Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Birthday to Me

Here it is again.

The anniversary of my birth.

How do I begin?

Lately I’ve been focused on my inadequacies and failures more than my successes and abilities, and I see that change of focus made manifest in my blog.  Where I once found joy in sharing my adventures and fulfillment in divulging my thoughts, now I see photos and experiences regurgitated in lackluster prose.  I used to be funny and creative and occasionally deep. I used to take pride in my posts, knowing when I hit “publish” that I had created something valuable to me. I used to pick up my camera multiple times a day--that familiar, repetitive action accompanied by thoughts of, “This should be a post.”

Now, I find myself holding back what I’m really thinking and feeling and experiencing, rarely touching my camera, wondering if I really should share what is bubbling around in my head.  I’ve been “surface blogging,” documenting our daily existence, but finding no joy in it.  I’ve always taken great pride in my honesty and my self-confidence and my strength. 

I find little honesty in my recent posts.

As my birthday approached, I caught myself doing some self-examination, carefully and sometimes painfully appraising who I have become and how I use my time and what I’ve accomplished in forty-three years of living. I’ve become entangled in pinterest and blogs and (dare I confess) Facebook.  I’ve impeded my real living with cyber-stalking others and comparing their talents and passion with my shortcomings and self-loathing.

Honesty in my blogging has always come easy for me. There hasn’t been much I’ve held back from this space—when I struggled with sugar or parenting or just plain hitting the wall of life, I revealed it, never hiding the truth behind flowery embellishments. In spite of a few interspersed posts of struggle, my posts have been generally positive and good.  Maybe that’s why my blogging has suffered lately--I haven’t been honest about life, which hasn’t been either positive or good. 

In all honesty, here’s the real recap of the year I was 42:

Excluding 2002 when I lost my fifth child, I will always remember my 43rd year as the hardest year of my life.  I felt the pieces of my life breaking all around me as I unsuccessfully tried to hold them together intact.

This was the year I lost much of my self-confidence. 
This was the year I was required to face character flaws I had previously determined I would never address because they didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of who I wanted to be.
This was the year I was dragged through life changes against my will.
This was the year I found more than three gray hairs, and I began realizing that I could never go back.
This was the year I was betrayed—by my body, by my mind, by others around me.
This was the year I lost my strength.
This was the year I became fragile.
This was the year I began to question how sturdy my construction of me actually was. Was the foundation of my character really sound—really who I should be for the rest of my life?
This was the year I lost grasp on the daily rituals of my life that have always grounded me—I lost my hold on prayer and study and exercise, and I let go so gradually that I barely noticed them slipping from my sight.
This was the year my spirit felt out of place in my body--where the two have never quite seemed to be coexisting as the single “me” they’ve always been.
This was the year I looked in the mirror every morning and never saw my reflection. I would see if my hair was sticking out or if my mascara was smudged or if the new scar under my right eye was ever going to fade, but I never looked past the surface to tidy up my soul.
This was the year I withdrew from others to protect my newly fragile self. As much as I wanted to possibly tell someone how I felt or what was transpiring in the chambers of my soul, I didn’t really want anyone to see my fragility and pity me.  I hate pity.
This was the year I wanted to hide from everyone and everything—shrouded in a house of cards that I could feel collapsing all around me, I still felt safer within its trembling walls.
This was the year my withdrawal hurt my sister’s feelings and we didn’t speak for six months.
This was the year I demanded time alone, time to try and face the changes within myself, yet those moments alone brought neither solution nor peace.
This was the year I changed—changed from the strong person I’d always known into a frightened, delicate creature I don’t know and, frankly, don’t even like.
This was the year I became acquainted with fear—fear of past mistakes, fear of present challenges, and fear of future changes.

For the first time in my life, I was, have been, and continue to be . . .  afraid.  It frightens me to admit all of this aloud, to publish it for the world to see.

 Me.  The strong one.  The unfaltering one.  The rock. 

I thought I was facing these fears.  

