I’ve been kinda off for the past couple of weeks for what I thought was for no reason…or maybe something silly like the rain or daylight savings. Actually, it’s objectively been a really good couple of weeks. Better than most this past year. I’ve been walking every morning, got great feedback from Emily on my living room design (see! I promise I’m making progress:)), saw the EHD gals (masked) for the first time since last March to raid Emily’s prop garage for priceless decor pieces, AND accidentally got TWO BOTTLES of wine when I really ordered two glasses from Postmates. All pretty awesome wins. But when I’ve woken up the past two Mondays, they’ve felt like Thursdays. Each week started out feeling like a mountain I might not be able to successfully climb. It wasn’t until this actual past Thursday when my friend said, “Jess, your body is probably just remembering the fear and anxiety of last year during this time”. At that moment I thought, “DUH! That makes so much sense. How could I have not picked up on that?” I mean, you can’t turn on the TV or open your phone without being reminded that we’ve made it to the one-year mark. But I also haven’t been the only one. My friends, coworkers, family members… a bunch of them have also felt off recently. Coincidence? I think not.
So we thought we’d jump on the “one year” bandwagon and each talk about our experience (the EHD gals and some of our wonderful contributors). Now, when I say “talk about our year,” I mean what we learned, how we grew and some of the happy silver linings that came about. 2020 was undoubtedly a horrible freaking year and our hearts are with all of you who went and are going through far worse than what we have. But with all the trauma, loss, and, extreme stress we’ve collectively gone through, we wanted to create a space to shine a light on the positives. And look simply surviving is PLENTY enough of a “positive”, but with some hope on the horizon, talking about the ways we lifted ourselves up seems like a nice thing to celebrate. I’ll let Em start us off…
It’s hard to talk about this year in any sort of simple form because it was full of all of the feelings. It’s been a year – and it feels like it’s been both the longest one of our lives as well as a totally lost year – like I keep forgetting what grade my kids are in (we are still homeschooling). I’ve changed enormously and fundamentally and I know I’m not alone. So to try to boil down the impact of this year for me feels almost premature, but I know that I got off the hamster wheel and I really don’t want back on (while being endlessly grateful for what the hamster wheel helped me achieve).
1. I woke up in so many ways. I became more of a conscious minimalist. I created so much waste before and now I don’t. My job, me personally – I just wasn’t cognizant, didn’t have time to think about it or maybe I just chose to ignore it. I loved “stuff” and “options” – that’s part of being a stylist. But when shopping felt scary at the beginning (and ordering online put delivery people in danger and felt selfish) my thoughtfulness about waste grew and I woke up. We were reusing Saran Wrap and washing aluminum foil. It helps that very little gets delivered up here as we don’t have USPS, so I realized how much less I need to be content. For whatever reason I have zero desire to rearrange my furniture and accessories here, happy with how it is which is an absolute first for me. Maybe it’s because for the first 9 months there were no photoshoots so I didn’t need to change things up. Maybe it’s because no one was coming over to impress. Maybe it’s because it felt unimportant in the scheme of things. Maybe it’s because I am feeling content spending so much time with my family and therefore satisfied with how things are without needing them to be different or “better”? I don’t know. I also recognize that this house is very beautiful and doesn’t need anything, but in the past that didn’t stop me. Now going forward I won’t be perfect, but I can solidly say I won’t go back.
2. So many lessons learned this year that gave me the opportunity to be a better person (and have hopefully an influence on others). Being an influencer in 2020 was extremely challenging and stressful, and frankly it’s never something I’ve liked being in the first place (I love being a design blogger, but not necessarily an “influencer”). There were huge, extremely important things to learn and say about racial and social injustice, grief, and the election and it was very messy, full of lots of mistakes – all public. I heard somewhere recently (likely a self-help podcast) that “the obstacles are part of the journey”. It’s actually really exciting and freeing, like a way to give yourself grace and kindness instead of regret and shame. Now when I try and fail, or make a mistake I can recognize the lesson I needed to learn almost immediately instead and shaming myself.
3. I keep joking that I don’t know how I’m going to turn out – my life was so different before Covid, I feel like I was a different person than I am now. It’s like I’m in the middle of the “coming of age” movie and I’m just waiting, so curious how I’ll be after we move to Portland and the world opens up. I’ve become a MASSIVE homebody (often going weeks without getting in the car) and I’m seriously wondering if I was always just an introvert that could extrovert really well (Bowser said this to me once, after I had an exhaustion meltdown and asked everyone to leave the house during a shoot). I used to love living in a city, now I don’t. I used to love any excuse to party and socialize, now I don’t (but can still be easily swayed). I used to spend the weekend busying myself with projects – obsessed with productivity, experiences, and social engagements – now we cook, clean, hang with the kids doing nothing, often in nature, and I read novels – like a lot of novels. I’m so much more protective with my time and my social and work boundaries are so much higher. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to learn this lesson, surely I would have kept running on adrenaline for decades, faster and faster on the hamster wheel if it weren’t for quarantine shutting it down. And I too, finally had time and energy to start therapy instead of just endlessly talking to my friends about the same problems, for years. It was time to do something about it. I’ve become so close to Brian and the kids, and I’m just so grateful for my team of people who care so much about this blog (and you all – thank you for reading and sticking with us).
