Every night, after I stay up until tomorrow, when I head to the bathroom to get ready for bed, I think: “I’m too tired to wash my face.” And then, (almost) every night, I do. Because I (almost) always brush my teeth, and it’s just as easy to slap a face mask on before that, letting it dry as I brush and rinse. And then…that’s when the self-care calm washes over me.

Confession: many nights, I don’t follow any “steps.” (This can be problematic as a Woman Building Her Skincare Empire). But since I’ve now gone to all the trouble of not only brushing my teeth in the aforementioned scenario, but masking my face, it’s just as easy to apply a soothing cream and rub my temples as I run through my tomorrow…only hours away at this point.

Man…this entrepreneurial thing is such an interesting ride. I’m exhausted. I’m exilerated. I’m failing. I’m learning. I’m making new, deep, and lasting friendships…I’m letting go of the relationships that are crumbling beneath the shallow foundations they reveal themselves to be built upon. My head is always, always, always going.

Am I trading my passion for my kid’s needs?

Am I exchanging my happiness for that of my husband’s?

Do I even deserve to claim my happiness?

Why do people trust me to lead them?

And then…I rinse my face with warm water, rub that cream on, spending those few extra seconds rubbing my temples and think…I THINK. And what I think is: “I sure wasn’t thinking about ANY of this while working as a nurse.”

Planet Nurse was about getting out before they could get me. Self-preservation. CYA. It was about making paycheck-to-bills-to-fun-to-depleted checking account choices. It was about always intending to contribute more to a savings account. (Wasn’t I supposed to have 8 months of living expenses saved up?) It was about negotiating Christmas mornings with Thanksgiving afternoons, swapping shifts and signing up for OT, only to loathe those days arriving. It was about adjusting 401ks; or most specifically, adjusting the “you can expect to retire by the age of” toggle on the company’s website and feeling horrified. It was stress on the manageable, bite-size, paycheck-to-paycheck scale…living in increments of 2 weeks, cycling through All Was Well and All Was F*cked. It was getting by but never getting ahead. “Dream big” would have been a notion I would have laughed off, or rolled my eyes at, smug in my skepticism.

That’s the sneaky part about complacency: you live within your circumstances and the outcomes of choices you made as a different person, years ago. You forget that there are still, indeed, options, and ways out. (Or maybe, ways back in). Holding on to what we know even when the world is shifting – even if it means preferring to rot in comfort – is just human nature. We prefer familiar pain over the unknown.

But here is the beautiful gift of the New Year: we are expected to reflect upon our lives and act on those things that are feeling incongruent to what we know without our truest selves.

So…if you find yourself wanting…”something,” whether it’s More or Less or Bigger or Smaller than what you currently have, here is my advice: begin by saying “yes.” That’s the start, and the hardest part. Admitting that you could want to be a different person and then accepting that is the middle; making the decision to pursue a passion is the end.

The problem is that we may mistake this cycle for a stationary one, when really it repeats itself as often as we let it. Finding something new to love and then pursuing it…this makes a life worth living in my book. Not for someone else, not in the pursuit of someone else’s dreams (even if that someone else was our past self), but in the pursuit of our own dreams.

Here’s what I know: every night we go to bed with a choice. To wake up building a life we deliberately, terrifyingly CHOOSE to build, or to mimic the day we’ve just completed. And those choices can masquerade as simple, everyday moments.

Perhaps the biggest mistake we make is believing that the moments in our lives that define the rest of our life come few and far between. They don’t.

They exist in every moment.

They exist in every day.

Choose to ignore them and indeed they will pass you by, untouched.

Like, I used to collapse in bed, wake up before daylight and hit the snooze button ad infinitum, dreading the banal start to my work days. But, then I began to wash my face (almost) every night. Which crazily enough has allowed me to wake up to the rhythm of my family. And even as I go to bed tired and bleary-eyed, knowing that that is likely not going to change for awhile, even with crazy conflicting thoughts, I am doing so knowing that I am operating within my highest potential. That I chose. Knowing that the trade off for my time now is a worthwhile one because what I choose to let exhaust me now has profoundly changed me and those around me, for the better.

These days, the ones where I get to wake up without a snooze button, are turning out to be the most passion-filled of my life. Because now, most importantly, I wake up, WOKE. And life is too damn short for 5 more minutes of avoidance.

I’m coming in hot for you, 2018.  With a whole lot of YES.

