After I wrote the last six people twelve times post, I immediately wanted to delete it.
It was incredibly hard for me to write, and also incredibly hard for me to allow others to read how I feel. How I truly, deeply feel about a subject. Especially about a subject as emotionally charged as parenthood. I am scared that when I truly share how I feel, no one will understand, and I will be alone.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a very private person. I am an open book. In person, I have no problem sharing personal anecdotes even with a stranger. I don’t take myself very seriously. I rarely get embarrassed. I have nothing to hide. I operate below the surface, meaning I don’t want to bother with small talk. I want to dig in and talk about THINGS. Too Much Information? Never. Not with me. I want to really know the people that come into my life. I want to be a safe place for them, so that they allow me in. And I am a lot of the time, and they do a lot of the time. I think it is what allows me to take the photographs I take.
A lot of people just feel safe with me.
The problem is, I don’t often give myself the same safety net of myself. I have operated most of my life perpetually worried about how I come across. How others see me. I have obsessed for hours after a party about the things I have said or not said. I have chosen not to walk on a busy street alone, for fear of the eyes on me as I cross a busy intersection, and what they may sum up about me from a split second. I have chosen not to stand up for myself or my children, at times, to different authorities (medical, educational, etc), because I want to believe in them, I want to belong, and because I doubt myself. I have put others over myself and my own opinions and thoughts more times than I can count. I have held back on my opinions on politics, religion, child rearing, family, alternative medicine, organic food, vaccinations, the list goes on. Personal anecdotes are one thing – personal opinions and feelings are something entirely different.
I have always tragically walked the line of being extremely confident in who I am, to doubting every single little thing I have ever thought. I remember going into ninth grade, and after having to wear glasses since the third grade, finally being old enough to try contacts. Back then, kids in glasses were teased or bullied. I was teased and bullied. Mercilessly, almost every day of my school education up to that point. Not just about the glasses, but they certainly didn’t help my situation. When my Mom offered the contact route, I remember saying, “No, I don’t need contacts. I like how I look in glasses. If anyone thinks I look like a dork, I don’t care.” Well, I desperately didn’t want to care, but of course I did. The only way I could gain some control was by saying “I’m choosing to wear these stupid glasses dammit! So screw you if you don’t like it!” The only way I could make myself feel better was to fake that confidence. I fully bought into the adage: Fake It Until You Make It. I just thought someday I would make it!
The tag line I chose for my business, “Just Be You”, is so much more than a tag line. It came to me in the middle of the night, many many years ago. It is a flashlight through the dark into the deepest part of my soul – it is me telling me, “It is okay Tara – just to be. Just be whoever you are. The important people won’t care about the messy bits, the ugly bits, the opinions that differ from theirs – they will love you anyway.” It is my mantra, my meditation, my mission statement. But often, it eludes me.
Here on my blog, I talk specifically about a lot in my life. Like I said, I am an open book. A lot of beautiful personal anecdotes are written here. A lot of talking about the other five people who live in my house. But not a lot of talking about me. About my personal opinions. My personal feelings. Also, here on my blog, I have always limited my focus to one thing: Happiness With A Capital H.
When I started this blog, I was being treated for depression. I started it for two reasons. One was to keep in touch and share photos of my children to our far away family and friends. The other was to help me focus on the good in my life. To try and help me realize I had a reason to live, and exactly what those reasons were. It worked. I started seeing things I hadn’t noticed before. I started writing about things I hadn’t noticed before. I started photographing things I hadn’t noticed before. And many of you reading this now were here, reading then.
It has been five and a half years since I started writing and focusing on all the good in my life. I am no longer being treated for depression. I have fought hard and won that battle. To those of you still in it, my heart goes out to you with deep empathy. My specific depression had a lot to do with the choices I made early in my adult life, and why I made them, and on the slow steady drain of mothering four small children all at once. Three years ago I decided I was done with medication and the side effects. After six plus years on and off anti-depressants, I wanted to see what my new baseline was. I slowly, sickly, painfully weaned off with the help of a chiropractor. She helped my body come off the drugs and she continues to help me stay healthy and balanced. That was enough for awhile, but soon the depression and hopelessness began creeping back in. So, I began going to therapy. And my life changed. She helped me realize the why of my depression. And how to move forward with all of the pain and knowledge that comes along with that.
She also helped me to realize that I am doing myself a disservice by only focusing on the good.
I want and need to focus on the truth of my life.
