You have NO IDEA how excited I am! This is the first post on the new blog, the new Soleil & Katie site, the first written in close to a year. Why? Let’s rewind.
March 2017. My wife faced one of the hardest decisions she has ever had to make in our marriage in regards to my life & health. After many months of neglect, my mental health was FORCING us to truly reconsider it’s priority in our lives. It wasn’t a “back burner” resolution anymore. If nothing was done, we would have little time together. After just two years of marriage and a lifetime ahead of us, there was no way Katie would go down without a fight. Work could wait, on both ends. My life & safety were too important. I went to seek medical and therapeutic attention; Katie went on a lengthy leave of absence from work. This was it. We were giving it our all.
Let me explain how destructive depression can be: My career was born not just from a financial necessity, but from a creative one. My camera, and the skill that comes along with it, is a heavy security blanket. When I have my camera in my hands, you get the real me: lively, vivacious, loud, silly, and a woman of service. No, not with depression. I stayed in bed all day. I neglected our beloved boys (Ernie, Yorkie, & Reagan, Beagle). I left the window curtains closed. Answering a friend’s text seemed like too much work. I barely ate. Everything just seemed so overwhelming. Looking back now, I can’t even recognize myself. I mean to think I laid in bed day in and day out, when in actuality I’m a morning person (it drives Katie CRAZY), is so so so sad.
I just want to go back in time and hug myself. I want tell her everything is going to be ok. I want tell her that the only way out, is through. I want to tell her that being vulnerable is STRENGTH. I want to tell her that there is so much more, so so so much more than this.
Without the pressures of work, Katie and I were able to relearn how to communicate with vulnerability and acceptance. We were able to rebuild our routine to fit our new normal and continue to look after our lives in a way that cultivated what mattered first, leaving all else to wait. This was an enormous gift, one that we will never take for granted. We are, nor will we ever be experts in self-care. However, there is no denying it’s importance to MY SURVIVAL. In this time together we learned:
- Sunlight is a must for survival and recovery. Every day, Katie and I ate our breakfast outside, in direct sunlight, soaking in all the Vitamin C for however long we could stand it.
- Ask. For. Help. Ask your friends. Ask your parents. Ask your siblings. Ask for time away. Ask for a meal train. Ask for help around the house. Ask for normalcy. Ask for anything you need help with. Don’t crawl under a rock and think no one will notice. There’s help to be had, so long as you ask for it.
- Slow down. Breathe. Be patient with yourself. Growth is hard, especially when it involves vulnerability. Asking yourself “Is this ever going to end?” is normal. It will end. Things will get better. Slow and steady. Breathe.
- Keep aware of any imbalance or mood change, including how your body feels. Most times my anxiety resulted in a very heavy chest. It feels like bricks are on me. Even if I don’t know exactly where this is stemming from, I reach out to Katie. If she feels like I am not myself, she confronts me gently. We check on one another often. Depression is a liar and will tell you because no one has asked how you are doing that it is because you are not worthy to be cared for. Depression can also inhibit your need to access help in a healthy, constructive way. Check on one another often. If you do not have a partner, ask someone who you trust and who loves and respects you. Grace is such an important approach to giving and getting help.
- If you cannot communicate or articulate your feelings, create a simple ranking system that alerts your partner of your emotional/mental/physical safety status. For us it was a 1-5 ranking, 5 being the worst (AKA I need help NOW). It was the least complicated way for me to communicate to Katie how I was feeling and got her to react accordingly. Example: “Babe, I’m at a 2.5. (My anxiety is relentless and I’m feeling a little desperate for relief.)” Katie would then respond with, “Ok, Honey. Let me hug you. It’s ok. Everything’s in order. Would you like to go for a walk with the boys?” Walking works (for me) because of sunlight (see Bullet One).
- If your family is not supportive or understanding (or kind), come to peace with leaving them out of your struggle and recovery process. This isn’t about them, and while sometimes they may have the best intentions, their words or actions can result in a worse mood. This can be absolutely dangerous to your health and recovery. Forgive them for not reacting appropriately. Self care and compassion is LEARNED through life lessons. Not everybody is educated on servicing those who face mental illness. That’s okay. It’s not intentional. It’s best to move on.
- Seek medical/therapeutic attention (which ever you need when you need it, without shame or excuse).
Here are some reasons my sabbatical made me feel extremely guilty:
- As a creative entrepreneur, and thanks to social media, our lives are presented in a grid of perfectly curated squares. As a photographer, my social media is centered around my clients’ BEST DAY EVER. How am I allowed to have a bad day when this isn’t about me? It’s about them, right? Well, yes and no. Without a healthy me, there is no capturing a Best Day Ever. Of course, I don’t leave my clients in the dust, there are back ups. However, this required some intense planning before, during, and after my time away. I’ll go over how I did that in another post sometime soon. I’ll also talk about how I rebranded my business to center around OUR love story and how that benefits my clients even more.
