My 28th Year

Happy Birthday to me!

Each year I write a post about things I learned throughout the year leading up to my birthday. It’s a time I use to reflect what I learned and how my life changed within that year. However, when I started thinking about what I wanted to write today, I thought of a different reflection post. I realized that the person I was when I started this blog and the vision I had for myself is drastically different from the person I actually am today.

Now, there are the obvious differences between then and now, such as life events. My major life events are my dad dying, having kids and getting married, and moving and working full-time. I don’t plan on focusing on those because it’s obvious that life events change a person. I already know these events changed me in so many ways. What I hope this post will focus on are all the subtle ways I changed that maybe only I and the people around me may notice.

My first and second year of law school Mary, whom I will call “Old Mary,” was a very different person. I was depressed and anxious all the time from being sexually assaulted in college. I shopped (and subsequently racked up a lot of consumer debt) to cope with the depression and anxiety. I lived in a tiny apartment filled to the brim with stuff collected over the twenty-something years prior. I was truly the definition of a person who appeared to have everything together on the outside but inside I was falling apart. Because of this, I had a certain vision of my future self.

The Old Mary thought her future self wouldn’t be married until at least 30. If/when I did get married, I wouldn’t have kids until my mid-30s. I valued my career more than anything and didn’t want a boyfriend or kids to “ruin” it (this was a common theme throughout high school and college, so it only fit that it was my theme through law school). I believed everyone had debt and stuff so it was normal and accepted. I figured I’d be living in a different city and state, specifically Nashville, Atlanta, or Columbus. I also figured that my depression and anxiety would never get better, regardless of how often I went to therapy and employed the techniques I learned in my sessions.

Looking back on that vision of myself, I can’t help but realize how unhappy I was and that even I was blinded by my outward appearance.

The New Mary, the Mary I am today, is so drastically different than the Old Mary or even the future self Old Mary dreamed of.

I got married and had two kids before the age of 30. I’m living in a different city but not a different state. I have diminished a huge chunk of my debt. I started a journey towards simple and intentional living. But most importantly, I am happy as I finally have a hold on my depression and anxiety.

Marriage & Kids

I always figured I would get married but it would be later so I could focus on my career. I was like this in high school and college, and while I dated a few guys here and there, no one ever stuck around for an extended period of time. The longest relationship is with Bret (even prior to getting married). Before Bret, my longest relationship was probably around 6 months long-distance (so does that even count?). I know I valued my career more than relationships because of the constant push from my Dad to do well. I think he realized that my brother and sister were staying put in our hometown and he wanted at least one of his kids to experience life outside of Vista. I’m not saying my siblings aren’t successful, especially since success is subjectively measured, but I think my Dad just wanted something objectively successful, like passing the bar and being an attorney. My Dad didn’t like any of the boyfriends I had but wouldn’t tell me until after we broke up. Bret was different. My Dad always asked to go to Home Depot when Bret was working so my Dad could talk to him about different projects my Dad had going on. My relationship with Bret was the first relationship I ever prioritized on the same level as my career. (Bret-that should tell you how much I love you!)

The biggest change in my future self to now are my kids. I wholeheartedly believed I wouldn’t have kids until my mid-30s, IF I even had kids. In fact, I would have bet big money on it. The reason I say this and the reason I thought this, was because I believed I was destined to be the “cool aunt” for my entire life. For some reason, despite never being told I couldn’t have kids, I just kinda figured I couldn’t. I’m not sure when this thought arose, but there was always a part of me that thought I would never be a mom, despite always wanting to have kids.

Now that I have kids, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. Even though my toddler drives me crazy sometimes, I love watching her learn every day. And don’t even get me started on my newborn. He is the happiest baby I have ever seen. I know that if Old Mary could see a glimpse of the New Mary, she would laugh and think there is absolutely no way this is real life.

Shopping, Debt, & Simple Living

The Old Mary had a very bad habit of shopping. It started out where I would only buy stuff I had the money for. But soon I was buying things and putting it on credit cards, getting swamped by the minimum payments and interest rates. Part of me had/has a love for fashion and makeup so I would spend my money on those things. However, a bigger part of me was trying to cope with the never ending depression and anxiety that consumed me. I didn’t want to be home alone so I would go shop. This only got worse when my Dad died and I would shop so I wasn’t at home crying.

I wrote about this in a previous blog post, but when my family and I were going through my Dad’s stuff, my mindset on shopping, debt, and stuff shifted drastically. My Dad had a lot of stuff and we had to deal with it. In the beginning, I saved a lot of his stuff, clinging to anything and everything that made it seem like he was just on an extended vacation, not dead. But then I came across Dave Ramsey and the Minimalist duo. Suddenly, I had taken an interest in budgeting and downsizing my stuff. This morphed into realizing what stuff  I actually needed and what stuff I loved, and I dumped the rest. I still have a long way to go in decluttering our home but each day I make progress. Things I thought I could never get rid of on Day 1 of my minimalist journey, I’ve now decluttered, realizing they aren’t useful, nor do they bring me joy.

