Origin Stories.

Every year about this time, I write a post similar to this one. Then I don’t publish it, out of concern that my words would be misread or misunderstood. This year I decided to go ahead and hit that publish button.

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For the past ten years, the constants of my life have been that I am a writer, a mom, a wife, an accountant, a homeschooler. But four years ago, that shifted dramatically. Very suddenly I found myself sure I was going to die, dealing with daily chest pains and blacking out and heart racing. Four months of every medical test imaginable and I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia. Since that point my life has consisted of working every day at being able to minimize my symptoms. Drinking obscene amounts of water, running nearly every day, abstaining partially or wholly from the delicious parts of life like caffeine and chocolate and sugar, IV treatments, and tracking everything imaginable to see what helps or hurts my situation.

For clarification, I actually do live a fairly normal life, but I work seriously hard at being able to do so.

There are some things I can’t fix, however. I have tried countless things to make my brain work as quickly and as wittily as it used to, and nothing seems to help. Writing takes infinitely longer, and I have shrunk my writing schedule down from 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, times a week to the current 2 and sometimes only 1 time a week. If I happen to go back and read something that I wrote more than four years ago, I end up in a funk for a couple of days because it makes me so mad at how well my mind formerly functioned. And then it frightens me that my brain is in a continuing state of decline, and it’s going to get even worse.

Every year about this time, when my Dysautonomia gets especially rough (thanks, summer) and my brain gets unendingly fuzzy, I struggle with whether I should continue writing, or if I should take that pressure off of myself and quit while I’m ahead. Other times I glance at my blog’s dwindling visitor numbers and ponder whether I’m like a sitcom that’s gone three seasons too long.

But then I remember that the real reason I’m writing is for my children to read. They have 2,100+ posts over nearly ten years, many documenting their lives, and they already enjoy reading and hearing the stories I’ve captured here. Although Ali has reached the age where I don’t write about her as much because she deserves her privacy, Noah still has a lot of childhood left to document. And so I convince myself to keep writing – to not care if I’m boring people or losing readers with my diminished ability to craft words in a captivating manner. I write for the reason I started writing – to record our own personal history book.

(It really is hard to remember that because I love you all so much, and the hundreds of relationships I’ve birthed out of writing are precious to me. But at the end of the day, I try (but often fail) not to stress about my writing.)

So if I don’t write as often as I used to, or if you also notice that my writing style has drastically shifted, or if I take a long quiet break, please know that I’m probably somewhere, racking my brain for words and original thought, frustrated that I can’t remember how to think creatively.

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But as hard as the writing loss has been, from the journey of dysautonomia came my love for photography. Because when my brain was too foggy to form words, I could still tell stories in picture. And since I was now forced to exercise to stay lucid, I was seeing (and appreciating) more of my surrounding world on the daily.

From that birthed Picture Birmingham, my photography business where I sell my prints, note cards, and other photo art products so that I can donate all the profits to The WellHouse, a ministry that helps rescue and care for victims of human trafficking. In the three years of Picture Birmingham’s existence, it has raised over $15,000 for The WellHouse – and zero dollars of that would have existed if I hadn’t gotten dysautonomia.

So although my daily life is affected in annoying and constant ways, and although my ability to craft words and love for writing has been decimated, and although I have to work every day to live normally, dysautonomia has forced me to LIVE to be able to live – and therefore, to help my children also live a life full of seeing our beautiful world. It has forced me to appreciate my state, to explore, to engage in nature, and to do crazy things like go in a wet cave and climb on a slippery pedestal above a 50 foot drop.

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It has changed who I am and what I value. It has given me an appreciation for this spectacular world and an ability to go explore it. It has given me the opportunity to use those explorations to help women that are suffering in ways that I cannot imagine.

So yes, I have an incurable illness. And yes, that’s really stupid and annoying. But as illnesses go, this one does have its blessings. And I am, (at least some of the time,) okay with that.

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Self-Esteem Lessons From the Petting Zoo.

So. Not-Crazy-Renee and I took our kids to Oak Mountain State Park on Friday. We went on a hike, and then to the petting zoo. The goats, peacocks, donkey, and pony were as much fun as usual, and the mixture of animals and children made for delightful photographic opportunities.

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At one point, I took a couple of pictures of Not-Crazy-Renee hanging out with my favorite petting zoo character, the donkey. He’s really quite the best.

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I noticed in the pictures (and really several times that day) that Not-Crazy-Renee was looking mighty hot. When I sent her the pictures, she noticed also, and thanked me for providing her the first pictures of herself that didn’t make her say “Holy Baby Weight, Batman!!”

