You didn’t really think this was going to be a step by step guide on how to change your life overnight, did you? Does such a thing exist? If it does, please send it my way! Aside from that, I’m sure I am the least qualified person to give such advice. What I can do, is tell you how I changed myself from the most miserable person in existence to the ray of sunshine that I am now. Or at least, a partial ray of sunshine.
First, a little history. On April 23, 2012, I found myself sitting in the corner of my office, crouched in a corner at 2am, sobbing uncontrollably about the current state of my world.
Everything was bad.
I had chosen to pursue a doctorate, it seemed to be the next logical step for me but mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. I hated it. In fact, I hated the field of study I had chosen in general. I hated my job. Every morning when I woke up, I dreaded the thought of going there. I wanted to make a difference in the world and I was not making a difference at all; I had become a zombie in corporate America. I hated being a Mom. From the time I woke up to the time I put them to bed, it was a fight. A fight to get them to daycare, which they hated and I hated because they hated it so much. The couple of hours that I saw them at the end of the day were the worst! Rushing to “after work” activities, rushing home to feed them, rushing them to bed so I could rush to my homework. I hated being a wife. My husband had a job he loved (still does), and I was jealous! He traveled a lot and I was jealous. He would call me from a different city, out with friends, and I was jealous. My perception of the situation was that he had a life, while I sacrificed my own for our family. I didn’t feel connected to him. We had just moved to a new city and I felt isolated. I hated myself. I felt like the shell of my former self, prior to kids, prior to marriage. I hated the question, “what do you like to do for fun?” I never had an answer and it depressed me. It was a recipe for disaster. And that disaster found me sitting in a corner of my office a complete wreck. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore but I just had no idea how to do anything different.
The next day, I woke up and silently got my kids ready for the day. There were no fights. My son, who is the master at intuition, just hugged me over and over again. My heart broke with each hug; I felt like a failure. I wanted to love being a Mom so much! I wanted to love my life! I dropped my kids off at daycare and drove to work in complete silence. I love music but the thought of listening to anything regarding human emotion made me physically ill. I got to work and cried in my cubicle until I told my supervisor that I just couldn’t be there that day. I didn’t pick up my kids. I drove home, climbed under my covers and cried. I was broken. In this very moment I realized that the hypothetical rug had been pulled out under my feet and while I stood there confused, I had to make some choices. I could choose to be miserable or I could choose to be happy. It sounds so simple. It’s not.
I inventoried my life and I made a very black and white decision about each element:
Am I going to run away? This was truly considered as an option. I had made a habit of doing just that most of my early adult life. That’s why I moved 6 times in one year. During the time between my 2am breakdown and this inventory I had talked to a couple of people and realized that it’s more socially acceptable to walk away when you feel wronged. It’s justified. You should be angry at the state that others put you in. I realized that if I did, then what? Would I wake up and suddenly feel happy? Or would I be more angry that no one chased me? My most loved quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results,” had never meant more. I chose to stay.
Am I going to be Mom? I don’t have to be a Mom. There are women who choose to walk away, and I suspect it’s not out of lack of love. I chose to be Mom. It’s not easy, in fact some days are brutal. But I love my little monkeys more than I love myself. I chose to stay and I chose to be happy about it.
Am I going to be a wife? I chose yes. And I emphasize the “choose,” marriage isn’t easy. But I made the choice to do it. I can survive independently. I don’t have to be married. In fact, it might be easier in some ways to not be married. But I chose yes and made it clear at that moment that it’s our job to make each other want to be married. There is a huge difference.
Am I going to get a doctoral degree? No. With all the tears shed while working on my bachelor and masters degree, I had more moments of accomplishment and happiness that leveraged the nights of late studying and tears of frustration. There was no leverage in the pursuit. I dreaded it. It wasn’t worth it. Nothing about it made me happy.
Am I going to stay at a job I hate? This was a tricky one. We were a two-income family. I knew that my husband would support me if I had a plan. It took me a little time to answer this question, but acknowledging my dissatisfaction was key. Up until this point I had sugar coated it as if that would make me like it. Ultimately, the answer was no, I wouldn’t stay. I chose to search for my passion, but I digress.
Am I just going to hate myself? I honestly didn’t know how to approach this, but I knew how to not approach it. I had to stop putting myself down for my lack of perfection. I had to stop blaming others for my relationship with myself. I had to stop saying no to new opportunities. I had to stop looking for excuses to fail. I had to stop ignoring the problem.
When all was said and done, I realized that the only way to change my circumstances was to change myself. If I wanted my life to be different, I had to do something different. Change was never going to come by going to bed every night thinking, “I am going to be a better Mom tomorrow” or “I’m going to make my husband love me in a better way” or “I’m just going to go to work tomorrow and love my job!”
I emerged from my blanket cocoon with intention. I washed my face, picked up my children from daycare with an extra enthusiasm as they wrapped their arms around me with unconditional love. When we got home, my son asked if they could put on a puppet show for me. It’s one of my most favorite memories with my kids. At that moment nothing else mattered. Somehow despite my feelings of inadequacy, my kids still loved me.
That night I reviewed my choices and decided on my actions to support the decisions I had made. Recognizing fully that you cannot control others nor their choices that impact you, I needed to take accountability for my role in my own life and relationships. I had allowed myself to become a victim of every negative circumstance in my life. Realizing my responsibility gave me more resolve to change my mindset. I decided I needed to put out what I expected to receive. If I want my husband to connect with me, I need to connect with him. If I want to be happy, I need to do things that make me happy. If I want to love being a Mom, I need to be a loving Mom.
The next morning I woke up and embraced the different. I woke up early and I worked out, instead of hitting the snooze a million times. I got ready for the day and I put on makeup, instead of the slicked back hair and haphazardly put together outfit. I made my kids their favorite breakfast, instead of the rushed toast on the napkin as we’re flying out the door. I didn’t text my husband and tell him what a pain it was getting the kids out the door, instead I texted him and told him how grateful I am that he works so hard and let him know we missed him. I didn’t dread going in to the office, instead I was excited to talk to my co-workers about the things going on in their world. I didn’t do homework at lunch (which I frequently resented), instead I drove around and thought about the things that I could do to make a difference in this world. I nervously signed up for a yoga class. I bought a book to read to my kids. I bought a pair of running shoes. I decided to let go of all of the excuses that I had to not succeed. I silently ended relationships that encouraged misery and decided to focus on the relationships that encouraged happiness. I called my academic advisor and dropped out of school. I googled lists of hobbies and picked a few that seemed interesting. I took action! The day after that, I took action. The day after that as well. I had frequent disagreements in my head, Casey the Old vs. Casey the New. I just forced myself to get up and keep taking action.
I changed my life overnight. Kind of.
Let’s be real. Happiness is a practice, not a final destination. Some days are not easy. Sometimes the hard days can turn in to hard weeks. Over time some things have become easier but some things I have to actively reevaluate every day. I’ve decided that it’s easier to be broken and miserable; just lay down and give up. If I am being honest, getting up is the hardest part. It’s much harder to do something different and even more, challenging yourself to accept responsibility that you alone have created your misery. I had to come to terms with the fact that no one else could save me, no matter how much someone loves me, I had to save myself! I had to have courage in a way that I never felt before. I have found myself in this journey and it’s changed my life.
I have the pictures that I revisit from time to time of my children putting on the puppet show. They’re not fantastic pictures but I love these so much! It serves as a reminder of my choice to be happy. It reminds me of my lowest point and how hard I fought and continue to fight. I am not the same woman that was broken in the corner, but I remember her well and I know she is proud of me.