 I tried denying these changes by projecting a “surface” life, a life that had always stayed the same before, one that was on track to stay the same and should have stayed the same forevermore. All that surface image brought me was an unsettled feeling—Legos in a box that came with specific instructions, but even after I followed the directions meticulously, I had  to acknowledge something significant was still missing.

 I tried burying these changes in food. All that eating brought me was extra pounds and unhappiness every time I passed a mirror or pulled on my clothes. I would eat until I was past full, often to the point of pain and nausea, only to be driven back to the fridge searching for nonexistent comfort again and again.  

I tried smothering these changes by frequenting auctions and creating order out of others’ castoffs.  As much as I enjoy finding a treasure and making it my own, all it brought me was a full garage and a realization that material things will never fill the disquiet I feel down to my core.

Not all of the change this past year has been destructive, to be sure.

This was also the year I can bookmark as the year I became more empathetic.
  • The year I removed myself from everything for weeks on end, lived a simple dairy-farm life, realigned my priorities, and treasured every single second. I saw that my hurried pace in Arizona was rushing me through many of the most important moments of  life.
  • The year I slowed down and simplified. I haven’t taken the time to fully record my adventures of the summer, and one reason is that I’m still waiting to see how the lessons from Pennsylvania permanently take up residence inside me—how they permanently alter my character and approach to life. For now, I will say that when I first walked through my back door upon my return home, I knew I was fundamentally different from the person who had left just 25 days before.  I was different, and I purposely distanced my new self from my old life for as long as I could, trying to prevent some of my former self from coming back to the surface of my character. 
  • The year I remembered that happiness isn’t measured by the size of the house but by the memories created within its walls.
  • The year I adjusted my mothering to put happiness and joy ahead of achievement and the  perceptions of others. I saw, for the first time, that it is better to raise children who are good and obedient and happy and kind and satisfied with who they are, and even though my mothering may have come up short in a few of these areas, I recognized that my older kids are turning out just this way, and I couldn’t be prouder of them than if they were nominated for Nobel.
  • The year I fell in love with a dark, curly-headed little girl who is stubborn and smart and beautiful and one step removed from being my very own. I began to accept the absolute happiness that comes from adding a new generation to our family.

I have hated most months of this last year--dreadful months punched here and there with specks of light and joy.  I have lost passion for most things that brought me joy—auctions, photography, blogging.  I have been fighting and fighting and fighting to regain what I’ve lost—a vision of who I was that has disappeared in a puff of smoke, forcing me to see that maybe my projection wasn’t real from the beginning.

I see what I’ve been fighting against for some time now—I have unexpectedly and unwillingly reached the middle of my life.  I am no longer young and never will be again.  I was refusing to knock on the door of aging, but it opened anyway and a gust of wind blew me into a room I was unprepared to enter. 

42 was the year of dissatisfaction, unhappiness, hurt feelings, and broken dreams. 42 was the year of transformation, adjusting priorities and modifying expectations.  42 was the year of change.

43 will be the year of acceptance—accepting who I have become and learning to love her, weaknesses and strengths, warts and all.

So here goes--the bravest thing I've done in a long time.  Push publish.

Happy birthday to me.


  1. That was brave. Being in this middle place of life is hard. It's refreshing to do some deep cleaning of the soul and put things away and give things away and start with a tidy inner life. You'll do it.

  2. Oh Jen...I'm two tears younger than you and it's hitting me like a ton of bricks, too...I'm middle aged with all my kids in school. Who am I? I can quite figure it out either. I know who I want to be....

    Thanks for your honesty and I love the photos.

  3. You just put into words my 2010. I was 33. I continued to suffer through 2011. 2012 I'm having to figure out how to live with the new me and strengthen the parts that were weakened. I was the same. I stopped loving everything I've always loved. I could cook and through the last two years, no matter how close I follow a recipe, it just doesn't work. It has been so bizarre and interesting to learn about the new me. So much more to say.....I think I need to work through my feelings.....the hard and the good and discover more of who I am and love it. Thanks for sharing.
    my situation came about because of someone elses choice that was devestating to me.
    It makes me wonder if yours came about by maybe the same thing or just happened.