2018: Begin by saying, “YES”

PPWTF

Kids are the most accurate – albeit jarring – measures of time, aren’t they? A concept FB surely considered when coming up with their “On This Day” feature. I don’t know about you guys, but certain photos stop me in my tracks, especially this one.

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It’s one of my favorite pictures of my girls, for the obvious cuteness factor but even more so because Ryann has this sweet, little Mona Lisa smile on her face. It has meant many things to me over the past three years, whenever I’ve looked back on it.

Truthfully, I can barely remember taking this one; I know it was around 3 am and I had jumped out of the bed in the nursery I slept in (hah!) next to them when they were this tiny and they were making the odd gurgling/”are they choking?!” noises that I had not yet gotten used to. And there was little Ryann, smiling up at me, as if to say, “I got this, Mom!”

At just over 3 months, the girls had barely started reciprocating anything back to us besides the colic-induced screaming we could expect from 4pm-through the wee hours of the next day. I was a few days away from going in to get my gall bladder removed, my c-section scar still tender and swollen. At this point, anything I ate gave me pain, but I was determined not to lose my supply and was pumping like a maniac, subsisting on saltines and lentil soup – the most benign food my gut would allow.

I was alone with the girls during the day as well as on my “night shift;” the last of our house guests had left 3 weeks prior. It was a very intense time to say the least. And in hindsight, I was slowly sliding down into a very deep, dark hole, yet was so bleary-eyed and tunnel-visioned on the day to day (and really hour to hour) tasks of caring for twin babies that I had no idea it was even happening.

I thought that if I could smile, and say everything was “great!” and accept everyone’s praise about how well I was handling it all, than it was probably true.

Fake it til you make it, right?

This too shall pass.

I was certainly not going to complain or admit the true extent of my struggle, because we had worked so damn hard for almost three years to bring these precious girls here. Anything I said to the contrary would just be…wrong. Ungrateful. As if the time it took for us to finally have kids should have immunized me against the sucker-punch of sleep deprivation and a constant simmering of worry that I was probably screwing it up.

So that’s what my exhausted, irrational brain believed. A brain can get you to believe all sorts bullshit, but a body will tell you the truth. First the signals are small: your heart sinks. Or you feel sick in your gut. Or something blossoms open in your chest. Even as your brain gets louder and louder trying to drown it out, that’s your body telling you one true thing And it took me a whole year to listen to it.

The first time this picture popped up, “On This Day,” one year after it was taken, I had walked down a long, lonely road. This time that year, looking at this picture, Ryann seemed to be telling me, “Mom, there were so many people who would have helped you. Who offered and asked and showed up. Who didn’t need to do anything more than what I’m doing for Livvie here, just be a shoulder to lean on in the night, for comfort.” And as she smiled her little captivating and kind and understanding smile, it made me break into a million guilt-ridden pieces.

It’s so easy to get lost in our heads, in our own experience, forgetting about what’s happening to our people in the next room, or the next neighborhood, or community. What are they going through? How do our words or deeds lift them up or crack them open?

In my own experience, I didn’t realize I had PPD or that I was dealing with it poorly. I didn’t feel sad (I didn’t feel anything, really); I didn’t want to hurt my babies, wasn’t that enough?

Have you ever felt a memory in your fingertips? Turning the doorknob to the closet to get some clothes out for the girls and suddenly feeling the wall on my back; I used to slide to the floor there and just sit, in the dark and in the quiet, trying to figure out how I would ever go about feeling like myself again. Or worse: maybe that this was my new self and I was just going to have to adjust to that, along with everything else. That this is just what all mothers did and I couldn’t hack it and everyone would find out. And then hearing people come home and putting on the mask of Mom/wife/neighbor and chit-chatting with a smile painted on a hollow body.

The memories of the first year are already shrouded by the newborn fog, furthered amplified by a twin newborn fog, and then completely washed out by the lonely apathy I felt at the time. They are a reminder of the person I wish I could have been, the one who could have asked for, or even accepted help when it was offered. Back then, I began a daily practice: every day I wrote down one thing I could accomplish:

Today, I’ll get dressed.

Today, I’ll make the bed.

Today, I’ll get out in the sun.

And that was the beginning of doing things for me. Just me.

There is no special PPD awareness month or day or anything official going on now that made me feel compelled to spill this all out. Only this memory.  And that was enough to make me start thinking about how I could (and should) contribute to the dialogue (or lack thereof). When you go through something like this, you learn it’s enough to start somewhere. Anywhere.