Meaning, I don’t have to change what I am doing – I just need to round it out with a good dose of reality. I need to be able to look and ponder over the good and the bad. The happy and the sad.
I do not want this blog to be a place where people come and then leave, feeling depressed over my ‘fantastic life’. Possibly thinking that I have no suffering. That I make no mistakes. That I have no bad days. That I don’t fail. That I’m not a jerk sometimes. That I look cute every day. That my family is perfect. I only recently came to realize that this could be the case. And if this sounds familiar to you, let me just say to you: I AM SORRY. I am sorry I haven’t realized that it is equally beneficial to show you both sides of my life.
All of my focusing on the good, the happy, the sunshine moments – what I did to make myself feel better – was actually a fantasy I was clinging to, and I was leading other people to believe was my only reality. The fact is, I do focus on those moments. They are truthful. I have never made anything up. I do tend to “look on the bright side”, “see the silver lining in every cloud”, and “drink from my half full cup”. But when that is all you, my reader, gets to see – you never get the full picture. And when that is all I, the person living it, choose to see, I can’t see my whole life the way it actually is. I can’t make changes or see problems. I can’t help someone like Mckenna. The day after I posted a truth like the one I am currently struggling with in regards to Mckenna, I could see that. You got a bigger picture of my life. *I* got a bigger picture of my life. A more truthful picture. We all have our unique struggles. We aren’t alone. And that was a big exhale.
I have felt a shift occurring within me for some time, of me not wanting to sit on the fence of who I am any longer. I have made a lot of changes since I started this blog. And yet, I have kept what I write here pretty static. Pretty generic. Pretty focused on the good. The Happy With A Capital H. Today I hope to give you a much more full picture of who I actually am, right now.
So – here is where I slap down some truth. I think I do have a pretty fantastic life. The life Jeff and I have made has a lot of good. And I write enough about that, that I don’t need to get specific about it now. But I also have a lot of suffering, I have a lot of bad days, I constantly make mistakes, I am totally a jerk to people sometimes, and a lot of days I don’t even shower or brush my teeth. I forget things often. I have a double chin and large pores. I get really sweaty when I am shooting. (One of the only things that actually does embarrass me about myself.) I am sixty pounds overweight. Mckenna has visually disturbing scars on 20% of her body, caused by catching on fire in 2005, and caring for them, and her, takes a lot of work. Some days I wish my kids would disappear so that my house would stay clean and I could have a break. My house is almost always messy. I don’t really have many local friends. I feel lonely a lot. But I am learning to like that loneliness, and learning what to fill it up with that is good for me. I wish I had paid more attention in all of my History classes, Geography, and Economics, because I am a dolt when it comes to those subjects. I make up for it now by being extremely curious and learning as much as I can about the past, and the history we are making today. I voted for Obama, although I don’t think he is the cure for all of our problems. In person, I curse like a sailor and have quite the naughty sense of humor. I just don’t necessarily feel that the internet is the place for me to express that. I cringe inside when I hear the name George W. Bush. I support gay marriage, and feel that the LGBT person is equal to me in every way. I am not religious. After having been kind of “half-religious” most of my life, (Episcopalian, then Christian, then Mormon), my belief system is best understood by reading this, from the American Humanist Association.
If any of those things surprise you, or make you no longer want to read my blog, I understand. And not in a glasses versus contacts way. I really and truly understand because it means you have the full picture of who I am, and you are free to make a choice. I respect your choice. I would hope that this wouldn’t change how you feel about me. But I understand if it does.
And something I didn’t go into on that last post. I didn’t get specific enough about what I was dealing with. My daughter Mckenna has an undiagnosed neurological disorder that causes her to have major agitation over simple household noise, major issues transitioning from one thing to another, (even something as simple as getting out of the car), and obsessive compulsive tendencies. She is unpredictable in when she will melt down, but melt down she does. And often. In a meltdown she screams, she will try to take off her clothes, she will lay down on the ground. Often in public, right where people have to walk around her. She will stop everything she is doing, like a stubborn horse you can’t get to move an inch. You pull and yank on the reigns and plead and beg and they just dig in their heels. So does she. She will yell curse words. This started in middle school – she doesn’t know when not to curse like the rest of the kids. (Around teachers and parents.) She has zero social or safety awareness. She has no idea people like their space, and will walk up to someone and touch them inappropriately as she says ‘hello’, or ‘hi, dude!’ She has no idea that she could get hit by a car in a parking lot. In 2006 she left our house unannounced twice, and took off on foot. One time before 6am, when everyone else was asleep, the other time when the kids were playing outside and I was upstairs folding laundry and didn’t realize she had left. Both times we were frantic to find her, and were lucky we did. After her second attempt, we purchased a $300 personal GPS system that she had to wear for months. If she got more than 10 feet away from the base, her bracelet would ring an alarm. A lot of the time, her safety is out of my control, and I live in fear of what may happen to her next. She is intellectually disabled with some autistic like symptoms. We don’t know why and we probably never will. It isn’t for a lack of trying. She is fourteen years old and we have taken her to the doctor to try and figure her out countless times.
