I’m not normally one for doing things like the current 10 Year Challenge, not for any other reason than I don’t usually get around to it, so I find it a little odd that I have this time. I am glad that I have though. I guess it is the benefit of sharing so many photos on social media that it took me less than a few minutes to create my comparison, if it had been the twenty-year challenge, I’d have had no chance!
If I am honest I was a little disappointed in the photos, not because of my weight gain or wrinkles but because I didn’t look different enough. So much has changed since 2009 and the photo just didn’t do that justice.
I might not look that different, but these two people are worlds apart. Despite being married at the time of the photo (and not to Daddy Bear) living in London and starting out on my career as a teacher, I felt lost and alone. I am still quite a reserved person and sometimes have no idea where my journey is going, but alone is not something I feel too often. I no longer wonder if I am doing the right thing, if I am in the right place, with the right person. I am much more grounded in the moment, trusting that where I am now is exactly where I am meant to be.
It might not be obvious from the smiley woman in this photo but back in the good old days of my late twenties I would often find myself hiding away from the world. There would be days where I would not be able to function and do very little other than cry. I wish I could give that woman a hug and tell her that it will all be okay, because it is, in fact it is better than okay. I am happy and not just because I think I should be or because I wish I could be but because I genuinely am. Maybe it’s because a life with children doesn’t allow much time for wallowing or maybe it is because of the pain I endured, pain that I don’t often talk about, whatever the reason, I am grateful for how far I have come. Things aren’t perfect, I still have days where I don’t feel good enough, but during those days I trust that the feeling will pass and pass it does.
Later that year my marriage broke down. Then I ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship leaving me even more isolated and depressed. If I am honest there were too many days when the idea of giving up filled my thoughts. I had hit rock bottom. But then my son came along. Obviously not planned and not in a relationship. It could have so easily been another negative, but it turned out to be the biggest positive of my life. Things weren’t about me anymore. Not that I didn’t matter, I suddenly mattered so much because without me being happy and healthy his life wouldn’t be as wonderful as I wanted it to be.
Anyone will tell you that everything changes when you have a baby but that is multiplied when you are doing it by yourself. The first few months of his life was spent in a little love bubble, I don’t mean it was perfect – he honestly never slept and had reflux – but it was just him and me and the love in those moments filled up all the holes in my heart.
Becoming a parent was also the first thing I felt confident about. Having him wasn’t planned and I had no idea what being a parent would involve but I followed my instincts and they led me to breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing. A gentle parenting that I had no experience of or knowledge about before, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was the right path for us. Lots of new mums feel doubt, and I questioned every little thing I ever did up to that point, but that doubt disappeared when I held my son and I knew exactly what we needed.
I still occasionally doubt myself about other things but the confidence I have gained from becoming a mum has made me feel less apologetic to be alive. I would now happily hang out in a swimsuit at the beach, whereas the 10 years younger and 3 stone lighter me thought I was fat and hated to strip off. It’s bizarre what I used to worry about, but I don’t blame me, I was struggling to keep afloat and doing the best I could. I’m a lot kinder on myself these days.
So, when I see that woman, already so lost and confused and I know about all the dark days she still must face, I can also feel proud of where she has ended up. I was always scared of getting older and although I’d prefer not to be approaching 40 quite so fast, I’m not scared anymore. I used to be so worried about the future, and although I wish we were a little more financially secure, I’m not worried anymore. It’s like I am finally able to breathe out.
It was obvious that once I stopped disliking myself quite so much that the man sat next to me in this photo, my best friend through it all, would end up being my happily ever after. Now we freely admit we often thought about telling each other how we really felt but I was always worried I would hurt him, and he had his own issues to deal with. I have always loved the person I know he sees when he looks at me, it might not be the person I see when I look in the mirror but looking at this photo, I can see I am getting there, and I am ready to see what the next 10 years brings! (Hopefully a new hairstyle at least!)