endured broke my heart into a million pieces. For the first time in years I am able to feel the love he has been offering all along, and I can even reciprocate it. When I’m at my breaking point now I literally say “I’m so angry and I want to run away but I don’t want to feel this way, help me” and we talk about it. I believe in the coexistence of depression and a happy marriage, but only when you are willing to work. I have learned to apologize sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but I am learning. I have learned to let him be on my side. I have learned to take responsibility for my life and never place angry blame on other people, especially not my husband. I have learned that when I hurt others, it is only because there is no peace inside me. He would have been justified in walking away from me a million times, but I am grateful every second that he stuck with me and now, we get to work together to create the life we want.

depression feeds depression

Do not allow how you feel to dictate how you act. This idea has become one of the most important tools in digging out of my darkness. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t cry if you feel sad, or take the time to identify and process real feelings. I mean, that when you don’t feel like getting out of bed, you have to do it anyway. When you don’t feel like responding to someone in a loving way, you do it anyway. Why is this so vital? Because depression feeds depression.

Depression told me to isolate. Depression told me to hide. Depression told me to eat my feelings. Depression told me to zone out. Depression told me to sleep. Depression made me angry. Depression made me lie to everyone. Depression turned me into the person I never wanted to be. The problem is, I listened, and all of these things only created a deeper plunge into the problem. After I gave depression what it wanted, I listened to it as it told me I was worthless, lazy, hopeless, and lacked self control. Every time I handed control over to the depression, it got stronger. I believed all the lies. I believed that I deserved to hide, sleep, eat, and run away because I was depressed. I was stuck in the endless and viscous cycle that is depression.

I can’t afford to listen to that voice anymore. Depression might always be a part of me, but it will also always be my worst enemy. It doesn’t quit. It is a battle I fight every minute of every day. BUT. It is already getting a little easier most days. Fighting it is starting to come more naturally. Occasionally, the right thing to do and what I feel like doing even line up! This is a miracle. Every time I can recognize that depression is talking to me and I choose to fight it, that is a miracle. The progress is so slow, and can seem unrecognizable if you don’t take the time to identify it. Feeling the progress is the best way to reinforce new behavior. It is hard. It is exhausting. It is not what I want to do, but it is slowly giving me the life I always wanted. That’s a pretty good pay off.

xoxo Julie

Sometimes, you need to change.

I am a believer in loving yourself right now, as you are. However I think the key is to use that love to generate self improvement. The truth is, sometimes things are your fault. Sometimes you do need to change something. Sometimes you can do better. The key is to be able to accept this without going into self loathing over it. Don’t waste time beating yourself up, just take action for change.

I was in a mess for five hundred reasons, but none of them were my fault. I blamed all sorts of things for why I was the way I was and never found any peace. I never changed. My revolution started when I took responsibility for my behavior. I could blame depression, how I was raised, pressure to live a certain way, and a million other things for the way I was living, but that blame, even when justified, didn’t generate progress. The fact is it doesn’t always matter why you act the way you do, what matters is that you take responsibility for your behavior, regardless of anything else. How you behave is something no one can control. Your reaction to life is yours.

When I was finally willing to admit it, I realized I had a good life. The problem wasn’t my kids, my husband, my job, or my depression, the problem was me. I was the wrecking ball in my own life. I was so full of self destructive habits and I didn’t even realize it because I was so busy blaming other things and then getting buried alive in my own self-pity over it. I was the only one who could dig myself out.

The weight of realizing all of this really was my fault could have crushed me. But instead of diving deeper into the hole of self hate, I was able to accept it. I was humbled by it. Most of all, I took it easy on myself. I had been doing the very best I could. In that time, in those moments, that was all I had to give. It was messy, it was ugly, and it got dark, but it was my very best. But now my best is better. I know better. I can work harder, I can treat myself better, and I can take action for change.

I have a very long road ahead, and I can hardly make it through an hour without slipping into my old behavior in one way or another, but I never allow that to defeat me. I accept it. I remind myself of my journey, and I resolve to try again. I get discouraged, but I never give into the selfish vacuum of self hate. I might not be where I want just yet, but there is only one way to get closer, and that is to try again. Try again, and again, and again, and slowly, there is progress.

Don’t mistake accepting and loving yourself for justifying destructive habits. Love and acceptance are positive words of action, and should be applied as such.

xoxo Julie

*I realize the vague nature of my references to my behaviors. I kept it simple in the interest of time, but plan of diving into deeper detail in future posts. I have nothing hide, but I do have limited writing time.

The problem with hating yourself.

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped liking myself. I remember as a child thinking I was about the coolest kid around. Somewhere between strutting into second grade flaunting my stirrup pants with pride and entering fifth grade insecure and trying to just copy the cool kids something in me was lost. It was the beginning of the end. The older I got the more I struggled to like myself. Mine is a common story. Insecurities grew into heavy self loathing in adulthood. It is only now that I have hit rock bottom and started my climb back out that I can fully see the magnitude of the wreckage my years of self hate created.

