Behind The Color-Coordinated Coffee Mug
“I don’t know how you do it? I didn’t even have time to brush my teeth!”
This is something that has been said to me on many occasions when I tell people I’ve just started a business before my daughter turned one.
While this is supposed to be a compliment, I feel like if I were to simply say “thank you,” it gives the impression that I’ve got my shit together and you, with the questionable dental hygiene, are doing something wrong. Why haven’t you TOO started your own business? As a new mom, aren’t we under enough pressure already to just keep the tiny human alive, let alone floss?
Juggling the pressures of starting a business as a new mom in the midst of a pandemic while experiencing postpartum anxiety and depression is not something I necessarily recommend, but here we are. I wanted to share a little more of what went on behind the scenes in getting the business up and running--not to get sympathy, but rather to hopefully assure folks who are struggling, nervous, or unsure that it’s okay if life is messy.
Let me tell you right off, my life is not pretty as a picture, filled with perfectly color coordinated coffee mugs and charming drool-free dependents. I’m going to level with you: as I write this, I have peanut butter on 3 out of the 4 items of clothing I am wearing, I am sitting next to a swath of drool adorning our wall (courtesy of our Great Dane, Murphy), and we’re at the point of getting laundry out of the hamper rather than the drawers because things haven’t been folded in weeks. Jealous, right?!??! I know!
But how did we get to this glamorous peanut butter, drool, & wrinkled-clothes lifestyle, you ask?!? Well, to be honest it kind of took me by surprise. When I had my daughter I had planned on being a stay at home mom. My mom was an excellent stay at home mom--always on the PTSA, volunteering out the wazoo, superb cookie baking skills--the works. I loved the idea of being home with my daughter like my mom was for me.
Early days of motherhood were pretty good, sleepless nights aside. I felt good about taking care of our sweet girl, keeping the house in a reasonable state, making sure all my furry and non-furry dependents were fed. Once things settled down a bit, I even had a bit of time to do some crafts--a little watercolor, a little sewing, making some homemade cards for friends.
However shortly after I stopped nursing at around 7 months, I started to have these really intense mood swings and lots of anxiety. When I was with the baby, I felt like I needed to be getting things done. When I was getting things done, I felt like I needed to be with the baby. The only thing that really seemed to center me was painting. It was the one time when I didn’t feel guilt about what I was doing. I am incredibly fortunate to have a daughter who has a pretty regular nap schedule so I could sneak little painting sessions in throughout the day.
As my anxiety started to grow, the feeling of needing to paint and create did too. I’ve shared with you the story about my friend Morgan and her kitchen conversations. Well of course I can’t do anything half-assed so I immediately started a game plan to get this business off the ground. It felt good to have something to do that was all me, but in doing something for me, I felt incredibly selfish. The baby had needs, the dogs hadn’t been walked in days, Andy surely needed a break, and here I am just farting around with a paintbrush listening to doofy podcasts. (PS, my podcast list is not doofy, they are all amazing, but the feelings of shame, self-doubt, and insufficiency are no joke.) I didn’t feel like I deserved to have this “rest” time. Can we just take a moment to reflect on the fact that I considered the workings of starting a business “rest time???" That is some warped thinking, folks.
I started to see a therapist and a life coach as my feelings of inadequacy grew. (I recognize there is great privilege in being able to assemble a team of care professionals who are not always covered by insurance.) I was laden with the conviction that I was not being a good mom, spouse, friend, new business owner, dog mom, daughter, sister, etc. I would have days where I felt like everything was falling apart and I was convinced that I was not happy, I would never feel happiness again, and I had never, in fact, been happy in the first place. This is objectively not true. I am a person who has felt immense joy and experienced innumerable moments of happiness and bliss. But during these moments I couldn’t see that, couldn’t shake the feeling that all those memories of happiness were some sort of illusion.
Then COVID-19 happened and it was hard to tell what was the typical COVID malaise vs. a mental health issue. I tried to use the days at home to work toward making something great. I took it as an opportunity. It was helpful to have something to push toward. I know a lot of people experienced an unmooring in those early days, but I felt like I finally had the catalyst to pour my energy into something good, something certain, something I cared about.
Since then I’ve been working on finding a balance between working, momming, spousing, and me-ing. (Let's pretend that's a word.) I find I feel my best when I have had a productive and inspired work day. I’ve noticed it helps me feel really good about then putting the paint brush down and spending time with my family. I’m still really bad about making time for myself in the matrix of responsibilities. I try to remind myself that putting me on the to-care-for list is important too. It is my natural inclination to share on social media how much “I've accomplished” each day--I was raised in a community where productivity and making something of yourself, SOMETHING BIG! was lauded. I am actively working on dissociating my self-worth from my to-do list. I’m trying to quiet the self-talk that says I am a bad mom if I am working too hard or that I am a bad human if I need to take a nap or just sit and stare at some garbage TV. Remember even garbage has sustenance, especially if you’re a raccoon--which, if you look at the bags under my eyes most mornings, might actually be true.
I still struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety. I still feel moments of inadequacy and doubt. I am still trying to read more Brené Brown. I am still optimistic (on most days) that I will not feel this way forever--that this is an important part of my journey.
This all may seem like TMI, but as I’ve become more open about my mental health struggles with my close friends I have found that many people have felt, at one moment or another, the same. It feels good to share because not only does it make me feel less alone, it makes me feel good knowing that perhaps someone else feels less alone too. If you look at my art and my stories and think, how does she have time for it all (!?!?), know that I definitely don’t.
I’ll be sharing several tools that have helped me get this business up and running in future blog posts. My hope is that these tools will help you as much as they’ve helped me! Spoiler Alert--the best tool is making connections with other people. I LOVE sharing tips and tricks with other creatives. I would love to hear what projects you’re hoping to get into! Let me know if there is anything you’d like to know more about. This blog is a resource for YOU!