To pay me back for taking FABULOUS pictures of her (and her children), she sent over a photo she snapped of me feeding the goats (because my children had shoved their bags of feed into my hands due to their premature tiring of their goat following.)

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I couldn’t even look at the photo but for a second – I was not happy. I have body image issues just like 99.9% of women. I especially struggle with seeing photos of myself, like 99.8% of women (the .01% post selfies all the time and I’m all like HOW ARE YOU SO GOOD AT THAT? And stop.)

Many times, I have complained to friends of the struggle of not knowing which me with the real me -Mirror Me or Photo Me?? I want it to be Mirror Me. Because when I look in the mirror, I’m usually not unhappy. But Photo Me – she kills me every time.

Naturally, I spent the entire evening internally obsessing over new nutrition plans and calorie counting and maybe I need to add some other forms of exercise in with my running, as one does. You know the drill. It’s the plight of women.

(And if you don’t, I envy you greatly.)

The next morning, as I was getting ready to go on a run that I really didn’t feel like doing but I was going to because of that DANG PICTURE, I looked in the mirror in a very similar exercise shirt to the one I had worn the day before. I was again befuddled at the difference between me Mirror Me and Photo Me.

WHY can’t they be the same person? And WHICH one is really me??

So I decided to take a picture of Mirror Me and see if Mirror Me would stay Mirror Me when inserted into a photo. I NEEDED TO KNOW.

Mirror Me did indeed stay Mirror Me.

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Further befuddlement.

I had even shot the photo more straight-on, trying to get a bad angle in there to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself. I wasn’t sucking in or anything – I needed THE TRUTH. I even let my bra strap side fat hang out!

I then took a selfie without the mirror involved just to make sure Mirror Me wasn’t lying.

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(Let me assert here that none of this was done in the interest of a future blog post – it was all done due to my own ridiculous vanity, confusion, and Quest For The Real Me.)

Then I put my Mirror Me Selfie and My Not-Crazy-Renee photo next to each other, zero edits on either one.

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I was blown away. And I realized that my photo collage seemed very familiar….if I just swapped the order of the two pictures, I could sell $200 per month diet pills by saying this was my before and after!

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I have known about the power of angles for a long time, and have believed in it fully in the case of how my face looks, but I’d never completely allowed myself to believe it with my body image. So this was a huge moment for me. It helped me realize that I’ve got to stop freaking out about photos. Because cameras lie. All the time. And even the most most beautiful celebrities get horrendous photos taken of them sometimes.

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(Oh look at that. Even Beyonce.)

After staring at my two photos for an extended and entirely ridiculous amount of time, I went on my run, feeling much more awesome about myself. Every glance I caught in a window looked skinnier, stronger, and more confident than my last run had because, as I’m well aware, what I look like mentally is 90% what what my head thinks I look like.

So. Next time you see a horrible photo of yourself, and you immediately vow to start a new diet and make your life more miserable with disgusting cardboard food or perhaps just liquids, go look in a mirror. And maybe even take a selfie.

Because it was just a bad photo.

Not-Crazy-Renee and I still love each other (well, she might love me more than I love her – at least for 22 hours,) and in actuality, we both helped each other out with our photos. I helped her realized that she has indeed lost all that baby weight (and she has – it wasn’t just trick photography), and she helped me realize that I need to quit letting my mental image of myself be dictated by Photo Me. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle, but from now on, I’m going to believe that the real me is Mirror Me.

Oh – and because I know you wanted this to be a Not-Crazy-Renee story and not some introspective revelation, just to let you know, Not-Crazy-Renee is just as Not-Crazy as ever – especially when she uses text dictation.

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On Crossing the Bridge from Kid to Tween.

Dear Ali,

Something about turning nine is clearly a large step – we’re entering into something new, something unknown, a completely different territory of life.

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Maybe it’s not that exact age for everyone, but we sense it with you. You’re growing up, figuring out who you are, becoming more self-aware of your personhood.

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We’ve been having lots of talks lately about what it means to age, boggling your mind with stories of how your future hormones will probably make you want to hate us and hate your brother and hate everything else (and that you can’t let those pesky hormones win), and also, how proud we are of who you are becoming.

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You’re braver than you’ve ever been, you still have your goofy kid side, and you’re brilliant, perceptive, hard-working, and thoughtful.

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Wherever this journey takes you,

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I hope that you stay you,
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That you remember who you are and Whose you are,

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That you remember to set a good example for your brother who infinitely adores you,

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And that you never forget how much we love you.160108i

Oh – and be sure to have fun along the way.

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Happy birthday to the kid who made me a mom…

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I hope that you live the rest of your life with as much vigor and passion as is now contained within you.

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