One of my friends emailed me something that I thought was so poignant, and I want to share what she said here:
“I think what I love most about this post is that it rips away the curtain. This fancy curtain that is put up for everyone to see how perfect and beautiful it is on the outside, but if you push back the curtain you get to see what’s real, what’s raw. You get to see the truth. And guess what…the truth isn’t all that and a bag of chips sometimes. And I think it is in these moments of complete honesty that humans can truly relate to one another. Perfection is an illusion….And the sooner we as parents push back the curtain, the better off we’ll all be. Because there is comfort in knowing that we are not alone in this situation, that people can relate in some fashion.”
I am so ready to rip away the curtain, and in doing so my hope is that I find even more people that I can relate to, as well as that can relate to me.
You may feel lonely but you are not alone. So many people share in your “just being” and connect with you and to you–this post has 499 responses!
I think it’s interesting that you feel that you’ve been hiding the less-than-perfectness of your life. When I read this post I kept thinking, “I knew that…I knew that.” I have not relied on what you have told me about who you are. I have relied on what you have shown me. It is all beautiful and real and oh-so-imperfect. Life is a very messy thing. Let it be.
I’ve been following your blog for just a short period of time but in that time I’ve become very intrigued by you and your work. After reading this blog I feel really compelled to say Thank You. I appreciate your honesty. I think more people need to do this, including myself. We all need to pull back the curtain and live our true lives.
one of my photographer friends and I will refer to a shot one of us has captured as “a Tara Whitney” We both so admire you and I feel like the road ahead to the success as a photographer that you have is a little shorter for me then I originally had thought. Does that make sense?
Thank you for your honesty, for peeling back the curtain and letting us all get a closer look at your heart. For just being real…
It is on my list to have my own family captured by you someday and I look forward to the day I can finally make that happen.
You are so completely amazing and inspiring-not only in your photography, but as a writer and a human being. THANK YOU so so much for sharing. I rarely have time to visit blogs, but when I finally get a chance to do that, I try and make it here. I loved your blog for its happy, and gorgeous photos before, but now I love it for you and WHO you are.
If anything, this post makes me like you even more. Perfection is an illusion–one that I struggle with letting go of as well. Just be…I like that. Thank you.
I just found your website today and I’m blown away by you Tara! You are an amazing woman and I only hope to be half the mother that you are someday. I’ve always been an open book and have always faked it until I made it. I’m hooked now, thank you for sharing the good and the bad.
Often, I scroll through blogs…reading, relating, understanding…but I don’t comment. I *need* to comment here, because you have shared something here that has touched me (and obviously many others) to the core. A reminder that through lonely, we are not alone. Thank you! You are a true gift.
I just happened to find your post and felt as though your words were describing me. Being real is a blessing and a curse, no? How I long to share the truth and have others share it with me. I do believe in God and see His hand on my life. I don’t have to be in church this morning to hear His voice. He is real and what He wants for me is to BE and know that He IS. You have discovered an important truth and I am grateful to have found your site. It is now in my favorites. Thanks for being real.
Wow! Truth is a harsh pill sometimes. However, it is the truth, and there comes a time you need to see it, deal with it, and work out how to go from there.
I think that the hardest thing in most parents life is to find out that your child is not “normal”. It is not the not being normal (because who really is normal) part that bothers me so much, it is that my heart aches to know that at times he will have to struggle from that non-normalcy. Life is stinkin hard enough when you can fit in. It would be so much easier if they came with instructions. So you do the best you with what you have. When you have something different, you do the best with that.
