Three years ago I moved from Michigan to Southern California. Like with every other move in my life, I did this with my family, for my husband’s career. And while I was extremely busy for the next two years, trying to help our kids adjust in their new environments, I hit an inspirational wall like I have never experienced before in my life.
While I’ve struggled before to see some of my dreams not come true, this experience was different.
After being busy like everybody else around me, raising kids and running the family show for the last 20 years, things changed when my sons left home at the age of 18 to go to college. I thought things would improve. With more time at my hands I would be free to do what I always had wanted. But honestly, that was not even close to what happened next; I started to be unhappy all the time. And I didn’t even know why. The kids were healthy and on the right path, I was married to a great guy, and I finally had time to live my dreams but all I wanted was to stay home and hide under a blanket on the sofa with a book.
The more I did that the more depleted I felt. My mind became a madhouse of accusations: Get up, do something. You can’t stay here. You are useless. Nobody wants to see you like this. You’re lazy!
To compensate I ate chocolate. At least that made me feel good for a second or two. I even tried to have a little more wine at night, which served me heavy headaches the next morning and an even bigger desire to hide under that blanket. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. And I felt heavier and heavier, on so many levels. The woman that I met when I looked into the mirror had nothing to do with the creative mind that used to run my life. So I tried to avoid the mirror, but that didn’t work. Mirrors and reflections are everywhere. Especially when you look at the world from the perspective of a photographer.
All I knew was something needed to change and that quickly! I could not longer stand that feeling of being left behind, empty like a deflated balloon. What had happened to my dreams? I will tell you what had happened. They did not die. They were still there. But they were hidden under a thick layer of stress and neglect. That was a shocking discovery.
I’m sharing this first part of my long story of self rediscovery after raising children and facing the empty nest because I could not have done it without my network of strong independent women. It took me a long time before I realized that I’m not alone in this. We all suffer from the same kind of inner darkness when left alone and unsupported. And only when we are able to open up and share our emotions with other humans we can see the path to healing.
Photography was the other important tool that allowed me to face my sadness. I started to go for long walks. Just accompanied by my camera. Many of the tears that I needed to cry turned into pictures of broken branches, lonely leaves, and single droplets. Later my photos became more colorful and eventually I felt the sadness fading away.
When I look back at these pictures, I remember how I felt so lost and sad in this world full of beauty.
These days I use an entire skill set that helps me to stay mentally and physically healthy. Workouts, a healthy diet, nurturing meaningful relationships and journaling are now part of my daily routine.
Recently I’m drawing a lot of inspiration about how to lead a better life from the book “Unfu*k Yourself” by Gary John Bishop. I love how he keeps reminding the reader about how important it is to get out of our head and into our life. That we need to stop dreaming about all the good things that we could do in do them instead. So I’m sitting here and I’m writing this blog post for you. I have wanted to write about this forever, but never felt like I would find the right words. Now I know, there will never be a better time to realize my dreams than right now.
Last weekend my daughter invited me to go out with her and take some pictures. Even though I felt tired I agreed. Soon my old friend, doubt, joined in and convinced me that I wasn’t prepared for this photo shoot, that I would probably produce only mediocre work and that I should better leave my camera in the car instead. But like Gary John Bishop says in his book, we need to train good habits like any other muscle. So I grabbed my camera instead of giving up, and I started working. The first few pictures were really bad. But to my surprise (yes, it still surprises me when the magic happens), my muscles warmed up and the camera felt good in my hands. Soon, my daughter and I were laughing together, while having a great time and taking pictures that we both love.
My hope for this post is that it will inspire you and that my happiness is contagious enough to get you out of your comfy chair and start your path to happiness. If that’s not the case, get the book and read it! I’m sure you will love it. And don’t forget to let me know what kind of reaction it sparked in you.