I now know a great number of my friends had no idea I went through anything of this sort. I was very good at only showing one side of the coin. The shame and guilt one feels as a new mother with any sort of “problem” is so isolating. And I think people sense that in a way, and distance themselves accordingly. You definitely find out who your true friends are, the ones that walk the walk of compassion and kindness. The ones that show up. It’s important to pay attention to these special people.

Having daughters gave me new mirrors to stand in front of every day. Forgiving myself and allowing myself to see me as they do, has made all the difference. I know there are other new moms out there, awake when everyone else in the house sleeps peacefully, aimlessly scrolling through FB while nursing or pumping or rocking others back to sleep. I know they are wishing for their own beds, or even perhaps their old lives.  I know they are worrying why they feel comforted by the dark and quiet, though it should be no surprise that we feel most at peace when our environments match our minds. To those lonely souls surrounded by others, I say this: It gets better. It gets SO MUCH BETTER.

There are amazing resources, and wonderfully compassionate and kind counselors and appropriately dosed medications that can all lead you back to a familiar landscape. Please just look up, the hands are there offering help, you just need to reach yours back in return. ❤️

Now when I look at this picture today, tonight, it fills me with gratitude and a sense of peace. Because little Ryann knew it all along, and she tells me with that assured smile, “We are fine, Mom, and none of us are alone.”

Labor Day

The term paycheck-to-paycheck is a cardboard cutout of a phrase. As my beloved Augusten writes, “I guess I have a hard time believing that anything hyphenated could possibly be the deepest truth of the matter.” But yet, so many of us cling to this as a way of life, brandishing it as a badge of honor. Why?

The problem with this plan is that its vagueness doesn’t comfort you when you open your credit card statement, knowing full well you’ve spent outside your means and see the terrible balance that is proof-positive of your failing budget. It doesn’t save you when your daughters show interest in dance, yet when you price-compare various studios (then doubling that amount x 2), you realize you can’t swing it. It doesn’t reality-check you when you see the highlight reel of Everyone Else on social media, taking Vacations with Airfare and visiting theme parks as families of 4 on the weekends. It doesn’t rub your back when you can’t sleep at night, thinking, “Does everyone else feel this way too, but not talk about it?”

But of course we talk about it…dismissively, we say, “we live paycheck-to-paycheck.”

When I contemplated starting my own business, I struggled with the notion of “paying” to buy in. I didn’t want to put another big expenditure on a credit card not knowing how many months it would take to pay it off, or where I’d find the time to do that. Luckily, I have the good fortune of having some mentors in my life who rightly questioned me: “Bre…if you don’t have an extra $500 to draw from…don’t you think THAT, in and of itself, is a reason to be doing something different?”

Shit. You ever have those moments when someone peels back the curtain to expose the truth, and then it’s like the truth gets bolder in the naked air? It becomes brighter, like a light. (in this case, a spotlight) At some point you realize that the critical voice inside yourself is not serving you. Because to try and keep up with unsustainable methods is to try and be perfect and fail…and then make yourself miserable in Imperfection’s Honor. It’s lunacy. And every “paycheck-to-paycheck” family knows it.

The annoying thing about people in my line of work is that we like to discuss our business and its life-changing abilities as lying “outside your comfort zone.” But really, the life-changing stuff actually happens outside of our “DIScomfort zone.” Because don’t we all choose the pain of the familiar over the pain of the unknown? (And sometimes, take a little pleasure in that familiar pain?) Believe me, it’s really fucking unnerving to do something outside of ANY zone, let alone to have part of it involve exposing your underbelly (even though, you will eventually realize, people pay far more attention to themselves than to have time to really pay attention to you). But what I can promise you from deep down in my flawed-as-they-come bones, is this: it’s the absolute truth. Even when you conspire to dip a toe out of your (dis)comfort zone, you find what you are really made of, and how much you really are willing to change the things in your life that could possibly be changed.

So…on this Labor Day, this Day of Rest for most of us, as we bid adieu to summer and welcome in a change of seasons, consider this: Regret is the lost and found of life. You can wait and wait and wait and wait and wish that everything, all of it, had turned out in a different way. But wishing is the job you only wished you had taken. Regret, while not overbearing, does not transform over time. But – regret can be burned like fuel. In fact, it should be. Use it to power something beneficial, like say, breaking up those hyphens in your paycheck-to-paycheck world. And that is the not-for-profit truth.