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The end of the year always creates feelings of nostalgia, but the end of a decade feels even more significant, especially when you’re trying to choose your word of the year.
So naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I was ten years ago…
A Decade in Review
In 2010 I graduated high school and immediately jumped into summer classes at my university. I was ready to tackle my goal of graduating with a Bachelor’s in broadcast journalism in just three years.
I can so clearly remember my excitement at my graduation. After years of wishing high school would just end, I sat waiting for my name to be called with a smile on my face, knowing that once I threw my hat into the air, I could finally get started with my life.
I was scared and nervous, but so optimistic because I knew I had my entire life ahead of me. High school had felt like a cage, and I was finally breaking free into the real world.
College Wasn’t What I’d Expected
I thought I’d thrive in college, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t for me. I was burned out from years of sub-par education and I quickly tired of arguing with educators who wanted to use my often unique political views to launch unnecessary class debates.
I once had a professor label me as anti-Semitic for having a different opinion than her over a required reading. Seriously.
What I had really looked forward to about college was meeting new people. I wanted new friends and, more importantly, to find my future husband.
Once I failed to build new relationships, my excitement over college died and I was left depressed and frustrated.
This was also around the time I was involved in a painful car accident, leaving me depressed and with little desire to continue my education.
In 2011, I decided to move to campus, hoping that immersion into college culture would revive my old excitement. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
And then I met my husband, T.
Giving up on finding anyone to date on my own campus, I had begun online dating. This was (thankfully) before Tender and dating apps, and I found myself on Match.com filling out a detailed questionnaire that promised me great results.
T was a few years older than me and down the street at a different university. The dating website gave us a 97% match, and once we met and began dating, we knew within a few weeks that we were all-in.
I figured out I could graduate at the end of the year with an Associates Degree in Writing, and when he graduated in the spring of 2012 with his Bachelor’s degree, we got married a week later.
Life in Minnesota
In the early years of our marriage, we worked odd jobs to make ends meet, moving away from home for jobs until we made the choice to start his career in Minnesota.
Through it all, I was happy in my marriage but felt like I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
My husband was eager to start our family, and I hoped that motherhood would be where I found my fulfillment.
And then we couldn’t get pregnant.
We bought a new-construction home that we absolutely loved, and my husband was working steadily, but our beautiful home (and life) felt empty. We suffered in silence and avoided Facebook, where it seemed all of our friends were sharing pregnancy pictures and birth announcements.
And a Baby Makes Three
I cried tears of joy and terror the morning we finally got a positive pregnancy test.
My husband had been keeping an eye on the test as I showered. I’d told him that when three minutes was up, he’d see one line. I didn’t believe him when he said there were two.
My pregnancy was brutal, but through it all, I knew it would be worth it.
Then at the end of nine months, I was handed a screaming baby and postpartum depression.
I wanted to give it all back. I was certain I’d made a mistake.
Severe depression kept me in survival mode, and my only goals became to keep myself and my baby fed and alive each day.
Over the next two years, I fought to manage my depression and find help while my newborn endured hip surgery and a body cast.
I Lost Myself
I’d waited my entire life to figure out my purpose.
I’d never found fulfillment in any career aspirations, and I’d eventually hoped that motherhood would be my true calling.
But motherhood completely destroyed me. I lost any semblance of who I was, and it felt like I was starting over from scratch.
But unlike high school, where I’d always felt out of place and could try out different personalities each day, I emerged from motherhood like a phoenix, completely new and confident in who I’d become.
It was terrifying and amazing all at once.
Even though motherhood destroyed me, it forced me to become what I was always supposed to be.
I found my voice, I let go of insecurities, and I embraced my many, many flaws. Motherhood also showed me my passions and gave me a platform to talk to other women about mental health and the struggles of motherhood.
I lost myself so I could find myself and my purpose.
2019: Choose Joy
I walked into 2019 ready. I was ready to really live again after barely surviving the first few years of motherhood. I was ready to find moments that I enjoyed in motherhood. I was ready to make friends, get involved, and write what I wanted.
I did all of that and more.