- We didn’t save for my breakdown. As if we knew it would happen, right?! Listen, life happens. We are in our twenties and besides being adults, we’re still learning. We hadn’t thought that a rolling list of obstacles would inevitably cause my mental/emotional/physical downfall. Shit happens. While we are super lucky to be able to afford a life in one of the highest cost of living cities in America, it was scary taking a leap into the unknown. How long could we afford to take off? And better yet, how long did I NEED to recover? Would these two concerns conflict with one another? What then?! Eventually, I decided on ten months off, while Katie decided on 4 weeks. Katie would take the brunt of the financial weight while I took the time to rebrand my life (i.e.: get my shit together). Oh, forever and ever do I owe this woman so much.
- This meant taking time off TTC (trying to conceive). Ugh. How badly I did not want to write that here in this blog. Isn’t sharing that with the world cause for a celebration?! YES! But the journey of TTC-ing is sorta what got me in this mess to begin with. Oh, the amount of self doubt that TTC-ing brings into a woman’s life… insane. Why isn’t my body cooperating?! Am I not worthy? What’s wrong with me? Oh, look! A rabbit hole! Let’s go down it… To protect my heart, soul, body, and marriage, we HAD to take time off. The stress of TTC was too much for me at the time. The point is to heal completely and be ready to get back into the battle (win the war and all that shit). This makes sense to me now, but at the time it made me feel SO GUILTY. I felt like I was letting Katie down. I mean, she wants to have 8 kids. I’m 29 and the sole carrier to those babies. Time is definitely working against me. (And just so we are clear, I do not plan to have EIGHT babies. Power to The Duggar Family, but I ain’t about that life.)
Self care has become a trend lately and I can totally see why. Most people are advocating for normalization of self-care. That’s something I can TOTALLY get behind. Mental Heath is a completely taboo topic, especially in the Latin community (mi gente!). It’s a topic that iconically comes with shame and ridicule. Without getting too preachy, I have to get this point across: yes, bubble baths, wine, and time-outs are GREAT for healing and prioritizing one’s needs but self-care is SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS. I didn’t just lie around napping (although, fuck, sometimes I needed to), putting in work to put yourself first, challenge the core of your anxiety with a solution that not only alleviates the pain but also becomes a lesson on how to approach your anxiety in the future is SO IMPORTANT. It’s exhausting. It’s humbling. It takes time. Remember when I said taking time off caused a sense of guilt? This in turn, left me super anxious and frozen in decision making. See how quickly that shit takes you down? Give yourself the permission to PRIORITIZE the TIME you NEED to FOCUS ON YOUR OWN CARE. I learned that the hard way and it almost took my life.
A note on my vagueness: Katie and I discussed at length if I should go into the exact moment that catapulted her Leave of Absence and my Sabbatical. The more and more we talked about it, the less and less it seemed relevant. Everyone’s battle is different; everyone’s level of pain is different. A child spilling their milk for the first time is painful to them because it is LITERALLY the worst thing that has ever happened to them as of late. Same with our painful instances as adults. What happened is irrelevant. What we learned and how to prevent it is what’s important.
An update on life now: I felt crazy adding the two images above into this post. I’m clearly happy in them. This post is probably one of the hardest I’ll ever write. They conflict with one another. They are also beautiful poetry. Today, Katie and I are thriving. To answer a few questions:
- Yes, we are back on the TTC train. It still hurts every pregnancy test I take that comes back negative. The difference is is that we hug it out and say, “Next time!”
- I still sit in the sun as much as possible. I was warned by my therapist that Autumn & Winter are the toughest seasons for those facing mental illness. We took precaution and have made efforts to get out of the house often and bask in the sunlight, even if it’s below freezing!
- If you couldn’t tell by this post, I am back to work! I am actually SUPER excited about this and counted down the days til I was back at my desk. Speaking of work, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. We are a two man band, with most of the back end/admin stuff falling onto me. I’m keeping it simple, never multitasking so that I do not get overwhelmed.
- We plan for rainy days. We have a plan for the bad days, have looked more thoroughly into our health insurance and how to utilize it to benefit us, and are maintaining what works.
- I am so happy. Happy! Holy crap, I’m happy. I feel strong and capable. I’m hard, y’all. I’ve seen some shit. Clearly, I haven’t lost my sense of humor. Every day is a new day, where I wake up at ass crack of dawn, kiss my wife as she snores, fling open the window curtains to her dismay, and blast “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman on repeat. As Joanna Gaines says, “It’s a good day for a good day.” Damn right, Jojo. Get it, Girl!
For those of you who took the time to write us messages during our time away, either on Facebook or Instagram, or sent me a silly snap or two, you have no idea the depths of which you reached into my soul. You made it hard to walk away and easy to come back. I love you, truly, and I thank you for your support.