Anxiety and Starting Over

Wow! I just checked, and my most recent post was in April. The one before that was in December. Life has been a little crazy the past ten months, and I'm just now getting back to a regular writing schedule.

I started The Lifelong Artist blog last year because I wanted to understand the reasons why humans stop growing and creating. I wanted to know what it is that stops us from being artful. Writing has been the perfect way for me to explore the subject, and the learning behind the writing has helped me find practical help for the emotions and blocks I struggle with each day.

Today, I want to share about some of my struggles with anxiety over the past couple of years, and also what I'm going to be up to with this blog from here on out.

It's been nearly a year since I announced publicly that Alicia and I would not longer be shooting weddings full time. The announcement was scary because, at the time, photography was our sole source of income. It was also a huge source of stress, but I didn't feel like I could talk about it publicly while we were still serving clients. We didn't even talk about it much with close friends until after the announcement.

I'm not sure where to begin so I'll just jump right in. Something got twisted around inside of me over the past few years, and, for whatever reason, even though I loved taking pictures and delivering them to our clients, I began, on an emotional level, to feel like nearly every photography job was threatening my very survival.

It doesn't make rational sense when I think about it. People paid us handsomly to take beautiful pictues of them and their loved ones, were exuberant when they saw their pictures, but throughout the process, I would inwardly freak out that they might not like their pictures, or that we might not bring in enough clients, or that something might go wrong with each job. 

I got worked up just sitting down in front of the computer to edit or write emails. No matter what I told myself, part of me always wanted to run and hide. 

During the past few years, the beginning of autumn has brought me massive anxiety. I would look at the work we had coming up, the money in our bank account, the bills we had due, and the projected cashflow for the coming months. I could never figure out how we were going to make it through the winter as photographers with several children to raise.

I'm still not sure how it all worked out. We've been taken care of, provided for in the nick of time, every time. But that roller coaster was just plain stressful. Not that construction was any different, back before photography.

When I did carpentry before, it was discouraging because, with each child, our bills would increase while our income stayed flat or even decreased with the recession. I simply couldn't work any more hours than I was working without wearing myself completely out. Something had to give, so I made the change to full time photography with my wife. 

We really went after it starting in 2010. Summers were great financially, but weddings took up a good many of our weekends, and portraits and editing kept us busy during the weeks. Our fourth child was born around that time, and I remember the feeling of cradling a brand new baby while I edited photos with one hand in the office and Alicia napped in our room next door.

A couple of years later in 2012, we leased our first studio space. It cost more per month than what we were paying in rent for our home at the time. Our thought was that we were all in. It had to work. We poured ourselves into getting the space ready for our clients, had a grand opening, and hoped things would get better for us. That was in May.

October came quickly. The summer had been a blur. I was finally able to take a breath and go over our cashflow. What I found was frightening. We had almost nothing in the bank, and our credit card balance had increased over the summer by three thousand dollars.

There were no more jobs coming up on our schedule. I had already sold my nice guitar to pay rent a few months before. We were running out of stuff to sell. Alicia was about to have our fifth baby, and we didn't know how were were going to make our final midwife payment.

At the end of October of that year, our son Kimble was born. We were so happy to see him! He seemed alright at first, but we started to notice that something was wrong for him. We didn't know what, but we had no money for a doctor visit.

One night, his cry was so plaintive that Alicia did some research and we decided to take him to the emergeny room. It was around midnight.

The intake nurse checked Kimble's oxygen saturation with a sensor, and when she saw the numbers come up on the screen, she picked him up and carried him straight back to the doctor on call. It took me one minute to get our carseat and diaper bag, and when I got back to where Alicia and Kimble were, he already had tubes and machines hooked up to him.

Everyone looked concerned. The nurse at the desk in the middle of the room was crying. The doctor told us he thought it was a heart issue, said that the situation was dire and that they were going to fly Kimble to a different hospital if he could survive that long.

The night I watched the ambulance drive away from the hospital to the airport at two in the morning with two of my favorite people in it, I remember thinking that our credit card balance was nothing compared to the cost of a lifeflight or heart surgery. I also remember wondering if I would ever see Kimble again.

Kimble got to Seattle in time to be saved. It was touch and go every day for several weeks, but in the end our little guy held on for six more months. After recovering from his first surgery, he was able to be at home with us from March through the middle of May when it was time for his second surgery.

Kimble would often wake up a couple of hours before Alicia was ready to get up, so I would take him out in the living room and hold him on my lap and play with him, always wondering how much more time I would have before he had to go.

During that time, I was barely able to work at all. Our community and church family took care of us, and I learned that there is more help in the world than I ever dreamed of. The anxiety was constant and overwhelming most of the time. I somehow learned to function with it. 

But then it was time for the second surgery, the one Kimble just couldn't recover from.

After he passed away, I was simply treading water, doing what I could to keep our family fed and sheltered. Not many people know this, but I hired a second shooter for our first wedding of the summer and we photographed it together the day after Kimble was buried at the cemetary. I don't know how I got through that wedding.

I don't know how we got through that summer of work either. Artistic work requires a lot of emotional labor, and it took everything we had to muster up the emotional energy to get through those weddings. My fight or flight instinct was always just under the surface during that time. 

