PART 11: 2019, The Best Year of My Life
2019 started with my going to the doctor’s office bright and early to get poked in the arm. The sun was still coming up and I snapped a photo of the sky for my #annalovesmornings series before going inside. I treated myself to a McGriddle for breakfast afterward.
My body didn’t feel like mine anymore, one month after my scary hospital stay and blastomycosis diagnosis. (Say that five times fast and I’ll give you a cookie.) I was still operating in survival mode then. So I did what I knew how to do when I felt the ache of change deep in my bones… Follow it until you feel like yourself again.
I dyed my hair auburn, my old standby color since high school for whenever I need a change in my life. I went to the eye doctor and got new glasses after wearing red frames for the past decade. I was ruthless when I went through my closet. None of my clothes fit me, and I knew that without this scary infection in my body sucking all my energy out of me, I would inevitably gain back all the weight that I had lost in the last eight months or so.
I was still choking down little pink and blue pills twice a day, every day, while basically being a human pin cushion for my doctors when I went in for liver function lab draws every three weeks. Inside, I was aching to get back to work again. I missed my camera. I missed my clients. I missed running around with the sun and feeling in my element again.
2019 started with me having only a few things set in stone on my calendar…
My friend Emily was getting married at the beginning of April in downtown Milwaukee. We used to do community theatre together growing up, worked at Adrian’s together during our high school days, and Emily also played a huge part in my early photography journey. Her and her friends were always willing to dress up and take photos with me, and photographing her wedding felt like coming full circle.
My best friend from high school, Noelle, was pregnant and I never pass up the opportunity to gift my friends some pictures of their life’s milestones. We scheduled maternity pictures for the same weekend I was home for Emily’s wedding and promised to play her newborn phots by ear.
My friend Brittany was getting married in Chicago at the end of October. This one was a no-brainer — we’ve been best friends since seventh grade. I took Brittany’s senior pictures when we were still in high school, and we’ve been talking about me photographing her wedding ever since.
My friend Abby that I met while working at Hardee’s was also graduating from high school and needed her senior pictures done that summer. Abby and I have been running around with my camera and taking pictures together for the last few years, and being able to take her senior photos felt like such a gift.
I knew that I wanted to branch out into shooting couples and weddings this year. During the winter months, while I was still waiting for busy season to start, I took the advice of my mentor, Jenni Maroney, and redid my website from top to bottom and really tried to focus on drawing in my ideal clients while also staying authentic and true to who I am as a person.
She also suggested I get out of my comfort zone and reach out to a few local wedding vendors for an interview and the opportunity to take a few photos for them, free of charge. I spent days researching and emailing and filling out contact forms and making phone calls. I showed up to take photos with nervous butterflies in my stomach, and by the end, I knew that I had created something that I could be proud of and could also help my future clients down the road. And thus, my Wedding Vendor Series was born.
Behind the scenes, I dove into Jenni’s Money Maker course and completely revamped my photography collections. I knew that I wanted to offer my clients printed products to take some of the stress off of them of having to get them printed themselves. Thanks to Jenni, I found a printing lab that I love and started ordering samples so that I could eventually start showing my work to the wedding couples that I knew I wanted to attract down the road.
Once Spring finally rolled around in Wisconsin, I was counting down the days until busy season started again. In the days leading up to Emily and Steve’s wedding in April, I felt that nervous pit start to form in my stomach.
What if I miss something?
What if I mess up?
What if, what if, what if.
It was enough to make me physically nauseous the day of their wedding. I drove to Milwaukee, blasting my dance party playlist to try and put me in a better mood. I kept telling myself, “Nervous means do it.”
Nervous means do it was coined by Mei Ratz. I’ve been following her on Instagram for a long time and found Nervous Means Do It at just the right time.
“Are you scared or are you nervous? Scared means ask for help. Nervous means do it.”
NMDI was one of those lines that spoke to my soul just when I needed it the most. I’ve adopted Nervous means do it as my own life mantra ever since, and it always feel just right to pull out in moments like these.
It’s also become the phrase I pass on to my loved ones before they do something brave, and I always say it to my wedding couples before they walk down the aisle on their big day.
After getting turned around by the Milwaukee Marathon happening on the same day that my wedding season starting in 2019, swearing under my breath after going around in circles for half an hour, I centered myself with Nervous Means Do It. I sucked it up, asked for directions, and eventually I made it to the Astor Hotel and celebrated Steve and Emily’s epic love for one another.
I don’t have words to accurately describe how awesome it felt to photograph Emily entering this next chapter in her life. I started going through my archives and looked back at all of the photos we all took together during our high school days. Emily’s wedding felt like a mini high school reunion in the best of ways, and we all got to dance to “Call Me Maybe” while I blinded everyone with my flashbulbs… because some things never change, y’know?
When I came home at the end of the night and started importing photos, legs feeling like jelly and voice hoarse from sing-screaming along with my friends all night, I felt the greatest sense of joy wash over me.
