A Healing Path of Self-Discovery that Unlocked My View of Myself as an Artist
If you were to ask me three years ago if I considered myself an artist, my answer would definitely have been, "No," and I wouldn't have thought twice about my response.
Over time, through much personal development, I have discovered three keys that have unlocked my ability to call myself an artist with pride.
For almost a decade, I have served the maternal health community as a maternity, birth and breastfeeding Editorial Portrait Photographer. I longed to see more diversity in this space as I hardly ever saw or worked with families who looked like our own. As a photographer, you would imagine that I would naturally consider myself an artist, but the fact is that I simply did not!
Little did I know that on this path of refining my visual gift that I would develop a great vision in the field of breastfeeding advocacy, activism, and supporting families where they're at. Soon thereafter, I was overjoyed to receive a scholarship from the San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition to become a Lactation Educator and Counselor through the prestigious University of California San Diego Extension program. Completion of the course enabled me to put my knowledge together with the visuals that I was creating. It expanded the depth of my work and filled me with a deep love for such a simple act of love - nourishing and nurturing our young - that I have yet to attempt to put it into words until this very moment.
10 months ago, I was struck down with hyperemesis gravidarum for the 6th time in my life. This experience was the most brutal on my body. I was forced to be on bed rest to the point that I couldn't even open my eyes. Things were going downhill rather quickly. I had taken some time away from photography and had yet to pursue lactation counseling full-time because I simply couldn't see the value that I possessed to have such great gifts that could empower families around the world. I opted to drive Lyft in an unmotivated attempt to market my business. However, I failed to realize that I was so much more valuable than just a portrait photographer or a lactation educator. I was miserable as a photographer because the title alone forced me to be in spaces and looking for people who were completely uninteresting to me.
Truth is, I was missing these three things that were blocking me from discovering who I was and why I needed to run wildly toward my dream unlike ever before.
These three keys (not in order of implementation) were:
A little bit of history you should know about me is that I was raised conservative Christian and went to Seminary. I am well versed in scripture, but I stopped going to church years ago because I felt there was a deep lack of love and widespread hypocrisy in the communities where we served. I learned after leaving, that I was a believer nonetheless. Yet, I also learned that in that space that I developed a huge lack of love for myself and love for others -- even though I claimed publicly to be die-hard for my faith. The flip side is that I am now learning that the vulnerable are the strongest while the physically strong are generally weak in mind and spirit. The quiet ones here are the loudest and the loud are full of pride and greed.
I was raised to compete and always be the best, but the reality is that I never enjoyed competition. I preferred community. I longed for the connection that we would once find in tribes within villages. I think this is why maternal health really grabbed my interest early on. After giving birth to my oldest, 12 years ago, there was a huge LACK of support and community.
I had to make a choice after I experienced loss for the third time last year. I would keep driving Lyft and ignore my internal cry the pursuit of my dreams and my children's external needs for a more dedicated school structure, OR I would take control of my own life, goals, and ability to move in a direction that would sustain me and my family. I chose the latter and I haven't looked back ever since.
I am taking the road less traveled and it is difficult day by day, but choosing to get back to my art and to homeschool my children was EXACTLY what I needed to heal from the pain of loss, self-doubt, and internal discomfort.
Back in 2017, I began the New Year without any resolutions. I decided it was time for me to love myself, inside and out. I, like many other moms, find it incredibly difficult to love what they see in the mirror after birth. But it's NOT our faults. Our society has put a wild expectation on new mothers to snap back during a time in history when the ability to get something as simple as breastfeeding support has been nearly impossible when it comes to our needs and the necessity of breastfeeding in public.
I realized that year that I really needed to figure out this whole self-love thing because like it says in the Bible, "Love your neighbor as YOURSELF." Please tell me how in the world are we supposed to love others when we find it difficult to love ourselves?!!!
SO I set out on a journey to love myself in anyway possible. I stopped speaking and writing negative words about myself (in time). This included deleting many fully-written mad text messages and instant messages before angrily hitting send! It also included taking 4-5 seconds to allow words that others said to me in their own anger or frustration to process before responding. It was difficult.
In time, I found that not reacting was loving myself. I mean, who needs high blood pressure due to overreactions?! And not reacting immediately taught me to listen better to what they were saying. I even challenged myself to respond in the opposite manner of that which was expected based on their actions, and it showed me something FASCINATING:
My reactions were a a direct result of my appreciation of myself and my ability to control them was an act of SELF-LOVE.
Love is a verb - an action word. I learned that love could be expressed to others in the form of an action, but it could also be expressed inwardly to myself by withholding from negative actions.
And this... in practice, my friend, is absolutely nothing other than ART.
follow me @vanessa_simmons