The problem with not loving myself was that I cut everyone is my life off from loving me too. I have been surrounded by kind and loving people, but I couldn’t accept their love. I couldn’t really feel it. Who could love me? Anyone who showed me love was probably doing so out of pity anyways. I was convinced I was completely unlovable (me and Bachelor Ben Higgins).  Acts of love went unaccepted simply because I was too sick to feel them. This created HUGE problems in my relationships. I put walls up, stopped trusting anyone and convinced myself no one loved me.

The problem with hating me was that I used it as justification to sink deeper in my hole. Of course I just yelled at my kids again, it’s because I’m a terrible mom. Why even try anymore? Of course I failed at that diet, I have no self control. So why continue trying? Why keep fighting to be the person I actually want to be when I will obviously fail because I’m the worst. As long as I hated myself, this was my thinking. It created an endless cycle of poor behavior compounded by enough self hate to convince myself to just give up and stay in the hell I had created.

When I spent time hating myself, I was being selfish. Self pity is one of the most toxic forms of self obsession. Every moment spent obsessing over insecurity is a moment spent thinking about ME. When I spent that kind of time thinking about myself, I had nothing to give anyone around me. I had nothing to offer because I was too enveloped in worrying about myself. Of course I didn’t see it this way then. This one is a biggy because it makes healthy relationships impossible. I couldn’t be a contributing half in a loving relationship when I hated myself. This applies to marriage, friendships, and motherhood.

The problem with hating myself was that it left me hopeless. I felt trapped. I was miserable, isolated, and felt like I was falling short in every aspect of my life, which only confirmed what I already knew: that I was awful. I was a difficult person to be around. I was impossible to love. I hung my hopes on all sort of conditions. I would love myself if I lost weight, if I finished college, if I was successful in my career. The bottom line is that none of that mattered. When I hated myself, no circumstantial life change or accomplishment could fix my brain. No one could fix it for me, I had to dig myself out.

Understanding my poor relationship with myself was the root of much of my suffering and was also killing the people around me was a big wake up call. I can’t always control the first thought that pops into my head but I can control what I do with it. Talking to myself lovingly and always encouraging myself rather than attacking myself constantly has helped. Not allowing myself to slip into self pity when I make a mistake has helped. Making true self care a priority has helped.

When I started to heal my relationship with myself my whole world changed. I am suddenly becoming the person I always hoped I could be. I am more motivated than ever to work on my flaws and achieve self improvement. I learn from my mistakes rather than punishing myself with them. I feel love from people around me, and am able to love them back. My head is a happy, inventive place rather than a torture chamber. I have learned this is a battle I will have to fight every day of my life.  Some days I just don’t want to. I want to lay in my bed and become consumed by the darkness, but I know that isn’t the way to the person I want to be. 

Learning to love myself gave me the power to change myself, but it has only been successful because I learned to love myself as I was. If you pin your self-love on potential circumstances of the future, it will never come. If you don’t love you now, you won’t love the skinnier, richer, more accomplished you either. Most importantly, learning to love myself gave me the capacity to stop the self obsession and love the people around me.

Finding the mom in mom life.

I’m in the stage of life where the burdens of parenting are things like lack of sleep, never enough patience, and constantly being needed by someone. My kids are little. I understand there is a day when this stage might feel like the easiest of all the parenting phases, but today, it feels hard.

While I recognize dealing with messes and tantrums is much lighter than navigating parenting adolescents, I also think recognizing the difficulty of now is justified. I’ve realized one of hardest parts of this season is often feeling like a care giver more than a mom.

From day one I have lacked the connection I anticipated with my kids. Nothing about motherhood comes naturally for me really. Though even as I type that I am reminded that how you feel in your motherhood is subjective, there is no right way to feel as a mom. It is a highly unique experience too often stuffed into a too small mold. Another day. As I was saying, I have always lacked a maternal nature. This might magnify my feelings but I think all moms might relate.

The part that comes easier to me is being task oriented. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, organizing social calendars, taking them to do fun things, teaching them academic and artistic skills and disciplining them has become my focus, because I don’t suck at that. I can manage a household (ish). The problem with this being my focus is that it leaves me feeling like unpaid hired help. I often feel completely replaceable. If fact on many occasions I have had the thought that my kids would be better off if I wasn’t the one running the show. I realized I need to find the MOM in my mom life.

The bottom line is that it takes work to run a house, rock a job, and keep little kids alive. That isn’t going to change. But those little moments of giggles, loves, witnessing milestones, talking through meltdowns, and tiny arms around your neck need to be the focus. They need to be magnified because you are the mom, and feeling like a mom is what makes getting out of bed twenty times in one night ok. You are special. You aren’t replaceable. I’m saying this out loud to myself because I have not even come close to really believing it all the time, but I know deep down it is the truth so I will keep working until I convince myself of it.

