Does it sound cheesy or ridiculous to say that a blogging conference changed my life? Answer honestly, people. The answer is YES. It sounds completely ridiculous. But I must be honest with you: The SNAP blogging conference changed my life.
But why and how, you may ask?? Settle into a comfy chair and grab yourself a drink, people, because you are about embark upon the reading of a novel. A novel all about my life and my issues, so, you know, feel free to turn off the computer if you don’t want to read onward as I drone on and on about my life and share far too many personal details.
A few of you may recall that I wrote An Unexpected Post about a month ago about all of the upheaval and emotional changes and events coming up in my life. I was very nervous to his “publish” on that post, but the loving and supportive response that I got in response to that post meant the world to me. I felt strongly that someone out there needed to read my far-too-candid and personal words, and I hope that I was right.
I still feel that way, and that is why I have decided to write this post as a follow up to my Unexpected Post and as a part two to my post from yesterday about SNAP. But in order to explain myself well we need to delve about a decade into my past. Here goes nothing….
Ten years ago my life was very different. My mother was alive, but she was on her way out of this world. Her breast cancer had spread throughout her entire body, and she was fading fast. She only had a few months left.
In other news, I was engaged to be married. Well, not officially, but my long-term boyfriend and I had announced to our families that we were getting married, and we were talking dates. I just didn’t have a ring yet. I was so relieved that my mama had met and loved the man with whom I would be spending my life. What a comfort it was to me to think that he and his family would know firsthand how wonderful she was, even if our children never met her. This thought gave me hope that I could survive her passing and endure it with some dignity.
The summer rolled forward, and on the 14th of July my mama left this life after a thirteen year battle with breast cancer. Those were some dark, dark days. As I reeled from her loss I clung to my would-be-fiance and forced myself to open up to him and rely on him. I was determined not to fall into my old habits.
Ever since my mother was first diagnosed with cancer when I was eight years old, I had been bottling up my sorrows. My sisters would be sobbing on the couch when my parents told us bad news. I would be stone faced. Cold and solid as a rock on the outside; A complete disaster within.
As you can imagine, years upon years of suppressing my emotions and holding in my sorrows caused some significant problems for me. Problems that manifested themselves in the form of some very unpleasant and unhelpful “solutions” in high school. Problems that landed me on anti-depressants in college the fall prior to my mom’s death. After years of fighting my depression unmedicated, the medications were a great blessing to me in helping me to be balanced enough to successfully lead my daily life, but nothing could numb this pain.
So I clung to that man with all of my might. I leaned on him, I trusted him, and I allowed him to help me through my darkest hours. I even cried to him, and I did not cry in public. Ever.
And then, a month later, he dumped me. Out of the blue. He looked at me and said, “I don’t think I could ever be comfortable marrying you, Sarah.”
To say that I was crushed would be a very great under-exaggeration indeed. In that moment my life changed, and not for the better. My faith was shaken and nearly snapped. How could God allow the two most important people in my life to leave me at the same time?? How could He POSSIBLY think that I was capable of surviving something like this??
My soul and my spirit felt crushed. I was an empty shell of myself. My sister started sleeping at my house regularly to get me out of bed in the morning and walk me to school. I have almost zero recollections of that year of classes. Thanks to what can only have been Divine Intervention, I got all B’s that year, but how that happened I will never know.
I do recall one instance from that academic year very vividly. In one of my classes we took the color personality test as a fun activity, and the results floored me. I had changed colors. 180 degrees. The girl who had always firmly fallen into the party animal and leadership divide was now in the withdrawn and introverted divide. And it wasn’t a fluke. I was a changed woman. That breakup had robbed me of my personality. It had robbed me of myself.
Mercifully, I met my husband a mere year later. What a man. What a sweet, kind, sensitive, intelligent, talented, humble, handsome, jolly, good-natured, patient, strong, hard working, and fiercely loyal man. God grabbed him up and put him into my life. And, oh my, am I ever grateful! He is far better for me than my would-be-fiance ever was, and the life we have together with our beautiful children is so full of joy. I am so very blessed.
But even meeting my husband didn’t break down my walls completely. I was changed. Changed for good.
I could always be my lively, loud-mouthed self around my sisters and my friends who had known me prior to my mother’s death. I could even be that way around a select group of the people with whom I became close after her death, including my husband, of course. But, where I had once made friends easily, I now took years to warm up to people and trust them. Literally. And, where I had once had no fear about speaking my mind regardless of whether anyone wanted my opinion, I now held back and watched carefully to gauge the safety of the situation before speaking at all.
I know that I came across as snooty at times, and I most definitely know that I was judged for my withdrawn demeanor. But I was too busy protecting myself to do anything about that. I was too busy being the “new” me.
In many ways, the “new” me was easier for people to be around. Less bold. Less blunt. Less obnoxious. Less abrasive. But also . . . less fun. And much less happy. There was a permanent filter in place between my personality and my life. And very little of me could make it through that filter.
You may think that I am exaggerating. I am not. My sisters and my college BFF have confirmed it separately on multiple occasions. It was like a rebirth of a more muted Sarah.
And now we come to SNAP. As you know if you read my Unexpected Post, I was pretty nervous for SNAP. I was pretty nervous to put myself out there and to try to force the “old” Sarah to come out. The bubbly, outgoing Sarah who enjoyed chatting with new people. Well, as it turns out, I didn’t need to be nervous after all.
