Life During Change by Brianna Riddlebarger

Life During Change by Brianna Riddlebarger

"I feel like we just lost the whole year"

Perhaps the most common statement you hear about the year 2020 was how quickly the year passed. There's no doubt that when life is filled with rapid change in a short amount of time, the concept of time becomes lost. In some sense, the world may seem to stand still….if the change feels uncomfortable or painful. But in another sense, the days and months begin to pass before our eyes as we sit, dissociated, waiting for some form of change to happen. When change is positive, time can easily fly by as we seek to hold onto the sweet moments forever, hoping they never flee.

Time is complex.

Similarly, the concept of change is beautiful and difficult. As humans, we really struggle with the tension of requiring routine and needing growth and development. And for some of us, change feels traumatic…as it patterns traumatic changes that we faced in childhood. Such as the abusive change of an alcoholic mother's mood swings, the sudden anxiety and anger of a dysregulated father, the tragic change of a sudden death of a loved one, financial hardship and the changes it wreaked on the family, etc. 

I have been no stranger to the growing pains of change, especially when the whole world seemed to change in the year 2020. And it's my goal to let my journey be an encouragement to anyone still wrestling with this concept of change.

As most individuals felt, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about lots of change and uncertainty in my life. Just like most individuals, the initial fear of health, safety, and unknowns felt disconcerting. And, like most, I fought to believe things would be ok after that 2 week shutdown to "flatten the curve". When the initial economic and quarantine restrictions seemed to be lifting, I felt more confident about my career opportunities. I partnered with two colleagues (Britten and Narges) to start Pacific Solstice. Like any business venture, it meant huge risk. But I felt up for the challenge because I believed in the mission. The need was great and I wanted to serve the community in better ways. And COVID was ending soon……right? 

My husband and I decided to invest financially and go full force. After officially quitting my job, a few things happened very, very shortly: The second shut down began for COVID, my husband was furloughed, and I found out I was pregnant.

Suddenly the risk became that much greater.

And so did the fear.

Nothing was certain, and it felt like there was everything to lose.

Everything became difficult and overwhelming. Morning sickness quickly became debilitating where most days I struggled to get out of bed, let alone keep any food down. It felt like an endless flu. The illness, vomiting, fatigue lasted for months into the pregnancy with little relief. Meanwhile the business became all the more difficult to build up. Aside from my physical limitations, business and brand development became almost impossible as no one would even open their doors due to quarantine restrictions. Everything related to licensing, credentialing, and governing bodies seemed to move at snail's pace as workforce shortages hit and everything was virtual/over email. The risk and the fear grew as the months passed. 

Hopelessness and powerlessness set in. Dark questions would ruminate such as: 

"How can I bring a child into this world like this?"

"Can I even provide for my baby? Will we ever make it?"

"Will I forever let my family down? This risk is because of me"

"Did God make some kind of mistake with me?"

I would make nervous jokes to my husband and say things like: "Hey, Dave Ramsey filed for bankruptcy twice and still made it out ok, so we'll be ok too…right?"

No one ever thought that joke was too funny.

Time moved slowly. But time was also fast in the sense that I felt perpetually behind on the year's metrics, on what needed to be accomplished for the business to succeed. Neither time nor change were my friends.

Then, even bigger change happened. After 41 weeks of pregnancy, my baby came. My sweet, beautiful daughter, Violet. She was everything to my husband and me. She made all those months of illness and fatigue worth it. My heart soared having her in my arms (still does). This change was sweet.

But… the hopelessness and terror was still deep rooted. Not even the sweet joys of my baby girl could take away the fear. In fact, it grew stronger. My deep love for her made me more fearful of how I could fail her. Now I had two babies (my actual baby, and my young business) to take care of… to keep alive. How could I possibly manage it all? How could I be present as an owner and as a mom and wife? 

The early months in post-partum were some of the best and hardest months of my life. More change….rapid change. Variations in sleep, hormones, diet, scheduling, pivoting to help the baby's needs, adjusting to my husband's paternity and work schedule, on top of a growing and needy business. 

But I became desperate to answer the same repeating questions: how can I manage these two roles? How can I ever keep up?

The answers came slowly….with time. Nothing heals or clarifies like time. But there were a few helpful tools that brought me to a place of calm and clarity:

- I sought my own therapy. Even though I am a clinician with psychiatric and psychological knowledge, I had to rely on insight outside of myself. As humans, I've learned our insight into our condition and needs is extremely poor, and we must rely on professionals to bring guidance and support. Therapy is especially needed after major life changes.

- I sought community. This was primarily found in my church community. Surrounding myself regularly with friends and family who could bring laughter, joy, and prayer was life-giving to me. 

- I sought prayer and Scripture. As a Christian, my only comfort in this life is that I am not my own, but am the Lord's. And I found endless comfort and peace knowing that I didn't have to have everything figured out, and that I never had control over my circumstances. My spiritual journey helped me to surrender and celebrate God's goodness in all circumstances.

- I prioritized activity and movement - I sought for time outdoors, in nature, and made small  goals to have just 15-20 minutes of movement each day. This was a key skill to keep myself from spiraling in my thoughts. Nature and sunlight always help to bring wonder and gratitude in our lives.

- I acknowledged my limits. Allowing myself to have limits and honor them was a salve to my soul. The voice of pressure, perfectionism, and condemnation suddenly had less power over me. (But trust me, the process of setting limits and enforcing them can be quite painful….but it does get better)

- I reset my expectations and learned the power of delegation. Most of our powerlessness is based upon the unhealthy expectation to be everything for everyone. Once I accepted that I can't fill all those roles, the freedom set in.

I met my needs. This one is one of my favorites. Because it's really this simple: Simple things like scheduling meal time, taking a full lunch break, movement/exercise each day, time alone outdoors, good quality sleep, etc….all these things became a message to myself and to others, that the little needs in my life matter…because I matter. I am going to make sure I fill my cup first. I may not know how to solve every work conflict or toddler tantrum, but I will make sure I take care of myself to ensure that I will have all cylinders running to take on the challenge. And so I became less overwhelmed by stressors because I was taken care of…by me! 

I communicated openly with my spouse. Sudden change is hard enough… facing it alone makes the process even more debilitating. Once I allowed my husband in on my fears and irrational beliefs, things became less suffocating. Family and support system is crucial to the growing and healing process. Let those safe people in. When you're surrounded by love and support, it helps to speak against the loud and negative dialogue in your mind. 

As I practiced these skills, the answers to those questions that haunted me became more simple and less burdensome. I didn’t have to have everything figured out or perfectly managed. The reality was that I was part of a team…and I needed to use it. Our support systems don’t mean much to us if we aren’t relying on them. My business and family didn’t need a perfect me….they just needed someone that wasn’t an empty shell. Someone who prioritized filling her own cup.  

Change is a wild thing. I'm so grateful to God for the change in my life. It's allowed me to work in a career that brings great fulfillment. It's given me my family. And it's developed me in great ways, so that I'm that much more equipped to take on life's challenges. And I welcome change to continue…because I need it! (Even though I hate it)

I'm a lot like you. Life is unexpected, hard, and often feels like an uphill battle. I'm also very human, very limited, and have to reset my perspective frequently. But I can attest that the basic skills work. They're sometimes boring, repetitive, or mundane, but they help with the resilience and self worth in the change.

It just takes time.

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