That feeling of peace that’s so overwhelming at first because you’re still so convinced that you don’t deserve it… That’s joy at work.
I knew right then and there that I wanted to chase down this feeling for the rest of my life, and in order to truly do that: I needed a camera in my hand.
It was the realization point for me… that all of the food service jobs, crappy bosses, rejection letters, watching my college dreams go down the toilet — all of THAT had to happen so that I could do all of THIS. Make my dreams come true by capturing the true and authentic joy that comes from my couples and my clients and their love for one another… and also just make their day by giving them cute photos of themselves for them to hang on to and remember forever. That’s the sweetest gift I can ever think of to give to my people.
From that point on, 2019 felt like this wild roller coaster ride. Between managing my health after blastomycosis and fighting with my doctor’s and learning how to advocate for myself, while balancing this crazy dream world where I was photographing families and some seniors and meeting with wedding couples for 2020 to talk about their wedding and start scheduling their engagement sessions, it felt like whiplash going from high highs and dropping to low lows.
In June, I made an appointment with my primary care doctor to talk about medication for anxiety. Every time I even thought about driving outside of Waupaca, I was physically sick. If I had a photo job, I pushed through because nervous means do it. But once again, I knew I couldn’t continue to live this way long-term. Something needed to change.
Finding an anxiety medication that wouldn’t interact with my blastomycosis medication was um, A Challenge to put it lightly. There’s nothing like getting turned away at the pharmacy because your meds don’t play nice together. The good news though? There was a light at the end of the tunnel re: my blastomycosis. My lab pokes had gone down from every three weeks to every six weeks. I had more lab pokes and a CT scan scheduled for August that would determine how much longer I would have to take my blastomycosis medication.
At my doctor’s appointment in August, my pulmonologist gave me the best pep talk after I asked him question after question about the possibilities of a recurrence or reinfection once I was deemed fully recovered.
He reassured me and told me, “Honestly, it might happen. But you can’t let that possibility stop you from living your life.”
I started that fall feeling so blessed and full of joy. I say this all the time to anyone who will listen: I love my job. I love my clients. I am so grateful that I get to do what I do for a living, and I love taking pictures so much that sometimes I’m still surprised when someone tells me, “I love your work so so much, your website is beautiful!” and is genuinely as excited to work with me as I am to work with them.
When October rolled around, busy season kicked into high gear. Justin’s birthday is October 3, and from there I had mini sessions every weekend, plus my last wedding of the year to photograph! In the midst of all the excitement of Burlington trips for mini sessions and running around pumpkin patches with my camera and me being chained to my computer, editing away, I was not prepared for what happened next.
It was an otherwise innocent Tuesday morning. I got up, poured myself a cup of coffee, and checked my email like usual. Sitting inside my inbox was an email from my abuser and I almost threw my phone across the room. I called Justin over to look at it and then proceeded to have a panic attack like I was twenty and still stuck in my own personal form of purgatory.
I picked up the phone and called my doctor.
“Hey,” I said, trying to sound all nonchalant, “could you give me a recommendation for a therapist?”
Two weeks later, I was sitting in the waiting room filling out form after form after form about family medical history and mental health. Sitting in waiting rooms was something I had gotten used to in 2019, but this time was different.
This wasn’t a “there’s something wrong with my body, please fix me,” type of visit.
This was a “there’s something wrong with my brain, please fix me,” type of visit.
I couldn’t outrun my demons anymore, and that surprise email in my inbox hit me in places that hadn’t been tender and bruised in years. In the midst of cultivating so much joy in my life, I was at a loss of how to handle the darkness that was always hovering just on the edges of my metaphorical happy place.
Going back to therapy for the first time since high school has helped me to realize so many things about the trajectory of my life so far.
Picking up a camera again after my dad died was me giving myself to feel joy again after suffering for so long. After my abusive relationship took that joy away from me by forcing me to choose between him and my dreams, and then saving my current one because I was trying to find something — anything — to fill that void that photography had left behind.
I wasn’t about to let him come in with a wrecking ball once again after I had finally gotten my life together again and stopped looking over my shoulder all the time, stopped punishing myself for the decisions that I made in order to survive.
And then I went to my last wedding of the year, partied hard with my best friend since seventh grade and felt so #blessed to be able to be a part of her special celebration. I rounded out the year with a few more family sessions, an engagement session with one of my 2020 couples, and an official diagnosis right before Thanksgiving that I was blastomycosis free.
2019 was a wild ride, for sure. But it also definitely holds “Best year of my life” status for the smiles and the healing and all the joy it brought to my life.
I never want to lose this feeling of being seventeen with my camera and the sun.
I never want to lose this feeling of all encompassing joy.
I never want to lose this feeling of being truly seen by the community I have built around me.
And one thing that I can guarantee is that I’ll always have a camera in my hand, one way or another.