Spring has come. I am emerging into the sunlight well-rested. My long winter is only yesterday’s story. My life is starting anew, and it is fitting that my website is starting over too!
At the start of 2022, I was ready for a new beginning. At the time, I didn’t know how filled with color this year would become. Even as I articulated my intentions for change aloud into the world, even as I felt so ready for a change, I couldn’t have imagined what loomed on the horizon.
I began a blog on the previous version of my website exactly two years ago to the day: March 21, 2020. The pandemic was fresh, everyone’s questions were many, and the answers were few. In keeping with saying goodbye to the past and hello to new starts, I am not porting over my old blog entries from the old version of my website on a different host. This blog will begin fresh.
Yes. It is time for a change.
However, when moving on from the past, I believe in the value of reflecting on where we came from and seeing how the path behind us orients us toward where we want to go next. I can let go of old sorrows and false beliefs about myself and the world—things that no longer serve my values and growth—and also not miss an opportunity to take responsibility for changes I need to make. Look, reflect, and then let it go.
I think it’s also possible to take care of our past selves from the present. Sometimes I think of myself reaching back and holding my younger self’s hand. That road runs both ways—present me supporting past me, and present me receiving support from future me. It gives me comfort to think there is an older me in the future who knows what I am enduring, and that wiser person I’ve become is loving and supporting younger me through it all. That me knows that this too shall pass. And it does pass.
Reflecting on the first post and those subsequent entries I made two years ago, I am deeply, profoundly proud of myself. I tried so hard to put forth beauty into an uncertain world—even when I was hurting so much. At the time, I was a teacher. My first post was titled “Quarantine Time with Dr. C!” and in it, I stated my intentions for blogging my attempts to create and savor the beauty in the world as a way of connecting with and reassuring my students that there were still good things to be found. I don’t know how many of my students read my blog, but I do know some of them did.
My posts documented the media I was consuming that made me feel good or inspired during the lockdown—books I was reading, shows I was watching, playlists I was listening to at the moment—along with details about the things I was writing, making, or thinking about. I made amazing sugar cookies. I learned how to bake delicious loaves of bread. I wrote about story ideas I was having and things that inspired my writing and art. I wrote about my past travels and walked in my memories of good places. I can see the broken, terrified heart inside of me that was trying so hard to hang on, trying so hard to look for beauty everywhere in a world that had become very frightening.
Yes, I am so proud of myself. That blog was a snapshot of a woman lost inside pitch black depression. I doubt anyone reading would ever have been able to tell I was in extreme crisis. However, I was secretly and desperately seeking a reason to keep going. I never showed that reality in those posts: I was holding together the broken pieces of myself after a very unexpected ending to a beloved relationship, and now I was alone and in a pandemic lockdown. As a teacher, I had to put my happy face on Zoom and on the blog while never letting my students know that most days I felt like I was bleeding out on the ground. I started that blog intending it as some comfort for my students, but didn’t realize seeking joy and beauty was part of building my own lifeline in the absence of a support system.
And as proud as I am of that younger me (only two years ago, but I aged a lifetime in the interim), also I pity my younger self. I didn’t allow myself to be honest about my daily sorrow. I’d lost the people I would have turned to in crisis, so I told very few people how I was feeling. Almost no one knew I was going through the losses I had experienced or that I had moved or that I was alone and heartbroken. I did not have to feel so alone. I recognize now that pain made me feel ashamed of what I was feeling. I recognize that I let someone who was harming me tell me a story about myself, a story that said I was not worthy of love or support, a story that told me I deserved nothing good and only to suffer in silence, and worse yet, I believed it. That story didn't serve my growth or healing.
I don't believe that story anymore. I am not ashamed anymore of my sorrow. I felt what I felt. And it was okay to feel that way.
How many times had I told others that it was okay to not be okay? That their experiences were valid? I did not allow myself the same grace even when I had many reasons to feel depressed and lonely and afraid. I experienced some very real traumas over the course of my life. A long-term relationship loss and subsequent lockdown were both new traumas and deeply triggering to old traumas. It was okay to feel lost and alone and directionless! It was okay to grieve! It was okay to feel like maybe I didn’t know who I was anymore! It was okay to feel like the lockdown had left me all the more broken during an already isolating time!
My deep depression didn't have to stay secret. Everyone's carefully curated internet presences make that hard to realize, but it's true.
But here are the two things that matter most that I did in those two years between then and now: I grieved properly, and I tried to find worthwhile beauty so that my grief wouldn’t define me forever.
I grieved properly. I can’t overstate this enough. I didn’t write about it on my blog, but in that time, I let myself grieve thoroughly and fully and deeply. I did not rush. Every day, I woke with my grief. Big and black and crushing and unbearable. I felt it in my chest and my throat. Sometimes a tight, asphixiating feeling, a deep cutting twine constricting. Sometimes a massive stone compressing me fully. Most days I didn’t think I’d ever be able to breathe loosely ever again without that suffocating pain that I knew was in my mind, but could feel physically in my body. I missed the person I loved beyond expression. I missed my old house. I missed my friends. I missed my life. I missed the person I used to be—the woman who laughed so hard she got hiccups on a regular basis. The woman who smiled so much her cheeks hurt. The woman who knew what her dreams were and who would be by her side while she tackled them.