I go back and forth with letting myself take in the trauma of this past year and finding as many silver linings as possible. I’ve talked a couple of times about the hard parts about being living alone during a pandemic but haven’t touched on the really positive parts. First off, I finally started therapy last summer. I’m almost militant about finding the good in any situation and try to always focus on gratitude. Very “everything happens as it should” kinda philosophy. It’s how I was raised and it can’t be stopped. But holy shit is it almost impossible to find hope in the midst of a global pandemic (especially in the beginning). So “this thing” that made me “me” felt stripped away and I didn’t know where to turn. I was an anxious wreck that was having all of my suppressed emotions from my ENTIRE LIFE coming at me all at once. Nearing 10 years without my mom, physical insecurities, imposter syndrome, extreme fear of prematurely losing my other parent, etc. were all things I couldn’t ignore anymore with my trademark “positive attitude”. I could perk up for work but then was a shell of a human and not reaching out to friends because I didn’t want to add to the burdens that they were going through. So while I hate that it took a pandemic to get me into therapy I am forever grateful. On a lighter note, I MOVED! I know you all (or at least most of you) know that but it has also been pretty transformative. Having actual space and wonderful new neighbors that (safely) talk to each other is something I didn’t know I needed. Also, my relationship with my brother got stronger which actually is the best thing to come out of this pandemic. Lastly, I made some positive lifestyle changes. I’ve talked about how I am FINALLY taking care of my skin and the emotional benefits of that but I also went almost fully plant-based with my dad back in July. It’s actually been such a fun journey to be on with him and really helped me to feel like I was in control of what I was putting in my body in a way I hadn’t before. FYI this is not me saying everyone should do it. Eat however works best for you! So am I all better? Ha. NO! But I am stronger, I think we all are. 2019 Jess was good but 2021 Jess is more firmly rooted, better about creating personal boundaries, and much kinder to herself.
The past year has taught me that anything is possible, and being able to pivot is tantamount to having a superpower. None of what I expected from 2020 — good and bad — came to pass. While being sequestered to my home wasn’t the most jarring experience, coupled with the civil unrest, the year took an emotional toll on me. Personally, however, I was able to come out on the other side, more protective of my peace, prompting us to take a huge leap to purchase our first home…something we actually hadn’t planned on doing till this year.
An unexpected bright spot: after spending a full year apart – the longest we’ve ever gone without seeing each other – I got to head home and spend 4 months with my mom, and it was the most time we’ve spent together since before I left for college over a decade ago. I flew out in November and we were a little nervous, seeing as we had both been living alone for 8 straight months and we’d both be stuck in the same space ALL THE TIME, but it never got old. I wore my robe 24/7, drank a lot of wine, cuddled with her dog, ate a ton of salmon with udon noodles, watched Antiques Roadshow, giggled a bunch, fell asleep on the sofa too many nights, and had the best time. If we had still been working in the office, I kind of have the feeling that “hey, I’m gonna go work from a sectional in Delaware for 1/3rd of the year, bye” wouldn’t have really gone over well, so I’m just really, really, lucky to have that flexibility now. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m really grateful for it, especially after hearing that so many folks are still away from their family. Like, sure, I miss my friends and bars and waking up at 3 AM for skating, but those felt like a welcome trade for the chance to spend so much uninterrupted time with my mom. (P.S. I know Brenda will be reading this while she’s 1. laying in bed and catching up on news or 2. eating her morning rice krispies, so…hi, mom!!! I miss you a lot already!!!)
We had just come back from celebrating my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday in Atlanta, GA (The dogs came too!). We had no idea that it would be the last time we would see his mom or family for over a year! That trip was a much needed break from my crazy emotional 2019. Some people know this, some may not, but I’ve been dealing with infertility for 4 years now. And social distancing gave me the space and time I needed to finally start to process my emotions and strengthen myself as I navigate so many baby announcements. I started biblical counseling again, which has taught me how to lament. Something I never thought to do. I found myself talking with family and friends daily, that I didn’t usually talk often with. I started memorizing scripture which has helped me get rid of anxious thoughts. It was and is a time for rebuilding; myself, my faith in God, and with others that I lost touch with. I’m grateful that God kept my loved ones safe during this year of sorrow the world experienced. I know that many are not able to say that. But my hope is that we all find God’s peace in the midst of these trying times.
