Alice finds herself down the rabbit hole again and it’s the point in the story where she can’t bring herself to slay the Jabberwocky.
“You used to be much muchier”, the Mad Hatter tells her, “You’ve lost your muchness”.
My friends. I lost my muchness. And I need to tell you about it. As if these words will finally and completely lay this chapter to rest, but I think more than that? It’s to make sure truth is sprinkled throughout the facade that styled photographs and social media can create. That I am always documenting the story and sharing what ever inspiration I can extract from it. Even the darkest of times. Before I completely dive into a pool of vulnerability and the most long-winded confession and tale of finding my muchness again, I just have to say… thank you for being here.
A lot of you who have followed along for some time know the story and the big leap that my better half and I took over two years ago. My husband along with our family were all completely jaded from his work life. No give within the corporate grind and we felt as if we never saw him. He woke up and left before all of us and got home in the evening just in time to swallow down the rest of dinner, help with bedtime routine and crash before doing it all over again the next day. Don’t get me wrong – having a job is a blessing. However, on top of the grind was a lack of respect, no room to disconnect and a terrible boss. We found ourselves faced with a decision and we thought that would be finding another position with a different company.
Then an opportunity fell into our laps. For a little while at that point I had been doing contract photography work on the side for a local product company – one who just happened to be created, owned and run by a dear friend. They had just lost their website and design specialist and were looking to fill the role – someone to take on more of a visual management position. The conversation was sparked from my abilities and background in both the photography and design world and an offer was constructed for me to go full time with them in handling all of their visual needs. Well, how about that. Isn’t the Universe just amazing sometimes?
So there we stood. The opportunity for me to become the bread winner that received a steady paycheck along with the blessing to continue running my own business while doing it. We knew it would be a lot, but there was flexibility. There was me working from home for the most part. And there was the fact that my better half could leave the corporate grind and start chipping away at his dream – owning his own company. We jumped. And it was thrilling. And perfect. And just what we needed at that time. Jarett took that summer off to be in stay-at-home Dad mode 100% which gave me the freedom and flexibility to find my pace between handling two full time jobs. Deep breaths.
Things were good for so long. I absolutely loved what I did and who I got to do it with. It was never lost on me the rare and unique situation I had been able to dive into. Not a lot of people get those opportunities and it was one that I embraced fully. And then my muchness started to slowly chip away. You don’t realize it at first because it happens in such tiny and insignificant ways, but looking back I could see times where I was losing myself. All I did was work. I fulfilled my time as creative manager while simultaneously keeping my business afloat and clients happy. I worked from the time I woke up, took a small break during the day for dinner with my husband and kids and to say goodnight, and then I would work until 2:00 or 3:00 AM. And the next day I would do it all over again. But what did it matter? I loved what I did.
To keep up with everything, I turned to vices like Red Bull – sometimes up to four a day – and not sleeping. I ate what I could when I could and I rarely stepped out of the house for fear of missing an email or being late on a deadline. My husband attended most school functions. My kids saw me in sweats most of the time and my weight started to increase because I was putting everything else and everyone else ahead of my own well-being. But what did it matter? I loved what I did.
And then it all came crashing down on me.
The health problems progressively got worse and I brushed them aside and said “tomorrow”. The anxiety of leaving the house and physical reactions to anything that made me nervous or stressed was something I chalked up to as “a phase” and “it will pass”. I was moody and impatient with those I loved most. A negative attitude followed me like a bad shadow and I found comfort in working harder because it made me forget about it all. And every evening of the week I was a single mom because by this point Jarett’s business had been growing and he had more and more responsibilities. We were experiencing growing pains and they were extremely uncomfortable. Like a bad shoe that is two sizes too small. I was a mess and didn’t even know it.
And then two months ago I had a complete and total nervous breakdown.