Working in an artistic field, where the success of each job felt subjective based on whether the client liked the pictures or not, stressed me out and burned me out. That, coupled with my grief, made me cry sometimes when I had to stay planted in front of the computer day in and day out, editing photos and sending emails even during the times when my family was out in the woods together, or at the lake with friends. Trying to make a living through art was really tough to do in the midst of grief and low grade depression.

That's how things were for me in 2013 and 2014. And that's what led to me announcing to our people a year ago that we would no longer be booking weddings. I didn't know what we would do. Alicia would often cry on the way to a wedding, and sometimes on the way home. She didn't have the strength to do that kind of work. It was too soon. She couldn't take it anymore. Neither could I. It was time for a change.

I decided to go back to carpentry. I figured I would make it work however I had to. Last winter was tough, but somehow we were able to make it through until my business was set back up and I had made some connections in the building industry. I've been full time since the beginning of March doing framing and finish carpentry.

I can't tell you how good it feels, leaving the house early each morning, working with my hands, solving problems and leaving behind quality work that will last for decades. I didn't think it would feel this much better than photography. I'm still surprised by it.

We've also moved twice since the end of March. Our new place is just what we needed, with lots of room for the kids to wander, space for a garden, and plenty of room to play golf with our thrift store clubs and golf balls. We still carry grief, and we always will, but life feels different than it did the first two summers without Kimble.

Being a carpenter again has been just what I needed. I'm working with a team of professional tradesmen on beautiful homes in beautiful locations. It feels so very good not to have my art tied to my income for awhile. Since I usually drive 30-40 minutes each way to work, I have plenty of time to think about my writing, outline projects, and clarify what I want to say.

One of my favorite perks of carpentry is that, since I often work alone, I can listen to podcasts and audio books for hours each day. I've also been reading more in my spare time.

As of a month ago, our photography sessions are over with, and we have only a handful of client projects to wrap up, so I'm looking ahead to the coming months with big plans. 

I'm one of those people who feels guilty and anxious about so many things in life. With grief and anxiety and panic, any little worry I let grow in my mind quickly becomes a reason I lay awake at night. This has driven me to learn everything I can about the nature of thought and emotion, how it all works together inside of me, and how the world inside my head is so much different from the world outside. I've learned how to worry about some things a bit less, and how to rest more and better protect my energy from things that would get me back into a state of anxiety.

The night before Kimble's funeral, I wanted to tell his story. I stayed up until two in the morning writing about the miracle that was his life. The pastor read the story the next day during the service. During the meal after, a couple of friends approached me and encouraged me to keep writing. It's been a long path from then until now. I started my blog over a year ago, not really knowing what I wanted it to be or how I would say what I wanted to say. 

Life was so unstable for so long, and yet here I am, looking back on it from a more confident place, knowing that now is the time to share what I've learned so far in the midst of pain and confusion and grief. It's time for me to get back to it and take the next step, whatever it may be.

When I was blogging in 2014, I knew part of what I wanted to say, but if felt like there was something missing. I had been trying to understand how to help myself feel better, how to get some motivation, how to get unstuck. I was looking for shortcuts, lifehacks to make things easier and better for myself and my family. I was looking for the magical secret formula that would take away the hard stuff and make my life easy and successful.

My turning point came when I realized that there is no secret formula. Life is just going to be hard a lot of the time. The hard things are what help us grow. 

I started studying  about human motivation, looking at some of the science and thinking on how I'm put together, what makes me tick.

You and I are built for reality, and we always function better and find deeper joy when our picture of the world lines up with what is actually happening. The more I understand what is going on in the background of my thinking and experience, the more I get excited about the life I have ahead of me.

That's what I'm excited about, and that's what I'll be writing about for the next while.

i'm going to be sharing two kinds of blog posts. The first kind carries the theme Be Yourself. Turns out it's one of the more difficult tasks each of us face in our lives. Throughout the world, humans are the only creatures who are capable of attempting to live the life of someone else.

The problem is, living life as someone else is exhausting, yet most of us do it to some extent. So I'll be sharing some insights on the subject as my journey continues.

The second Theme I'll be writing on is Make Art For The People You Care About. Not the people you want to be popular with. Not the people who might pay you money. Not the people who tell you what to do. The people you care about.

Being an artist is about purpose, meaning, exploration, love. We are on this planet to grow. Art is the means by which we share in the authentic experience of being human. It's in all the little things we do that show we care. 

The Make Art posts will be about how to get around the common obstacles to living artfully. I'll be sharing practical mindsets and inspiration that have helped my in my own life.

I'll also be writing a short book over the coming 90 days. The working title is "Artistic Freedom." When it's finished, the book will be available as my gift to all the lovely people who subscribe to my email newsletter.

Speaking of the newsletter, whenever I publish a blog post, I'll be emailing it to everyone on my list. I'm working on another book as well, and I'll be sharing snippets of it from time to time via email with my subscribers. If you are not yet signed up and would like to be, you can do so on my CONTACT page.

All this writing is happening in the time I make for myself in the midst of work and family life. I've found that, for myself, having a time limitation for my writing is a great blessing as it helps me stay focused. 

I picked October to start back up sharing what I write. I have several notebooks filled with partially written blog posts and post ideas.

I'm also going to be going for 90% on my blog post writing. Perfectionism is one of the things that has stopped me from writing, so from now on, if a post is at 90% of my ideal for it, that's when I know it's time to send it along to you. 

Whether your current season of life is an easy or difficult one, I hope something I say here will help you remember what sparks joy in you. I'm so glad you are here, in this space, with me.