I didn’t suppress my sadness, or rebound with someone new, or drink too much, or numb myself out with drugs or sex or video games or any of the million ways I could have avoided thinking. I didn't make someone else do the emotional labor for me that I wasn't willing to do on my own. I didn’t bury myself in denial. I sat in my hurt. I thought about the person I’d loved. I thought about the person I’d been when I was with him and the now-broken dreams she’d had. I thought about the children I would never get to have. I thought about the house I lost and the friendships that had walked away from me. I honored them all. They meant everything to me. I cherished them when I had them, tried my best to not take them for granted. And once they were gone, I didn’t pretend like they hadn’t been that wonderful or important. They had been. I didn't pretend like I didn't miss these people and things every single day. I did. I didn't lie to myself and claim these weren't life-altering, heart-rending losses. They were.
I didn't fight. I didn't flee. I just sat very, very still with myself for a long, long time. Sad. Lonely. Lost. Wintering. I was uncomfortable, but I didn't run from my discomfort.
This time was not wasted. Not lost.
Because not every season has to be about growth. Some seasons are for solitude and stillness. I needed a wintering if I was going to heal. I hibernated so I could grow later—and my growing was all the better for taking that pause.
Multiple, seemingly contradictory things can be true at the same time. Time stood still as I sat unmoving for years, and I was going everywhere seeking myself, too. Stillness and productivity were the same. Because... even as I grieved in a way that seemed endless...
I tried to find worthwhile beauty so that my grief wouldn’t define me forever. For all that my old blog makes it seem like I was very upbeat and constantly creating, mostly I was failing at finding joy or believing that my palpable grief would ever lift. However, what matters is that I was still trying. Trying doesn't have to look like success. I really did do the things I wrote about. I really did look for meaning and interest and things to spark my heart again. I didn't really believe I would be well again...
But I tried.
And because I tried and tried and tried—for years—my heart spark did catch and flicker to life, kindling from spark to flame, flame to bonfire.
I won’t minimize the effort it took. I won’t minimize the time it took. But I am a phoenix now.
A year or so after I started that blog, I started an Instagram with roughly the same premise. For the description, I wrote, “my daily challenge finding one thing beautiful/interesting enough to photograph. an exercise in perception—finding magic even on mundane/hard days.” What I didn’t write—and wouldn’t have at the time, even if Instagram allowed more character space to do so—was that there were days when that Instagram project was the only reason I’d stepped foot outside at all. There were days when the only reason I’d done anything other than sit alone and sob was because I was forcing myself to honor that project and find something to photograph. I never spoke explicitly in my captions admitting that I was depressed and struggling. However, my depression bled through more honestly in the short, cryptic, sad captions than it did on my blog.
These pictures show beautiful places and things. Often I was crying when I took them. You can't see that. But it's true.
There were days when I researched interesting places to see, drove there sobbing the whole way, dried my tears, took a picture, and then got back in my car and sobbed the whole way back to my apartment. Many days.
Still, even if I cried the whole way there, I went to old places I loved and new places I’d never been before all across the greater New Orleans area.
I looked for events and things of interest solely to fulfill my promise to myself to try to find one beautiful or interesting thing a day. I got deliberately lost on rural highways and city streets looking for something to feed my soul. I went to a seafood festival deep down the bayou even though I’m not a huge fan of seafood. I walked in the parks and cemeteries and on the lakefront and went ziplining for the first time. I got caught in torrential rainfalls (so many storms) and took pictures in the rain.
I took a solo road trip and drove hours out of my way to find the Ave Maria Grotto in Alabama that ended up being closed when I finally arrived. I wandered North Carolina. I took pictures in Texas when I had to evacuate after a hurricane and in Italy once I'd been vaccinated and was able to travel abroad again.
I photographed and photographed and photographed, looking for light and color and meaning when all seemed hopeless.
Along the way, I saw life. And in doing so, I lived, even when I felt estranged from life. I found tiny fragments of beauty. They didn’t feel like enough at the time. They didn't fill the dark hole. The pieces of joy and loveliness were so small and so fragile, and my pain was so large.
But slowly, surely, I found myself again. Alive and vibrant and excited to be right here and right now.
Because I took that time to honor myself and my sorrow until I was ready to move on, I was able to create a better, happier, stronger me. I love this self that I am now. I love the people who love me in return.
This isn't a story about perfection. This isn't a story shrouded in toxic positivity about how if you just believe, things will get better! It's work. It's hard. It's messy. It's a long road. But a new spring can and will come.
The goal is not to live a painless existence or avoid sorrow. The goal is not to completely eradicate the valleys along our journey. The goal is growth. In the words of my partner, every day we strive to achieve higher peaks and higher valleys. I love his philosophy.
Every day we move onward and upward. Here's to the beautiful, brand new here and now.