It’s been a while since I wrote a post like this. Something personal. Not a recipe. Just life. Because I’ve been caught up in life. Because I’ve been processing a lot of things. Because I haven’t felt ready to share. Because sometimes it hurts. But I finally feel ready. I feel nudged in this direction. With release comes healing. I feel that it’s time to let the wounds breathe so they can finish healing, whatever that healing looks like. So today, I’m going to fill you in on what life has been like for us lately.
Let’s start with some background. The first 26 years of my life were ideal, to say the least. Happy, loving parents. Trauma-free childhood. Dependable friends. High school was ok. College: ✔️. Married my high school sweetheart. Traveled. Moved around a lot. Built a business that allows me to work from home. Got a super amazing dog. Moved to Colorado.
But then all hell broke loose. Everything that I thought I knew. Everything that I’d been taking for granted. It dissolved. It laughed in my face. It gutted me.
Dumpster Fire: noun
1. A complete disaster.
2. Something that gets progressively worse even when you’re sure it can’t possibly go any more wrong.
3. The past year and a half of my life.
The past year and a half has been trial by fire for us. My parents sold their business – the bowling alley that I grew up in, met Clark in, laughed in, loved in, cried in, worked in, and learned in. I didn’t understand it at the time, but this was hugely impactful for me. It felt like the end of an era and I mourned it without knowing how. Over the spring and summer of 2017, Clark and I were dealing with some unrelated relationship issues. Then I made some big mistakes that would’ve cost us our marriage, had we not decided to work on us together. We made a decision to take a good, hard look at what wasn’t working so we could refocus on healing together and growing together. Then, a few family members found out what was going on in our marriage and decided it was their job to intervene. For the record, family should never get involved in other family members’ relationships. Fuel on the dumpster fire.
Then my grandfather got cancer and passed away within 2 months’ of his diagnosis. We moved back to Indiana. We bought a house. My parents got divorced after 32 years of marriage. My mom moved in with us. I lost relationships with my father and my brother and I’m just now slowly seeing them heal. Clark lost his relationships with them too. And he lost relationships with some of his family members. Throughout all of this upheaval, we’ve been trying to put out fires started by a narcissist – spreading harmful lies about us, threatening us, and doing drive-bys at our new house. (If you’ve ever dealt with one, you understand.) We’ve lost sleep. We’ve lost “friends.” We’ve lost countless precious hours of life to the sadness, grief, and anger that comes with all of this chaos. We’ve gained worry lines and probably a few gray hairs. But we’ve kept working on us. We’ve gained laugh lines too. And boundaries. And memories. And healthier friendships. And lessons. And strength.
This kind of experience takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll on a person. Insomnia, nightmares, panic attacks, and so many tears. There were days that I was so tired I had to make a to-do list with simple tasks like “shower” and “eat breakfast.” I’m a food blogger. Food is my job. And I had to literally remind myself to eat.
One morning, I woke up shaking, shivering, heart racing, struggling to breathe, and physically unable to stand up on my own. Clark and my mom had to carry me to the car. I had to be put in a wheelchair at the hospital. Helpless. There I was, sitting in the emergency room for the first time in my life, hooked up to beeping machines and IVs, getting x-rayed and ultra-sounded and blood-tested. I reached my breaking point.
Stress is no joke. Anxiety is no joke. I didn’t think I would ever be affected by it. No matter how much I tried to ignore it, to just be strong and to keep going, it caught up with me and it took me down. There was a lesson in this, too. Slow down. Set boundaries. Form a solid support system of people you can trust. Check in with yourself. Take deep breaths. Go for a walk around the block. Learn when to say no. Put yourself first – it’s not selfish. The rest will fall into place. Or it won’t – and that’s fine too.
When all of this began, we tried throwing buckets of water onto the dumpster fire. It didn’t help. You can’t stop a dumpster fire – you just have to let it burn. We desperately tried to fill in the gaps for each other and we tried to understand why all of this was happening, but that didn’t work. Because that shit wasn’t our shit. It was other people’s shit. And that shit is irrelevant – even if it’s “family or friends” – it’s not ours to try to fix. Especially if they don’t respect our boundaries and our relationship. The only shit that matters in this particular context is OUR shit. The good shit that made us fall in love in the first place. The good shit that has kept us falling in love over the past 14+ years. The good shit that continues to make us fall in love every single day. The good shit is all that matters.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year and a half telling myself: “You were so stupid. Did you really think it was all going to be sunshine and rainbows forever? Other people have it so much worse. You don’t have any right to complain. You deserve this.” It would be easy for me to feel shame and guilt and defeat. And it would be easy to let those emotions shut me down. And at times, they have.
It’s been a lot of work to frame a new mindset, but that’s what I’m trying to do instead: “You had no reason to believe otherwise. You did have it good — you were blessed and you still are. Be grateful for what was and embrace what now is. Because this won’t last forever either. This is just how life works and it’s beautiful, even in the chaos. You survived this. You’re alive. You deserve happiness.”
This has been an emotional whirlwind. It’s been a learning process. It’s still a learning process. I know other people have dealt with far worse, but that doesn’t mean our struggle doesn’t matter. It means our struggle is still valid and as a bonus – we can feel even more empathy for the struggles of others. It’s been hard to heal while still we’re still putting out fires left and right. But healing like this is the hand we were dealt. It’s making us stronger. It’s worth all of the hard shit and it’s worth putting in the work. Because one day, we will look back on this time as the thing that made us strong enough to handle anything.
This space is about usually about food, I know. But it’s also about community and support. The Fitchen has been the beginning of many of our friendships and you need to know how much your kindness has helped us on difficult days. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that our life has been perfectly fine for the past year and a half. But it hasn’t been and I want to be honest with you about that. I think we see enough “perfection” on the internet every day – a little bit of reality goes a long way. May is Mental Health Awareness month and that’s another one of the things that was nudging me to share this experience.
If you’re going through a dumpster fire situation right now, I see you. You don’t have to go through it alone. Please know that you can reach out to us anytime. We’ll listen without asking questions and without judgment, and we’ll be a digital shoulder to cry on. Or nap on. Or lean on. Or cheer you on. Whatever you need to help you get through. You’ve helped us more than you know and we’d be honored to return the favor.
With love and infinite gratitude.