I have not made my clinical depression or my postpartum depression a secret on this blog, and I have not made my use of antidepressants a secret either. In fact, I credit this blog with helping to bring me out of my postpartum depression. PPD hits me like a freight train with each child, but this journey to healing has been progressing in a much rapider and healthier manner than my journey to healing after my first child’s birth.
Much of this is due to the fact that this time around I decided to be proactive and begin treatments prior to my daughter’s birth, rather than being in denial until the moment of crisis was reached.
But another part of it was this blog. The fabulous Courtney O’Dell, of Sweet C’s Designs, yanked me into this blogging world against my will. She asked me to contribute to this blog, and I felt like I had to say yes because she is such a great friend and has always been so good to me. And then I posted for the first time, and I was hooked.
Suddenly I had a reason to CREATE. A reason to sit down and use my brain and my artistic talents to create beautiful things. Things that my children could wear. Things that brought me joy. I had been missing this side of myself all along, and I didn’t even realize it. It was as if a part of me that had been buried deep within was unearthed and brought back to life.
Being the amazing, generous woman that she is, Courtney handed me this blog in full once her main blog started to take off and she got busy with her family. I will forever be indebted to her for introducing me to this world. This world where I can create and develop my talents. This world where I can be SARAH, and not just Mom. This world full of wonderful, genuine women. I love this world.
And so there I was, an accidental blogger. An accidental blogger on her way to SNAP. What to expect? How to act? How to dress? I just didn’t know…..
But then I arrived at SNAP, and things began to be clear. I sat in classes and learned. I learned how to use Pinterest to grow my blog, I learned all about branding (which is a subject for another day . . . changes are a-coming!), I learned about photography and photo editing and working with brands. I learned, learned, learned. But, more importantly, I connected.
You know all the bloggers that you read and think of as your friends? Well, guess what? You wish they really WERE your friends!! This world is full of amazing, real women. I met so many people who just BAM! accepted me as I was. Women with loud personalities and women with quiet ones. Women of all shapes and sizes. So many awesome women.
The friendships that I made and the joy that I felt running around with Courtney, my roomies, my blogging buddies, and my cute cousin Amber made SNAP an absolute blast for me! SUCH a blast!
Aside from the friendships and fun, there are two things that I can point to that made SNAP a game changer for me. One evening I got up the guts to approach two of the biggest bloggers at the conference. One of them seemed to be quite shy, but she knew who I was! I almost passed out. I began chatting with them and somehow it came up in conversation that my blog had been helping me overcome my PPD. (I throw that out a lot. I try to force myself to do it because no one ever talks about PPD, but women who have it NEED to talk about it and are just looking for an opening!) She listened so kindly and then she said, “You know, my blog did the same thing for me. It brought me out of a very deep depression and it gave me back my life.” I was stunned. I wasn’t crazy! I wasn’t just telling myself that this was helping so that I could use my free time to craft instead of clean! What I was feeling had been felt before, and by one of the biggest bloggers at the conference! I had found a very unexpected kindred spirit. She got me. What comfort that brought to my heart.
And now we come to our final “game changer.”
From the first day of the conference I noticed that the most successful, and the happiest, women there all had one thing in common: they were TRUE. TO. THEMSELVES. True to their own style. True to their own passions. True to their own God-given personalities. And, for some of them, that meant BIG personalities.
One blogger in particular was larger than life. A bigger personality even than my unfiltered teenage personality. (If you knew me back then you may be scared by that thought….) 🙂 I watched her from a distance throughout the conference, but I never really talked to her. (I’m sort of a creepy stalker, apparently.) She was lively, she was bold, she was over-the-top. And it was REAL. I looked at her blog and was floored! I loved every wild, bold thing that I saw! She radiated happiness, confidence, and complete and utter comfort in her own skin. And that confidence and passion for life was what made her not only one of the most-loved bloggers there, but also one of the most successful.
It got me to thinking……if SHE can be that “big” then why can’t I?
So I shed my filter and tried being myself. It wasn’t easy. I had to be brave. I had to take deep breaths. I had to trust that it would turn out ok. I had to keep reminding myself to smile and open my mouth and TALK. And I am so grateful.
As it turns out, sponsors are thrilled when someone is genuinely obsessed with their awesome product. And people like when someone chats them up and carries on a conversation. And my blogging buddies enjoyed my opinionated, loud conversations. As it turns out, there are plenty of people out there who like me.
Was I surprised to learn this? Yes, I suppose that I was. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was. I was shocked by how free I felt, and how joyful I felt.
What I have kept a bit of a secret on this blog is that I see a psychiatrist every week for my PPD. I do. That’s reality. And through the entire conference I just kept thinking about her always asking me why I was filtering my life and not being confident in being myself. And you know what? She is right. It feels better to be ME than it does to be “safe.”
I wanted to write this post the day that I came home from SNAP. I was FLYING HIGH! I told my sisters and my husband that I had figured it out. That being MYSELF made me happy, and so if I dropped my filter maybe I would conquer my depression!
I am glad that I never got the chance to write this up that day, because, well, that was a bit naïve. Apparently I had forgotten about the years I spent battling clinical depression prior to my mom’s death. There have been days since SNAP that have been very low, and days since SNAP that have been very high. But, mostly, I am working on having days that are just very . . . natural. Days that are true to what I am feeling and days that encourage the life and light that was once in my life to come back in full.
I am looking forward with faith and enthusiasm to my journey to a full recovery from PPD and to finding a happy balance in my life. I am looking forward to re-learning how to be me. Thank you so much for coming along on the journey with me. You are loved and appreciated, albeit from afar.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!