When I feel like a random care-giver in my home I feel unimportant and replaceable. I get angry faster, I show my kids love less, and I forget to laugh. When I feel like a mom I feel more patient, more peace, and smile through the crazy. I have a few vivid memories of really FEELING like a mom, and they are without a doubt my happiest.  I cling to them on days of chaos and mess and work every single day to recognize that feeling more. Let's try to remember to take at least one minute each day to feel like a mom.

xoxo Julie

Self-care vs. Self-indulgence

 I have this problem where what I want, and what I actually need rarely line up. What I feel like doing is almost never what I actually need to be doing. I think it is a pretty common problem. What really matters though is not how we feel, but rather how we act. I spent years so discontent with myself and my life. I thought I knew how to fix it, but I didn’t. I thought the reason I was unhappy was because my life circumstances weren’t allowing me to do what I needed to feel better.

If I could just stay in bed with no one bothering me for just a day or two, then I would feel better. If I could just eat whatever I wanted for a day or two, surely I would feel better. If I could get some new clothes and home décor, that would help. If I got more breaks from my kids I could manage so much better. I’m just too overwhelmed, tuning out to Netflix all night will definitely help. A cookie will help. Working more might help. Staying home full time is the answer. I just want to sleep. A spray tan will for sure improve things, right? The list went on and on.  Turns out doing what I felt like doing didn’t dig me out of the hole I was living in.

The truth is I did need something. I needed to show up to my life. I needed to be present. I needed to REALLY take care of myself rather than constantly indulging myself. This difference is the key.
The thing about staying in bed, binge watching shows, eating all I craved, buying new things,  over scheduling myself to feel fulfilled, and acting how I felt like acting all the time is that it was all an elaborate escape plan rather than a solution. I didn’t come out of these things feeling renewed and ready to work hard at life. I felt a temporary escape from the hell I was living in. A band-aid on a bullet hole, as T Swift would say. I claimed it was needed “me time” but in reality it was just a temporary hiding place. Self indulgence at its best.

Now I fight every single day to act as I should, rather than as I feel. It can be exhausting. Loving my kids when I don’t feel like it, serving others when I just don’t want to, not clicking “add to cart”, and passing on junk food… We all have to do 500 things a day we don’t want to do. So how do we keep our cup full when we constantly have to dump it out? SELF CARE. Real, quality care.

When I feel completely at my edge, I open my mouth now. I ask for help. I admit I need a nap. I spend my alone time reading, writing, and learning new things. Take a class. Pick up a new hobby. Spend quality time with yourself. Bettering yourself. Exercise. Get outside. Work on a creative project. Get to know yourself better. Being overwhelmed, overworked and over tired is life, but true self care is vital for survival. When you use your time wisely you do return to your life ready to fight! You have something to give. You have to be well to be able to serve those around you. The oxygen mask has to be on you to enable you to save someone else. It isn’t selfish and it isn’t a waste. It is survival.

We might not NEED a mani/pedi, the latest trends in fashion or a girl’s weekend in NYC, but we do need to have a healthy relationship with ourselves and to make our wellness a priority.  Calm down. I am not condemning any of those activities. We all know I religiously keep up with the Kardashians, spend an embarrassing amount of time on my eyelashes, and if the opportunity arose to run away with my friends for a weekend I would have my bags packed! My point is to maybe try a little harder to take care of ourselves in the way we need, even when it isn’t the way we want.

xoxo Julie

Real Talk Revolution

Social media and motherhood, a gift or a curse? That’s a bigger question than I wish to tackle (today) but recently I have seen a sort of shift in the portrayal of mom life both personally and in general in the social media world from over idealized to over dramatized.

Back when it all began blogs with crisp images and happy words set the scene of motherhood as a beautiful task. Joyful, beautiful women with gorgeous homes and well kept children were suddenly plastered everywhere sending a message to the world that motherhood is about as good as it gets. The perfectly dressed moms with magazine worthy kitchens, making their well behaved, but just-the-right amount-of-silly-to-keep-it-cute kids their organic chia seed smoothies and loving it all AND somehow capturing it all on camera became the norm. The danger in this portrayal was that people took it as reality, when really it might have only been as real as the average episode of The Bachelor. The comparison began and sent mothers’ spirits to the trash thinking they must be missing something, or doing something wrong.

Thus began the “Let’s be REAL” revolution. Accounts showing more honesty and the “dark side” of mothering began to gain in popularity. Laundry piles, messy kids and disheveled selfies (except brows, your brows still needed to be on point) started to pop up here and there. It was a breath of fresh air. I’m not the only one giving my kids non organic lunch!? Other moms hide in the bathroom midday too!? The comfort that comes from knowing you aren’t alone is powerful. Confessions of exhaustion and lack of patience became public. Caffeine and trips to Target as coping mechanisms were shared. But just as the bright side might have been a little too bright, the pendulum has now started to swing a little too far in the opposite direction.

