Let’s talk about Social Media in today’s world. We’ve all heard that we shouldn’t compare our lives to other people’s “highlight reel”, because, let’s be honest, that’s often what it is. I struggle with this a little, and here’s why. With so much negativity all around us, readily available, I don’t want to feed that. I sometimes find it difficult to not “soak up” some of that negativity, so I try to bring some light and positivity to the world. But then I worry that it looks like my life, particularly our new life in the desert, is all sunshine and rainbows and is perfect. It’s not. I burn dinner, knock over my coffee, throw my favorite “lay flat to dry” shirt in the dryer by mistake. We all have bad days, bad months in our lives, and in an effort to help anyone who might be going through a tough stretch, I’m going to get real with you today and talk about how I fell down the rabbit hole…and how I managed – with a lot of love and help – to find my way back out, and how it changed me, for the better.
In order to tell you about this, I need to go back a little, 4-5 years. Most of you know that I’m married to my high school sweetheart (we’ll celebrate 30 years this month) and have 3 now-grown kids. But at this point we still had one in high school and home with us. Two were out on their own, I was photographing seniors and families as time allowed (because junior and senior years are busy, for both the student and the parents), and we were looking forward to the “empty-nester” life we had heard about…the flexibility to up and go whenever we wanted without a school schedule to worry about. I don’t remember what exactly started my downward spiral (although I have a few suspicions, looking back), but I remember being inspired and energized after having a photo shoot done as a surprise for my hubby, and wanting to try my hand at boudoir + beauty sessions. How I felt after seeing my photos, coupled with his reaction, was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I wanted to have that same impact on other women’s lives! The more I dabbled in this new area, the more excited I became…until someone in the industry started telling me things like “you will never succeed in this business, you’re too nice”, “you don’t have what it takes, the toughness, to make it”, “nobody will believe your ‘why’…it sounds like a sales pitch”. Yikes.
I have always been a “pleaser”, a helper. I don’t like to disappoint people, or myself either, for that matter. Except that sometimes you lose sight of what you want, and are caught up in a cycle of doing what’s expected, being who others want – need - you to be, instead of being true to yourself. Adding this …feedback, I guess you could call it…to the fact that our girl was soon graduating, and leaving for college was too much. If you’ve had a senior in high school, you know that the emotions are all already there…all the lasts, all the things you have done for so many years, that you know will never be again. I would cry at the drop of a hat, over anything and everything…I was just so sad. One question kept coming up in my thoughts…after so many years of being Mom, who was I now? All that goes into life with kids, all their activities, homework, friends, making Halloween costumes, birthday parties…it had been my life, and I loved it. But I didn’t have time to deal with that right now – surely I would figure it out, right? I had announcements to order, a graduation party to plan…I kept going, doing what I needed to do, putting on a brave face. The worst of it settled in after she was off to college in the fall…it was just so quiet, and I was just so very sad.
Photographers spend a lot of time in front of a computer – editing, marketing, blogging, planning, working on our websites, emailing clients. Alone mostly. And there is plenty of time for the negative self-talk to really get going… I clearly wasn’t cut out to be the photographer I thought I was or could be…I DIDN’T HAVE WHAT IT TAKES. Those words just kept playing in my head, and I believed them. Some days my husband would come home after a long day at work, and I was still in the same clothes I had been in when he left that morning. No shower, no makeup, no plans for dinner…and he could see that it had been a rough day. Let’s talk about that guilt for a second…I was embarrassed, ashamed of myself for "allowing" this to happen. What did I have to be sad about? We had a great life, great kids, a warm house, food in the fridge and pantry…and our marriage was strong. I felt like something must be wrong with me…how come I couldn’t handle something that we knew was coming? Very few knew I was struggling, and to what level…I remember vividly one particular moment, sitting at the top of the stairs, tears streaming down my face. During this stretch I had gained 20 lbs, so nothing in my closet fit me (which is yet another assault on the self-esteem) and I was wearing yoga pants and an old sweatshirt. My husband came and sat next to me, and said “Honey, what’s wrong? Tell me what you need…I’ll do whatever it takes to help you feel better.” And I said “I don’t know what to tell you.” His reply was “You’re lost. I can see it. We’ll figure it out.”
I listened to Brene Brown talk about shame and guilt, and forgiving yourself. I read her books “the Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”, “Daring Greatly”, and “Rising Strong”, about deciding whose opinions mattered in your life. I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” and how not to let fear control you. I was afraid of failing, I was afraid to leave my comfort zone, even though I was not in a good place…because what if I really didn’t have what it takes? I listened to Sue Bryce talk about getting out of your own way before you can succeed…I decided I needed to try. I turned to what I knew best, what I had loved in the past - my camera and creating. I started looking through magazines and Pinterest, to see what caught my eye. My creativity slowly returned, and I started to come up with new ideas, new visions for sessions. With the help of my closest photographer friends, I lined up a few sessions with fellow photographers to try out my new ideas. We disassembled the dining room table and set up that space (as well as the guest bedroom) as shooting spaces…my sweet husband was willing to eat dinner on a tv tray for a year and a half so I had a place to shoot…because as he put it “I could see that you needed it, you needed this.”
And he was right – I did. With every session, my confidence grew. Each time a woman saw her photos (often with tears in her eyes) and said, “I can’t believe that’s me…I look so beautiful! I was so nervous, and I’m so proud of myself for being brave” - I knew I had made a difference, and suddenly I knew that this was my way back out of the rabbit hole.
I initially never intended to share my experience publicly, but over the course of the past year, I have realized – and heard from – many women who are feeling just as I had…I had a crisis of confidence, and completely lost myself for a while. It was truly the most challenging and confusing time of my life to this point, and if sharing it will help someone else, I’m all for it. If you identify with this, even a little, or find yourself in the rabbit hole, just know you are not alone…and you can find your way back out again. I created a vision board last year for the first time – my 2018 word was “HEALTHY”. 2018 was a year of new experiences for us, a big move to a new city, trying to live our best life. I’m not quite back to where I was yet physically, but I am so much healthier and stronger – both mentally and physically. I no longer will live my life according to the expectations of everyone else…we all have one life to live, one chance to experience all that we can.
So to those who have wondered why I do what I do, why I decided to specialize in photographing women, now you know. I DO understand all the insecurities, the doubts, the fear, because I have been there. In helping other women, I helped myself, too. And to those who let me rant, cry, “borrow” your belief in me until I was strong enough to believe in myself, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart…you know who you are. And to my husband, who I’m sure thought his wife was losing her mind…I am so very grateful to you for hanging in there with me, being patient while I tried to find my footing and balance, holding me while I cried, brainstorming when I needed ideas…and really for just being you, always and forever, my person and my favorite.
Thanks for reading, friends. Here’s to a beautiful 2019.