  4. Yep, you are right on target. Isn't mid-life fun? Well, maybe not, but it's definitely useful in moving us forward (even though it may be kicking and screaming...or half-conscious).

    What I notice lately is that as soon as I get comfortable in my own skin, something ELSE changes...and I have to make adjustments all over again! (PS. I don't like adjustments.)

    I think the last half of life features an accelerated growth curve, and boy, do I ever find that uncomfortable at times. I completely identify with that feeling of "losing sight of yourself," having to keep changing my perspective on who I am. Sometimes I do get lost in those changes, but the more I experience them, the less they throw me for a loop and the faster the adjustments are made. Over time, I have come to see myself as a more multi-dimensional person with lots of facets (good and bad) that I wasn't even aware of before. And I guess that's okay. In fact, I'm sure it is.

    What I'm trying to say is, the process does get easier. I'm 60 now, and I'm getting more used to my new self...and my newer self...and my even newer self. The only sure thing is change, right? And this life is full of it.


    PS. Happy birthday, Jen!

  5. I'm with you, sista. It started at 40 for me, and just the other day I was telling my husband how I feel like I've been going backwards ever since (4-1/2 years later). I've decided that "into every life a little rain must fall," (mine feels more like an enveloping FOG) and enduring to the end is MUCH harder than it seemed 6 years ago when I was teaching the concept to the YW in my ward and it was so simple. Hang in there!!

  6. Well as I sit here reading this post I have tears running down my face. If you hadn't already put your name at the end of the post I could have signed mine.
    This has to be right up there with the worst year of my life in every respect that is important to me!!!! Our family has had struggles than there were days I waste sure I would emotionally survive another, and want sure I wanted to.
    I haven't blogged about it. I have surface blogged.
    And walking past the mirror....disgusting.

    Thank you for posting it. I am trying to heal and get my head, heart and spirit together. You made me think and think hard.

    Happy Birthday to you. I hope you are spoiled, cherished and hugged all day.

    Also a little coincident.... My daughter in law and son just moved to Twin Falls. Your sister is her Relief Society president.

  7. Have you noticed my lack of blogging? I marvel at how we quietly walk the same path. Would we find strength if only we could be more open, as you have been? Instead we quietly trudge through our trials alone.

    I loathe much about the way I have handled the challenges and trials over the last year and a half. I am still struggling to come to terms with the ways I have been changed, and wonder if I will grow to like the new me, or if I will continue to wrestle her into a version I can accept and enjoy living with. Happy Birthday!

  8. Happy Birthday Jen.

    As you put your shoulder to this wheel it will be okay.

    And soon All will be Well again.

    I takes these lulls in life and the recognition of what is going on to make us grow, to become more, better.

    Best lesson I learned as being RS pres.

    Good luck in your journey, let Christ help you carry the burdens. You have been such a quiet strength to me over the past couple years of blogging.

    I appreciate your honesty.

  9. Happy Birthday Jen. You are beautiful and you will be fine.

  10. I love you! I love you even more for writing this and admitting this and facing this. You are truly AMAZING. I want you to know I think that, and i want you to believe it. Here is to making 43 the best it can be.

  11. Happy Birthday, Jen!
    You will be fine. You'll find your joy and confidence again - I rather think that it's already happening.

  12. I wish you a very happy birthday, my friend! This post really spoke to me as I've been feeling a lot of the same things as you. It's probably why I felt the need to not blog during the summer so that I can re-evaluate and rediscover what is makes me who I am. I always found your blog inspiring to read because of your honesty and bravery to face your own shortcomings and difficulties in life. It's the reason I still come back and read your blog now. You are an amazing person and I truly hope that your 43rd year will be one of the best ones yet :)

  13. Wow. That's a lot to think about.

  14. I forgot to say, "Happy Birthday!"

  15. Your post inspired my post last night...we are so hard on ourselves.
    May 43 be your BEST YEAR ever!
    ~Much love,

  16. I think we ALL feel that way at times - some of us more than others. :) I admire you for many reasons but mostly for your honesty. I hope you had a wonderful birthday!

