Learning to Embrace Plan B

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Every fall for the past three years, we’ve made a yearly tradition of going to a local apple orchard as a family. It was part of The Plan that this tradition would be long-standing and annual, with nothing or no one standing in the way of us getting our yearly cider fix and hundreds (!) of pictures of our family frozen in time, right there by the Red Delicious trees.

One of my favorite posts that I’ve ever written was actually all about that exact plan, actually–in it, I detailed that it was in trips to the orchard that I planned to “measure” our little growing family.

News flash:

Sometimes, plans change.

Second news flash:

Sometimes, plans change when we really, really wish they wouldn’t, even when it comes to seemingly silly things like planning on going to the apple orchard for your yearly fall tradition.

(If you’re curious as to why we couldn’t keep the apple orchard tradition this year, it was because the orchard in question lost literally all of their crop of apples in a freak frost in late May. I was probably more bummed about it than I should have been, but I reeeally like their cider, okay?!)

For me, 2017 has been a year of terrifying lows, long stretches of anxiety, and (very) unexpected blessings of incredibly good fortune. In other words, I could perfectly summarize this year by saying that 2017 was the “Plan B” year–the year where we had an entirely different set of plans, and where now, almost 11 months past the year’s inception, we are not at all where we’d thought we’d be.

In the first three months, we almost lost my father-in-law, we did lose my husband’s grandmother, and we miscarried our second child, who, coincidentally, was due to be born this last week, actually.

In the three months after that, my body did not “bounce” back from the miscarriage, but rather drew it out for months and months (not with bleeding, but with the HcG levels refusing to go down quickly, or sometimes hardly at all). We adjusted to the fact that Matt’s dad now had to face living without a leg and using a prosthetic for the rest of his life. Matt and I, in what might seem like one of the most impulsive moves of our married life (but which wasn’t at all, really), suddenly decided to move out of our apartment and buy our first home, which hadn’t been in our original plans for this year AT ALL. And while that move (and our new home) has been SUCH a big blessing, it was also a BIG adjustment, and I struggled quite a lot the first month or so after the move, feeling lonely and lost and like I didn’t quite know where I fit into this new plan. During this time, I seriously considered going back to work since I thought my feelings of depression and anxiety had to do with me being a stay-at-home mom and not getting enough outside interaction with adults, and I came thisclose to interviewing for a part-time teaching job (which I feel fairly confident I would have been offered). But I ended up not feeling right about it, and I declined the interview.

And, over the last three months, I feel like I’ve finally made peace with it all.

I don’t know what point it was, exactly, but there reached a point where I just had to accept that my body was not going to get pregnant again as soon as I wanted, and I stopped stressing out so much about it—instead, I used the time to develop some healthier habits and enjoy all the “me” time I have now with just one kid (since I know that when the day comes that I finally do have two, that time will definitely diminish significantly). So I’ve thrown myself into personal projects, like relaunching the blog and choosing to start monetizing my site, pursuing my photography business as a side job more, and reading more books in a year than I ever have before as an adult (currently at 58 and counting!).

There also was a point where I decided that I didn’t want to be ruled by my anxiety anymore–that I didn’t want to keep dwelling on all that could yet go wrong in the year (or in my life in general), and I decided to choose to pray each day that I might find joy in the present and treasure the moments that were given to me to enjoy now. And slowly, but also certainly, my anxiety lessened each day, and I started to let myself feel happy and feel lighthearted again (and not just in a “Well, I’d better enjoy this now because who knows what’s going to happen next” kind of perverted enjoyment, but a TRUE contentment with my situation).

I wish I could tell you some magic formula that fixed my feelings of frustration and anxiety and sadness that our “Plan A” for the year didn’t work out.

Other than the passage of time, I can’t tell you what exactly “fixed” my feelings toward my situation–

But I CAN tell you some things that might help (or at least they helped me!).