Since it is really important to have your whole family at functions, maybe you should have a care provider that will bring her to the first of the function and then be able to go home where she feels safe and secure on an as needed basis. The rest of the function you can go on with an easy state of mind and just be able to be in the now. I do know that you will find what is right for your family, just by the words I read on your blog. I have always admired you, and my admiration went up a notch from this post:)
Thank you. Thank you for writing this. I feel that I could have wrote this about myself (okay so maybe not so eloquent) but so many things you shared I relate to. So much so that I had to fight back the tears so I could actually read the entire post. Depression is my reality right now but at the same time I’m that silver lining person you refer to. I often read blogs and facebook posts of other people and wish my life was different/better. I’ve also thought about starting a blog to help me focus on the good in my life. I don’t think I could have ever written a post as raw as this. Thanks again.
Just found you from another photog’s website and I am so glad I did. Amazing, beautiful reality of your life. Thank you for sharing about your struggle with depression, as I have SO been there, and feel it is one of my duties in life to also write about it and share with other women that they dont need to live like that, or pretend they are ok. Thank you for your honesty and inspiration.
Amazing work, to boot. :)
I don’t remember where I heard about you or when but I do remember that I clicked on the link when I heard ‘Just be you’. It’s something that calls to me. I can relate to the idea of focusing only on the happy parts and I am grateful that you’re choosing instead to take it all in and share it with the world. There’s something powerful about surrendering to reality as it is and not trying to mold it into what you want it to be. I think it’s usually better that way. Definitely better than we thought it could be. Keep blogging lady. And I’ll keep reading. Hope our paths cross in person, someday.
Awesome, thank you for being so brave and sharing your truth. It’s amazing how different our lives are, yet how much I can relate to in your emotions and feelings, it is so freeing to see how you are working through the imperfect. Thank you! xxx
okay, happened upon this on accident. and im probably late to the party and you’re probably sick of all the comments, but i cried my eyes out after reading it. thank you. thank you. thank you. for validating truth, connection and what we human beings are all about. not separateness and perfection, but unity and being real.
you are a beautiful brave soul.
I kept hearing about you, or being told I should read your blog… but to be honest I thought you were just another ‘rockstar photographer’ and those are a dime a dozen nowadays: preaching Christian, perfect life, lots of money, hipster, bright colours and product placement… it just makes me depressed about my own inability to make my photography a success despite so many seemingly rave reviews from people in the industry. Awards, accolades and rubbing elbows with the VIPs in WPPI don’t do much to build clients, it seems… In the last few months without a single booking, going deeply into debt with business expenses that can’t be met and realizing that my family of six is miraculously surviving on what is considered the poverty line for a *couple*… I feel completely uninterested in even picking up my camera to take pictures of my own children.
But then I saw this post, and instantly I’m hooked. Thank you for being yourself. You’ve helped this struggling artist see that it doesn’t have to be perfect, because it never is… and that’s okay.
I love a woman who speaks her truth! The happy and the rough. I wish you could come over for coffee.
Wow, I just came across this post as a result of reading AE’s blog about Where Women Create and it led me here to your inspiring post. This is the most honest and heartfelt post I have read in a long time! Thanks for sharing – and it has made me just want to get writing too! Thanks.
I stumbled across your blog by accident and I found this post so touching to read. I am new to blogging and am still trying to find confidence in my writing, I often delete most of what i have written in fear of being judged! So silly, but I am really inspired by your honesty and how beautiful it is… thankyou!
I’ve missed you.
dude. you are a voice. for so many illusionists out there.
so many people needed to hear this.
I haven’t been to your blog in years – crazy but true.
and i read it for the first time in a long time tonight,
almost a year after this post was written.
tonight i could sum myself up with words like stressed, sad, overwhelmed, drowning, apathetic, or numb.
I’m glad I came across this tonight – I wasn’t supposed to stumble upon it until now.
it was a good dose of we are all connected.
I stumbled across your blog via another photographer’s site & in a fit of insomnia I found my way to this blog post. I think it might be one of my all-time favourite things I have ever read. Seriously.
Thankyou for sharing, for being so open about yourself, your struggles, and your family. You remind me a lot of myself, but you’re a way cooler, more accepting and more awesome version. With the overshares & fretting over what other people make of you & the depression & humanism & aversion to cooking & love of photography..
Photography was my first love but psychology is my true love. I hope one day someone in my field can give you some answers about your daughter and ease the daily struggles for you all. She is so beautiful, you are so beautiful, your family is so beautiful; I wish you all the very best. Thanks again for sharing.
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