Life has a way of throwing some wicked curveballs. Things can be going great—the family is happy, business is growing, the home is cozy. Life is good. And then BAM. The ax falls.
This happened to me about a year and a half ago when my little boy was diagnosed with Craniosynostosis. The seam in his skull that runs from ear to ear had fused prematurely and his brain didn’t have enough room to grow. He would need a major reconstructive surgery.
During my postpartum period, I had a hard time adjusting to life as a new mom. I kept piling my plate higher with projects and clients, driving myself and my husband totally batty in the process. I knew that I would have to handle this new situation differently. I needed to clear my plate and unplug.
Coping With Difficult Emotions
The four months leading up to the operation were fraught with fear and worry. Within a few days of getting the bad news, I went about putting my business on hold. I set my Etsy shop to vacation mode and created autoresponders for incoming email. I had a couple of client projects on my plate that I was able to wrap up. As a side gig, I work as an editorial assistant for a wedding blog, so I contacted my colleagues to let them know I would be offline for at least a month.
Of course, everyone’s situation is unique and putting business completely on hold may not be an option. It’s a good idea to delegate wherever possible and minimize any stressful or emotionally charged interactions. For me, I was feeling pretty lackluster about wedding invitations and emotionally drained by the customer service aspect of the work, so hitting the pause button felt right.
My son’s operation went very smoothly, and we were lucky to catch the problem in time. However, the recovery period was incredibly challenging. The experience was emotionally traumatic for my son, and he ended up regressing developmentally quite a bit. (If your child or the child of a loved one is facing synostosis repair, please don’t let this scare you. Developmental regression is rare, and full recovery generally happens relatively quickly.)
In the weeks just after we came home, he was on heavy pain medication. He and I spent all day every day lying on the couch together. This was a strange time for me. All kinds of funk started to bubble up from the depths of my psyche. So I went on a little bit of a self-help bender.
These are the gems that I found most helpful:
- When Things Fall Apart
- Radical Acceptance
- Heart of Forgiveness
- Start Where You Are
- The Miracle of Mindfulness
- The Power of Now
As great as all that introspection is, it can get a bit heavy. Mixing things up with some fiction is a good way to lighten up. Here are a couple recent favorites:
The Importance of Self-Care
Being a caregiver is very demanding. Practicing good self-care is a must! For me, this started at a pretty rudimentary level: self-talk. With no distractions around, I became painfully aware of how negative my self-talk was: from my life-long struggle with a crummy self-image, to the sinking feeling that the timeline of my life was not shaping up as I planned, to the guilt I felt about having unwittingly passed along a heavy genetic burden to my sweet little boy. Up until now, an undercurrent of self-abasement was kind of an unquestioned given in my thinking. Being able to take a step back and acknowledge that was a big deal all by itself and over time by practicing mindfulness, I’ve been able to keep that tendency in check.
Resources I found most helpful for self-care:
- This ecourse offered by Vital Medicine that changed the way I think about my health.
- The Vitality Map by Dr. Zucker
- Superfood Kitchen cookbook
- These journaling and writing prompts
- Woman’s Comfort Book
Overcome The Anxiety Of Not Being Productive Enough
Taking a leave of absence from business has been hard, but I had to do it. Prior to my son’s operation, my business focus was primarily custom wedding invitations. Talk about a tough customer! I knew I couldn’t deal with client work during my son’s recovery, but I still wanted to feel like I was making progress and being productive. I took some fun ecourses for textile design, stationery business, Illustrator for print production, and a paper/book arts class.
During this time I read Firestarter Sessions and Desire Map. The timing was perfect! I was completely uninspired to get back to custom wedding invitations. These two books helped me to reconsider my goals and as a result, I decided to revise my business model. I found licensing opportunities for my stationery and textile designs (Society6, Zazzle, Spoonflower) and decided to focus my energy on fine art, especially book arts.
My family is lucky in that we can get by on my husband’s income, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone and the loss of income can be devastating. But there are some crowdfunding platforms to help raise money for emergencies:
After about a month of being completely offline, I returned to my side gig in a limited capacity. Minimizing social media interactions and focusing more on behind-the-scenes stuff helped to stave off overwhelm. For bosses who are unable to put their business on hold, the best advice I can offer is to delegate and automate as much as possible. I found the care packages from Cranio Care Bears to be extremely supportive during this time. And for the early days after surgery or childbirth, a meal tree can be a life-saver.
The Silver Lining
It’s been about a year and a half since my son’s surgery and in some ways, he’s still recovering, but the worst is behind us. He’ll be in preschool four days a week this fall and I’ll be getting back to work. This experience put a lot of things into perspective for me. I know with every fiber of my being that my sweet family is everything to me and putting my creative ambitions on hold for a while is not that big of a deal. I managed to face and befriend some of my own personal demons. I also have a much clearer vision of what I want to focus on creatively. I’ll be licensing out my design work so I can focus on fine art. I have a ton of ideas for fine art projects and I can’t wait to get in the studio!
If you’re struggling with a hardship, my heart goes out to you and I hope that what I’ve shared here can be of some help.