I have always defended the blogger’s right to portray their reality in any way they wish. I see the value in sharing life through rose colored glasses as a tool of optimism or hope. I also don’t think anyone should be required to air their dirty laundry. I have played both sides. I enjoy photography and view curating my feed my way as an expression of creativity. I also like to look back on snapshots of my life a little better than they might have been. BUT I can’t stop myself from being open about my struggles. There is so much power in opening up and connecting with others. Each side has a place, but I don’t like the direction the Real Revolution is headed.

The brand of motherhood is changing. The struggles are being magnified and glorified in negative ways rather than productive, supportive ways.  Moms are being reduced to sleep deprived, overworked, overwhelmed, self-sacrificing zombies just trying to make it through another day. Posts of women at their breaking point sharing their “hashtag real talk” of meltdowns and wanting to run away are liked and lol’d instead of being seen as the cry for help they actually are.  Motherhood IS hard. It IS exhausting. It IS overwhelming. But it is also great and beautiful and most of the moms hiding in their bathrooms wouldn’t change it for the world. Mom’s want the respect of the world as being a serious and challenging job, but isn’t is about time we give that respect to ourselves?

Let’s stop accepting a life of balancing on our emotional breaking point. Let’s rise to the occasion. Let’s find the joy in motherhood again. Let’s show the world ours is a job worth having. Let’s replace self obsession with true self care. Let’s share our struggles to lift each other up rather than validate our bad habits. The time has come to be real in a way that moves us forward rather than setting us back. Moms are some of the hardest working people out there, so let’s not lose this fight.

This is not a call to plaster on a fake smile and pretend things are fine when they aren't, it is more a call to action. The way we choose to talk about, think about and portray motherhood will become our reality. It’s a role I have to fight to fill every single day, but I know it starts with me. As exhausting as it is, and as much as I want to quit, I just have to keep fighting.

xoxo Julie

An apology to the skinny mom.

I think it is natural that when we have a certain hardship we focus on, it is easy to think anyone without that specific hardship has a perfect life. I have definitely been guilty of this, specifically when it comes to weight and motherhood.
As someone who gained 50 or more pounds with each of my first two pregnancies and watched my body transform into something completely unrecognizable to me, and then kept most of that weight for months/years after giving birth, I had a strong prejudice against what I will call the "skinny mom". With my third pregnancy I underwent a drastic lifestyle change. I ended my pregnancy weighing less than I started it, and “bounced back” quickly postpartum. It changed my whole perspective and has left me feeling terrible for the misconceptions I previously fostered. To my amazement, I had it all wrong.
My own insecurities were powerful enough to convince me that my flawed thinking must be true. I was so threatened by that skinny mom. The one who looks stunning at 40 weeks pregnant and might not even own maternity pants. The one you see a week postpartum looking better than I ever have, even before kids. The one who doesn’t carry a baby in her butt, arms, and chin(s). I was certain this kind of mom did not know my struggle.
Surely she didn’t understand my sacrifice. I had to watch my body be demolished, while she somehow managed to look even better post kids than she had before. I would be happy too, if I looked like her. She definitely didn’t have to give up what I gave up for kids. When she saw her positive pregnancy test she didn’t look ahead with fear of what she would look like a few months from now. She didn’t know the stress of having nothing that fits and having to give up fashion just to find something that would pull up over seemingly swollen thighs. She didn’t have to cry in embarrassment at the sight of the pictures of herself with her newborn. She didn’t have to attach feelings of self loathing to child bearing.
I also wrongly assumed all these women just achieved these things naturally, from good luck rather than by any sort of effort on their part. I know these unicorns do exist, but I have also learned how many women sacrifice a lot for their healthy lifestyle to achieve skinny mom, fit pregnancy status. Whether they work for it or not is beside the point. The point is, I was so wrong.
The skinny mom does know sacrifice. She gives up her body to build a human just as I did. Her body transforms in its own way, and that can be hard regardless of your size. She might deeply struggle with how she looks, even if she is perfection in my eyes. Most of all, she has struggles I don’t even know. Physical, emotional, or circumstantial, it is plain naive to assume these women don’t have their own struggles. Maybe they look different than mine, and maybe they look exactly the same. This is something size can't reveal. We have more in common than we have different when we take the time to look. I don't know how many more times I will need an experience to teach me the concept that you just don't know the battles people are fighting, but I hope I can keep improving on replacing judgement and criticism  with love and empathy.
I was so blinded by ME, I didn’t see you. For that, I sincerely apologize.
xoxo Julie