I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to have a career.
When I was 5, my mom tells me that I quite proudly announced to the guy I had decided I was going to marry (as you do) that he could stay home with our children while I went to work and had a career. When I was in high school, I took honours and IB courses so that I could get into a good university. When I was in the Army, I planned to go overseas to be a peacekeeper and then join the regular forces as a career. When I went back to university, I picked my new program on something that would give me a decent shot at a good career (in case you are wondering, there are really not that many stable career positions for an archaeologist around here) and not just something that seemed cool like primatology or medievil studies. During my last year of uni and after I graduated with my BA, I did professional develoment courses while looking for a job.
At no time did I envision my life without a career.
It was always in the cards for me. I, unlike many little (and big) girls, didn’t dream of a life where I stayed home with my kids. I didn’t think less of those who did, but it just didn’t feel like it was on my path. I was happy and grateful for my maternity leave, but was also happy to share a couple of months with my husband too. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the time I had at home with Q, but I felt fulfilled at my job too. I noticed that after I became a mum, my priorities started to shift a bit – I didn’t want to stay and work overtime, for example, as I felt the time with my husband and son was far more important but I was happy to have the opportunity to continue to advance my career. I admired those women who did stay at home, I just knew I wasn’t meant to be one of them. I worked hard so that we could live the lifestyle we wanted, to provide for my family and to have a purpose.
I vividly remember one day when Q was in preschool. His class was going on a “dinosaur dig” field trip, and I had planned to be there, but an unexpected work crisis came up and I was unable to take the afternoon off. I sat at my desk and cried, then cried some more when I got to my car and saw the pictures my husband had texted me and I think that may have been the only time I ever envied those who were able to stay home with their kids. Still, though, I never regretted my choice to go back to work full time. Both of my parents had worked while I was growing up, and it just felt normal to me. I used to joke that I just wasn’t cut out to be anything other than a career woman.
Then one day it all fell apart.
A split second accident at work left me with what turned out to be a severed ligament in my thumb. Months of hand therapy and unanswered questions ensued, before I finally had major hand surgery to repair and anchor the damaged ligament. Months more of hand therapy and a 5 month rehabilitation followed, and then the bomb really dropped. I was diagnosed with CRPS.
All those dreams, those career aspirations? They were gone.
In a matter of seconds, without anyone realizing it was happening, my world turned upside down. No longer was I a full-time career woman and a mum, I was just a mum. A stay-at-home mum. I had no idea how to even process this. It had never been in my plan or even on my radar.
As we know though, plans never turn out the way you want.
All of a sudden, I no longer had my career to define me. I was lost. Not only was I no longer working, but I was broken too, which made doing everything 1000% harder. I couldn’t keep my house up, I couldn’t cook dinner or bake treats anymore, what kind of stay-home mum was I then? I loved being able to be there for Q, to be the one who took him to preschool, then to elementary school. I was happy to be able to be there on the day he graduated preschool, and on his first day of Kindergarten. He has just started Grade 3 this year, and I’ve been there for every first day. Once he was in school full-time, though, where did that leave me? I loved all the extra family time, but if I’m honest I missed what felt like my purpose.
I clung tight to the belief that soon, soon I would be better. After the first surgery, after the hand therapy 3 times a week, after the full-time, 5 day a week for almost 6 months CRPS pain management program, after the 8 or so nerve blocks, after the second surgery, after the next 2 nerve blocks (that’s 10 if you are counting), after, after, after…
But after never came.
Managing my CRPS became like a full-time job. Between physio, doctors, massage therapy, and more doctors, I was on the go most days of the week. I didn’t sleep much, I couldn’t use my hand, for when I tried, I was rewarded with a fire so hot it would melt the sun running through my hand and arm. My collegues had long drifted away and my friends were starting to as well. I was at home, with my kid or at medical appointments. I was isolated, heartbroken and felt so very alone.
I fell apart.
I was diagnosed with depression. I started seeing a psychologist, who brought all of these feelings, the ones I had tried to jam down deep into the recesses of my brain, the things I did not want to admit even to myself, let alone talk about, to the surface. It was hard. I had been putting on a good face, a strong face, for so long, convincing myself that how things were turning out was for the best, that I didn’t need a career or even a job to be successful, that it almost felt real.
But when she pressed, and dug, and hooked in, the truth came out.
I felt like a failure.
How in the hell could I ever be any kind of success? My body had failed me, I continually let my family down, I wasn’t even a good stay-at-home mum. My blog suffered and I felt like I had nothing valuable to contribute, or say, and that I wasn’t good enough so why bother. The voices in my head were cruel. I felt like I had no purpose. For me a good day was getting Q up, feeding him and making sure his lunch was packed, and getting to school before the second bell rang. The doctors appointments and treatment days were all a blur of sameness. What kind of success was that?
Success used to mean cracking a tough case at work, or getting a coveted course or position. I was good at what I did. Really, really good. I reveled in the difficulty, and embraced the challenges. Now my challenges were things like how long I could sweep the floor before I broke out into a cold pain sweat, or making sure that I, and the rest of the family, were where we were supposed to be at any given time. My whole world turned upside down and I didn’t know how to handle it.
I started working with my psychologist on how to redefine success. As my life changed, so did my definitions. I needed to rewrite my story, and understand that I now had limitations that I simply needed to accept. I fought that notion kicking and screaming. This was hard work and I didn’t know if I had it in me anymore. I, who had never been afraid of the hard work, who had never been what anyone had expected, had fallen prey to believing the sterotypes of what success was. I needed to pick up the pieces and start putting myself back together.
Who says success has to mean a high-paid job, or a fancy house or car?
Who says success can’t be getting out of bed in the morning? Anyone who deals with chronic pain will tell you, and I am no different, that they are days that we are fighting ourselves so hard that there is literally nothing left over for anything else. So on those days, if you got out of bed and put on sonething and maybe even brushed your hair or made a cup of tea, you are successful.
Who says success has to mean fancy, home cooked from scratch meals 3 times a day? Last weekend I raided out freezer and found risotto balls and cheese puffs, made them in our toaster oven and served them up, as well as making a microwaved bowl of Annie’s mac & cheese for Q. I did it all by myself, and even though it may have been packaged or frozen, I still made dinner for the family. We will call that a success.
So what if I don’t work outside of the home? I am a blogger and my creative outlet gives me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Maybe I don’t get 1 million page views a month, but the people who are here are amazing, and loyal, and far more awesone than a million unengaged “fans”.
My husband is happy. My kid is incredible. So what if our house isn’t spotlessly clean. I do the best I can with what I have available to me right now and so that is a success.
Success means different things to different people.
Just because you are walking a different path than someone else does not make you less worthy or successful or amazing. If you’ve ever been on a road trip, you will know that pretty much always, those wickedly tight, windy roads eventually lead you to something amazing. You just have to be willing to stay the course, and eventually you will be rewarded with something like this
when you least expect it. I plan to forge ahead and redefine my success, my way, in my own time. There is no other option.