birthday cake with candles

5 Years of Surprises: Looking Back On My Thirties So Far

Well it’s here. My 35th birthday. *throws handful of confetti in the air*

I’m midway through my 30s and with each surpassing day, I’ll tip the balances to being slightly closer to 40 years old than 30.

Someone recently told me that I don’t seem like I am old enough to be 35. I made a joke that it was because I was so young at heart, but they were like, “yes, that’s exactly it!”

Anna and Elsa cardboard cutout

5 years ago, when I turned 30, I had a crazy-big Frozen-themed surprise birthday party. (It was awesome.) My parents even flew into town without telling me and showed up at the party.

My son Calvin was 6 months old at the time. I had quit my job of being a 6th grade reading teacher to stay home with him for one year. I knew I wouldn’t stay home forever, and had pretty much always intended to go back to work after taking a year off.

I figured I would get another teaching job, and life would continue on mostly the same as before (though now with the added challenge and privilege of being a mother.)

How wrong I was. So many unexpected and wonderful things have happened over the last 5 years that I could never have predicted. That surprise party was a foreshadowing of things to come.

For starters, I never got back into teaching. In fact, this very month, my teaching license actually expires (and I’m not renewing it!)

On a whim in 2017, I applied for a few library jobs because I thought that they sounded fun. I had always loved libraries and books and reading growing up, and I sometimes wondered if libraries would be a better fit for me than teaching. I also hated taking home so much work (aka. grading papers!) when I taught elementary and junior high kids. Teaching is not an easy profession!

I didn’t expect to get hired as a Research Librarian that year. I wasn’t qualified for the job and had zero experience working in libraries. I almost accepted another 6th grade teaching position instead, but that door got slammed in my face (and I’m so glad it did)!

I didn’t expect that I would go back to graduate school and get a Masters in Library Science.

graduation cap and gown (2019)

The surprises continued, not only in my professional life, but also my personal life:

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thank you card

Excessive Peace

In the book of Philippians, it mentions a “peace that surpasses all understanding…” It’s in the context of praying to God as an alternative to worrying about things. This is in the even larger context of being thankful and full of joy in the Lord.

I am often a worrier. In a less negative connotation, I like to plan ahead and be prepared. This is to avoid unnecessary surprises, which can cause me anxiety. I am great at thinking ahead and preparing for the worst.

But all the worrying and planning in the world doesn’t always change things – it simply gives us this false sense that we are in control when we’re not.

In a recent post, I described how my husband and I have been trying unsuccessfully to have a second child for about a year and a half. At the time of writing it, I felt very hopeless, sad, and even somewhat angry. Achieving pregnancy consumed my thoughts a lot of the time.

Since writing it, we got back some test results that were not ideal. Basically what they revealed was that any quick or “easy” fixes (like surgery to correct a problem, for example) were off the table. Our doctor offered us one last option before referring us to try IVF/IUI – but to me, it felt like a last-ditch effort.

After that appointment, I felt like the answer from God as to whether I would ever get pregnant again was a resounding, “no.” And yes, I know logically that there is still a chance, and we’re still trying this last option, but my mind literally began to process it as if it would never happen. I felt myself for the next few days beginning to go through the process of grieving. It was surprising because my husband and I haven’t totally given up yet, but it’s like my mind and body decided it was time to move on. Maybe this was my body’s way of trying to protect myself.

I didn’t fight what my body wanted to do, I just tried to be mindful of my feelings. For a week or two, it was emotional as I processed the fact that I probably wouldn’t have any more children. But what was even more surprising, was the day when it suddenly didn’t feel that hard anymore.

I found myself feeling more and more content with my life. I started paying more attention to Calvin and found myself becoming more appreciative of everything he has added to our lives. I just began to feel really blessed to be a family of 3 – period, full stop.

It felt like the grief was just gone, as was the painful obsession of longing to be pregnant again. (That’s not to say we wouldn’t be thrilled if I did get pregnant, but that intense pain seemed to be gone.)

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pink boxing gloves

Guest Post: Combating Negative Thoughts

Greetings! I’m not sure exactly how to introduce myself here, but my name is Megan, and I am a friend of Erica’s. She asked me if I’d write something “related to mental health” for this month as a guest post, and I agreed because mental health is such an important topic, especially in my life. When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with ADHD and depression, and an anxiety diagnosis was added on during my adulthood. I’m very open about my mental health history, which (I suspect) is probably why Erica was comfortable asking me to pick a topic to write about.

As someone who deals with anxiety and depression, one of the things I struggle with the most is fighting against negative thoughts. Some of these thoughts are specific ideas I go back to time and again when I am feeling down about myself, and some are intrusive thoughts that will pop up in my head when I am dealing with a particularly difficult situation. Either way, both types of negative thoughts start a spiral where my mood just drops down significantly. Once that happens, it can be hard to lift myself back up again.

My family occasionally sees a family counselor to work on creating a healthy dynamic at home, and during a recent session we spoke about some ways to combat these types of thoughts. I was actually a bit reluctant to talk about it at first. It seems like for years I’ve been inundated with “think positive” messages from all over, from the media, to my friends, to my doctors. And all it seemed to do was put pressure on me. I even developed a new recurrent negative thought of maybe I’m just a negative, toxic person because I couldn’t stop negative thoughts from popping up.

Before our family counselor began sharing any exercises with us though, she emphasized to us that it’s important we know negative thoughts are perfectly normal. Hearing this was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders! I’d been berating myself for so long for having so many negative thoughts, but maybe I could let go of some of that judgment towards myself.

One of the ways she showed us how to combat negative thoughts is to 1) acknowledge the thought, and 2) immediately replace it with something that we know to be true and good. I’ll give some examples below:

“I hate my life!” —–> “I don’t hate my life. I’m struggling with this situation, but I know what to do and I will get through this.”

“I’m so dumb.” —–> “I’m not dumb. I feel a little silly for the mistake I made, but I’m capable of so many things and I’ll continue to do my best.”

Sometimes therapy exercises can feel a little awkward, but she had us come up with some typical thoughts that pop up, and we practiced rewriting those. And then we gauged how we felt after reading each sentence, both the negative and then the changed one.

For me, now that I’ve had some time to practice this in my real life for several weeks, I’ve found changing my thoughts to be an empowering experience. Negative thoughts may come, but they don’t have to control me. If you find that you struggle with this type of thinking, I encourage you to perhaps try this exercise for yourself and see if you feel the same way.

Thanks for reading my small contribution to Erica’s blog! And a big thanks to Erica for asking me to share.

Megan is a military spouse and stay-at-home parent to her two daughters, Heidi and Thea. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from Wright State University (Go Raiders!). She has lived in Abilene, TX for the last 4.5 years, and she enjoys traveling across the world to get new stamps in her passport with her family. She is also an extrovert at heart and loves coffee dates, window shopping, and game nights with friends.