All of the stress, all of the unhappiness, all of the un-balance… it all came crumbling down on top of me and I was suffocating. I was left sitting in the corner unable to speak and unable to catch my breath. Through tears in his eyes, my husband picked me up off the floor, carried me to bed and prayed. He prayed for comfort. He prayed for answers. He prayed for guidance. He prayed for patience. And he prayed for strength. He had watched me spiral out of control. He tried to offer up additional help so many times and we discussed the possibility of him finding a temp job on multiple occasions, but my answer to everything was all the flexibility we needed was in what I did. We didn’t need anything else. Because who could be stressed, tired and unhappy while getting to work from home 75% of the time? The correct question should have been ‘who can manage life and well-being when juggling 90+ hour work weeks and raising a family’?
I was numb for the next few weeks. We started to remove everything and anything off my plate that made sense. I stepped away from my position as a youth leader within our church. I emailed the PTO board president and informed her that I would only be available to help out at school events and not maintain a position any longer. As we shifted roles and responsibilities off my plate we thought relief would come. We were waiting for a wave of comfort and a burst of energy that might help us continue on. Instead, the roles and responsibilities were being replaced with guilt and disappointment. I felt as if I was letting everyone down. The facade of this person who had it all together was being stripped away and what I had hidden for so long was being exposed. It was raw and humbling. It was painful and uncomfortable. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through in my adult life. Remember those health problems? Well, I was educated in the extreme effects stress can do to one’s body when I was diagnosed with IBS and anxiety. All from stress and not knowing how to manage it appropriately. But what did it matter? I loved what I did.
And I truly love what I do. From the very depths of me I am doing the work I was meant to do. I know that. In my heart of hearts. However, it took crashing and burning to realize there are different ways to do it. And all it takes is a little – or a lot – of muchness. That muchness and the beginning of piecing it back together came in the form of a question my better half asked me while lying in bed one evening a month or so ago.
“What if you quit your job as creative manager?”…
I brought my hands to my face and sobbed. What I had not wanted to admit or believe, but somewhere deep down knew was the decision to be made, had been given a voice. It was said out loud in the pitch black of our room and it completely changed everything. My husband had silenced my stubbornness and had given my soul a fresh breath all at the same time with just those few words. The thought both terrified and excited me. The thought made me deeply saddened by what I would possibly leave behind while simultaneously invigorating me by what might lie ahead. It was the decision I never knew I always wanted to make. At least for the last several months.
Another few weeks and they were filled with deep discussion, number crunching and time spent on our knees praying about the direction we were steering our life in. The freelance life is a difficult one and it was always made easier when there was one of us relying on an outside source for a steady income. It was a safety net. And we had outgrown it. I just had to reach the very bottom to realize it – as with most things in my life. But do you know what happened? We adjusted our thinking. I changed my statements of being “stuck” to having a “choice to make a change”. Our spirits were lifted and positivity was trickling back in. And the universe responded in a big way. Prayers were answered and signs were given. Sweet and tender mercies to show me that this could be done. This next big leap could be made.
Last week I sat across the table from someone who I admire, respect and love in a conference room that has been like a second home for the better part of two and a half years. A conference room that has heard big ideas, big dreams, a lot of laughter and sweet memories. I sat there and poured my heart out in the most raw truth because it’s the only way I knew how to do it. I slid my letter of resignation across the table and, with it, wrote the last sentence to the chapter. These next few weeks I will soak up as much as I possibly can with the wonderful people who I have worked side by side with. I will embrace the bittersweet feeling of moving on and embrace the excitement and future that lies ahead. To put all of me once again into what I started almost 9 years ago and serve my clients with a clear mind, a full heart and unbridled passion. Even more importantly than that – to put all of me into my family. It’s where my heart is. It’s where I find myself time and time again.
It is a difficult thing. To trust so much in what you do to allow yourself to make a leap like this. It will never come without stress and without worry, but it’s like my sweet grandmother told me one night on the phone just two short weeks ago… “pick the stress you want“.
And my muchness? It’s slowly and steadily coming back. My physical symptoms are slowly being replaced with faith and courage. My self doubt and self deprecating tendencies are slowly being replaced with forgiveness and healing. Making this decision has given me a fresh set of eyes and a renewed heart. I have never felt so inspired and energized to do the work that lies ahead despite the bumps that will inevitably be a part of the story. It won’t be easy because finding your muchness again never is.
But what does it matter? I love what I do.