This is a personal post about change and learning, as viewed through the lens of the 10-year photo challenge.
The 10 Year Photo Challenge
I sat for a moment to do the 10 year challenge.
That is, the challenge where you take a photo of yourself from 10 years ago – the end of the “aughts” – with a photo of yourself from this year, the end of a decade.
I didn’t have a photo in mind, forget about anything flattering. I was simply trying to think of where I even was, 10 years ago.
When I backtracked in my mind, I was coming up to a blank.
2009. Hmm. 2009. Where was I? Where were we?!
I pulled up my photos, because surely I had something – I mean, my oldest son (Micah) was one, I had to have some cute photos, right?!
And sure enough, I found a plethora of photos of adorable toddling Micah, but it was really hard to find anything with me in it. In fact, I only found two.There were only two photos with me in them because my husband only took photos of me if I asked him to. I didn’t ask him to take any of me that year.
Both photos were taken by my mom.
This photo is of me holding Micah with my Grandpa Jack (my Mom’s dad) in the background, sitting next to me.
This was in May 2009, and I was still pregnant with Ziggy. This was right before the miscarriage.
The second photo is of me holding Micah as he plays the harmonica.
It’s later in the year and I’m pensive.
I know at this point in the photo, I’ve lost Ziggy, I’ve become pregnant with Moxie and I’ve been told she has diffuse fetal hydrops, heart holes, and will be born with Down syndrome.
That is, if she lives.
Because the doctors told me she had a “zero percent” chance of survival, remember?
I remember coming home from work everyday and simply holding Micah like that, holding him and being so, so very scared.
I remember horrible fights with my husband and him throwing things at me, and I remember the pain and confusion of being with someone so volatile.
I remember the miscarriage, holding my dead baby in my hands.
I remember the grief.
The darkest part of a day is right before the sun comes up.
And I think it’s that way in life as well sometimes.
Intense pressure, pain can give birth to light.
But in the moment, the darkness blinds us.
I look back at those images from 10 years ago, and I think of where I was then.
- I was blogging but I did not talk about disability. I had not really “come out;” – for the most part, I was still trying to pass as non-disabled
- I was already being gaslit in my marriage and feeling the instability from it, from my husband
- I had a great job at UC Berkeley and I loved what I did
- I went through a 2nd trimester miscarriage
- I was told that my baby was coming with heart holes, Down syndrome, had diffuse fetal hydrops and a zero percent chance of survival
- I was so scared I couldn’t speak
- I was renting a great apartment in downtown Alameda (- in the San Francisco Bay Area)
- My parents had just split up
- My brother’s kids were moving over to California from China.
- My brother. My brother was alive and very, very well.
- All of my grandparents were alive and very well.
- I am blogging and almost completely about disability
- I left my husband when I found out he had been lying to me and cheating on me. I filed for divorce and got full custody of our three children.
- I had my child with Down syndrome, born at home, completely healthy.
- I quit my great job when I was left paralyzed after placenta was left in me from the home birth.
- We moved from the great apartment to a tiny apartment, then to travel the Pan American Highway, then to farm in Humboldt, California; I moved my kids and I back to Hawaii.
- We drove through Mexico (many times, every state), California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico; visited Indiana, New Jersey and New York City. Went to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Hungary. Maui, Oahu, Lana’i. The Big Island.
- I was so scared I couldn’t speak.
- I’m going back to school for my second Master’s degree.
- I got completely out of debt.
- I bought a house (and so back in debt?!!)
- All 4 of my grandparents died.
- My brother was shot and killed.
I don’t like looking back much.
I feel like constantly looking back dissolves my focus, and activates the energy of whatever it is I’m looking back at.
Sometimes it is helpful to do it, though, because I think it’s a great reminder of how transitory everything is. Nothing stays the same, nothing stays forever. Even pain becomes numb.
One thing strikes me in looking at those lists is that I was so scared in both.
My child that I was so scared of having because she’d be coming with Down syndrome has turned out to be a delight! I’m so glad I had her.
I had 5 kids in 5 years.
Two of them didn’t live. Three did.
I had one relationship for 10 years.
It didn’t last past that, but sometimes it’s amazing to me that I was with one person for TEN YEARS.
It’s Darkest Before Dawn
The worst moments can come before beauty.
The lotus springs from mud.
Great sorrow can birth appreciation and build a stronger tether to all that is holy.
All choices are mine: I make the choice to interpret an event that happens in my life, I make the choice to work through something, I make the choice to heal, move forward, learn, grow.
I make the choice in how I want to interpret aspects of my experience, my choice in how I want to steer this platform of my existence.
Put less poetically perhaps, but what I’ve learned in these past 10 years is that: shit happens. It’s what I choose to do with the shit that counts: will I use it as fertilizer to grow something I want, or will I wallow it and let it consume me?
…and then the dawn…
I am consistently glad that I have new chances to get it right.
Each day is a gorgeously fresh slate to take another look at what I’m doing, my alignment, the application of the fertilizer, whatever. I love that about life, I love that we all have this chance to start over, every day.
We live every day, and each day is this infinite gift of a moment in which we have another chance to get it right, do it better, become who we want to be.
I’m looking forward to this new decade and I’m glad you are with me.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.