  17. Thanks Jen for being so honest and putting in to words what many of us in our forties feel - something hard to name and put dour finger in but there none the less. After my diagnosis and treatment I am a changed person but not in a good way. I am short with my husband and children but quick to put on the face everyone expects to see. I guess I am still dealing with what the events of the last year but need to make a change.

    And change it will be. Stopping to think before saying something hurtful or unnecessary. Watching what I eat in order to lose the 10kgs put on from chemo and medication. Exercising more to help shift that weight but also make me more able to be there for the kids. I've started putting some of this in to practice.

    Your post made me realise I'm not alone in these everyday struggles and I hope you realise from the comments that you are not alone either. You have a strength about you that meant you could be raw and honest and push that publish button. That took courage I'm sure.

    My current motto is 'onward and upward' and I need to remember to look upwards for the guidance I need.

    Take care, Cath

  18. A belated happy birthday to you, my friend. I had no idea. Sometimes we think it's only ourselves who are feeling like this. I am 59 next month, and sometimes I don't even recognize myself. Sometimes that's a good thing because I've changed for the better, but I still mourn things that are gone for... well, at least for this life. Like you, I've lost interest in old talents, although I still feel an obligation to keep them up. I've developed some new ones, but I'm not totally comfortable with them yet. I'm becoming a better grandma. That shoe is starting to feel really cozy. Sadly, I'm not one who took to it naturally. And yes, I'm vain. I hate my gray hair (and I have a lot of it!) and I hate the wrinkles and the weird dry skin. I hate the aches and pains. But I'm learning to deal with these things a bit more gracefully, as we all do. It's hard to see my parents growing old, and that scares me a lot. But at least I know I'm not alone. I can see that a lot of you out there are just like me, and it gives me a strange sort of comfort. Not exactly misery loves company. More like oh good - someone else will get my jokes about this. Hang in there. I don't think we're done yet, and we still have a lot of sharing to do.

  19. I so appreciate your honesty Jen...it's so hard to put yourself our there like that. I am 42 1/2 and I have to say this has not been any easy year for me either. Notice my lack of blog posts this year? It must be the age, right? I find myself thinking more, questioning myself, worrying, and analzying everything. I wish I could be more like my younger self and just go with the flow, relax and have more fun. I hope 43's a better year for both of us! You're such a great person...you have much to be proud of.
    Happy Birthday friend!

  20. Oh Jen...Here I am on a Sat. morning- late to your birthday party....and thinking that it was my blog post I just read. Have you noticed I haven't been blogging much? I'll be 41 on the 8th- and this past year was tough for me, really tough. I'm home again, and feel it's the right thing for our family...but there is that little voice in me that is pushing, wanting more, and questioning my worth and if I'm doing enough, and if it's enough to stay at home and decorate, garden, cook, plan meals, be frugal, etc...and sub on call only. How I wish I could just join you for a cup of coffee this morning. Praying for acceptance and contentment in this next year for both of us. I'm hoping I can have the courage to hit publish and blog again. I found so much joy from it when I was doing it daily...hugs to you my friend. Glad we're on this journey together....

  21. amazing to read what you put out there. it never ceases to amaze me that so many of the things i struggle with inside are the same things that other people struggle with as well. i'm so thankful for the gospel and can't wait to hear from our prophet and apostles b/c i know that they are preparing things right now just for me and just for you to help us through the things we are struggling with, and they will know just the right words that will speak to my soul and yours. i love all of the things going on in your mind. truly progressive to be able to voice and articulate them all. xoxo

  22. Bravo for you!

    I admire your candid post.

    And the courage it took to hit publish!