I remember at the beginning of quarantine I wrote about feeling happier and less anxious than I had in a really long time. Oddly enough, in the pre-pandemic picture, I was on vacation in Hawaii for my cousin’s wedding which was so amazing yet I was secretly battling crippling anxiety and shame. About a month into quarantine, not knowing how long lockdown would last and how devastating the pandemic would be, I felt grateful for a break from, well, the world. There is this culture, especially here in America, that says we need to be constantly moving, that we need to be productive, and above all, we should be stressed all.the.time. We value stress and “success” more than happiness so I felt like this shared experience of a global pandemic forced many to slow down A LOT and think about what really matters. As months went by I had plenty of ups and downs and several bad days and weeks BUT as I look back on this year, I am so lucky to say there were a lot of positives among the chaos and turmoil. First, I got engaged in August and I am honestly still riding on that high to get me through tough times. Having a loving, supportive, and kind partner during all of this is the biggest gift. I also made some positive strides when it comes to my mental health in that I am finally on medication that works for me and I am starting to let go of the shame surrounding taking medication (A HUGE step for me). And finally, my brother and sister-in-law had a BEAUTIFUL perfect baby girl who I am so in love with and can’t wait to squeeze in person. All of these things coupled with my health and the health of my loved ones are all I need and I think I did some serious growing in 2020 that may not have happened under other circumstances. Cheers to that and a (hopefully) brighter future for all of us. xx
In the “before” photo (which was taken right as the pandemic hit the US) is of me sitting in my old, empty condo. I was taking a leap of faith by selling that place and moving to Arlington, and my anxiety was at its peak. In the “after” photo (taken exactly a year later), my anxiety is largely at bay, and I’m visibly proud of myself for taking that leap of faith. You can even see the tension in my body fade between these two pictures. It’s pretty remarkable.
These are the three things that really shifted for me this past year:
- Trusting my gut: I’ve always had deeply visceral reactions to just about everything, but for some reason, I never allowed myself to trust that feeling. Over the last year, I was challenged in SO MANY WAYS to trust it, and it has only given me power and positive momentum.
- Seeking help: Before this last year, I thought that seeking help was a sign of weakness or failure. With all of the curveballs that 2020 threw at us, I quickly adjusted and learned that help is a pretty vital way to maintain a high degree of level-mindedness and self-care.
- Trusting people the first time: I’m a very understanding person. I NEVER want that to change, but it has certainly led me to my fair share of pain, heartbreak, and confusion. Over the last year, I’ve learned how to balance my propensity for being an understanding person with a deep belief that if someone shows me their true colors (and those colors don’t compliment mine), I need to see them for who they are and keep it pushing. This is pretty aligned with my first lesson!
I’m not gonna sugar coat it, the pandemic has been a REAL struggle for a gal in her early 20s at times. Like I wanna go OUT and SEE the world and MEET people but I CAN’T. That’s been the hardest part about it all. But simultaneously sooo many amazing things have come out of this pandemic it’s ridiculous. I am so thankful to be happy and healthy and especially to still have a job that I love doing so much every single day (it’s a real privilege). Working from home is a dream case scenario for me and while I realize not everyone has had this experience (AND THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY), this pandemic has transformed my fitness life. I used to hardly workout…I would try to go at least 2 times a week after I got off work, but working out consistently at 6 or 7 pm just didn’t happen for me. With our new work-from-home life, I’ve been taking lunch breaks to do a quick 30-minute boxing, strength training, or cardio workout and it has completely transformed my life. I need sunny, natural light to be motivated to workout and I also love being able to do it from my home!! I’ve seen insane physical and mental changes in my life since the pandemic (and I’ve worked incredibly hard for it) and it’s something I may never have had if it wasn’t for being locked inside. THAT is the number one thing I’ve been so fortunate to have during this year. I’ve also been full steam ahead on designing my apartment which has been A BLAST. Getting to talk to THE Emily Henderson about my first ever apartment design has been one of the most amazing things to happen in my lifetime. LASTLY, I’ve felt this incredible bond grow with my family and with Chase (and his family too!). Since those are the only people we’ve seen for a year, our bonds have grown so strong together and I feel so so fortunate. It’s made me realize what’s really important in life: health and deepening connections with those closest to you. Okay, actually one more thing…so this is the real “lastly:” I AM A CHEF NOW. Alert the media. Cooking has become such a relaxing thing for me (usually my boyfriend Chase cooks like every meal and I sous chef) but now I really really cook and I love it. I don’t love Covid of course, but I love a lot of things that have come from this. THE GRATITUDE IS STRONG HERE GUYS.
So like I said, none of us are the same and I think that’s a pretty beautiful thing. Now, we’d love to hear from you. How did you grow? Do you feel different? Any fun new skills?
But again, we don’t want to make light of the extreme loss that so many have experienced. We just want to have a place to both grieve and celebrate.
As always, love you and very much mean it.