I recently got a library card and have been listening to audiobooks in my spare time. In one week I’ve read four books about decluttering and minimalism. I now have a renewed spark in decluttering, and am itching to go through the whole house again. (I’m also writing this as I watch Bret go through his storage shed and attempting to declutter, it’s great)

Through the minimalist journey, we realized that debt, while common to most Americans, isn’t what we want to define us. Before this journey of budgeting and minimalism, my debt was over $250k from student loans and consumer debt. Over the past two years, we’ve been able to pay off all our consumer debt and most of my student loans. Today, I have just over $100k in student loans left. It’s going to take a while, but when the day comes that we’re finally debt free, I will rejoice!

The thing I realized in all this, is that living the “typical American life” is not something I want. I don’t want debt. I don’t want a ton of stuff. I don’t want to keep cleaning the same mess every day. I love being able to buy groceries or clothes and not worry that I can’t afford it. I love sitting on the couch at the end of the night and the only mess I have to clean up are the dishes and Amelia’s toys. I don’t look around the house and feel anxious by all the stuff we have. I don’t feel guilty about the boxes of stuff in the closet or garage because they aren’t there anymore. We have what we need and what we enjoy, and that’s it. The Old Mary loved stuff but the New Mary can’t be bothered by it.

Mental Health

The biggest sigh of relief through the past six years has definitely been the transformation of my mental health. Now, before we go any further let me just say that my depression and anxiety will never go away, and I know that. I didn’t wake up one day magically cured and able to live my life as if the past never happened. That’s not how mental health works. A lot of friends and family believe you can be cured and you’ll never have episodes of depression and anxiety again. That is 100% not true. The only thing you can do is learn how to manage it and cope with it by recognizing when you feel depressed or anxious and employing different techniques to help mitigate the situation.

The Old Mary couldn’t go to a bar, let alone barely go on a date. I believed every man was going to hurt me eventually. It didn’t help that, at this time, only a handful of people knew about my sexual assault. I put up a facade trying to convince myself it wasn’t as bad as it was. I was still friends with my attacker, constantly justifying our relationship, thinking he just had a bad night. It was during these years that shopping became my best friend and self-harm was my vice.

It wasn’t until I started dating Bret that someone helped me confront my past. Up until this point, everyone around me acted like it didn’t happen. If I mentioned anything, people went silent, and looked at me as if I was going to break.

I remember when I first told my brother. We were out to dinner with our Mom and I mentioned something about going to therapy. My brother asked why I was going to therapy and I said “because I have depression, anxiety, and PTSD.” He jokingly said, “What do you have PTSD from? Law School?” Throughout this whole exchange, my Mom silently ate her food as she timidly looked from me to my brother and back again. When I dropped, “No, I was sexually assaulted in college,” my Mom stopped eating and just stared at my brother, both of us waiting for his response. I will never forget this exchange because it represented the two reactions I always get. That of my Mom, of silence and not knowing how to respond. And that of my brother, asking if I was ok and if the guy got in trouble for it.

In the Spring of 2017, I finally confronted my past and published a blog post detailing what happened and how it changed my life. That night was the last time I talked to my friend who attacked me, who made me feel guilty and tried to blame Bret for coming between us. Manipulation was this guys middle name. This was also the night that I gained a new friend who was also assaulted by the same guy, and I gained so much respect for those around me who messaged me telling me their stories. I decided I was no longer going to let this one night keep me from the future I wanted. I wanted to be happy but I couldn’t truly be happy if I clung to the past the way I had been.

Through all of this, I have learned that the New Mary is more sure of herself and doesn’t apologize for anything. She is more open about talking about mental health, self-harm, and sexual assault. She does not shy away from an argument with anyone like the Old Mary would have. For anyone who knew the Old Mary, I would think my improved mental health is probably what my family and friends notice most, as well.

I like looking back on the big things and the little things that have changed me over the past decade, specifically in the last six years. My Dad’s death and my first pregnancy were a catalyst for so many of these changes. Whenever Bret and I are having an argument, sometimes he’ll say, “why can’t you just be the person you were when we started dating.” I know he doesn’t mean this maliciously. The person I was when we started dating was more carefree in the sense that I didn’t care about a lot of the things I care about now. But I always tell him that I don’t want to be the person I was in 2016 when we started dating. I am a completely different person now. The person I was in 2016 was so unhappy with her life, but the person I am today is much more sure of herself and overall in a happier state of life. I’m a different person now, and I’m glad for it.

I turn 28 today and still can’t believe I’m where am I in life right now. I’m married with two kids, living in a town I love, and working at a job I love with people I adore. I have goals for my future and our family’s future that I hope we’ll achieve some day. The difference in those goals and the goals I had four years ago are my current goals are based on happiness and love, whereas my previous goals were based on fear and misery. I think my Dad would be so proud of how far I’ve come and that’s how I know I’m truly proud to be me.


1 Comment

  • paulainauckland July 15, 2020 at 4:35 pm Reply

    This Mary? She looks relaxed and at peace with where and who she is. That’s a pretty wonderful birthday gift.
    Happy birthday Mary 🙂

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