  1. Acknowledge that what happened was not what you wanted. Let yourself feel mad/sad/anxious/upset for awhile.

We feel emotions for a reason. As we learn from the children’s movie Inside Out, if we try to suppress sadness or other negative emotions, it becomes harder to heal in the long run, harder to get the help that we need, and harder to truly move on. If you’re just going on pretending like everything is fine, you will eventually drive yourself to breaking point, which can often be avoided simply by acknowledging up front that something hard has happened and that you’re not okay with it. Cry (preferably on someone’s shoulder). Vent (preferably to someone who can empathize with you). Mourn the loss of what you wanted, in whatever way you need to mourn.

For me, it meant lots of tears, which were at times achingly sad and at times out of sheer anger or frustration. It meant that I cried when I got the news that I’d miscarried, and that I cried as I went to the ultrasound appointment that visually confirmed what I’d already known for days. It meant that I grappled with feelings of loss and uncertainty for months as my body did not come back and get pregnant again immediately as it did for so many of my friends and family members who had also suffered miscarriages; it meant that I was sometimes upset to hear that everyone seemed to be getting pregnant except for me.

Even when I learned that we wouldn’t be able to go to the apple orchard as we’d looked forward to for so long, I let myself feel upset over it–I moped around for a few days, I told people how bummed I was, I grimly announced that the whole thing just seemed to “fit right in” with the kind of year we’d been having so far.

But if you let yourself stay in this stage for too long, you will become bitter or hardened or totally depressed, and so it’s important to let yourself “feel all the feels,” but then make yourself move on.

2. Search for a Plan C.

Rather than immediately trying to jump in and embrace whatever has just happened after your mourning period, try doing some soul-searching to see if there’s a plan C you didn’t notice before. For me, that meant searching for other apple orchards in our area to see if there was another place we could go and still have a similar experience. When that didn’t work out either, I looked for an option that would give us a day outside as a family and a day at a u-pick place that supported local farmers (but at one that sold pumpkins instead of apples).

Sometimes, as with our apple orchard disappointment, there is another plan that can work. Sure, you might still miss the original plan, but the new plan can give you something to work on and something to look forward to. Sometimes, as is often the case with losing a family member or dealing with a family member going through a health crisis, there isn’t much of a Plan C since you’re not in charge of the situation.

So, if it’s something you have some control over, look for some options—for me, that’s meant learning a lot more about my own fertility to increase my chances of getting pregnant as soon as possible. It meant that when I felt like the SAHM life was driving me crazy, I needed to shake things up so that I felt like I was in control of my destiny again while still taking advantage of the marvelous opportunity I have to be at home with my daughter every day. That’s when I looked into rebranding the blog, started to monetize it, and looked for ways to improve my photography business.

If it’s something that’s out of your control, move on to suggestion #3.

3. Find (and take advantage of) TRUE sources of comfort.

As someone who is a total stress baker, I am all too familiar with the idea that it is all too easy when you’re stressed out or unhappy or upset to try and seek solace in all the wrong places–online shopping, massive amounts of caffeine, baking batches of cookies every other day, etc. etc. I know for myself though that when I’m wanting and willing to let myself be TRULY happy again, I need to stop looking for comfort in all the wrong places.

For me, this meant that I went off sugar for a couple weeks to reset my body’s cravings for it. I started setting manageable goals that would help me to feel better inwardly by helping my body to feel better, like taking family walks after dinner and taking up strength training again. Once my body started feeling better, it was easier for me to work on the emotional excavation that was necessary to move on.

The best sources for me when it came to seeking comfort and direction once my physical self was a bit more in control were prayer, reading inspired words (scriptures, inspirational memoirs, family history accounts, etc.), talking about my feelings with my husband (even if I felt silly bringing them up for what felt like the hundredth time), consciously listing out daily what I was grateful for, keeping up better with my friendships, and making future plans that took into account what had recently happened, instead of just making the same plans as before around what I hoped would happen. (I’ll talk more about that last point in Suggestion #4.)

