I'm sure you've all seen the trendy hashtag #10yearchallenge that's been circling social media as of late. If you're unfamiliar, the jist of it is to show a picture of yourself from 2009 and a current picture of yourself to see how much you've changed in the last decade. Well I can tell you right off the bat that physically, in 2009 I had five "charming" dreadlocks in my hair with homemade glass beads (damn I was cool...), terrible acne, and I changed my hair color pretty frequently at that time. Hello teenage identity crisis. To me, that's all small potatoes. Don't get me wrong-I'm not one of those people who are going to claim that I'm *so evolved* that I don't care about my physical appearance. I do. Probably too much. And I'm certainly happier with my appearance now (7 week post-partum bod and all!) than I was 10 years ago but what really got me thinking was the non-physical growth.
(Yep, that's me, 4th from the right with the wooden bracelet)
2009 Is a fairly easy year for me to remember because that's the year I traveled to Japan. I was a junior in high school and like most 16 and 17 year olds, I thought I knew a lot about the world and I FOR SURE knew who I was-*hold on, excuse me while I dissolve into hysterical laughter* and what my life would basically consist of. Ugh! What a joke! I think about even the BIG things from the last 10 years, my 17 year old self would have been floored.
(The first two photos are from my trip-of-a-lifetime in Japan, the third is of me and my still best friend of 20 years, eating cantaloupe like bosses for some reason...?)
First of all, (a few years later) I finally wised up and left the toxic, on-off relationship I was stuck in for 5 years with my high school sweetheart and moved across the state. I moved into an apartment with my sister and 3 complete strangers and started working full time. That move gave me my first taste of the real world-what it means to truly rely on yourself and what adulthood looks like. I had a little bedroom with a shelf I assembled myself and my art desk with my painting supplies took up half the room. Such a simple, yet immensely complicated time in my life. I learned endless lessons the year I lived in that apartment and I can look back on it fondly as a period of personal discovery and growing into an adult.
I met my future husband during the year I lived in that apartment, and a year after we met, we got engaged. We were married six months later. In the year and a half we were dating and living together, we went through two miscarriages and came out of them stronger than ever. I suppose my 20 year old self thought that if we could get through that heartbreak not once but TWICE, anything else that came our way would be easy. Uffda.
In 2014, I was a newlywed, working my job as a Medication Administrator by day and going to night classes to get my CNA license. I loved my job, my husband, life was going really well! Then one morning at work, I started seizing in front of my supervisor at work. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and would go on to have five complex-partial seizures by the time I arrived. After 15 hours in the emergency room, I was told I had epilepsy. I didn't know it at the time, but this was one of those days that divided my life into "before" and "after". It wasn't until 3 years later that I was told by the 9th neurologist I saw that I had a stroke on that day. Because I wasn't correctly diagnosed at the time, I wasn't put in therapies that might may or may not have helped my lasting deficits. I was told by that same 9th neurologist, "This is as good as it's gonna get for you." Meaning that as a 24 year old new mother, having seizures once or twice a week was as healthy as I would ever be. Luckily, that doctor turned out to be wrong.
In 2015, I became a mother to my first little boy. After the losses and the health struggles I had already had/was having, he was truly a miracle baby. He brought the sunshine into my world and gave me something to fight for. Motherhood when you are disabled is in many ways bittersweet. I was straight up obsessed with this amazing, perfect little boy in every way, but often, I felt like half a mom. When I was falling into or coming out of a seizure, I was the one who needed to be taken care of. For the first couple years of Big T's life, I was having seizures anywhere from 1-4 times in a week. I wasn't able to work, to drive, or bathe my son unsupervised. I was never able by myself with him in public in case I had a seizure. I lived in a state of constant fear of what my body would do and guilt that I couldn't be the mother my baby boy deserved. It sucked, and it was hard. That's the only way to say it.
Throughout the course of 2017, I was given 3 experimental stem cell infusions. Much to my shock, they slowly and steadily caused my seizures to become further apart. Shortly before my final treatment, I became pregnant with my second little boy. When he was born in March of 2018, I was medication free and finally able to start driving again. Fun Fact: In Wisconsin, you need to have been seizure free for 90 days in order to operate a motorized vehicle. At this time, I was secretly working on the illustrations for what would be my first picture book: Handy Howie. I wrote the manuscript in the summer of 2017 and could never make up my mind on what route to take with it. I was terrified that despite my artist background and training, I physically wouldn't be able to do a good job of illustrating my story. I could imagine exactly how it should look. I think that concrete vision, more than anything else, was what made me finally attempt to illustrate it myself. I didn't want to subject another artist to my psychotic control-freak-ism! I told myself "Just try it. If it sucks, it sucks. Nobody needs to know about it." So a year and a half after originally writing the manuscript; after a move, a fractured ankle, and giving birth for the second time, I finished my first book.
Now, at the end of 2019, as a new decade approaches, I can't help but reflect on everything that has happened since I explored Japan with bright, young, unexperienced eyes. I am now a mother to three incredible, handsome boys. I am a stroke survivor, an accomplished Author and Illustrator of three children's books. My first book was honored with a Kirkus Star, and was just named as one of the Top 100 Best Indie Books of 2019, first in the Picture Book category. My 3rd book is being released this week, and I have plans for many more. I don't have many friends, but the few that I have are of the highest quality and are people I can be my full and honest self with. Actually, I'm my full and honest self pretty much always. I really can't help it, and even if I could, I wouldn't want to.
I am hoping that my 2019 and my 2029 self are more similar than I am right now to my 2009 self. Cuz 2019 me might be exhausted 300% of the time, 10-15 pounds short of sexy, sarcastic, and unbearably goofy, but she has dance parties in the kitchen with her kids and pours a generous glass of wine. I actually really like her.