I got outside of my comfort zone and joined a local MOMS Club, where I found support and love, and my calendar quickly filled with playdates and local events.
Our family went on vacations, spent afternoons at the lake, played board games, and laughed as our toddler danced to music from Trolls.
It wasn’t all perfect. 2019 had its hard parts.
Adjusting my antidepressants wreaked havoc on my mental health more than once, and learning to live with unpleasant medication side effects was a tough decision.
2019 was also the year I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, spending six frustrating months learning how to sleep with a mask attached to my face each night.
And the thing I struggled with the most was my PCOS diagnosis. While it felt good to have answers to so many questions (acne, infertility, food sensitivities, etc), it was hard to face the reality that I now have to manage these symptoms my whole life, especially if I want to get pregnant again.
But through all of 2019, I aimed to choose joy. I wasn’t always successful, but the idea kept me focused and became a normal part of my decision-making process. Rather than just being a word of the year, joy became a more normal part of my goals and self-reflection.
When I graduated high school a decade ago, I was filled with hope, excitement, and optimism for the future.
10 years later, I feel the same way again.
Life looks nothing like I had planned, and though I would certainly go back in time and do a few things differently, I know God was right beside me during the last 10 years. Through my highest highs and lowest lows, I’ve gained so much wisdom and life experience. I’m walking into a new decade confident in who I am and open to being used by God and His plans.
I’m also excited because I have more energy than I’ve ever had. I mean, I’m still an exhausted mom of a toddler, but thanks to my sleep apnea diagnosis and CPAP machine, I no longer wake up each day feeling hungover. Being awake enough to tackle each day is a huge change for me.
I’m not even thirty yet. I have an entire life ahead of me with so much more to be discovered and learned. There’s potential there.
Do you feel it? Do you feel excited about your unknown future? Do you still feel like you have potential?
Time to Refresh
Choosing joy last year really refocused my priorities.
I went from rarely leaving my house and having very few goals and activities to having a full calendar.
Literally, my calendar is filled. I had to buy a giant wall calendar because my husband (who works on-call and weird hours) never knew where I was on any given day!
For the first time in my life, I started to feel stretched thin and overwhelmed, and I had to start saying “no” to things I actually wanted to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! It’s a great problem to have. But I’m not interested in being busy just to be busy, saying “yes” to things I’m not excited about, or ignoring self-care. Therapy, alone time, relaxation, reading a good book, and not feeling constantly stressed are all things I value.
So in 2020, I need a REFRESH.
It’s time to really evaluate what I want in life and what my priorities are. I’m looking back at the last decade and thinking about what I’ve done that’s been life-giving vs. what has drained me.
And now that I have so many answers to my medical issues, this year I want to really focus on figuring out what I need to take care of my health, mental and physical.
I’m not interested in fad diets, losing XX amount of pounds, or trying to go from couch to marathon in three months. I’m looking at sustainable, healthy goals to make the next 10 years my healthiest.
In 2020 (and really, the next decade), I want to:
- prioritize therapy
- make exercise a normal part of life
- figure out healthy meal planning that works for my family
- tackle my fertility and get pregnant
- get into a normal sleep routine
- see a dermatologist
- enjoy some weekends alone at a hotel to write
- clear out clutter in my home
- say “no” to more things
- say “yes” to the right things
- find a balance in my social media usage and automate as much as possible
- reduce my email inbox
- turn off my Messenger notifications
- do relaxing activities, like puzzles and crocheting (because I REALLY want to make a Baby Yoda doll!)
I’m sure this list seems huge, but it’s not a list of resolutions or goals that I’ll give up in a few months. These are things I’m already doing at some level, and the thought of doing better is exciting to me, not intimidating.
I’m not a perfectionist, thank goodness. There’s no beating myself up when I slip and mess up because I definitely will. But aiming high and giving myself grace when I fall short can only make me better, stronger, and more resilient.
Hello, 2020. Nice to meet you. I’m Ashley, and I’m so, so ready for you.
I’d love to hear your word of the year! Comment below and please share this post on social media.
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