Two books that I’ve loved that really brought me comfort over the last few months are:

  • At Home in This Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises by Jerusalem Jackson Greer
    • Greer is a Christian blogger who felt the distinct impression that she and her family needed to move from their city home out into the country, and she was surprised to hear that her husband had had the exact same feeling. Working quickly, they made an offer on a farmhouse and land and put their own home up for sale…but then weren’t able to sell it. This book is about her journey to accept her (seemingly) failed dream, and she draws a lot on a story from Jeremiah in the Bible that she used as a “blueprint” for her emotional journey. I loved that the tone of this wasn’t heavy or too serious, but that it also made lots of points that really resonated with how I’d felt this year.
  • Covenant Motherhood by Stephanie Dibb Sorensen
    • Even though I’d decided to not pursue work outside the home currently, it wasn’t an easy decision for me to make at the time. This book was just the source of inspiration I needed to find renewed purpose in all that I do every day as a stay-at-home mom. Basically, this book written by an LDS author shows how all the repetitive, sometimes mundane tasks of motherhood (cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, etc.) coincide with attributes that Christ had. This is a fabulous read for ANY mom–regardless of her work status–but it completely changed the way I looked at my day-to-day life now and all that it encompasses at the present. If I had the money to buy a copy of this for every mom, I would.

4. Decide how you’re going to “move on” and embrace exactly where you’re at, and follow through with it.

Making new plans has been a huge part of my peaceful acceptance with all the plans that have gone awry this year. After I took the necessary time out to mourn and let myself be upset and get the comfort I needed, I just needed to take action and get to work on something.

President Hinckley (who used to be the leader of the LDS church several years ago before his passing) often recounted a story from his own life of when he was a young missionary serving in a foreign country. The work was hard, and he often felt discouraged at the lack of progress he was seeing. He often thought about home and all he could be doing to help out if he were there, and he wrote his father to tell him that he felt he was wasting his own time and his father’s money by remaining abroad on his mission. His father, in a short but direct reply back to his letter said, “Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.”

I know for myself that if I spend too much time wrapped up in all that I want, in all that I long for and do not have, on all the things that aren’t going right in MY life, that I will drive myself to misery. So the best antidote for that is taking action, especially toward serving others and working towards worthy goals.

For me, that’s meant actively seeking to make new friends in our neighborhood, striving to serve to the best of my ability in my new church calling teaching the Primary-age kids, and filling our days with meaningful activities that will bind us closer together as a family and help me fulfill personal goals. This year, I have relaunched my blog (a big goal of mine for a LONG time), done more photo shoots than ever before for my photography business, started working regularly on my novel again, gotten into better physical shape, and am in the process of (finally) launching a professional website for my photography. But even more than the outward goals I’ve accomplished or am working on, I have felt a mighty shift in my heart that’s not so measurable by outer standards but that nevertheless is still absolute–I have felt my faith grow, I have felt my sense of purpose as a mother and as a woman and as a human being in general grow, and I have felt the shackles of fear and anxiety slowly losing their hold on me as I’ve put my faith in God that all things will work together for my good.

***Note: I am not trying to say that for all cases of sadness and anxiety, just “practicing more faith” will be the ultimate answer. Had my anxiety and sadness started severely affecting my day-to-day life, I would have sought professional medical helps in addition to practicing more faith.

Even after all this, there is still a part of me that wishes that this year could have brought the same amount of growth without all the hard stuff attached, but that’s just not how progress usually works–we usually will not push ourselves out of our comfort zone, so it’s often external events (usually unwanted) that lead us toward that greater self-understanding and self-mastery.

For now, though, I can say in all truth that I am happy and content exactly where I’m at, even if I still hope for certain things. But whether those things are in my immediate future or in my far future, or even if they aren’t part of my future at all, I know with perfect certainty that I am strong enough to not just persevere, but to flourish.

And perhaps that can be the greatest blessing of being forced to choose Plan B, in the end—

It shows us what we’re made of. It shows us that we’re stronger than we think. It shows us that new and exciting paths will indeed open up for us, some beyond our wildest dreams.

And that makes it all a little easier to bear.

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